Some people keep pigs as pets but most people keep pigs for meat production, either by breeding their own weaners for fattening or by fattening weaners purchased from a pig breeder. For the new pig keeper, the latter course is much simpler, requires less skill and stockmanship and is therefore generally recommended as a first step in pig keeping. It is the buying and fattening of weaners for meat production that we will focus on here.
Our first Tamworth weaners Apart from poultry, pigs get the worst deal from intensive agriculture and commercially produced pork and pork products are pretty poor quality. Pigs are great for smallholders; they clear ground, fertilise it, eat vegetable waste and produce lovely meat. It is rumoured that you can use everything but the “oink”.
Pigs are also useful for clearing overgrown orchards and woodland. However, they do need to be managed to prevent them going too far and destroying any young trees that you might want to retain. Using electric fencing and strip grazing will help.
Keeping weaner pigs is not particularly labour intensive but pigs need care 365 days a year; they need to be visited and fed twice each day, ideally at regular times and in daylight, so that you can check their health and wellbeing. If you can’t commit to this, please think twice about keeping pigs. While book research is very worthwhile, do try and attend a hands-on pig-keeping course or spend some time with an experienced pig keeper before buying.
If pig keeping isn’t for you, please do the next best thing and source your pork, bacon and sausages from ethically reared pigs. If it doesn’t say the pigs are born and reared outdoors, they probably weren’t so don’t be fooled by misleading labelling. Even pigs that are reared outdoors may have been born to sows kept indoors, in crates, so do be aware of labelling – it’s more about what it doesn’t say, than what it does.
Starting with pigs
Before you buy pigs, think about the end game. How much pork do you want? A porker at six months old and 80kg liveweight (depending on breed) will produce a carcase of about 60kg deadweight. This is minus blood and internal organs, but with head and feet still on. The usable meat yield will be about 45kg.
Now, some of that may be sausages and some may be bacon or ham, but it’s still a lot of meat. If you estimate that a portion of meat is about 125g, that’s a lot of meals.
For welfare reasons, you mustn’t keep a pig on its own, so do think about what you are going to do with all this pork that you’re going to have in your freezer in four or five months.
If you move pigs from one holding to another, including the abattoir, you must complete a movement licence. This allows stock to be traced in the event of a disease outbreak. When you buy your pigs, the seller will complete a movement licence and give you a copy, so you will need your CPH number before buying. The licence must be retained for 6 years.
When you send your pigs for slaughter, you must complete a licence and either send it or take it with you (the abattoir will advise on what they want done) to the abattoir to be completed, then distribute copies as appropriate and keep a copy for yourself.
You must also keep a record of pig movements on and off your holding, including
• the date of movement
• ID mark or temporary mark
• the number of pigs
• the holding from which they were moved (name or responsible person, full address and CPH number
• the holding to which they were moved (name or responsible person, full address and CPH number)
Movements must be recorded within 36 hours of them taking place. Once a year you must record the maximum number of pigs normally present on the holding. This record must be kept for six years after you stop keeping pigs and can be in written or electronic format. Animal Health may visit your holding and ask to see these records at any time.
You will also need an animal medicine book. These are available from agricultural suppliers. All medicines, including wormers, must be entered in the book at the time they are administered. Many medicines have a withdrawal period, during which the animal cannot be slaughtered for human consumption. Check each medicine before you buy it as some can have withdrawal periods of 56 days or so.
By law, all pigs require to be identified, either temporarily or permanently, depending on circumstances.
Permanent ID is by ear tag, tattoo or double slap mark.
• Eartags must be stamped or printed (not hand written) with the letters UK followed by the herd mark. Tags used for slaughter must be metal or flameproof plastic to withstand carcase processing. For movements between holdings, tags can be plastic.
• Tattoos of the herd number (UK not required) are made on the ear
• Slapmarks are tattoos of the herd mark (UK not required) applied to each front shoulder area of the pig. They are legible for the life of the pig and throughout the processing of the carcase.
Temporary marks can simply be a paint mark on the pig, so long as it lasts until the pig reaches its destination and that, combined with the movement document, it identifies the holding from which the pig was moved.
Pigs under 12 months moving from one holding to another can be identified with a temporary mark but must have a permanent mark to move to slaughter.
Pigs over twelve months moving between holdings and to slaughter must have a permanent mark.
Breed societies will have their own rules on identification so if you have registered breeding stock, make sure that the method of identification complies.
Vets, abattoirs and butchers
Three other things you should do before you buy any pigs are to make arrangements for veterinary treatment, do some research on how you’ll have them slaughtered (including how you are going to get the pigs to the abattoir) and how you will have them butchered.
