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Life in Season: What to Do with All Those Mangoes (& Other Harvesting Conundrums)

We knew it was coming. Hell, we were excited about the fact that it was coming. We were returning to Panama just in time for mango season, taking the reigns of a piece of property with five or six large mango trees, and beyond those, we knew some of the neighbors let hundreds of fruits rot on the ground every year. Well, that wasn’t going to happen on our watch. We love(d) mangoes. We were going to utilize every one of them.

Then, it started happening. While we were lying in bed, a thunderous crash would awaken us in the night. And, a few minutes later, another one. Outside, the skies were clear, but the trees were raining mangoes. The first mornings were slow: a bag of 30, 40, 50 off the ground. Then, as the season progressed, it was two bags then three bags — we easily collected a 100 or more mangoes a day. It was too much for two people. When volunteers started arriving, it was too much for five people.

The calvary comes: new volunteers revitalize dilapidated enthusiasm

As waste-not-want-nots, my wife Emma and I could never have imagined letting so much food go bad. It wasn’t the harvesting that was the problem – that only took a half-hour every morning, walking around picking up fruits off the ground. The problem was that cutting up a hundred mangoes takes hours. And, doing it every day begins to become a bit soul-sucking.

We hadn’t even gone to the neighbor’s place yet, and we were already sick of the sight of them — each crash of falling mango causing our lips to curl.

  • Advice for Permaculture in the Tropics: If you are in a place that can host mango trees, plant some early on. It takes about five years for the trees to bear fruit, and within a few more, you’ll be reminiscing about the old days when you didn’t have to cut up all this fruit. Seriously, a tropical fruit forest, just like a tropical fruit salad, is a little incomplete without mangoes, and the yield is well worth your time. The season is short but crazy bountiful.

What to do with all those mangoes

Most of the permaculture literature we’ve read, which equates to a small library, focuses a lot on designing systems, making your efforts stretch to a maximum by only creating things with multiple uses.

For example, our hugelkultur bed made good use of a felled tree, as well as created a richly fertile no-till garden bed that could be harvested without bending over for hours. By being a meter tall and v-shaped, it created lots of edges and corners, making different microclimates for years to come, and it acts as a wind-break for some plants and provides shade for others. In the end, the earth will be left with a mound of great soil atop the clay mess I’ve built it on. I think it was worth the effort.

The first batch of mango jam and mango chutney. So exciting.

What I’ve not read a lot about is what to do with the results of growing well — i.e. the damned crop! We soon realized that, like those crafty designs, permaculture harvesting also requires a lot of uses. Mangoes deliver a massive amount of food — enough for a daily cobbler eating contest — at one time. Despite our best efforts, we found ourselves in a state of always feeling behind, unable to ‘deal’ with them all before it was too late.

We’d had plans for what to do with all the mangoes — jam, smoothies, and canning — but, before long, we noticed we were eating mango three meals a day, having a mid-morning smoothie to boot, and had already made juice, jam, chutney, ice cream, sorbet, pickled mango, giant frozen bags of mango, neighborly gifts of mango, and lots and lots of dehydrated mango. We were even making butter from the seeds. Then, we visited the neighbor as we’d promised to do and came home with a wheelbarrow more.

  • Advice for the harvest : Give food away. Frankly, we grew a little sick of eating mangoes. They taste great, provide nutritious food, and were literally piled at our feet. But, enough was enough. When we started giving them away, the neighbors became a little friendlier, and without even prompting it, an exchange started. After delivering the second bag of mangoes, we were presented with a massive pineapple, something we readily welcomed as we are still a good year away from harvesting our first.

And, why it’s okay to let those mangoes rot

In the heat of the summer, in the pull of the harvest, it’s easy to forget about nature. Produce is in such abundance, and for us, as budding growers, the inclination is to utilize every ounce of it to fill our bellies. However, nature doesn’t work that way, does it? In fact, animals can be quite wasteful, leaving half fruits discarded on the ground, not bothering to devour each and every offering a tree hangs out there.

A wheelbarrow full of mangoes and other seasonal goodies

No, in truth, a lot of what is produced in season goes to ‘waste’. Luckily, this waste is not wasted at all, but rather works well in composts or different compost-based bed designs like the banana circle. Once I realized we could never keep up with the mangoes, and that nearly half of what was coming off the tree hit the ground and split open anyway, I began rejoicing in the food for my plants as well, feeding each of my circles, as well as my greenhouse compost bin a couple times a week.

We are vegans and, thus, run a site without animals (we do collect manure from a nearby cow pasture from time to time), but if it were not the case, all those leftover mangoes would suit a pig just fine or they could attract some worms for chickens. Whatever the case, our fat harvest can do and does do a lot more than fatten us up.

Once the mayhem of trying to can and eat each and every mango subsided, the overproduction was welcomed. Then, the other mango trees started dropping fruit as well, and it all started over again. This time we were a little wiser.

  • Advice for the excess: I began harvesting mangoes each morning with a couple of bags — one for the kitchen and one for the compost. Because our trees were already here and not part of the food forest design, the rotting carcasses were better used elsewhere. But, in a proper forest, they could just sit in-situ.

