San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

May Is Planting Season in Costa Rica

AT last, thehot, arid days ofverano (summer)have ended and thetransitional rains ofApril have moistenedthe earth oncemore to bring anew “spring”planting season.Actually, Ticosrefer to May as thebeginning of theirinvierno (winter),since they considertheir climate as having only two distinctseasons. But with the greening of the landscapeand the budding foliage on manytrees, it’s easy to feel spring in the air.Throughout Costa Rica, farmers andgardeners are now planting. This is anideal time to plant practically all gardenvegetables, root crops, corn and beans, aswell as tropical fruit trees and ornamentals,around the home. As in all regions ofthe northern hemisphere, the sunlighthours will increase slightly each day untilthe summer solstice on June 21. This phenomenonstimulates plants to more growvigorously and results in better productionduring this period of the year.Corn, for example, grows much tallerand produces more ears of corn at thistime of the year, and it will be ready ascorn on the cob around July. Corn pollinatesbest when planted in sections at leastfive meters square. Try planting a milpa(native-corn patch) with a variety of vegetables,such as ayote (squash) and vainica(pole beans), right in with the corn. Smallmilpas have a tendency to be more diversifiedand harmonious with nature.We dig small holes about one meterapart and add a shovelful of rich compostin each before planting three corn seeds ineach spot. This method seems never tofail in producing healthy, vigorous cornplants. Later, when the corn is knee-high,we cultivate the soil around the base ofeach trio of corn plants to give it supportduring the torrential rains. This is also thetime to plant pole beans around the cornplants, so they will climb up the growingcorn. Corn on the cob is ready when thecorn tassels turn brown.One of the biggest gripes I hear goeslike this: Why don’t they grow sweet cornhere in Costa Rica? Well, they actuallydo, and seeds for tropical sweet corn arenow available in many leading nurseriesand agricultural supply stores. Or you canadapt to the situation and grow local varietiesof corn that can be eaten early andtaste nearly as sweet.Root crops are also ideal for plantingnow. Yuca (cassava) is a favorite Ticocrop that is easy to plant. All you need are30-centimeter sections of the stems. Thesestem cuttings are inserted halfway into theground, about 50 cm apart. Believe it ornot, by the time the dry season rollsaround again, you’ll find large yuca tubersunder each plant.Tiquisque and ñampi (taros) are twomore famous root crops I like to call tropicalpotatoes. You can buy these tubers inthe market and plant them in the gardenabout one meter apart. Again, an applicationof rich compost will boost growth andproduction. With an occasional cultivatingof the soil around the plants, you will harvesta gold mine of roots around October.Highland gardeners can plant carrotsand beets this time of year. These cropscan be planted directly in prepared beds2-3 cm apart, with 30 cm of spacingbetween rows. Liquid compost tea appliedto the soil around carrots and beets helpsto boost growth and production.Radishes and turnips are easy crops togrow for gardeners who live in the warmerregions of the country. The seeds canbe planted directly in prepared beds withthe same spacing as for carrots and beets.May is also the perfect time to plantgreen beans, as well as the traditionalblack and red beans Ticos love so much.Green-bean seeds are available at mostagricultural supply stores, and I’ve foundProvider (Proveedor) to be a hardy andproductive variety. Seeds are plantedabout 20 cm apart, with a distance of 50cm between rows. Additions of aged compostwill ensure prolific production.For salad greens and vegetables, tryplanting a collection of lettuce, cabbage,mustard, onions, peppers and tomatoes inflats with prepared potting soil. The flatscan be placed on the sunny side of thehouse under the overhang of the roof,preferably on a table to give them protectionfrom heavy rains.When seedlings are about 5 cm tall,transplant them to small pots or cups filledwith aged compost. Let them grow in thecups for about two weeks, so their rootscan recover from the shock of transplantingand the foliage can continue to flourish.Then, young plants can be easily transplantedto garden beds without losses fromthe shock of transplanting or bug predation.Homegrown food can be grown free ofharmful pesticide residues and is usuallymore nutritious too. And even though itmay only be a judgment of the mind,homegrown food also seems to taste better.For more details on tropical gardening,visit ore-mail

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