Long-time readers know how I’ve poured four years of hard work into our tropical forest garden. Here’s the link to how our forest garden looks now. Yeah, it looks great, but I doubt if many people will sign up for that much grueling manual labor. The good news is my partner has hit upon a far easier and faster solution.
This new forest garden method is the brainchild of Meemee, my dear friend and partner. She’s recently planted hundreds of banana plants and papaya trees on newly acquired land that adjoins our homestead. This new method takes about one hundredth as much labor as what I’ve been doing. [Repeat for emphasis: yes, I said it’s about 1/100th the amount of work.]
The new garden consists of 2-meter wide beds with swales between that were created with a tractor. Each bed has one row of alternating banana and papaya trees down the center. Both of these crops are super easy to grow. They will produce a profit the first year, and increase in productivity and profit in following years as the soil improves.
The beds were built and planted in a few weeks during the beginning of the rainy season. After about two months the banana plants are between waist and chest high, and the papayas are about 18”-24” high. The entire beds were not amended, just the planting holes. The planting mix was made with aged manure, rice hulls and rice hull ash mixed with soil. Ideally, the planting mix is made in advance and stored in a big pile for a few months to stimulate microbial growth.
This method is not a complete seven-layer forest garden. The idea is to keep things simple. In between the bananas and papayas are soil building groundcovers. We have sun hemp and peanuts. Vetiver grass is planted along the sides of beds to reduce erosion and generate green manure. Other plants such as lemongrass, flowers, malibar spinach and corn are gradually being added. Eventually, other easy to grow plants such as beans, sweet potato, chili, pineapple, eggplant and squash will be added. Leafy greens/herbs will probably be added after the rainy season. Also note, there are dozens of fruit trees planted randomly in place of the papayas for added diversity, but the majority are papayas and bananas for quick cash.
In summary, this improved forest garden method is far superior to our previous one. It is simple and practical enough that typical small rice farmers can immediately understand, so I believe it has good potential for widespread acceptance. And that was one of my main goals all along – to create a model farm that shows poor farmers how to transition away from failing industrial agriculture monocropping that is destroying the soil and environment.