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Banana Republic

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When freezing temperatures arrived early this month, Eddie Conrad made haste and uprooted his banana grove and placed about two dozen of his banana plants in the garage.

The long banana leaves were drooping due to cold weather just before Conrad took his plants into a climate-controlled environment. Before dismantling his banana plantation, he carefully cut off bunches of the green fruit and put away 100 or so bananas to ripen.

"I can't grow anything productive, so I grow bananas," he says. "It takes very little effort to grow bananas. Just stick it in the ground and water them. They flourish on sunshine and water.

"It starts with a bulb coming out. Then in time a leaf comes up with a little bunch of bananas. I think it's sort of neat the first time to see them bud out."

His banana garden consisted of 30 banana plants close to 20 feet tall. Several of the plants held bunches of green bananas, each about five inches long, with a dozen to 20 bananas in each bunch.

The banana plant is the world's largest perennial herb, and the fruit is actually a berry. A single banana is called a finger, and a bunch of bananas is referred to as a hand.

This was Conrad's third year to grow the plants. He put them in the ground in April and noted that it takes about nine months' worth of warm weather for the fruit to mature.

"In the wintertime everything is so dead and dying, so I dig up these plants and put them in pots in the garage. When I get up in the morning one of the first things I see are these plants so green and beautiful. I enjoy fooling with them. They're fascinating," said Conrad, who owns Conrad Construction Company.

His initial effort to grow the plant met an unfortunate end.

"I bought one from a local nursery, and we had a pet goat and it ate the banana plant," he recalled.

Undeterred, he tried again.

"Later a neighbor gave me one plant and from that they multiplied. We cut sprigs off to grow more plants. It's just amazing to watch their progress," he said.

As a bunch of young bananas develops, its stem may grow as much as six inches in a Conrad plucked his first bananas from the plants in early August.

"They ripen and turn yellow. They taste real good, really sweet," he said.

Occasionally, during the growing season, he notices helicopters flying over his yard.

They will often circle and come back to take a second look at the tall green stems with their large fronds.

With 100 green bananas ripening on their stalks, could there a few banana puddings in Conrad's future?

"That's the plan," said the man who operates what likely is Lebanon's only banana republic.

Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at kbtag2@gmail.com.

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Banana, banana grove, banana republic, Conrad Construction Company, Eddie Conrad, garden, hobby, plant, pudding
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