If you’re only taking weaners to killing weight, with good husbandry and a modicum of luck, you won’t need the services of a vet. It could well be a different story if you intend to breed pigs and James Herriots are pretty thin on the ground. Not all veterinary practices treat farm animals, so do locate one that does before the pigs are on site.
It’s unlikely that you will be able to (or will want to) have your pigs slaughtered at home – even if you can get someone to do it, the regulations are prohibitive. Many abattoirs have closed, some don’t slaughter pigs and some only take pigs to a certain weight so find out what’s in the local (or not so local) area before buying pigs. Also think about how you are going to get them there – you can stick two weaners in a puppy cage in the back of the car to bring them home. You can’t do that with two porkers.
You will also have to make plans for butchering. You may want to do this yourself, and courses to teach you how to do so are now widely available, or you can use a local butcher. Sometimes, an abattoir will have a butchering service attached. Some butchers will make sausages for you, if you don’t want to make your own, but few cure bacon, so do check in advance. There will probably be an extra charge for making sausages and curing bacon, due to the additional labour cost and the cost of materials (sausage casing is expensive!).
Remember, if you intend to sell or give pork to a third party, there are very strict rules around butchering and processing, so you may not be able to do it yourself at home.
The time to start this research is not when your pigs are fast approaching slaughter weight!
Like many areas of farming and livestock, pig-keeping has its own lexicon and terminology. This glossary of pig terms should help you understand the most commonly used words and phrases.
Boar An uncastrated male pig over six months old.
Sow A female pig that has had its first litter.
Gilt A female pig which has not yet produced a litter.
Gestation Period Length of pregnancy. In pigs, three months, three weeks and three days.
Hog A castrated male pig.
Piglet A young pig.
Weaner A piglet separated from its mother and eating only solid food. Weaning can take place anytime between five and ten weeks of age.
Porker A pig reared to pork weight, normally about 60kg live weight, rather than to bacon weight. Usually achieved between four and six months of age, depending on breed.
Baconer A pig being reared for bacon rather than pork, and which will be slaughtered at 80kg – 100kg live weight, at about 8 – 10 months of age.
Cutter A pig between pork and bacon weight, raised to produce larger joints.
Choosing Your Pigs
Pigs that produce supermarket pork are bred for lean, consistent meat, fast growth and docile behaviour, and almost never for flavour. Rare breeds on the other hand take longer to grow to killing weight, have more fat, produce tastier meat and, depending on the breed, can be very active.
Like most animals, pigs need company of their own kind to thrive, so never buy one pig.
Gilts or boars?
Whether you buy gilts (young females) or boars is a matter of preference and, often, what’s available. It’s maybe better to have boars the first time, since you’re less likely to be tempted to “keep them for breeding” when the time comes to slaughter them.
Gilts are reckoned to lay down fat more readily than boars, and some folk say that meat from uncastrated boars has a “taint”. However, as far as we can establish “boar taint” is a bit of a myth; the meat from old working boars will be strong, but if they are kept away from females to allow the hormones to settle, it’s not a problem. It’s certainly not going to be an issue if you’re slaughtering at a year old or younger.
There are many breeds of pig, including nine traditional British breeds. Eight of the nine (not the Large White) are on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s Watchlist. You may want to support these breeds as we did and to do that, you need to buy weaners from registered pedigree sows. The distinction between purebred and pedigree is that pedigree pigs will be birth registered, and therefore known to the relevant breed society.
If you plan to sell your pork, you should be clear about what you are buying and how that relates to your marketing – if you have Large White weaners, then you shouldn’t be marketing them as rare breed pork. Furthermore, some would argue that only registered pigs can be marketed as the specific breed. It sounds a bit pedantic but can be a source of great angst. If you are simply raising a couple of weaners for meat, crossbreeds will do you very well.
Probably the best way to source of weaners is through the British Pig Association or the relevant breed society. Alternatively, pig breeders will often advertise weaners for sale in the local press or farming papers; the national smallholding press has many advertisements from breeders too. Also worth trying are any local farm parks or city farms local to you.
Another source of weaners is the local livestock market. Although weaners often go for low prices, I wouldn’t recommend this source as it can be difficult to assess the health of pigs in such a stressful situation.
If you are planning to breed pigs and you will want pedigree stock, contact the relevant breed society and ensure that your gilts are appropriately birth registered. Always buy the best stock you can afford.
There are nine British rare breeds of pig:
• British Lop
• British Saddleback
• Gloucestershire Old Spot
• Large Black
• Middle White
• Oxford Sandy and Black
Decide on the breed that best suits your purpose and environment.
