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Some tips on gardening in Costa Rica

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Published on Friday, July 7, 2023

By Victoria Torley 

A few years ago, I wrote Jim Brodell (now editor emeritus at AM Costa Rica) and suggested that a column about the adjustments a gardener from upstate New York has to make after moving to Costa Rica might be interesting to readers. 

He wrote back suggesting that people had suggested columns before but had run out of ideas after a month or so.

That was in 2014.

Okay, so not every column has been a home run but it has been fun and Iíve learned quite a lot along the way and occasionally, Iíve been able to teach something. So, what have I learned that I can still pass along?

1. Get used to gigantic vegetables! Commercial gardeners in Costa Rica like to leave their vegetables on the vine or in the ground until they are ready to explode. Beats are the size of softballs, radishes approach the size of tennis balls, and Bugs Bunny could live for a week on one carrot. Forget young, tender and delicious, these things are old, fibrous, and tough.

2. No one in Costa Rica knows what anything is called. Weeds are all montes, berries are all moras (except for strawberries), and trees are usually no sť (I donít know). If you want to find out what something is, post a picture on the Facebook page, Gringo Gardeners in Costa Rica and wait for an answer Ė unless you are posting an orchid. To find out what an orchid is, post on the FB page American Orchid Society. Donít worry about the name, I have posted many times and once had an answer in about three minutes. The respondent lived in Germany. Itís a small world.

3. Pick your home area carefully. Some places get a meter of rain, some get three meters and others get six meters. Six meters is 19 feet eight inches, a considerable amount of rain and not suited for most vegetables unless you plan on a greenhouse. Costa Rica is supposed to have a rainy season and a dry season. Donít believe a word of it. Some places have a rainy season and a rainier season.

4. Learn the metric system. Sigh. Metric Man Ė a scientist since high school all those years ago Ė always insisted that I learn the metric system and I always resisted. Now Iím stuck with it and so are you. Oh, you can still cook with your usual recipes, but you can only buy with the metric system. And you will have to learn some new words. Confectionerís sugar is now ďazucar molidaĒ (it took me years to figure that one out).

So, welcome to Costa Rica. Thereís always something new to learn.

Something different this week. For a while, we had a lovely visitor on the deck, a red-lored Amazon parrot. Not knowing how long she would stay, we bought parrot food. The parrot, we named Gloria, has flown but the seed left something behind.

If you would like to grow a sunflower, look no further than a packet of parrot food. Who knows what will turn up?

Find more amazing stories about gardening in Costa Rica on the AM Costa Rica Garden website. Questions on this article, Ms. Victoria Torley, gardener columnist, can be reached at victoriatorley1@gmail.com

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