Although I love the thought of eating food fresh from the garden, the fact is, some foods taste no better when you grow them yourself. For example, I’ve never thought a home-grown carrot tasted any better than store-bought. It makes it hard for me to want to spend the time involved in gardening, especially during Florida’s warmer months. However, there are some foods that grow here with almost no attention, and they taste far better than store bought. We acquired two such delicacies with our Anna Maria Island property when we bought it ten years ago.
When we met at the lawyer’s office to close on the purchase of our new home, I asked the previous owner if it were necessary to water anything in the yard. Completely new to Florida, I had absolutely no experience or knowledge of landscaping and gardening on Anna Maria Island. “If you want bananas, you’d better water those,” he said. That was all.
Since then, we have done very little watering, including of the bananas that grow along the property line. Every once in awhile, when it’s been extremely dry, we give them a little water. Every year or so, we give them a little fertilizer. When we cut off the old, tattered fronds, we leave them under the banana trees and they act as mulch, holding in whatever moisture may be in the soil.
Every summer we get several beautiful clumps of small bananas from these trees. We have learned that even if they are harvested early, they ripen beautifully. The flavor is so much better than that of the larger bananas in the stores. They are sweet, with hints of the tastes of other fruits, such as strawberries. Each stalk can be cut into smaller “hands,” which are similar to the way bananas are sold in the store. But a hand of smaller bananas usually has around 8 to 10 bananas on it.
Once a banana tree has produced fruit, it becomes unproductive and often falls over. But, meanwhile, small suckers have started to grow around the base and new trees develop quickly.
The other delicacy we acquired with our property was the coconut. Anna Maria Island is right at the boundary of where coconut palms will grow. They are much less common on the mainland, but the milder winter temperatures of the island climate allow these palms to thrive here.
Although the trees thrive with almost no attention, that’s only the beginning of what it takes to enjoy homegrown coconuts. It’s too bad they are so hard to crack open. Methods involving machetes or metal spikes always seem slightly dangerous. One method that sometimes works well in opening the outer husk involves holding the coconut firmly and smashing it repeatedly on a rock, alternating the position so the stem end and opposite end are hit until there is a split. This takes a long time, and is hard on the arms, but the fracture that occurs in the husk makes it relatively easy to peel away. The inner coconut can be baked for awhile to crack open easily. Chunks of fresh coconut are so much tastier than shredded coconut from the store.
We have come to recognize the sound of a coconut falling from a tree and striking the ground. We stack many of those that fall in a garden bed near the bananas. From time to time we notice one of the stacked coconuts has sprouted, and we have successfully planted four of these as new trees in our own little corner of this island paradise.