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 proportion no less! There are many reasons for this including a great climate, sufficient precipitation, and extremely rich volcanic soil. Gardening for me is a form of therapy. Getting my hands into the soil is my way of feeling connected to mother earth.
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. I have been yearning for specific veggies that are staples in our southern diet like mustard and turnip greens, okra, yellow squash, yams, black eye peas and sweet corn. These are things that we cannot find here in Costa Rica but will grow and thrive here like most everything else. With advise from my grandmother and help from our knowledgable gardener Ramon, we now have the start to 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 plant accordingly and save that 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 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 the 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 saute 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 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. 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 make a vinegar brine by bringing vinegar, salt, garlic, mustard seed and hot peppers (if you like it spicy) to a boil and them pour over the okra. Seal and let 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 thriving. Cucumbers, watermelon, ayote (a type of squash), yellow squash and pumpkin are growing at an excellerated 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 have coffee too! Oh, and chickens. Free range of course!
Pests. We are trying our best to keep things organic and so far we have not had any real bug problems. This is a miracle to me 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 neighbors cows! Manure T 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. You drain the tea off to use as your liquid fertilizer. You can also break up the dry manure and place around the plants and water daily.
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 that it will thrive. Produce in Costa Rica is very inexpensive so there is no economic reason to grow your own garden. However the rewards one reaps from planting a small seed and nurturing it to the point it produces something delicious to eat is a true miracle. For me living in Costa Rica has brought me back to my roots and helped me to appreciate, remember and realize what most of us now take for granted; that is getting food to the table is a process and not always easy. But as in life with hard work and dedication, you will be rewarded literally with the fruits of your labor and a profound sense of accomplishment.
Costa Rica Realtors Chamber
Tours in Costa Rica
Pure Life Development of Atenas is a full service tour company. We feature full vacation packages and day trips for the family. Our tour director Nelson Conejo is very experienced and provides a personal service and attention to detail second to none in Costa Rica. Please write Nelson or give him a call to arrange your next Costa Rican vacation at (506)2446-0447 or
Retirement Living in Atenas
Interview with Pure Life Development co-founder and certified realtor Dennis Easters, about Costa Rica ranked by AARP as "one of the best places to retire abroad".