Tropical Planting Guide - A List of Plants Annual Vegetable GardeningMar 31, 2023
Tropical gardening can be easy if you know what you are doing. It is true to say that it is a whole different experience to temperate climates in which much of the information out there teaches. This article offers some insight into the best growing times with respect to our wet and dry seasons and, better yet, a free download to print and use to plan your abundant veggie patch. I have also provided some gardening tips that will help you on your garden-to-plate journey, such as planting by the moon, staggering harvests and seed suppliers!
Firstly, let's start with timing. Our summers are hot and wet, which stresses and drowns the majority of vegetables that people are familiar with from the supermarket. As a culture, we often eat out of season and rely on the European temperate climate for fruits and vegetables to be available all year long with the convenient visit to the shops.
In reality, these foods often travel thousands of kilometres and will never have the vitality nor sustainable footprint as foods picked fresh from your garden. The good news is that there are plenty of edible plants that provide nutrient-dense food throughout this season. Most of them are perennial (planted once and continue to grow) and hardy. I suggest getting them into your garden first and foremost if food security and resilience are important to you. Stay tuned for a blog on wet-season gardening. However, I do have a book (e-book and print) that contains 32 plants and recipes to grow and eat from your garden to your plate. It includes plant lists to grow a food forest and for a perennial kitchen garden. Check out my blog: The Incredible Edibles Superfood Plant List!
The best time to grow annual vegetables in the tropics is during the cool season, between Autumn and Spring. We have a window of 5-6 months, depending on when our wet seasons start and end. Some years, I have seeded out my annuals at the end of March to watch them wither with monsoonal rain in April! Usually, May to September are the most reliable cooler months, with many plants going to seed from October onwards as the temperatures increase, with or without rain.
My suggestion is to eat the incredible edibles list throughout summer, which will be a change in culinary practices for some. For example, Aibika tips instead of broccoli, Snake beans instead of Green Bush beans, Sisso and Okinawa instead of Spinach, Cranberry Hibiscus leaf and Cress instead of Salad. Then there is Cassava and Taro rather than potato, and the list goes on! I have had to re-educate myself on tropical plants and cuisine in my permaculture journey of eating from my garden here in Kuranda, Far North Queensland. I am still learning, for the different food plants keep arriving!
Back to annuals - Once you have established perennials that provide food for you all year round, then annuals are fun and tasty visitors. I do enjoy the excitement of harvesting snow peas, celery and the rest of the colourful veggies that come for a small window of the year.
It is fun to get into the rhythm of planting, and I do it simply with the moon cycle for vitality. With a hot compost pile made in summer and worm farms ongoing, the fertility that comes from these in the form of hummus and liquid fertiliser is really important to grow annual veggies as they are heavy feeders or higher maintenance than the previously mentioned perennials.
This is how I do it:
New Moon to 1st Quarter (waxing moon) - leafy greens (any plant with leafy parts that you eat). For example, lettuce, kale, broccoli, cabbage etc.
1st Quarter Moon to Full (waxing moon) - fruiting annuals (any plant that produces a fruit/veg part that you eat). For example, Cucumber, Tomato, Corn, Squash, Beans etc.
Full Moon to 3rd Quater (waning moon) - root crops and other perennial plants (any plant that produces food underground that you eat). For example, Potatoes, Beetroot, Radish etc.
3rd Quarter to New Moon (waning moon) - no planting, just weeding and making compost, caring for worms and applying fertility. Rest and plan.
My online course goes into much more detail about working with the moon and activities to do throughout the phases to enjoy easy gardening. If you want to learn such skills for sustainability with 96 lessons to design, grow and educate yourself in your own garden, join us here in my Online Permaculture Program.
Planning Your Yield: To prevent overwhelm, write down a list of foods you want to grow based on a planting guide for your climate (like the free one you can download here) and choose what your top 10 are with consideration of the space you have available to grow. Once you know what you want to harvest (yield), use your list to set some planting dates based on the moon cycle and the type of plant.
Stagger Planting Times: Another useful tip I have learnt along the way is to stagger my planting so my harvests are spread out instead of having a lot of everything ready at once. Whilst pickling and preserving are great, my homesteading kitchen time is limited, and I prefer to pick fresh and eat. That's why I love the simplicity of moon planting. Each time the cycle comes around, I can replant. For example, I will seed more Rocket and mixed salad greens on every new moon. With Tomatoes and Cucumbers, I will skip a month to seed out more on the Half to Full Moon every two months.
Direct seed vs Seedlings: I personally direct seeds to any plants that have tiny seeds, like leafy greens and any beans. If they are larger, such as fruiting annuals like Tomato, Eggplants and Cucumber, I will grow them in my nursery first and then place them into my veggie patch when they are about 10 cm tall.
Seed Stock: It is really important to start with quality seeds. This means non-genetically modified (GMO) and, ideally, open-pollinated true-to-type (not hybrid) grown as close to your region as possible. Local garden groups, Seed Savers Network. Permaculture groups and community gardens are great places to source seeds. If I have needed to buy seeds, they have been from places like Eden Seeds and Green Harvest which are organic seed providers on the central east coast of Australia.
