Banana Circle

One of the most potent and exemplary design of tropical permaculture is the banana circle. It has multiple functions that include the following but are not limited to them just as Bill Mollison once said: (the yield is theoretically unlimited, it is only our imagination and information that does)

  • Compost pile (anti-burning of organic material)
  • Food production
  • Biomass production
  • Greywater- from a sink or an outdoor shower right on top
  • Habitat for wildlife
  • Integration into mandala gardens
  • Community interaction (as we experienced in Malaysia with harvesting material from one neighbours burn pile)

Banana Circle serving as a greywater system as part of an overall design with aquaculture, swale, hedgerows, and gardens, on contour

The banana circle is a relatively easy design feature to construct and quickly planted out with cuttings and root division. When constructed correctly it serves mainly as a spot to cycle the constant flow of organic matter that is dropping from the jungle and coming out of the homes there.

Culturally, people like to keep their grounds clean (fear of snakes and such but also tradition of northern Europeans to scrape off all the organic matter and burn it) which necessitates a place to recycle the abundant organic material. Burning the material solves nothing but a banana circle results in food and biomass at the very least. Bananas are very hungry plants and will thrive off the abundant cycling of organic material as well as the moisture inherent in its design.

Step one is to lay out the circle in relative location so that it can perform many functions. It again may connect to the house via a sink or waste stream so site it appropriately. They are usually dug on relatively flat ground but a slight slope should not affect it at all. From there you will peg out the inner and outer circle with dimensions roughly but not always from the below drawing. They can get bigger or smaller but for access we have found this to be roughly the best dimensions. The 2 meter wide depression allows for ample water storage and composting area but not big enough where the constant flow of materials will not keep the depression without material. The material should be kept in a convex shape within the concave shape to keep the mosquito’s at bay if there happens to be standing water.

The earth that is dug is drug outwardly with hoes and shovel to form a mound more or less 2 feet wide.

This gives plenty of planting space for the bananas themselves and the subsequent guilds. The mound will support seven bananas equidistantly planted around the edge on top of the mound.

From there a myriad of plants can be inserted but the main ones used in this guild still are providing physical shelter, nutrients, assist in pest control, and reduce root competition.  This guild will also produce food and the other elements are in relative location to making it a synergistic little cultivated ecology.

The simplest version is to simply add cassava or manioc to the outside of the mound as they can tolerate drier conditions. They are fast growing and can give some shelter while eventually providing a root crop yield while the systems is still young (plant and time stacking). This can be propagated by cuttings from other plants or sections of roots can be placed in the ground.

From there any of the tropical grasses (lemongrass, citronella, or vetiver) are inserted on top of the mound in between the banana plants. These plants are then chopped and dropped to make mulch for the emerging system. This cycles energy through the circle absorbing what could be entropy from the emerging planting scheme. The strong scented grasses can also be part of the pest control and provide some low growing initial windbreak. These plants are easily propagated through root division by digging up a clump elsewhere and simply ripping the root mass apart, cutting the foliage back, and then replanting.

The following step involves planting a groundcover to help with reducing root competition as tropical grasses and weeds will invade any newly disturbed space. Thus we like to use something fast growing like sweet potato slips. Alternatively or in combination could be peanut grass which an aggressive nitrogen fixer with beautiful yellow flowers. Both are propagated through cuttings or layering. Sweet potato slips can be purchased from markets as there are some varieties grown for the leaf and are extremely fast growing and are sold for their steamed green edibility. This will help mitigate the weed issue and also create more stable soil temps creating conducive conditions for growth.

The final element is the planting out of the inner rim which could house a number of different plant elements. The location lends itself to plants who like the wetter conditions.  For this we usually use wetlands plants such as taro or cana lily. They are both good biomass plants and can be used for food when the right cultivars are selected. They are planted densely around the inner terrace absorbing lots of nutrients and having access to the moisture pocket.

They are not pretty initially after the install but quickly take off from there. The inner circle should be mulched heavily and again the heap of organic material should form a convex shape. We often use large logs on the bottom for initial bulk and to provide a good fungal base and some aeration. Anything can be recycled and Mollison even suggests throwing in much of ones trash since that service is often limited in the tropics and can even be a resource in iron deficient soils. The mound itself should be mulched heavily in between the new plants to reduce weeds and retain moisture.

The mound will evolve quickly and excess banana plants (should only be grandmother, mother, and daugheter from each original plant) can be used as material to fill the depression. The circle design can also be used for Papaya or Coconut Palm. I have seen them bring together people of different cultures, house bats on their undersides, and delight children with their fruit. So i ask that you please incorporate these into your tropical Permaculture design so that the destructive paradigm of burning organic matter can be shifted and abundance can follow.

