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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/507

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493
WHERE BANANAS GROW.

to a telephonic message that has preceded 11s, the superintendent awaits ns to show us everything of interest and, with unfailing courtesy, to answer the endless questions of a Yankee.

After the ground is cleared, holes about a foot and a half deep are dug fifteen feet apart each way. They are then filled with surface soil to a depth of six inches, leaving them a foot deep. In these holes the sets are then placed obliquely, so that their upper ends just project beyond the edges of the holes, and are covered closely. Many planters place the sets upright and cover only their bases; but, though they then make plants rather more quickly, the best growers believe the resulting plants are not so strong, and produce less and poorer fruit. A set covered as above may then "shoot," in technical parlance, either from an eye at the base of the set or by the continued growth of its principal bud within the sheathing leaves. This results in a new growth bursting through the old leaf-bases—"breaking the husk," the growers say—and is considered to give the best plants. Good sets will show vigorous growth in three or four, sometimes even in two, weeks after planting, and then grow rapidly, pushing out leaf after leaf, and finally the flower stalk. At length, eleven or twelve months after planting in good soil, each plant stands from twelve to fifteen feet high, and bears a bunch of fruit full grown. Since a plant bears only a single bunch of fruit, it is removed when the bunch is cut to make room for another. And by the time it is ready for cutting others are ready to take its place in the young plants which have come up all about it from the lateral sprouts of its stem. The best of these are selected to remain and the rest removed. In this selection of plants and the resulting thinning lie the secret of success with bananas. The first to grow from sets in a new plantation are called "plants," while succeeding growths from their shoots are "rattoons," first, second, third, and so on, in succeeding generations. This word rattoon is a corruption of the Spanish retoño, a new shoot, and originated in connection with the culture of sugar cane, which is propagated in the same way. An amusing example of the extent of its use may be seen in the Jamaican reference to a meal made off the remnants of a previous feast as "eating the rattoons."

By careful selection and thinning of the rattoons a good plantation comes in a couple of years to its full development. Then one finds, as nearly as may be, in each "hill," as we may call the group of plants standing where each original set was placed, four plants strong, vigorous, and in stages of development which present a regular succession from oldest to youngest. Placing the hills fifteen feet apart each way gives nearly two hundred to the acre, and a well-managed cultivation should yield two marketable bunches per hill a year. The plants and first