Mango salad with our homegrown hot peppers and green onions

Other harvesting conundrums

At the same time as our excess mangoes, we’d discovered five cashew trees on the property next door, where no one lives. We began harvesting them regularly also, saving the nuts to process later — try this simple cashew cheese — and putting the cashew apples, which are quite healthy, to use right away. They make fantastic juice, which mixes well with mango, and the meat of the fruit actually works fantastically as a meat-y texture in vegan cooking. It worked great for the BBQ. Ultimately, lots of the fruits just stayed on the ground. We can collect the nuts for later, but the fruit….

Cashew Apples. Almost as Plentiful as Mangoes. Lots of Great Uses and a Tree Definitely Worth Planting

We’ve also learned a few new tricks with plantains, which come in bunches that far outgrow our eating capacity. We dry them, mash them, make burgers, fry them, and donate some to the birds. Even so, some fruit ultimately goes back towards feeding the next crop. Bananas are the same (try green banana burgers — amazing).

  • Advice for cooks: I’ve found a few green banana burger recipes online but not one comparable to what we do. We take the raw green banana (it must be green) and grate it, skin and all. The skins gives it a great texture. Add some diced onions, peppers, and spices. That’s it. The moisture of the banana holds it all together for a patty. Cook it in a frying pan. Voila!

I suppose it will always be the case, as well as exemplify yet another reason why the permaculture mindset is so sane: When things grow well, as they do in good designs and nature (and sometimes just out of spite), they grow in such abundance that it might not be possible to utilize it all at the kitchen table, and, no one is expected to. Eat what you can, feed those around you, and let the earth keep the rest. Isn’t that how nature, the consummate host, does it anyway?

Jonathon Engels

The financially unfortunate combination of travel enthusiast, freelance writer, and vegan gardener, Jonathon Engels whittled and whistled himself into a life that gives him cause to continually scribble about it. He has lived as an expat for over a decade, worked in nearly a dozen countries, and visited dozens of others in the meantime, subjecting the planet to a fiery mix of permaculture, music, and plant-based cooking. More of his work can be found at Jonathon Engels: A Life About.


  1. I love it! Really looking forward to having this problem in a few months (our fruit trees are just coming into production so we will be producing way more than we can eat soon.) Last autumn I made about 40 jars of pears in syrup from one tree on the neighbour’s property…

    One thing — are those mangoes sweet enough to make jam without adding sugar? Isn’t this one of the shortcomings of making jam, that you have to rely on importing sugar?

    1. Mangoes do have a lower sugar content than other fruits, but we made the jam without added sugar, despite being in sugarcane-laden Panama. We more or less just reduced the mangoes in a pan and canned them. Delicious.

  2. You had me at “lying in bed.” If you had said, “laying in bed,” I would have stopped reading, figuring you were a chicken. Great ideas! So much home grown fruit goes to waste.

  3. I love it too !!! But here in the Jungles of Laos we have a huge problem with the dropping of the mangoes. They start dropping when they are only 1 inch big. When they are a bit bigger, some of them are already cracked while on the trees and then drop… We loose 99 % of the mangoes, aka a few 1,000’s of wasted mangoes…
    We have not been able to find a solution ;o( either from the Faculty of Agriculture or on the ‘Net. Any ideas of what to do ? Any help would be profoundly appreciated !
    Cheers, Chris (aka Laochef)

  4. I have been a brewer for years. Have you tried fermentation and a solar distillation ? When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. The mangoes seem like they would great stock for a product that would really have your neighbors happy to know you. Keep up the good work and love thy neighbor.

    1. We definitely want to give it a try. I read that the sugar content being low would mean unlikely success making booze. However, the composting mangoes have seemed to be hinting otherwise. Any tips would be greatly appreciated, and we will definitely give it a go.

  5. What a fantastic reminder that the Earth is designed to “manage” itself rather well if we will leave it alone! Without our interference, it ultimately balances itself quite nicely. Congrats for your ongoing efforts!

  6. The Mango tree outside our backdoor bears the sweetest fruit.
    Made Chutney using very little added sugar and packs of diced mango in the freezer.
    They will definitely be able to ferment.
    It is really astounding the amout of fruit it produces and
    making use of it is a challenge.

  7. We have that over abundance problem here in egypt with papayas! It took almost a year of processing papayas into concentrate and filling the freezer with recycled 2 ltr soda bottles full of it before I finally started liking it. Our papayas are a tad bitter, but with sugar cane juice from the jungle they’ve grown into, and some mango mush added into the mix, I’ve learned to love papaya! Mango is definitely the key to successful papaya juice here.

    We’ve got bananas growing in the midst of the sugarcane jungle, too, and it’s crazy hard for two people to eat a whole banana load. We’ve learned to just slice off one hand at a time, as it ripens, and leave the rest of the bunch hanging on the tree – the bunch ripens more slowly that way, and it’s easier than figuring out where to hang the big bunch to ripen without bruising itself. I can’t wait to try your green banana burger, that sounds really strange, but I’m pretty strange too, so it’s cool!

    Btw, it’s the end of persimmon season, and even our ducks are sick of them! But they make great frozen yogurt with waterbuffalo milk – what a treat for those of us who don’t drink the fermented stuff! Thanks for a hilarious article, I totally relate ;^D

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