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Bounty of bananas blooms near the Yukon-B.C. border

Monday, September 12th 2022, 4:01 pm - Fort Nelson, B.C. farmer purchased the plants on a whim from local grocery store

A farmer in B.C.'s far north has successfully grown nearly 200 bananas in his greenhouse, just south of the B.C.-Yukon border.

Yukon Soles runs a vegetable farm in Fort Nelson, 130 kilometres south of the Yukon, primarily growing produce like cucumbers, potatoes and cabbage.

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But when he spotted a pair of banana seedlings for sale at his local grocery store, he decided to give them a try.

"I just potted them up ... And the rest is history," he told CBC Radio West host Sarah Penton.

When Soles first bought the bananas in February 2021, the two plants were in a six-inch pot. As they grew, he transferred them to larger containers.

soles-bananas/Yukon Soles via CBC Yukon Soles usually grows crops of tomatoes and potatoes, but this September he's celebrating the successful harvest of dozens of bananas. (Yukon Soles)

Eventually, they grew big enough that he knew he'd have to plant them in the ground.

So in early summer 2021, he took the plants outside and placed them in a greenhouse, supplying them with plenty of compost and chicken manure — but he didn't expect them to bear fruit quite so soon, or even at all.

"Tropical plants don't often have what they need in these places … I didn't really have any expectations."

Rare but not impossible

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, most of the world's bananas come from warm-weather countries in Central and South America, as well as the Philippines in Southeast Asia and Statistics Canada data shows they are one of this country's top agricultural imports.

David Tracey, an environmental designer and community ecologist, says it is uncommon for bananas to produce fruit in British Columbia — or other parts of Canada — because summers are not long or hot enough for the plant to thrive.

soles-bananas-august/Yukon Soles via CBC Soles transferred the banana plants outside in August 2021 after they outgrew all his pots. (Yukon Soles)

While banana plants are often grown as decorative plants in the Vancouver region, it is still rare — though not impossible — for them to produce fruit.

Still, Vancouver is far milder than Fort Nelson, where summer highs average around 22 C and winter months are characterized by average temperatures in the minus-twenties and regularly drop below -30 C.

Tracey said Soles's success is likely because he used a greenhouse to keep them protected from the region's lower temperatures.

The plants typically benefit from high humidity and long hours of sunlight, and steady temperatures of at least 22 C overnight and 26 C during the day.

Soles says he didn't give his bananas quite as warm conditions to grow in, with the greenhouse's average temperature sitting at around 18 C with heat supplied by an outdoor wood boiler.

greenhouse/Yukon Soles via CBC Soles grows the bananas in a greenhouse attached to the side of his home. (Yukon Soles)

Soles wasn't sure the plants survived the first winter in the greenhouse until April this year, when they started to bloom and then produce fruit. He harvested his first bunch of bananas on Sept. 6 after they became so heavy they snapped right off the tree.

Papayas and pineapples next?

In all, Soles says there are about 180 bananas growing right now. The first bunch is hanging in his living room where he's waiting for them to ripen, a process that can take days, even in factory conditions.

Soles says he isn't sure how they will taste so he has no plans to sell them at this point, but he has enjoyed sharing his growing experience with friends and his community on social media.

He's already making plans for papayas and pineapples, as well as building a bigger structure for his bananas to grow in the years to come — they're already pushing up against his current greenhouse's roof, about nine feet tall.

Through these experiments, he says, he wants to change perceptions of what's possible to grow in B.C.'s far north and other climates across Canada.

"Don't let your expectations be too limiting," he says. "Just try things."

WATCH: Why some mice have an actual fear of bananas

The story, written by Andrew Kurjata, was originally published for CBC News on Sept. 11, 2022. It contains files from Sarah Penton.

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