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Working a new garden

Published Wednesday, March 31, 2021

By Victoria Torley

Every gardener knows the back-breaking work of starting a new garden. There is a lot of digging to be done. Turning over the heavily-weeded dirt (can’t call it soil yet), shaking the dirt off the roots, carting the “hope-they-are-dead” weeds away, removing larger rocks, carting away any lumps of clay – well, you’ve done it. It’s a mess.

Then comes the manuring, soil amendment, turning everything over – I get tired and sweaty just thinking about it. It must be done, even if you are going to plant the corn.
Corn is Metric Man’s favorite veggie and, even if we can’t grow sweet corn in the tropics, we can pick other corn before it gets nasty.

Why can’t we grow sweet corn? Not enough hours of daylight. Iowa sweet corn requires 14-16 hours of daylight. (Here’s a secret – the University of Hawai’i, Hilo, developed a new sweet corn for the tropics that will ripen with only 12 hours of sun.)

So, there I was, ready, finally, to plant six rows of corn, each eight feet long. I mounded the earth and deposited the seeds. Then I waited. Then I waited some more. Finally, the corn made its appearance but not in neat, orderly rows. My corn ‘field’ looked as if someone had strewn the seeds haphazardly. When I asked a local about it, he laughed. Laughing at all my efforts? It was, he told me, the Nicaraguan grackles. Evidently, when I turned my back on the ‘field,’ the birds swooped in to have a picnic. Not good.

Anyone who grows corn knows that pollination is vital. It only occurs properly when there is a dense planting of corn. My corn was no longer dense. Worse yet, I then caught the grackles in the act of pulling out the fragile surviving shoots and eating them!

Trowel in hand, I hurried to the ‘field’ ready to transplant the survivors into a tight clump where they could pollinate well. Mind you, I had perhaps 50 survivors. I dug them, I moved them, I reset them tenderly. Then I got some chicken wire and built a dome over them to protect them from marauders.

In the end, though, it was no use. A few mornings later, I went out to check on them, and they were gone! Something, something relatively large, had shoved aside the wire and munched them up!

I am giving up on corn.


Every year, ICE (Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad or in English: Costa Rican Institute of Electricity) gives away trees for accents or for forest restoration: Cedro, rosewood (cocobolo), frangipani, Guanacaste, and others. I don’t know if that has changed this year but check with your local ICE office for information. The give-away usually occurs in May or early June.

Time to bare your arm for a tetanus shot! Yes, if you garden, you may come in contact with this bacterial toxin from rusty wire, old cans, and even thorns. Protect yourself!

Editor's note: More information on this article or about gardening, Ms. Victoria Torley, gardener columnist, can be reached at

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