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.


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Best Forest Garden Method: Quick, Cheap, Easy, Profitable — 10 Comments

  1. Update: The new forest garden is doing well. I was a little concerned in Nov/Dec because many of the bananas were starting to yellow. This was probably due to the rainy season washing away nutrients. Since then the plants have been fertilized and mulched and everything has greened up nicely. Now the banana plants are around ceiling height. Some are taller than others because it takes time to plant everything. The ones planted early around the fence line are now the tallest. Soon, the others should catch up.

    I’m currently traveling through neighboring countries to learn more about forest gardening, building soil naturally with inexpensive local materials, Korean natural farming, and growing microgreens and baby greens for profit.

    For instance, I’ve learned how the banana plants on the new land could have reached maturity several months sooner simply by digging slightly larger planting holes with more compost.

    Not only can this type of information help save countless family farms, there’s also incredible profit potential. There are millions of hectares of dirt cheap land with depleted soil. In fact, our little homestead is almost entirely surrounded with dead soil that rarely produces crops. The land typically sits fallow until a good rainy season comes along every decade or so. Sometimes land like this can be purchased very inexpensively. That’s one of my long term plans — get more land someday and return it to productivity using efficient (dirt cheap) forest garden methods. So in other words, approach it as a business versus a hobbyist/backyard project like I did with my first forest garden.

    I’ll post more about this as I learn more. There are so many possibilities such as planting dwarf (non-GMO) coconut, banana and papayas that produce sooner with the fruit within arms reach. More energy goes into producing food and less into woody trunks/stalks. For instance, we’re starting to get meter long bunches of bananas that take two people to handle.

      • Yes, I think so. Non-invasive species would probably be better. We planted several leucaena (invasive) in our first forest garden. The sesbania trees died from insect infestations. So still not sure what’s best for our area. I love the idea of really hearty nitrogen fixing trees busting up the clay and creating fungi networks because our soil is as hard as adobe brick.

        These are the sort of details I’m trying to learn without getting a degree in agriculture, etc. So far I’ve been unable to get answers to very specific questions.

        Keep all trees and other plants in the raised beds, because the swales are used as pathways. Soon wild grass will take over so it’s not too muddy. Then we can pull or push carts and wheelbarrows on the pathways. Dumping rice hulls (super cheap for massive truckloads almost the size of an 18 wheeler) on the pathways enables you to walk on the pathways all year except after the hardest rains.

    • Yes. Bananas are 2m apart in the row. Eventually some bananas will be thinned out as the trees get bigger (4-5 years).

      Note: the papaya are planted between the bananas = 1m from each banana. By far the strongest, fastest growing and best tasting papayas have come from seeds sprouted in compost. All I do is throw fruit and vegetable peelings into a pile and forget about it for 10-12 months. (No turning required, although I do cover in the rainy season because it would get washed away.) At some point the papaya seeds will sprout naturally from the compost when they’re ready. They will be super strong because they’ll have all the enzymes, beneficial bacteria, etc. that they need. When they’re 4-5″ high, gently pull apart and plant directly in the garden. Do not try to grow in pots and transplant later. They don’t like to be transplanted like that, but if you catch them as babies like I’m saying then they will thrive. The papayas will get so big and heavy with fruit that many will require staking so they don’t fall over. And of course, start with the best papayas you can find.

  2. Dr. Owen:
    The Food Forest Garden is wonderful. Obviously providing much food, and adding serene energy. It is inspiring, and I salute you and your partner for doing it and sharing it. Job well done!!

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