Methods of Harvesting
The best way to harvest a banana plant is to cut the bunches from the top and leave the stem standing. Rather than killing the plant immediately, this method allows it to shut down gradually, sharing nutrients with young suckers around.
The daughter plants will grow normally around the stem and will not have to fight for resources. Bunches should be removed from the stalk with a sharp knife, allowing the latex (or sap) to fall on to the soil and not on to other fruit.
The bunches must not be dropped, but should be placed on the ground on top of a freshly cut banana leaf. Fruit that is bruised during harvesting has a shorter post- harvest life, ripens quickly, and may not have good eating quality.
Some farmers cut their plants at the bottom of the stem. This causes the plants to fall and shut down immediately. Plants that are harvested in this way are unable to share any nutrients with their daughter plants.
As a result, the daughter plants are left fighting other suckers for resources. This method also encourages weevils (who feed at ground level) and is not recommended.
It is also not good practice to remove the best fingers from the bunches, this will reduce the quality and is ultimately cheating the customer.
Whichever method is used, it is vital that ALL cut plant material is removed from the field. If it isn’t, weevils and other pests will multiply.
Another advantage of using Method 1 is that there will be much less cut material to clear from the field, making the task quicker and easier, especially for farmers with large plantations. Once the removed material has rotted and dried, it can be recycled as mulch and manure.
When To Harvest
In order to develop their full characteristic flavour, taste and colour bananas need to be picked at optimum maturity.
Fruits harvested young are more susceptible to shrivelling, mechanical damage and have poor eating quality when cooked or upon ripening (in the case of dessert bananas).
On the other hand, harvesting at an advanced stage of maturity is not good for fruits intended for export since they may need to spend more than a week within the marketing system before reaching the consumer.
It is important to identify key indicators of maturity for the bananas in order to be able to harvest them at the right stage and time.
The most significant visual changes occur in the size, shape, length and volume as bunches advance in age. During early stages of development, individual fingers are angular, however as growth progresses, fingers become more rounded in shape.
Bananas often have to be stored for a few hours or days, and at different stages throughout the marketing chain, before they are finally sold.
In major exporting countries, refrigeration is often used during storage and transportation to ensure a longer shelf life and good quality. However, as this option is not available in Uganda, bunches must be stored in a well- ventilated place, out of the sun.
The common practice of leaving the fruits in heaps, exposed to direct sunlight, should be avoided. Bananas must not be stored near smoke or exhaust fumes, as both can speed up the ripening process.
Bananas bruise very easily, which also reduces the quality of the fruit, so it is important to handle them carefully.
It is advisable to keep harvested bunches well-padded when transporting them, and to keep them clean.