In the tropics a veggie patch can be a mixture of beds, moist and wet areas, trellis, perennial bushes, climbers and creepers.
Shade is a very important element of design, during the hot months it allows us to grow more successfully by lowering the temperature. Another useful feature for a veggie garden in the tropics is a living fence, which can help keeping the wind out and many of the pests away, or at least confuse them.
Chop and drop materials can be grown in a living fence and harvested at the appropriate time, in our case at the beginning of the cold season, when there is less need for shade and wind protection. Pruning in November, for example, gives the living fence an opportunity to regrow in time for the hot season.
Every food producing garden is a reflection of the tastes of the people who work it, no point planting stuff that will not get eaten, so what follows is a list based on our personal preferences and the menus we developed at Mae Mut Garden over the years.
Annuals that can be grown all year round include okra, eggplant, long bean, cherry tomatoes, cucumber.
Annuals that are more easily grown during the rainy season include sweet potato, pumpkin, sweetcorn, anything that takes up a lot of space.
Temperate climate vegetables can be grown where there is a cold season, like European tomatoes and beans, courgettes, carrots, sweet peppers, etc. some will require netting for pest protection.
Structural trees in the vegetable garden
Jackfruit is a very versatile tree, it’s evergreen, grows quickly and tolerates hard pruning, the young fruits can be used as a meat substitute in a curry, the seeds of the ripe fruit can be used as a starch substitute and the fruit itself is glorious when eaten fully ripe.
Breadfruit is a relative of jackfruit and is a very healthy and versatile vegetable, a tropical carbohydrate for those days when we cannot look at another plate of rice. It is also a very beautiful tree.
Madre de cacao (gliricidia sepium) is the chop and drop tree of choice and is also used widely as a wind shield around vegetable plots, grows fast, can be propagated easily from cuttings and is a great nitrogen fixer. It can also be used as animal fodder.
Moringa The shading it provides is less dense than a jackfruit for example, the leaves are full of benefits and the pods make a delicious curry, tolerates hard pruning and it is drought resistant but likes regular watering.
Sesbania A useful nitrogen fixer, which creates dappled shade and whose flowers are eaten as steamed vegetables with chilli sauces or in curries.
Papaya is a fast growing but relatively short-lived plant, the fruits can be eaten green, as papaya salad, or ripe, delicious as a smoothie with lime juice. Needs water but not too much, the roots are very shallow and the plant is top heavy, a moist soft soil can cause the plant to fall over.
Banana The quickest way to produce some shade, should be removed once the other trees have grown and replanted closer to the edge of the site, while banana trees have many uses, I sometimes had a feeling that other plants were struggling next to them.
Some Useful Perennials
Perennial vegetables are the backbone of a low maintenance tropical vegetable garden, they need little care beyond pruning and watering, there is no soil turning and most feeding can be done by chop and drop and the occasional bit of compost and manure.
Pigeon pea is a short-lived nitrogen fixer with many benefits, very easy to grow in the tropics. The easiest legume to grow for beans suitable for indian curries, known in India as toor dal. It is very beneficial in the garden and the green prunings are excellent chop and drop material.
Sweet leaf (katuk) An upright bushy plant, that can be used also as a hedge, is pruned regularly to a comfortable harvesting height and produces tender shoots almost all year round if watered regularly, the shoots can be used in stir frys or soups.Roselle is a variety of hibiscus. The sour leaves can be used for burmese style curries with dried shrimp and the fruits are dried to make tea
Asparagus. In a tropical setting asparagus can produce for most of the year given regular watering, the spears are thinner than their temperate cousins, but very tasty. Should be left to rest and recover during the hot season under a thick mulch with only occasional watering.
Water morning glory. It is worth incorporating a wet area in some corner of the veggie garden to accommodate a bit of this easy to grow and harvest vegetable. On the edge of the water some moisture loving plants can be added like ferns, taro & asian pennywort.
Bamboo comes in many varieties, but sweet bamboo can be eaten as a delicious stir fry without boiling first, it is not as tall as other varieties and can be accommodated at the edge of a path or on the border of the site.
Plants for a living fence
The dual main purposes of a living fence around a vegetable garden are wind protection and pest repellant, here is a quick list of useful plants, some of which are also highly decorative. They need to be by definition not seasonal plants.
Galangal & Turmeric are both plants of the Ginger family, but more hardy and more perennial in nature, they grow from edible rhizomes which are easy to divide and replant, in a tropical situation they require zero care. Another plant of the same family which has a lesser culinary use, but is very decorative and easy to care for, is Torch Ginger
Lemongrass & Citronella are two varieties of the same genus, one is more suitable for cooking, the other is used as a main ingredient in natural mosquito repellants, they are hardy and grow quickly and can be divided and replanted very easily.
Chilli pepper plants are used in companion planting to confuse insects with their scent and are a useful component of a living fence, in a tropical setting the basic varieties are very easy to grow and propagate from seed.
Madre de cacao is also suitable in this context as it is easily pruned and regrows very quickly