The Banana “Circle of Life”: Compost and Healthy Food in Perfect Harmony

The Banana “Circle of Life”: Compost and Healthy Food in Perfect Harmony

A banana circle is a classic permaculture technique. That’s because it’s a perfect partnership between edible plants and waste. It’s a way for you to compost food scraps and wastewater like you would in a regular compost pile while simultaneously creating an ideal growing environment for bananas and other plants.

To plant a banana circle in your garden, simply dig a circular pit, about two meters wide and one meter deep. Take the soil you’ve removed and mound it around the pit. This is where you will plant your bananas, and the pit is where you’ll create a new compost pile.

For your banana circle to truly exemplify the principles of permaculture, you’ll want to plant more than just bananas. You can choose from several plant combinations that will thrive in symbiosis. The large leaves of tall banana plants create a nice shelter for more delicate plants. Taro, cassava, and sweet potato are all great options. They benefit the banana circle by providing ground cover to prevent weed growth. You can also plant lemongrass, vetiver, or citronella, all of which will help repel insects.

Why does the inner compost pile work so well? Bananas require a lot of nutrients and water, so it’s exactly what they need. If you kept your banana plants and compost pile separate, you’d do a lot more work to keep your bananas healthy. You’ll want to keep the compost in a banana circle a little wetter than usual because the bananas are so thirsty. This is a great way to use kitchen wastewater, excess rainwater, or even urine from dry composting toilets.

Excited to start planting your banana circle? Hopefully, you understand that banana circles are only a viable option in climates that support bananas. You’ll need to live somewhere tropical or subtropical, which could be as far north as parts of the southern United States and as far south as parts of southern Australia.

If you are enthralled by the idea of a symbiotic compost garden but moving to the tropics isn’t an option for you, there are plenty of other ways to incorporate efficient, symbiotic planting configurations into your permaculture garden. The most well-known for temperate climates is the Three Sisters garden, which originated with American Indians. In this permaculture technique, you plant corn, beans, and squash (and sometimes the fourth sister, sunflowers) together. The plants grow better together than they would apart. As an added benefit, their crops provide a healthy, balanced diet.

Traditional huts in a konso village, Ethiopia

The Three Sisters garden does not, however, involve a compost pile. There isn’t really a temperate variant that is as famous as the banana circle. But there is certainly the potential for innovation in circular compost plantings for temperate climates. For example, some gardeners have had success with planting a “tomato circle” around a compost pile. If you try this, it’s best to use a slightly shallower pit with a drainage channel, as tomatoes aren’t quite as water-loving as bananas.

Whichever permaculture techniques you incorporate in your garden this year, you can take comfort in the fact that the way you grow food is much smarter and kinder to the planet than the way industrial agriculture does.


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