What I Would Plant on a Two-Acre Parcel by Scott Middlekauff

What I Would Plant on a Two-Acre Parcel

Written by Scott Middlekauff on 24 September 2010.

Evening Rain Farm pond and garden

Evening Rain Farm pond and home garden.

I have been asked what I would plant right now, if I were settling on a small parcel in Hawai’i, and if I want to grow most of the food for my family, and live somewhat sustainably.My needs for a good combination of food crops are: 1) an abundance of calories, oils, protein, greens. 2) foods not too difficult to grow, harvest and prepare. 3) foods that are delicious to eat.

And it is a big bonus if the crop has: 4) a long harvest season, or 5) is easy to preserve and store.

And it is very advantageous for the farmer and the land…

6) that the crops be no-till. (This means that it requires no plowing.) Plowing the land year after year is just plain not sustainable for the soil, and it is a bunch of hard work for the farmer, or his workers, animals, or machines (all potentially problematic).

Karin Payne (on right) shows the perennial greens garden to visitor Taylor Thornton.

Karin Payne (on right) shows the perennial greens garden to visitor Taylor Thornton.

If I were in various mainland climates, I might be raving about pecans, walnuts, hazel nuts, almonds, pine nuts, blueberries, apples and the other stone fruits (peaches, apricots etc.), but this article is only about the lowland tropics (below 1,000 ft). At about 30 foot spacing, one could fit roughly 45 trees in an acre. This figure is complicated by the fact that many plants grow well as understory crops, and some (like bananas) a lot closer together than that number. Simply put, if you mix tall and short plants, and sun loving and shade loving plants together, and so on, you can fit more than if you were to plant an orchard of one variety. That said, one needs to consider the amount of sun space and soil space that each plant needs to thrive.The first acre would need room for at least some of the following: a house, a storage/workshop building, water tank, an array of solar electric panels, solar hot water panels, sun space for garden areas, a clothes drying area, driveway. Of course, some areas can serve multiple purposes, and some trees can be planted above some of the infrastructure, increasing the capacity. Elevation, soil, rainfall, and wind all influence what will grow well on a property.

In order to be concise, I am leaving out most details of why I chose this or that plant, and many details about particular needs and attributes of these trees. Perhaps I will write a series of fact sheets about key trees. I will make one exception by mentioning that coconuts and breadfruit are less productive as you increase elevation and are less than ideal over 1,000 feet or so. That said, at 500 feet or lower, those two would be the first trees on my list.

I would plant at least these, in order of importance:

  • 18      coconuts palms (a mix of tall and dwarf)
  • 2      breadfruit (of different varieties to increase the length of season)
  • 5      different grafted avocados (chosen for fruit availability year round)
  • 1      key lime tree (bears all the time)
  • 20      banana plants (key food source)
  • 1-4      grafted macadamia nut trees
  • 2      grafted jackfruit
  • 1      breadnut
  • 1      Malabar chestnut
  • 1      Minneola tangelo
  • 5      papaya plants
  • 1      small diameter bamboo (under 2″ diameter, for poles, trellises, rails,      handles)

Then for greens:

  • 1      hedge of Chaya
  • 1      hedge of Katuk
  • 1      hedge of edible hibiscus

And for alternate carbohydrates:

  • cassava      patch
  • taro      patch
  • sweet      potato patch
  • A      few yams

The rest, I would divide up amongst your favorite fruit trees: Tangerines (various), Brazilian cherry, Jaboticaba, Pomelo, Oranges, Surinam cherry, chico sapote, Mangosteen, Durian, Soursop, Rollinia, Cacao, Coffee, Mango (dry areas only), Rambutan, Lychee, Longan, Chempedak, Starfruit, Star Apple, Abiu, Lemon, Grapefruit, Marang, Passionfruit (vine), Pili nut, Wi apple, Peach palm, Acai palm, Cashew, Cinnamon, and others.

Scott Middlekauff in his food agroforest.

Scott Middlekauff in his food agroforest.

I have planted all of the above, (they all have their particular characteristics and advantages) but for sake of discussion, my personal top picks of these (all things considered) are: tangerines (various), Jaboticaba, Lychee, Star apple, Passionfruit (yellow), and Rollinia.I would also consider adding some more bamboo plants if you have space (bamboo plants are larger than you might think), such as: Bambusa textilis, Guadua angustifolia, gigantichloa apus, and Bambusa tuldoides.

Before planting any of these plants, get to know what conditions each require, (rainfall, elevation, full sun or shade) and check that the appropriate form of propagation was used (seedling, graft, air layer etc.).

This plan would allow some more space for a few additional larger trees (timber trees, large bamboo, Pili nut, etc.) which could double as trellis for the many useful tropical vines. (Chayote, Passionfruit, Kiwano, Yam).

In planning this system, there are two particularly useful livestock that shouldn’t be overlooked.

  1. It      is often a good idea to have some tropical sheep in your orchard. They      will eat many of the weeds, and supply meat eaters with an occasional      lamb. At minimum, they need a sturdy fence to keep dogs out, and a tarp      for shelter from the rain. Sheep could be included at no more than 2      animals per acre, usually less.
  2. Additionally,      a 2 acre parcel could easily include 30 chickens in a free range      situation. “Free range” to me means they live as feral animals and find      their own food and shelter.

The inclusion of sheep and chickens would provide substantially more food, and would likely save work, since they would be doing “work” during their normal foraging activities, and they provide for almost all of their needs with scant human input.

So, there is a basic plan to get a family started. I’ve left out most timber plants, fiber plants, annual garden plants, herbs, groundcovers, medicinals, aquaculture, root crops, spice trees. I’ve pretty much neglected all of the understory plants — I’m hoping to write that sequel some time in the future.

Scott Middlekauf lives with his wife Karin Payne on their 22 acre sustainable farmstead in Kapoho. You can read their fascinating blog at EveningRainFarm.com.

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