Given the nature of rare breeds, you may have to travel some distance to your nearest breeder
The Berkshire is a relatively small, prick-eared pig; black with white points on feet and tail and a white flash on the face. Often called the “ladies’ pig” because its size and temperament make it easy to handle.
Made “famous” by celebrity chef, Gordon Ramsey when he raised two Berkshire pigs, named Trinny and Susannah, for the 2nd series of his TV show The F-Word.
Although it is coloured, the meat dresses out white. An early finishing breed, an ideal carcase weight is between 36kg and 45kg.
The British Lop is a large, lop eared white pig. Now very rare indeed, perhaps because it looks like the modern “pink” pigs and is therefore less appealing to those seeking to keep traditional breeds.
It is a docile breed, hardy and not a deep rooter, so suitable for grazing and orchards.
Meat is high quality, with good marbling, long, well-streaked bacon sides and good hams, with meat right down to the hocks.
A large pig with lop ears, black with a white band (saddle) around the shoulders.
It is an amalgamation of two older breeds, the Essex and the Wessex Saddleback. It is a hardy pig and noted for its mothering ability.
The Gloucestershire Old Spot (GOS) is a white, lop eared pig with one or more black spots. It originates from, well, Gloucestershire and is known as the “orchard pig” as it was kept in orchards to graze the grass and to eat windfall apples. Folklore has it that the spots are bruises caused by falling apples.
The GOS has the distinction of being the first breed of pig to have its pork protected in a similar way to Parma Ham and Champagne. In 2010, the GOS Pig Breeders’ Club was awarded Traditional Speciality Guaranteed status (TSG) for pork from pedigree GOS pigs. It was the first TSG to be awarded to a breed of livestock anywhere and only the second to be awarded in the UK.
The breed is well suited to outdoor production systems, being hardy and a good mother, as well as being quiet and easily handled. It is a large, meaty animal, producing top quality pork, roasting joints and sausages
A large, black pig with lop ears. It is sometimes know as the “elephant pig” because newborn piglets have huge ears and a straight tail.
Originating in the West Country and the south of England, it is sometimes referred to as the Cornish Black. Although it’s a large pig, it has a reputation for docility, large litters and good mothering ability.
They are hardy and their black skin means they are not prone to sunburn. However, the black pigment is removed in the butchery process to leave a white rind on meat. Pigs will be ready for slaughter at around five to six months old.
A large, long-legged pig with a longish ginger coat, long snout and prick ears. A plough on legs.
It is probably the closest breed to the indigenous pig, since it has not been “improved” by the addition of Chinese and Neapolitan blood.
Sows are milky and good mothers; the breed is hardy and of all the native breeds, it is the most resistant to sunburn.
The conformation of the breed lends itself to long sides of bacon and big hams.
A white pig with lop ears, indigenous to Wales.
The breed was very popular after WW2 when it was used to produce breeding stock for commercial pig production.
They are hardy and can be kept both indoors and out; they have a fast liveweight gain at a low feed conversion ratio and an excellent killing out percentage.
Other Pig Breeds
Oxford Sandy and Black
An old British breed that almost became extinct in 1985. It is not recognised by the Rare Breed Survival Trust. Lop-eared, with a coat colour ranging from light sand to dark ginger with black blotches
(not spots) and a white blaze, feet and tassel. It is well suited to outdoor production, being hardy, prolific and not prone to sunburn. A weaner should finish at pork weigh at about 22 weeks, producing fine quality, white skinned pork and bacon.
British but not rare. A large, white-coated pig with prick ears. Originally from Yorkshire, it is widely used in commercial pig breeding as a parent of sows and as a terminal sire.
A red pig, originating from New York and New Jersey. This pig has small prick ears and a thick coat in winter, which it moults in summer making it suitable for outdoor systems. It is docile and a good mother.
A black pig with a white saddle, prick ears, developed in the USA from the British Wessex breed. There are now British Hampshires.
A white, lop-eared pig, originally from Sweden. Although it can be used in outdoor production systems, it is most widely used as foundation stock for hybrid gilts for commercial pig breeding.
Small, friendly pig from New Zealand. It comes in various colours, leg lengths and ear placements. Often kept as pets, but produces good quality, dark coloured pork if not allowed to get too fat.
Vietnamese Pot Bellied Pigs
Small heavy pigs, with prick ears and a heavy belly. Comes in various colours.
