CREATING A BANANA CIRCLE
Updated: Jul 5
July 4th, Every Living Thing's Community Supported Foodscapes Project broke ground on its first project at Scott Linde and Suzanne Gentes' quarter acre property in Gulfport, Florida: A Banana Circle.
Banana Circles are popular features in edible landscape / Permaculture designs, because they serve multiple functions, and one of the design principles of Permaculture is: "Each important element serves multiple functions." (If possible, at least three).
Banana Circles build soil, grow food, retain water, and provide habitat for beneficial insects and microbial life.
They’re a great addition to any subtropical landscape that produces an abundance of leaf litter and yard waste. -- It’s much better to keep that bio-mass onsite and recycle it within the system than have it hauled away, and then have to purchase top soil and compost when you need it for your garden.
The banana circle is a garden and a composting system rolled into one.
To set this system up, you simply dig a circular pit, with a diameter of approximately 6 ft and a depth of 3 ft, and using the dirt that you dug out, you create a circular berm around the pit. You then fill the pit with composting materials--dried leaves, food scraps, grass clippings, tree trimmings, and plant your bananas--evenly spaced--along the berm.
This is a form of pit gardening. Bananas are typically used in this system because they are what is referred to as “heavy feeders"-- meaning they demand lots of nutrients and water for maximum production. By planting them along the berm of the pit, they can feed directly off of the compost and moisture inside.
But there’s no rule that says you have to grow bananas. Other crops that are typically grown in this fashion are Papayas and Sugar Cane. We have opted for a combination of bananas, plantains, and sugar cane. Beneath them, we will grow root crops--like sweet potato and taro.
We chose to put the circle near the chicken coop so that when we go to clean it out, we can simply throw the old bedding and manure right into the pit. The bedding (straw) will be a Carbon source for the compost, and the manure will provide Nitrogen. --The chickens will benefit from the compost pile being nearby because it will be teeming with insects and grubs that they can feed off.
This highlights another design principle of Permaculture: "Relative Location". This refers to placing your elements within the landscape in such a way that they are able to form beneficial relationships. Ideally, one element's outputs or waste will be able to meet the needs of another element. (The chickens' waste (old bedding and poop) feeds the bananas growing around the pit, and the pit provides a protein source (grubs and insects) for the chickens).
A low lying spot is a great place for a banana circle, because when it rains, the pit will catch the water that runs to that area, and store it. --The thirsty bananas can drink from it as needed.
The Banana Circle will be able to catch water immediately, but the materials inside the pit break down slowly. This type of soil building is known as “cold composting” or “mouldering". It's a slow process-- the organic matter will take several months to break down, but it requires absolutely no flipping. You simply fill the pit and allow the micro-organisms and the natural elements to break it down.
This is opposed to “hot composting” which will give you compost very quickly, but requires you to flip the entire pile every few days and constantly monitor it’s temperature. You also need very specific ratios of nitrogen to carbon. It’s a LOT of hard work.
That sort of composting is not for me. I’d rather spend my time and energy in more enjoyable ways, and just let nature do it’s thing. But to each their own. It’s really a matter of preference and personal philosophy.
To compliment this system, we will also be installing worm towers throughout the property, which is another very simple way of composting, but its much, much faster. It uses worms to break down food waste and fertilize surrounding plants. Stay tuned for the video and accompanying blog post associated with that topic.
***This is a Volunteer Project organized by Riley "Bird" Matthews. The mission is to foster symbiotic relationships that serve to overcome the many obstacles that get in the way of people creating intrinsically rewarding, regenerative lifestyles for themselves.