I stopped by Maguire's Farm in the Redlands today and met with owner Ian Maguire. I got to walk around his 2-acre property (with Finn the golden retriever trotting alongside!) and saw how the whole process of banana farming works.
Ian told me, "I've been growing bananas here since 2008. One of things I love about these trees is that they have a small carbon footprint. And all of my bananas are low input, which means there are minimal herbacides, fungicides, etc. used on them."
Ian went on to tell me that, "The farm houses 5 different rows of banana tree species. FHAI 1, 2, 17, 18 and Mysore. Mysore being the sweetest one with a creamy and tart flavor."
I was lucky enough to be given a crash course in plant panthology, which Ian is an adept in, being that he's also involved with research for the University of Florida on plant pathology. He told me that Thai bananas (known everywhere for their sweetness), almost always carry a soil borne fungus, called Panama disease. For this reason, they never live past 5 years. And even while many farmers are aware of this, they still willingly plant them.
I also learned about Spiraling Whitefly (Aleurodicus dispersus ) which is wreaking havoc on banana trees. The immature white flies feed on the underside of the tree leaves and deposit a sugary secretion that provides a perfect environment for mold to grow. So these white flies are a double assault on the plants! One natural way to get rid of these pests is with parisitoid wasps, which are small, almost microscopic, orange-colored wasps that will use the whitefly as a host, and eventually kill them once the wasp grows large enough. Gruesome, yes. Too gruesome to be considered necesary, no.
With Spirling Whitefly, the actually fruit remains un-harmed, although it does damage the plant itself. On the upside, Ian and his colleagues are working hard to find a resolution to this problem.
Another local farmer, Teena Borek, uses "Green Chemistry" to keep pests like white fly away.
At Maguire's Farm, you'll find small rows of garden veggies and herbs, which he uses for everyday meals with his family. When asked if his kids help out in the garden he told me, "Sure, we all help out. I want my kids to be involved with the future of this business as well. The next step for the farm will hopefully be to build a CSA nearby, which one day I want my children to take over."