An unusual breed from Austria, Germany, Hungary, Romania and Switzerland. Unique in having a curly coat. Comes in three types – blonde, red and swallow bellied. Once known as the “lard pig” because it could produce up to 70lites of rendered fat, it is now used for the production of specialist hams and salamis. The meat is well marbled and flavoursome. The fat has higher than usual levels of mono-unsaturated fat – this means it goes rancid less quickly so is good for long curing – and the fat has a healthier balance of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids than seed oils.
Prick eared, Belgian pig, white with piebald markings. It is a double muscled breed (Belgians must like these) and gives high yields of lean meat but the breed is often associated with the gene for Porcine Stress Syndrome and smallholders rarely use it.
There are thousands of varieties of tomatoes in an array of shapes, colors and sizes. The most common shapes are round (Beefsteak and globe), pear-shaped (Roma) and the tiny cherry-sized (Cherry and Grape). Yellow varieties tend to be less acidic and thus less flavorful than their red counterparts. In the United States today, tomatoes are second in consumption only to potatoes.
When selecting tomatoes at the market, use your nose. Smell the blossom (not stem) end. The most flavorful ones will have a rich tomato aroma. Don’t expect much from those in your supermarket, even if they are labeled
Select tomatoes that are round, full and feel heavy for their size, with no bruises or blemishes. The skin should be taut and not shriveled. Store fresh ripe tomatoes in a cool, dark place, stem-side down, and use within a few days.
Refrigeration is the enemy of the tomato as it nullifies flavor and turns the flesh mealy. The culprit is a compound called Z-3 hexenel, which accounts for the tomato’s scent and taste. The development process which turns tomato’s linolenic acid to the Z-3 that makes our mouth and nose sing is hindered by cold. If you must refrigerate a tomato, take it out about an hour before using it to let it return to room temperature to revive any lurking Z-3.
When wintering your garden, you can salvage some of those tomatoes that haven’t yet ripened by wrapping them in newspaper and storing in a cool area between 55 and 70 degrees F for two to four weeks. Store them no more than two deep and check them often to use the ones that have begun to ripen. Don’t expect them to be as good as ones you’ve ripened on the vine, but they will probably still be better than store-bought.
Canned tomatoes come in many styles, including whole, chopped, crushed, paste (a concentrate), puree (strained), sauce (slightly thinner than puree and usually more seasoned), and juice (most of the pulp removed).
Unopened canned tomatoes should be used within six months. Once opened, store canned tomatoes in a covered glass container in the refrigerator up to one week. Leftover tomato paste and sauce can be frozen for up to two months. Freeze one tablespoon of tomato paste in each section of an ice tray, pop out when frozen, and seal in an airtight baggie for quick, pre-measured additions to soups and sauces. They need not be thawed prior to adding to your recipes in most cases.
If you have freezer space, you should consider freezing your excess tomatoes rather than home canning. It’s just so much easier, and the flavor and texture are better, although they will no longer be good for fresh usage.
To freeze, rinse and dry thoroughly. Place in ziptop plastic bags and suck out the air with a straw. No peeling or blanching is necessary. Once thawed, the skins will easily slip off. They will be perfect for cooked dishes and will retain more of that fresh flavor, rather than the cooked, canned flavor.
Maize is a very important cereal crop produced almost throughout the country. It a valuable crop in the Preferential Trade Area (PTA) The National Maize Research Programme based at Namulonge Agricultural and Animal Production Research Institute aims at developing high yielding varieties that are resistant/tolerant to major pests and diseases and providing appropriate maize production technology package to the farmers for increased maize production.
Maize seed is sold by the Uganda Seed Project at Kawanda, Masindi and the District Agricultural Offices countrywide.
• Kawanda Composite A (KWCA) – The crop matures at 4½ months and yields 2500- 4500 kg/ ha.
• Longe 1 – The crop matures at 4 months and yields, 4000 -6000 kg/ha.
• Hybrids 8556-6 and 8535-23 – Both have performed better than most of the open-pollinated varieties both on farmers’ fields and multi-locationally with a yield difference of 2000-3000 kg/ha.
• The top cross 8556-6 out yields the single cross hybrid 8535-23 under medium fertilizer levels, hence, making it affordable to the majority pf farmers.
Maize requires a fine seedbed. Ensure that key in puts such as seed are ready and land is prepared before the onset of the rains to allow early planting.
Seed Rate – 25-28 kg/ha is required. For Longe 1, 25 kgs sufficient for one hectare.
Timely planting is very crucial, it is advantageous to plant after 2-3 good rains. Dry planting is not encouraged unless a farmer is sure of good rain within 3-4 days and the seed should be dressed with a chemical. Using certified seed is advantageous for good returns for example Longe 1. The current planting density is 53,000 plants/hectare at a spacing of 75 x 50 cm leaving two plants per hill if maize is planted as a sole crop. The spacing will be wider when it is intercropped with other crops or when soil fertility and soil moisture are not optimal.
