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Top 10 Plants To Grow On A Tropical Natural Farm

If you are able to grow these top 10 plants on your tropical natural farm then in 1 year you will already have a diverse polyculture system going, forming the base of your forest farm with almost no effort.
These 10 plants are chosen for the following reasons:

  1. They are easy to grow.
  2. They grow fast and quickly.
  3. They require very little management.
  4. They help build up the soil and also protect the soil from erosion.
  5. Once established they keep growing for many years without much care or attention.
  6. They are edible.

Do note that I do not know every plant in the world and my knowledge is limited, especially when it comes to your local environment. There might be better plants suited to your local growing conditions so do not take this list as a hard rule. As always observe your local environment and see what works and what does not. In general, if you can follow the 6 reasons I listed above you can find alternatives for many of the plants listed below.

Note: Local Filipino name is given first, then common English name, then Latin name.

1. Saging – Banana (Musa)

Banana produces large amounts of biomass and rapidly shades the soil which suppresses weeds and protects the soil. Banana is the key to tropical food forestry.

2. Sayote – Chayote (Sechium edule)

A climbing plant that looks like a cucumber. It takes a little while to get going, but after that, it will just keep on growing and growing without much maintenance. For some reason, it is very difficult to get Chayote growing in some areas. In that case, I recommend growing Pineapple instead,

3. Sigarilyas – Winged beans (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus)

A perennial nitrogen-fixing climbing bean that has many different uses in cooking. Winged beans are perfect for growing on Ipil-ipil trees.

4. Kadyos –Pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan)

Pigeon Pea Flower on our farm. The photo was taken by Stephanus.

Another perennial nitrogen-fixing bean, but grows as a tall shrub. In the beginning, it takes longer to grow, but after that, it can be left alone and it will grow big and wild. Beans can also be grown in the branches of Pigeon pea.

5. Kamote – Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas)

A sprawling vine whose tubers and leaves can be eaten. Slips or cuttings can be easily be grown by just putting in the soil when there is rain. When the cuttings are young they need regular weeding. But once they get going they will out-compete all the weeds and grow everywhere without any care or maintenance at all.

6. Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa)

Roselle is a very hardy plant. After the initial care of growing the seedlings, you can basically neglect them and forget about them. They will grow tall and beautiful. They re-seed themselves and are highly resistant to insect attacks, droughts, and floods.
If you do not like growing Roselle or have trouble growing it then I recommend growing Ginger instead, because ginger is easier to grow and can be neglected more.

7. Malunggay – Moringa or Drumstick (Moringa oleifera)

A very fast-growing tree that barely needs any care at all. The more you harvest it, the more it will grow. It can tolerate both droughts and heavy rains, altho it is a bit more sensitive to clay soils and good drainage is recommended.

8. Gabi – Taro (Colocasia esculenta)

Taro needs quite a bit of water and shade or else they will not grow well. It is best to plant them near or under banana trees or other trees like mango, avocado, or jackfruit. Once they grow well they can be neglected and will outcompete any weeds, making sure your fruit trees are weed-free. Their large leaves protect the soil from sun and rain erosion. When they are well established they keep on growing bigger and bigger year after year without any effort on your part.

9. Kamoteng Kahoy – Cassava (Manihot esculenta)

Cassava is a fast-growing root crop that barely needs any water. You can easily forget cassava and it will grow just fine. Cassava is perfect for both growing biomass and high-calorie food. Cassava is even good for growing beans on.

10. Monggo – Mung bean (Vigna radiata)

Mung bean is a non-vine bean similar to soybean and can sprout in 24 to 48 hours under the right conditions. Mung bean is famously used for tauge. Sow it during heavy rain or just before a heavy rain. It takes only 2 months from sowing to harvest.
Once sown it requires no maintenance at all and can handle short to medium droughts quite well. It is relatively disease-resistant and grows fine among the weeds. Just make sure to time the sowing so that the beans ripen when there is barely any rain or else the beans will rot.
If for some reason you have trouble growing mung bean or don’t like it, a great alternative I can recommend is Peanut which can be harvested after more or less 3 months.

Where to plant them

Chayote can be grown on any big tree, on a network of poles, or on fences.
Pigeon pea and roselle can be intercropped together on relatively dry or poor soil as they have similar water and growth requirements. Mung beans or Sweet potatoes can be grown beneath the roselle and Pigeon pea to suppress weeds, to be honest, they can be grown anywhere. You can grow Moringa or Ipil-ipil in between the roselle and pigeon pea. Winged beans or pole beans can be grown on the pigeon pea and on the ipil-ipil and more limitedly on roselle and moringa as well.
Banana can be planted practically anywhere, but the more fertile the soil the better. Taro can be intercropped underneath the banana with sweet potato around it.

What is next?

After all of the above plants have been planted or at the same time, you can expand the food forest with trees such as Mango, Avocado, Lemon, Lime, Pomelo, Guava, Jackfruit, Soursop, Coconut, Rambutan, Cashew, Coffee, Cacao and so on.

You add vegetables as well such as:

Okra – Ladies fingers
Talong – Eggplant
Bell pepper
Sili – Chili
Sitaw – Beans
Kalabaza – Squash
Pepino – Cucumber
Patola – Luffa
Upo – Bottle gourd
Pakwan – Watermelon
Luya – Ginger
Ampalaya – Bitter gourd
Pitaya – Dragonfruit

In the meantime, you should also mix the food forest with support trees that can be used for biomass production, medicine, spices, construction or firewood, pollinator attraction, organic pesticides. Some of these might have multiple functions at the same time.

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