In addition to our rooftop efforts, we have a tiny courtyard garden to make use of. When I first moved in, the garden had several lovely tropical varieties in pots, but the soil was either paved over or covered in stones to prevent splashing mud during the monsoon seasons. There were no edible varieties, save two tiny curry saplings. There were also two large trees, including a Norfolk Pine. As we dig deeper into tropical permaculture and traditional practices, we find many prallels between ecological design and indigenous homestead gardens which are great application of permaculture in small spaces. We will be discussing and applying what we can make the most use of here in on our little urban homestead.
An introduction to tropical permaculture
Our goal is to make this very shady, multi-use space into a self-sustaining edible food forest. Albeit a small one. At bottom you can see some of the changes taking place based on the principles of permaculture and the banana (or papaya) circle.
Because banana plants require steady moisture, deep mulch, and protection from winds, one practice is to arrange them in a ring formation with plants of similar water, but different nutrient, requirements planted between the bananas and around the outside of the circle. The inside of the ring is dug out to build the sides of the ring and, then filled in with compost and mulch to hold extra moisture. As the moisture leaches through the side of the ring, it carries nutrients from the compost directly to the roots. You can learn more about the practice here.
Because of space limitations, we have created something like a wedge of a banana ring. As pictured below, the two concrete walls will provide the protection other banana plants would while kang kung and ginger fill out the circle.
A leafy green, kang kung (or kang kong in other South Asian countries) is also known as water spinach. Because the banana and accompanying mulch will be the wettest area of the garden, this versatile veg is a great companion. The young leaves and shoots can be eaten raw or stir-fried, and mature plants can be cut and scattered as green manure.
Ginger also requires more water than the average garden variety, but slightly less than kang kung and bananas. For this reason, they make up the outer plantings of the ring. In our region, the roots of the ginger may be gently harvested year-round without disturbing the growth of the plant.
As we consume these three varieties regularly, and they are tolerant of semi-shade environments, they are the best edible options we have found for the space. You will also notice the blue rings below indicating Ceylon spinach. This is another hearty green, similar in flavor to western spinach, that grow as a creeper and re-seeds itself regularly. If allowed to climb, the vines can reach 5 feet or more. Otherwise, the plants behave more like a bushy ground cover.
Future plans for this space include the addition of raised beds in the center, hanging planters, and a flowering variety for the pollinators we desperately need to attract for the vegetable garden.