Maize should be planted at a depth that will protect the seed against rodents and birds as well as facilitate contact with moist soils for good germination.
Planting depth of 2.5 – 4 cm is acceptable. A depth of 5 cm can be used during dry planting.
Maize is, extremely susceptible to weed competition which reduces yield considerably. Critical periods for weed control include the first four week after crop germination. Striga, couch grass etc. are major weeds. Weed control involves either mechanical (e.g hoeing) or chemical (herbicide) method. Stomp 500E pre-emergence at the rate of 31/ha and Laddock early post-emergence at the rate of 41/ha are the currently recommended herbicides. A good crop of maize will need little weed control after the first 4 weeks.
Thinning should be done in the first 21 days where necessary after plant emergence to minimise the use of soil moisture and nutrients by extra maize plants
In Uganda soils vary in nutrient content hence requiring different fertiliser levels. It is advisable to apply phosphate fertilisers at planting (basal fertiliser). Nitrogenous fertiliser is used for top dressing. Apply phosphate at the rate of 30 kg P 205/ha (70 kg of TSP) at planting and nitrogen at the rate of 45kg N per hectare when the crop is at knee high stage.
In order to maximise inputs, intercropping is normally practised. Maize can successfully be intercropped with beans. Maize variety Longe at inter-row spacing of 75 cm can have one (1) bean row between two maize rows. The beans should be spaced at 15 cm from one hill (hole) to another leaving 2 plants/hill.
Harvesting and Storage
Harvest maize when it is getting dry. This can be f noticed when the cobs collapse and face downwards. It is better to store maize on cobs in well-ventilated cribs to minimise mould formation. Shelled maize can be stored in bags after being treated with actellic but this should not stay in the bags for long before it is sold off.
Major pests of field maize include stalk borer’s, termites, cut worms and army worms.
Grain weevils are major storage pests. Stalk borers are widespread and cause considerable damage to maize through larvae feeding on young leaf whorls or funnels
boring into stalks. In severe cases its central whorl withers and dies resulting in dead hearts. Stalk borers survive in alternate hosts e.g. wild grass, sorghum and millet.
Control: Control strategies should include enforcement of a closed season at least two months after the last maize crop. Chemical sevin 5% (carbaryl is recommended for control of stem borers. One application per season at 2-3 weeks after crop emergence is effective. A pinch of the chemical is sufficient for one plant.
Maize streak disease is caused by a virus transmitted by a leaf hopper. The disease is characterised by yellow streaks along the leaf veins and in severe cases the whole leaf appears yellow. The severity of the disease depends on weather conditions and early planting will reduce the severity.
Control: Control may also be achieved by using resistant varieties like Longe 1. Other diseases include northern leaf blight, rusts and smut. The improved varieties on market have got resistance to these diseases.
Coffee continued to be Uganda’s most important cash crop throughout the 1980s. The government estimated that farmers planted approximately 191,700 hectares of robusta coffee, most of this in southeastern Uganda, and about 33,000 hectares of arabica coffee in high-altitude areas of southeastern and southwestern Uganda. These figures remained almost constant throughout the decade, although a substantial portion of the nation’s coffee output was smuggled into neighboring countries to sell at higher prices. Between 1984 and 1986, the European Economic Community (EEC) financed a coffee rehabilitation program that gave improved coffee production a high priority. This program also supported research, extension work, and training programs to upgrade coffee farmers’ skills and understanding of their role in the economy. Some funds were also used to rehabilitate coffee factories.
When the National Resistance Movement seized power in 1986, Museveni set high priorities on improving coffee production, reducing the amount of coffee smuggled into neighboring countries, and diversifying export crops to reduce Uganda’s dependence on world coffee prices. To accomplish these goals, in keeping with the second phase of the coffee rehabilitation program, the government raised coffee prices paid to producers in May 1986 and February 1987, claiming that the new prices more accurately reflected world market prices and local factors, such as inflation. The 1987 increase came after the Coffee Marketing Board launched an aggressive program to increase export volumes. Parchment (dried but unhulled) robusta producer prices rose from USh24 to USh29 per kilogram. Clean (hulled) robusta prices rose from USh44.40 to USh53.70 per kilogram. Prices for parchment arabica, grown primarily in the Bugisu district of southeastern Uganda, reached USh62.50 a kilogram, up from USh50. Then in July 1988, the government again raised coffee prices from USh50 per kilogram to USh111 per kilogram for robusta, and from USh62 to USh125 per kilogram for arabica.
