After travelling extensively in the tropics, Jan Bastiaanssen developed a deep affection for lady finger bananas.
He found the banana plant alone was impressive, with enormous leaves that reveal fascinating patterns when the sun shines through them.
And the bananas themselves were delicious – creamy, soft, sweet and nutritious.
When Jan and his wife Marleen re-settled in New Zealand in 2005 they found the perfect place to grow them – Puhoi.
Today, the Bastiaanssen property boasts hundreds of banana trees. They fruit all year round, propagate like mad, have never suffered from disease and require no pesticides or expensive fertiliser.
Jan finds spreading grass clippings around the trees, plus ash from the occasional log fire, are all the additional nutrients his plants need. The ash is a good source of potassium.
Jan, now retired, has no interest in growing bananas commercially himself but thinks banana growing in the area certainly has business potential.
Lady fingers and their leaves are used extensively in Asian cooking and, in Jan’s view, their taste and texture is superior to better known bananas from South America.
He says because lady fingers are small and look a bit different, people are reluctant to try them.
“They think they are ugly and therefore they can’t be any good, but that’s just not true,” he says.
Once people learn how good they really are, a huge market for them could open up.
Jan says the one downside to growing them in Puhoi is the four or five morning frosts the area experiences each year. This kills the leaves and the plants will stop producing fruit for several months until they recover. However, installing a sprinkler system that sprays the plants to prevent frost damage once the temperature drops below a certain point could resolve this problem.
With their property producing so many bananas, Jan and Marleen give away many of them away to family and friends, sell a few on a limited scale and sell banana plants.
They also find themselves eating bananas at breakfast, lunch and dinner but never seem to get sick of them. Even their shirts are decorated with bananas.
They say bananas go especially well with toast, yoghurt and museli, but being health conscious, they try to avoid too much banana cake or banana ice cream.
As long-distance cyclists, Jan and Marleen have discovered bananas provide a plentiful source of energy. A breakfast that includes bananas will keep them going until lunchtime. Miss out on the bananas and they will be needing to stop for a snack.
Jan says he is always happy to talk to others about bananas and share his expertise.