Introduction to Tropical Permaculture and growing your own Food Forest


In an ideal world, most of your staple foods will be coming from tree systems. This means  ‘minimum effort, maximum effect’, nutrient density and by far the most sustainable system. In fact, you can walk away from a tree system for years and only comeback to a better situation. If you like, you can consider planting trees like putting karmer in the bank. One day somebody is going to be grateful for the fact you planted those trees, even if you aren’t there to enjoy the benefits yourself. It also offsets some of the carbon which we use in our daily lives. The jet setters that often make Cabarete their home should especially be conscious of the effects that sea level rise might have.

Some trees actually fruit within as little as 3 years in the tropics, and young trees do not get in the way of you obtaining a yield in the mean time.

A common way of growing in tropics, results in a harvest as follows: The 1st year is a harvest predominantly of ‘the 3 sisters,( corn beans and squash) as well as your standard annual and perennial veggies, herbs and super foods,. A 2nd year harvest includes all of the above, as well as papayas and  your bananas. 3rd year you may see your first citrus, custard apples, jackfruits, breadfruit and even a few star fruit and avocado if you are really looking after your soil, also full production of bananas and papayas.  The next few years or so, you will begin to see a decreased production in corn beans and squash, although you’ll still get plenty at the edge of your system, but all of your trees will be doing great, and the maintenance becomes less and less.

Here’s a list of my favourite tree crops.

Coconut -Ultimate health food, just be careful they don’t fall on you, seriously.

Bread fruit – Bread/potatoes that grow on trees. They also ripen up and make great pancake mix

Bread nut – Same family, but it’s the nuts/seeds inside that you eat like chestnuts

Jack fruit – produces crazy amounts (sources say up to 500kg+ of fruit per year) and seeds that you can eat like chestnuts. Also it’s great hardwood for building

Other tropical fruits, nuts and berries, way too many to go into here.

The rest of you staples fit in to the following categories:

-Roots. – sweet potatos (personal favourite), yuccas, tarrows, yams, onions.

-Bananas – so many varieties, so many uses.

-Pumpkins/squashes- hundreds and they take almost 0 maintenance

-Beans- Especially pigeon pea/gunadules, these will add back nitrogen that your other veggies take out whilst giving you a great source of protein. They are also considered a pioneers species, as they will grow In almost any soil. When they wilt and die after 3 years or so they provide a perfect nutrient transport path for mycelium in their decaying trunks.

– All your standard veggies will do well in the tropics. I highly recommend cabbages, tomatoes, peppers and lots of super foods e.g Moringa, turmeric, stevia and chia.

The difference with gardening in the tropics, is that the soil is thin, but there’s a year round abundance of warmth, sunlight and moisture. Most of the nutrient in the tropics is locked up in the bodies of the plants being grown. There Is some nutrient in the quickly decaying leaf litter and mulch, and it’s precious and if you leave it exposed it’s gone pretty quick (think deforestation in Haiti). The reason the soil is thin, is due to the Intense over head sunlight and heavy rainfall.  In permaculture though, the problem is the solution. We plant in layers. Even in our man veggie patches, we’ll plant palms, bananas, pigeon pea, papaya all to decrease the intensity of the overhead sun, offering dappled shade and also protection from heavy downpours, every element is providing multiple functions.       We also use mulches, we plant mainly perennial or self seeding varieties. We plant a lot of diversity, avoid tilling or ever leaving soil bare, which gives the soil organisms a genuine chance. This also means there isn’t so much work to do, some ‘chopping and dropping’, some planting, harvesting and plenty of time to help your neighbour.

By feeding the soil organisms with mulches, compost, and other things, we get a build up of 1,000’s of different micronutrients, many of which modern diets are known to be deficient in.   Some experts even argue that a deficiency in these micronutrients is the main cause of Cancer and other deceases (search correlations between Iodine deficiencies and Illnesses and consider that b4 industrial agriculture, there was more in the soil than NPK, even river water contained essential vitamins such as B12). Permaculture grown food can have up to 7 times the nutrient density of standard agricultural produce, and this is due to the complexity of the soil life. This is why I believe it’s important to grow your own, and If you going to consider that, you might want to consider the incredible tool box that is ‘permaculture’.

Permaculture goes beyond growing food, and sustainability. It’s a design science in essence, a grouping together of many traditional and scientific, yet organic techniques. Other reasons I’m drawn to it, is the relevant earth science within the curriculum. It actually covers a lot about how the world works, including Biology, Geograpy and other chapters such as patterns within nature, and even basics on surveying, earthworks and sustainable building techniques. It provides the tools needed for complete self reliance in food water and shelter with the added bonus of much more.

I want to leave this with a few other things to consider:

Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share/Return of the Surplus – The ethics from which permaculture principles are based.

Food forests- Minimum effort, maximum effect.

Aquaculture and Aquaponics – Apart from a non polluted natural mangrove, or other climax communities in a natural systems, little is more productive per area.

There’s a lot more too, other options, grains, animals, sustainable building, water collection, plant medicines, etc etc. But there’ll be more on that later, this should get you started.

For more info, feel fee to stop by the Extreme hotel, Taino farm, or get involved in one of the permaculture introductions & lazy river floats. Pick ups at the extreme hotel Wednesdays and Saturdays at 10 am and back on time to kite.  See also I also have a tone of useful links, and a USB drive full of useful info that, I’d be happy to share.


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One Response to Introduction to Tropical Permaculture and growing your own Food Forest

  1. Zachary says:

    “Aquaculture and Aquaponics – Apart from a non polluted natural mangrove, or other climax communities in a natural systems, little is more productive per area.”

    Does it provide the micronurtrients you mentioned that exist in a food forest and is it as productive in comparison to labor involved as a food forest?
    Is the productivity mentioned including the fish in the system?
    Are there other systems that could be used as a fertilizer applicant other than a fish system? An aquatic green mulch?

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