By December 1988, the Coffee Marketing Board was unable to pay farmers for new deliveries of coffee or to repay loans for previous purchases. The board owed USh1,000 million to its suppliers and USh2,500 million to the commercial banks, and although the government agreed to provide the funds to meet these obligations, some of them remained unpaid for another year.
Uganda was a member of the International Coffee Organization (ICO), a consortium of coffee-producing nations that set international production quotas and prices. The ICO set Uganda’s annual export quota at only 4 percent of worldwide coffee exports. During December 1988, a wave of coffee buying pushed the ICO price up and triggered two increases of 1 million (60- kilogram) bags each in worldwide coffee production limits. The rising demand and rising price resulted in a 1989 global quota increase to 58 million bags. Uganda’s export quota rose only by about 3,013 bags, however, bringing it to just over 2.3 million bags. Moreover, Uganda’s entire quota increase was allocated to arabica coffee, which was grown primarily in the small southeastern region of Bugisu. In revenue terms, Uganda’s overall benefit from the world price increase was small, as prices for robusta coffee—the major export—remained depressed.
In 1989 Uganda’s coffee production capacity exceeded its quota of 2.3 million bags, but export volumes were still diminished by economic and security problems, and large amounts of coffee were still being smuggled out of Uganda for sale in neighboring countries. Then in July 1989, the ICO agreement collapsed, as its members failed to agree on production quotas and prices, and they decided to allow market conditions to determine world coffee prices for two years. Coffee prices plummeted, and Uganda was unable to make up the lost revenues by increasing export volumes. In October 1989, the government devalued the shilling, making Uganda’s coffee exports more competitive worldwide, but Ugandan officials still viewed the collapse of the ICO agreement as a devastating blow to the local economy. Fears that 1989 earnings for coffee exports would be substantially less than the US$264 million earned the previous year proved unfounded. Production in 1990, however, declined more than 20 percent to an estimated 133,000 tons valued at US$142 million because of drought, management problems, low prices, and a shift from coffee production to crops for local consumption.
Some coffee farmers cultivated cacao plants on land already producing robusta coffee. Cocoa production declined in the 1970s and 1980s, however, and market conditions discouraged international investors from viewing it as a potential counterweight to Uganda’s reliance on coffee exports. Locally produced cocoa was of high quality, however, and the government continued to seek ways to rehabilitate the industry. Production remained low during the late 1980s, rising from 1,000 tons in 1986 to only 5,000 tons in 1989.
The Uganda Coffee Development Authority was formed in 1991 by government decree, in line with the liberalization of the coffee industry.
Remains of Broad Beans have been found in Israel which date back to 6,500 BC. This makes the humble bean one of the earliest vegetables to be cultivated.
They are extremely easy to grow and produce a crop as early as mid-June. Useful, because not many vegetables are available in the garden at that time of year.
Fresh broad beans are extremely nutritious and high in protein. The Egyptians believed that when a person died his soul temporarily resided in a broad bean prior to passing into the next life.
SOIL AND SITE
Broad Beans are very tolerant of the soil they grow in. They prefer a deep free draining soil. Most soils however are perfectly adequate for broad beans although they will not stand being water-logged.
They prefer a sunny site which is not exposed to high winds. Most varieties will grow to about 1.2m (4ft) and they form a dense barrier of foliage. So consider the impact that the shade they will cast will have on plants growing nearby.
HOW TO SOW SEED
Broad beans are very frost hardy and will germinate in a soil temperature as low as 2°C (35°F). Sowing time is around late March in . However if your soil is free draining they can sown in early autumn when the weather is cooling down. This will give a crop about three weeks earlier than a spring sowing.
A week or so before sowing the seed add a nitrogen feed to the soil. Although Broad Beans produce their own nitrogen in little nodules along the roots, this does not happen until the plants begin to grow strongly. So a little extra nitrogen at the beginning will get them off to a good start.
Dig out a drill in the soil to a depth of 6cm (2in) and 20cm (8in) wide. Sow the seed in two rows, one row down one side of the drill, the other row down the other side. Each bean in a row should be spaced 25cm (10in) apart from the next bean. The simple diagram below illustrates.
If more than one double row is required, leave 60cm (2ft) between each double row. Cover the beans with the soil and water in well if conditions are dry.
Growing bananas does not take much effort, but it does require that you get a few things right when you first get started.
Banana plants can offer many benefits:
- They make great windbreaks or screens,
- they can keep the sun of the hot western side of your house,
- they utilize the water and nutrients in waste drains (think washing water or outdoor shower),
- the leaves can be fed to horses, cows and other grazers,
- the dried remains of the trunks can be used for weaving baskets and mats.