Many seeds can be saved, and this is a gardening activity I love to do! Again, the tips above are covered in the full lesson in my Online Permaculture Program for in-depth know-how and group coaching.
A List of Plants Annual Vegetable Gardening
Sweet potatoes: Sweet potatoes are a nutrient-dense and easy-to-grow vegetable that is perfect for permaculture gardens. They can be grown from slips or cuttings and thrive in hot and humid climates. Sweet potatoes are also great for soil health, as they are a natural weed suppressant and help to improve soil structure. We eat the leaves in summer and root in winter. It usually takes 3 months to mature and could be grown all year round.
Beans: Beans are a nitrogen-fixing crop that can help to improve soil fertility in permaculture gardens. They can be grown on trellises or as a ground cover, and they come in a variety of sizes and colours. Beans also have a long growing season, so they are a great option for extending your harvest. The more you pick, the more they will grow! During the cool season, we grow snow peas, blue lake bush beans and purple king climbing beans. The wet season is Snake and Wing beans. Madagascar beans grow in the wet but are ready to harvest in the cool season.
- Tomatoes: Tomatoes are a must-have in any vegetable garden, and there are many varieties that are well-suited for tropical climates. My favourites are Thai Pink-eggs and Yellow-pairs, which are a bit bigger than cherry tomatoes. There are hundreds of varieties, so try them out! I personally have found that large tomatoes will split in the later months when the temps get higher. Tomatoes need plenty of sunlight and well-drained soil, and they should be watered regularly to prevent the soil from drying out. Don't plant tomatoes in the same garden bed year after year, but rather move them to a new location to prevent disease.
Peppers: Peppers are another great addition to your tropical vegetable garden. Whether you prefer sweet bell peppers or spicy jalapenos, there is a pepper variety that will thrive in your garden. Peppers need plenty of sunlight and well-drained soil and should be fertilised regularly to ensure healthy growth. I have found they can live for many years, not quite an annual, so I have planted them in dedicated perennial beds instead of the annual garden.
Cucumbers: Cucumbers are a refreshing and easy-to-grow vegetable that is perfect for tropical climates. They need plenty of sunlight and well-drained soil, and they should be watered regularly to prevent the soil from drying out. Cucumbers also benefit from trellising, which can help keep the fruit off the ground and prevent rotting, a helpful technique for wet weather. I put both beans and cucumbers on the same trellis for easy harvests.
Squash: Squash is a versatile vegetable that can be used in a variety of dishes, from stir-fries to soups to casseroles. Some of the best squash varieties for tropical climates include zucchini, butternut squash, and acorn squash. Squash needs plenty of sunlight and well-drained soil, and it should be watered regularly to prevent the soil from drying out. They can be grown on trellises or as a ground cover, and they provide shade and moisture retention for other plants in the garden. Squash also has a long shelf life, so they are a great option for storing and preserving your harvest. Grow them with corn and beans!
Eggplant: Eggplants are a unique vegetable that is perfect for tropical climates, and much like Peppers, they can live for multiple seasons in the right conditions. So again, pop them in a perennial bed. They need plenty of sunlight and well-drained soil and should be fertilised regularly to ensure healthy growth.
Okra: Okra is a vegetable that is well-suited for tropical climates. It needs plenty of sunlight and well-drained soil, and it should be watered regularly to prevent the soil from drying out.
- Asian Greens: All the Bok Choi, Tat soi's and Mustards are easy to grow. I spread their seed everywhere, in all the spaces available! They can be harvested by taking off the outer leaves rather than the whole plant, to continue growing all season.
- Lettuce and Kale: I do not bother with butterhead lettuce varieties but rather use a 'loose leaf' salad mix so I can visit my garden for a quick pick of different salad leaves in one place. It is a colourful mix that does well, like Rocket. Midzuna, Oakleaf and Kale together.
These, however, are just 10 out of many annual vegetables that can be grown, so download your Annual Tropical Vegetable Planting Guide (below) from the EarthEartisan. It is both an illustrated poster and a spreadsheet.
FREE TROPICAL VEGETABLE PLANTING GUIDE: DOWNLOAD LINK
The PDF contains 2 pages. The first is a linear spreadsheet, and the second is a cyclic planner of the year. The guide is separated into; Fruits, Roots, Leaves and Legumes to assist with ease of crop rotation.
The Spreadsheet contains planning details such as:
- Weeks from seed to harvest
This is the time in days from when it takes from seed to germinate to the time to harvest the crop.
- Spacing between plants
When planting, this is the spacing between each plant in centimetres (cm)
- Direct (D) or seed tray (S)
Direct means directly into the garden bed, and seed tray means sowing the seed into a tray or pot and germinating the seed before it goes into the garden.
- X indicates the time to plant.
With the right preparation and care, you can grow a thriving and productive garden that will provide you with fresh and healthy produce throughout the growing season. So why not give it a try and see what tropical plants you can grow in your vegetable garden today?
If you want to spend a weekend learning how to plan, design, make and create edible gardens for all-year-round harvesting and get skilled in sustainability, join me in one of our 2-Day Intro To Permaculture Workshops!