Sweet and juicy mango, bananas, healthy avocado, amazing passion fruit – everybody loves tropical plants. Even coffee and tea would never exist if not the tropical climate.
Tropics – they seem to have what everybody dream of. Perfect weather, exciting nature, easy life, beautiful beaches, interesting cultures, and so on and so on… But what is also good to realize, first of all this climate is also a dream for most of the plants on our planet. Where the temperature never goes down to zero, where is plenty of water and sunshine, plants will always explode in their growth and diversity.
Why would we cultivate tropical plants, if there is plenty of others?
People are getting more and more aware, how important it is to eat as much local as possible. But it seems that with tropical fruits we always find
an excuse to buy fruits produced on other continents. Just because we really love them – and we don’t see other options to grow it locally.
That’s where our motivation started. We had always big admiration for tropical plants. Not only for the yield, but also because they are such gorgeous beings. And also we liked the challenge to provide them good condition in a permaculture way – without unnecessary energy cost of heating. If you are new to the permaculture, here is our little fun introduction: What is Permaculture
Living in the center of Portugal on the land with south-west slope, we have a really good start to it. Still during the winter temperature can drop to about -2°C. The summer air gets really hot and dry, which can be as bad for the tropical plants, because they are used to high humidity in the air.
Here is our list of tropical plants and crops with a little side info:
This one is a really easy in our mild Mediterranean climate. It can grow outdoors, although in the first couple of years of growth it likes sheltered space. It’s good to protect it from the frost and wind. There are ways to germinate them from the seed. First crop is possible after approx. 5-7 years. The two varieties we had experience so far are Hass and Bacon, both doing well.
It is strictly tropical crop, so we were very happy to receive fruits already twice. The tree itself is very fragile and needs support, specially while carrying fruits. We have got it from the local nursery. The reason why it is not strong at all, is that the tree spends all its life in the greenhouse, before it got to us. It never had any wind, that usually trains the tree to be strong. On our farm it stays in our geodome greenhouse in the winter, and during the summer stands supported in the sun.
Others call it maracuja, which is way more popular in Portuguese. Passion fruit is an evergreen subtropical climber with stunning flowers. Taste of the fruit explain its name very well. There are plenty of varieties suitable for different needs. We grow the possum purple, the most popular for the juicy and sweet fruits. Although maracuja can grow outside, it benefits a lot being in the greenhouse. Our two plants are with us less than three years now and last season we had amazing harvest. Especially nice is that the fruits don’t mature all at once, so the season takes even couple of months. I almost forgot to eat other fruits, because the taste of the passion fruit is just so addictive…
In Portugal called feijoa, it’s a subtropical bush or tree, which we have planted along the food forest as a windbreak. It can be easily outside in our climate, but it will prefer sunny spots. Interesting detail about this crop is that it’s very helpful to pollinate it by hand, since in the natural environment the plant would use a help of a birds, that are not common in Portugal. It gives a fruit in size comparable with passion fruit. The taste is significant and fresh.
Tea plant (camellia sinensis)
A bush native to China and Southeast Asia, it’s very commonly used all over the world. As every tropical plant it loves plenty of sun, high temperature and rich soil. It is hard to germinate the seeds, mainly because the seed has to usually travel a long time and it should be used fresh. We managed to get our bush from the local nursery. We keep it in a large pot, so we can move it around to find perfect position along the year. It tends to get fungi disease on the leaves, so plenty of air circulation and sunshine is needed. It also loves very fertile soil. The leaves can be harvested bit by bit, just like with lemon grass.
Their beautiful leaves give a tropical, holiday feeling to our farm. Unfortunately we haven’t manage to make it fruit. Also I don’t know of anybody, who did manage it here in our region. But the banana plant itself has also another great ability to filter the water and it is used this way in many permaculture designs. That is also why we planted our right below the bathroom.
It is our new exciting experiment. So far we germinated couple of seeds from the fruit of local bio shop. The germination was incredibly easy and plants grew very fast. At the moment, in the beginning of the winter, they are getting sad about less sun.
Carob tree is quite popular along the Mediterranean countries, although in the first couple of years it can’t stand too cold temperatures. We germinated the seeds from the tree found in Guarda region. Once established they seem to be happy and by 3 years old now they had reached a size 1,5 meters.
Lemon grass and cardamom
Those two wonderful smelling plants have a really similar requirements for growth. Both could stay outdoors in Portuguese climate, but only once well established with good root system. Everybody know cardamom as a seed capsules, but that’s not all that this plant has to offer. Their leaves can be used as much as seeds and its smell is unforgettable.
Please, share your experience in comments below drop us a message if you seek for any more info.