You can plant short-term crops, annual crops, legumes such as beans, and groundnuts or you can plant vegetables. This is what is referred to as inter-cropping and the crop you plant is referred to as an inter-crop. These can be planted at the same time with the bananas or within days.
Always consider the Spacing
As you plant these crops, make sure the cover crop is not too close to the planting hole where tissue culture banana seedling is. Leave about a foot especially for beans, which can grow from the hole in which it was planted, entangle and suffocate the young banana seedling.
If you want to have longer term intercrops, such as coffee or pineapples, these can be planted either before or after the planting of the tissue culture garden. Whereas it is fine to intercrop bananas with a perennial crop such as coffee or pineapples or cocoa, in case you want to do this, the spacing will need to be increased accordingly from the standard (2.5m-3m).
The spacing must be increased from 3m to between 3.5m-4.5m to allow more light penetration to reach the perennial intercrop (say coffee, cocoa or pineapples) when they have established.
If the distance between different stools is too small or standard (2.5m-3m), when the bananas grow, their leaves will shade off the intercrop and it will suffer from lack of sufficient light to manufacture its own food, and to grow healthy and give good yield.
Whereas it is fine to intercrop with a perennial crop, you need to do this only if your primary enterprise is the intercrop rather than bananas.
In case your primary or focus enterprise is bananas, it is advisable that inter-cropping be done with only short-term crops, and this can be done for two seasons, after which the banana canopy (leaves) will have closed up. After the first year, your efforts should shift to mulching the plantation for better soil nutrition and health.
Like animals, bananas need excellent care if they are to give you good returns—thus, you will need to invest in mulching your plantation—I mean thorough mulching.
Mulching has several purposes: controls weed growth, protects the soil against heavy rainfall and intensive sunshine, prevents erosion in plantations on steep slopes, provides organic matter to the soil, stimulates root development, improves soil drainage, cools the soil, increases soil porosity (water and air penetration), and supports abundance of beneficial soil organisms such as earth worms and some useful fungi and bacteria, thereby improving overall soil health.
Bananas are heavy feeders and need a lot soil nutrients and water if they are to yield well. Thus, mulching helps in providing these soil nutrient and water requirements.
Due to high cost of buying and transporting mulching materials, it is important to use grass cleared during field preparation; use materials obtained from the intercrop; materials obtained from the plantation itself such as leaves, pseudo stem, corms; use organic matter near the plantation such as chicken droppings, pig and cow dung if you keep some animals.
Also, you can grow grasses such as elephant grass, Guatemala grass, and Kikuyu grass for your own mulch. The grass can both feed your animals as well as provide mulch for your plantation.
Not too close
Irrespective of the good roles of mulching, it is known to facilitate multiplication of pests and spread of some soil born diseases of bananas. It also encourages roots to grow upwards from the soil, resulting in hanging mats, which eventually can topple especially during stormy rains.
The phenomenon of banana plants becoming shallow rooted and hanging near the surface of the ground is called ‘high mats’. The moment it sets in, that marks the end of your enterprise as weevils will attack it too. Thus, never mulch too close to the plant itself when it has already fully established.
A young tissue culture seedling needs mulch around it, but an established banana mat does not, as its roots are already well established. Thus, always keep the mulch, and manure application away from the banana mat by about 2-3ft. The roots of the banana are long and can search for nutrients from a distance, thus do not worry that your plants will not get the nutrients.
Pros and Cons of Inter-cropping
Advantages of inter-cropping
- The enterprise starts giving early returns before the bananas start yielding and start giving returns.
2. Weed control in a newly established plantation is easier as you kill two birds with one stone, that is weed the beans and the banana plantation too.
3. The soil is protected against soil erosion, cover crop is used.
4. If a legume such as beans is used, it adds nitrogen to the soil making it more fertile.
5. If crop residues from the inter-cropping are used to mulch the crop, it improves soil nutrients and adds organic matter.
Disadvantages of Inter-cropping
- Soil nutrient depletion,
- Competition with bananas,
- May spread diseases and pests
- Damaging and injuring banana roots when digging in the garden, among others
It is, therefore, advisable that you do it only for the first year of plantation establishment, unless the inter-crop is your major enterprise.
For tissue culture banana seedlings contact us.