Oh, and they give you bananas. Lots of bananas!
But when I look around friends’ gardens then I see some pretty sad looking banana plants growing there. It helps to understand what bananas like and dislike if you want them to be happy!
Banana plants like:
- Rich, dark, fertile soils.
- Lots of mulch and organic matter. LOTS. Just keep piling it on.
- Lot of nitrogen and potassium. (Chicken manure!)
- Steady warmth, not too hot and not too cold. (Bananas are sissies when it comes to temperatures…)
- Steady moisture, in the ground and in the air.
- The shelter of other bananas! That’s the most overlooked aspect by home growers…
Banana plants dislike:
- Strong winds.
- Extreme heat or cold.
- Being hungry or thirsty.
- Being alone and exposed.
More detail on all that below.
Cavendish is the variety that you know from the shops. It’s a stout variety that produces large heavy bunches.
Lady Fingers are very tall and slender plants and have sweeter fruit.
Plantains are cooking bananas. They are drier and more starchy. You use them green like you would use potatoes, and they taste similar.
(80% of all bananas grown in the world are plantain varieties! They are an important staple food in many tropical countries.)
There are other varieties, but those are the most popular and most commonly grown.
How do bananas grow?
Bananas aren’t real trees, not even palm trees, even though they are often called banana palms. Bananas are perennial herbs. (Gingers, heliconias and bird-of-paradise flowers are distant relatives of bananas. They are in the same order, Zingiberales.)
Banana trunks consists of all the leaf stalks wrapped around each other. New leaves start growing inside, below the ground. They push up through the middle and emerge from the centre of the crown. So does the flower, which finally turns into a bunch of bananas.
Here is a picture series showing how the flower looks at first, and how the bananas appear and curl up towards the light.
Those pictures were taken over the course of a few days. You can pretty much watch this happen. But now it will take another two months or so, depending on the temperature, for the fruit to fill out and finally ripen.
A banana plant takes about 9 months to grow up and produce a bunch of bananas. Then the mother plant dies. But around the base of it are many suckers, little baby plants.
At the base of a banana plant, under the ground, is a big rhizome, called the corm.
The corm has growing points and they turn into new suckers. These suckers can be taken off and transplanted, and one or two can be left in position to replace the mother plant.
Great, so now you know what to do once you have bananas growing in your garden, but how do you start?
How to get started growing bananas.
First you need to make sure that you can grow bananas where you are.
You need a tropical or warm subtropical climate. Bananas can handle extreme heat (if they have enough water), but they don’t like it. They can handle cool weather for a short while, but they don’t like that either. Below 14°C (57F) they just stop growing.
If the temperatures drop any lower the fruit suffers (the skin turns greyish) and the leaves can turn yellow. Frost kills the plant above ground, but the corm can survive and may re-shoot.
The ideal temperature range for banana growing is around 26-30°C (78-86F).
You need a lot of water to grow bananas. The huge soft leaves evaporate a lot, and you have to keep up the supply. Bananas also need high humidity to be happy. (Where I live the commercial banana growers water their plants two or three times a day with sprinklers to keep up the humidity in the banana plantation!)
You need very rich soil. If you don’t have good soil to start with, make some. Incorporate lots and lots of compost and plenty of chicken manure before you plant your bananas (wood ash for extra potassium doesn’t hurt either), and then mulch them very thickly. And keep mulching and feeding them!
And you need room so you can plant enough of them together. Bananas need shelter from wind. Growing many banana plants together increases the humidity in the middle, evens out temperature changes a bit, and it shades and cools the trunks. (You don’t want to cook the flower that’s forming in the middle…)
If you get a chance look at a commercial banana plantation somewhere. The outside rows, especially the western side, always look sad. The best bananas grow on the inside…
You should plant bananas in blocks or clumps, not single rows and definitely not single plants. If you have very little room you can grow a few banana plants together and grow something else on the outside to protect them. But you do need to give them that sheltered jungle environment if you want them to be happy.
You can not grow bananas from seeds. Banana plants don’t produce seeds.
The best way is to start with the above mentioned suckers. Know someone who grows bananas? Talk to them. Every banana plant produces a lot more suckers than you need, so people usually have plenty to give away.
Only take suckers from vigorous banana plants. The suckers should have small, spear shaped leaves and ideally be about four feet high. (Smaller suckers will take longer to fruit and the first buch will be smaller.)
Cut the sucker from the main banana plant with a sharp shovel. Cut downwards between the mature plant and the sucker. You have to cut through the corm. It’s not easy…
Make sure you get a good chunk of corm and many roots with it. Chop the top off the sucker to reduce evaporation while you move it and while it settles into its new home. (Remember, the growing point is at the bottom of a banana plant. You can decapitate the sucker. It will grow back.)