Papaya Circle from Taino Organic Farm that we installed in Dec 2012, same design just put Papaya in instead

Papaya Circle from a farm install in Dominican Republic from Dec 2012, same design just put Papaya in instead

27 Responses to Banana Circle

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  3. Rose says:

    I think we are going to give those a go in the near future! Thanks for sharing.
    Peace.
    Rose & Smith

  4. Excellent idea! This “banana circle design.” And I agree I can do the same for papaya. For coconuts, using the same circle recommended dimensions as that for bananas, wouldn’t that be to close assuming we plant the same number of trees (seven seedlings)? But I like the idea. Although I would need some convincing. In fact I might consider this in my planned coconut farm. Instead of planting the coconuts (regular tall variety, not the hybrid or dwarf) at 10 meters by 10 meters, I might consider the “coconut circle” in each corner of the square planting pattern instead of a single tree in the corners. But I need suggestions:
    1. What would be the recommended diameter of the coconut circle?
    2. How many coconut seedlings should I plant along the circumference? In the relation to that, what would be the MINIMUM spacing between two (2) consecutive seedlings measured along the circumference?
    3. Measured center to center, what would be the closest distance between two (2) coconut circles? Given that the trees will grow outward in a slant from the base. Can you recommend a range of planting distance between the circles?

    By the way, I live in the Philippines in Western Mindanao. Would appreciate your inputs. Thank very much. And the coconut farm I will develop will be integrated with free ranged chickens, naturally farmed pigs, bananas, robusta coffee, cacao, some fruit trees (breadfruit for human and livestock feeds). Maybe a hectare or two of dwarf coconuts for sap sugar production. Plus others plants I can economically grow in the farm.

  5. Karen says:

    Hi Roberto, where in Western Mindanao are you? We are starting a permaculture farm in Siargao

  6. Roberto says:

    Karen, my farm is in the area of Zamboanga City, about 75 kms from the city proper, about one and a half hours by regular bus. I am now working with a higher education institution in Ozamiz City. The farm will be developed with coconuts as the major crop, banana, jackfruit, breadfruit and other fruit trees/plants. Livestock and poultry will be integrated.

  7. Karen says:

    that is so cool

    • Roberto says:

      Thanks, Karen. Can you describe briefly what project you are initiating in Siargao? We might be able to pick up some ideas. Thanks

  8. Karen says:

    right now we have a 5-ha area to be farmed using permaculture methods with Bert Peeters (i thinkhe started the movement in the Philippines) as our consultant.

  9. Brent Verrill says:

    Does anyone know of any examples, links or references of this technique with species appropriate to temperate climates? I am in the Southeast of the USA.

    • cdoug_e says:

      Hey Brent, in my PDC in Oregon some years ago the circle design was fulfilled with basket Willow as part of the shower grey water circle. It could be hardy bananas for producing biomass with greywater as well. It could also be any water and nutrient hungry fruit. I could see paw paws (Asimina triloba) with elderberry (Sambucus sp.) and chokeberry (Aronia melancarpa) working. Guess it depends on how far south you are but maybe some species like salmonberry from out west might be possible but that is purely a guess. I know my paw paws and chokeberry do very well on my swale mound just downhill of a seepage spring. All in all the circle design is great for cycling nutrients and water, can be tied to greywater, and can be a place to add food scrapes or excess manure and cardboard.

      • Brent Verrill says:

        Thanks! I had considered willow, but I didn’t think of paw paw. Excellent suggestion.

  10. Ernesto Pantua Jr. says:

    Thanks for sharing we definitely want to try this. More power!

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  12. Guillermo says:

    I posted a pdf file with picts and comments of the one i built at http://www.permies.com/t/29640/hugelkultur/Banana-Circle-construction-subtropical-region

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  15. Nicole says:

    I am looking for a solution for filtering grey water from the kitchen, I heard of creating a pool and using certain plants , could a banana circle be good alternative for filtering the water?

    • cdoug_e says:

      banana circle is a great option, fill it with lots of organic material in the material, making it convex with OM in the concave shape of the earthwork. Plant the seven bananas and on the inside rim of the earthwork plant heavily with cana lily, ginger, and taro. Whatever water loving plants that you can easily propagate do. lead the pipe in at a 2% fall and let the system filter. carbon is what filters.

  16. Pier says:

    I think I would like to try this with my papaya farm and since I have coconuts around I’ll make an outer circle with them. Between the papaya I’ll try either peppers or eggplant with a ground cover of sweet potato.

    • cdoug_e says:

      Sounds like a good plan pier. Stack in space and time for sure with your annuals. It helps the overall system and don’t forget some herbs and flowers and other biomass plants to cycle energy further. Let us know how it goes.

  17. chian says:

    Anybody from Tagaytay or nearby who can guide me to start?

  18. Judith Sumalpong says:

    This is an excellent idea that I cannot wait to apply in Siquijor Island, Philippines. This can help restore the once delta fields around our island, and providing a new avenue of ecological fauna in our backyard. This system can instill self reliance and self sufficiency in food production. a better way to go organic and preserve life to the fullest extend of longevity. I am very appreciative of having shared all your expertise, ideas, comments, and recommendations.
    Thanks,
    JudithS

    • cdoug_e says:

      Glad you found it useful, please share and promote the design and page and let us know of your feedback on implementation.

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