Anyone who comes to Costa Rica realizes right away what a fertile country this is. Things grow just by sticking them in the ground – to Jurassic proportions no less!

There are many reasons why this occurs, including a great climate, sufficient precipitation, and extremely rich volcanic soil. Gardening is a form of therapy for me. Getting my hands into the soil is my way of feeling connected to mother earth.

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I come from a family of farmers and growing up we always had a vegetable garden at home. My nana is almost 84 and she still plants her garden every year. Since I’ve been here in Costa Rica, I have been yearning for specific veggies that are staples in our southern diet like mustard and turnip greens, okra, yellow squash, yams, black eyed peas, and sweet corn. These are things that we cannot find here in Costa Rica, but that will grow and thrive here like most everything else.

With advice from my grandmother and help from our knowledgable gardener Ramon, we now have established a super garden that is beginning to turn out some yummy treats.

About two months ago, Ramon started creating raised beds to start our seeds. He made them 3 feet wide by about 40 feet long. We put in rich soil that came from areas of our farm that have been naturally composted for years. Certain vegetables do not need a good quality soil. For example, beans, okra, corn, and collard greens will actually thrive in poor, sandy soil. So, we planted accordingly to save the good, rich soil for the plants that need it. Once the beds were ready, we started sowing our seeds.

Some of the delicate items (like the turnip greens and onions) we started in smaller beds by just spreading the seeds around, watering and then covering them with banana leaves until they started to germinate. Once the seeds began to sprout, we removed the banana leaves and allowed the plants to develop until they were ready to be transplanted into the prepared beds. The turnip greens have been a big success. We have been pulling them weekly and preparing them the traditional way with bacon and fresh baked cornbread.

If you have an abundance of greens as we do, the young turnip greens are wonderful in a salad mix with the young roots tossed in for a nice crunch and bite similar to that of a radish. Another option is to sauté the young greens and roots with bacon, onion and garlic and serve as a side dish.

One item in our garden that is of particular interest to me is okra. Okra is one of those regional vegetables that you either love or hate. In my case, I love it. In true Forrest Gump style, I like boiled okra, okra and tomatoes, fried okra, okra in gumbo, pickled okra…you get the idea. Okra grows best in very warm temperatures and poor soil. So far, the seeds have sprouted and are growing like weeds.

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With luck in about 6 weeks we will have more okra than we can eat. What is left over we will pickle by simply packing the raw okra standing up in a jar, until tightly packed. Then we will make a vinegar brine by bringing vinegar, salt, garlic, mustard seed, and hot peppers (if you like it spicy) to a boil and then pouring it over the okra. Seal it and let it set for one week and enjoy. You can also add sugar if you want to have a sweet version!

There are several other things in our garden that are doing really well. Cucumbers, watermelon, ayote (a type of squash), yellow squash, and pumpkin are growing at an accelerated rate. We love a local bean called cubasa, but they are seasonal and very expensive. I purchased a bag and we planted them, and guess what? They too are thriving!

In addition, we have planted bananas, plantains, and guineo, which is a banana that is cooked green with beans or made into a salad. Our mangos, camitos (milk fruit), avocados, carambola (star fruit), papaya, zapote, granadilla (family of passion fruit), and sweet lemons are thriving. Coffee? Yes we are growing coffee, too! Oh, and we have chickens – free range of course!

As far as pests go, we are trying our best to keep things organic and, so far, we have not had any real bug problems. This is a miracle considering that the bugs in Costa Rica, like the vegetation, grow to exaggerated sizes. They can wipe out a garden over night, especially the cutter ants. Our fertilizer is homemade. Well, actually it is made by our neighbor’s cows! “Manure Tea” is the best fertilizer you can use for anything.

All you need is a large vat. To the vat you add dried cow manure, grass cuttings or leaves, and water. Let this set to make a tea and then you drain the “tea” off to use as your liquid fertilizer. You can also break up the dry manure, place it around the plants, and water daily.

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A quick trip to your weekly feria (fresh market) will make you realize that growing an abundant garden in Costa Rica is not only possible, but viable. In all likelihood, it will thrive! Produce in Costa Rica is very inexpensive for the most part, so there is no real economic reason to grow your own garden. However, the rewards one reaps from planting a small seed and nurturing it to the point that it produces something delicious to eat is incredibly fulfilling. Also, having a garden in Costa Rica will allow you to grow some of the vegetables from “back home” that you may miss eating in the land of pura vida.

Living in Costa Rica has brought me back to my roots and helps me appreciate, remember, and realize what most of us now take for granted; that getting food from the farm to the table is a process, and it is not always easy. However, as in other areas of life, with hard work and dedication in the garden, you will be rewarded with the fruits of your labor and a profound sense of accomplishment!

Gardening in Costa Rica. A closet Gringo farmer living off the fat of the land.

Article/Property ID Number 3481

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