You can also dig up a bit of corm and chop it into bits. Every bit that has an eye can be planted and will grow into a banana plant. But it takes longer than growing banana suckers…
Plant your bits or suckers in your well prepared banana patch, keeping two to five metres between them.
The spacing depends on your layout. My bananas grow in a block of several double rows. Within the double rows the spacing is two to three metres, but there are two plants in each position, suckers of the initial plant. And I have four to five metres between the double rows.
I also have a banana circle around an outdoor shower where I only have two metres between individual plants, and they are growing in a haphazard way. And if you have just a single clump of a few banana plants you can put them even closer together.
Keep your banana plants moist but not too wet in the early days, or they may rot. (They don’t have leaves yet to evaporate water, so they don’t need much.)
Maintaining your banana patch
The most common cause of death for bananas is lack of water. The most common cause for not getting fruit is starvation. Banana plants blow over in strong winds. Protect them and feed them and water them and all will be well. Other than that bananas don’t need much maintenance.
Just remove any dead leaves and cut down the dead plants every now and then.
You get bigger fruit if you remove all unwanted suckers, only keeping the best one (two for very healthy, vigorous plants).
The best suckers are the ones with the small, spear shaped leaves, NOT the pretty ones with the big round leaves!
Why? A sucker that is still fed by the mother plant does not need to do much photosynthesis, so it doesn’t need to produce big leaves.
And a sucker that is well looked after by the mother plant will produce better fruit and be stronger than one that had to struggle on its own…
A mature plantation is pretty much self mulching. Just throw all the leaves and old trunks etc. back under the plants. You can also grow other plants in the understory to produce more mulch. (I use cassava, sweet potato and crotolaria).
You just need to sprinkle on some fertiliser every now and then, to replace what you took out of the system when you took the bananas. Keep the fertiliser close to the trunk as bananas don’t have a big root system.
Growing banana fruit
You may see your first flower emerge after about six months, depending on the weather. Leave the leaves around it, especially the one protecting the top bend of the stalk from sunburn!
As the purple flower petals curl back and drop off they reveal a “hand” of bananas under each. Each banana is a “finger”.
You may get anything between four to a dozen or more full hands. Then, under the next petal, you’ll see a hand of teeny weeny excuses for bananas. Those are the male fingers.
The male fingers just dry and drop off. Only the stalk remains. If you let it grow it will eventually reach the ground.
Some people break off the “bell” (the bunch of purple flower petals at the end) about 15 cm below the last female hand. That way the banana plant puts its energy and reserves into growing big bananas, and not into growing a long stalk. (Commercial banana growers also remove some of the bottom female hands, so the remaining bananas grow bigger.)
Not everyone thinks that way, though. This is a comment from one of my readers:
I never cut the flower off the bananas. The hummers (Ed: hummingbirds) love them too much. As you said, there are always enough bananas around and though I sell them I have to keep my hummers happy.
Well, and then you patiently wait for at least another two months. You may have to prop your banana bunch, because it becomes very heavy, and a bunch can snap off or pull the whole plant over.
A good prop would be a long stick with a u-shaped hook at the end. But a long enough plank or pole can do the job, too. I leave that to your ingenuity.
Bananas are ready to be picked when they look well rounded with ribs, and the little flowers at the end are dry and rub off easily.
They will eventually ripen on the bunch, and those bananas taste the best. But once they start they ripen very quickly, faster than you can eat or use them. So you may as well cut the top hands off a bit earlier and ripen them on the kitchen bench.
You can also cut the whole bunch and hang it somewhere if you need to protect it from possums or birds or other thieves. But then all bananas will ripen at once! So be prepared.
You can preserve bananas for use in cooking and baking by peeling and freezing them. Or, to preserve them for eating, peel, split in half lengthwise and dry them.
Once the bunch is picked the rest of the plant will die quickly. Cut it to the ground, throw on some chook poo, and let the next sucker grow while you process all the bananas…
Tip: commercial banana growers use bunch covers (plastic bags open at both ends that they slip over the bunch and tie at the top) to protect bananas from diseases, insects, sunburn and marauders. You can try to buy those bags at a rural supplies store, or beg some of a grower.
I used to bag my bananas (hard to get out of habits after four years of working on commercial plantations) but I don’t bother any more. Even if the birds get a few, there are still more than enough left for me and the chickens and the dog and all friends and their families and freezing and drying… So why not let the wild birds partake of the bounty as well!