Top Choices for the Tropical Vegetable Garden
Here in the tropics,
can be a yearround
in the rainy season.
The bright, sunny
mornings are ideal for
getting outside for
some exercise tending
the garden or landscaping
the home, and a natural
home garden can
produce an abundance
of nutritious fruits and vegetables, free from
chemical residues, at a fraction of the cost of
commercial produce. As the cost of living
rises, a productive vegetable garden can help
stretch your income.
Here’s a mini-list of my favorite vegetables
for a natural garden. These plants grow in
most regions of the country and provide the
family with a wealth of nutrition. Even
apartment dwellers can grow these plants in
containers on porches and windows. Some
of these plants are easy to find in leading
nurseries around the country, and seeds are
available in many nurseries and agricultural
Cabbage (repollo). This is an ideal choice for mid-elevations to the highland regions, while Chinese cabbage (repollo chino, pictured here) and collards (col) produce well in the hotter regions.
Cherry tomatoes (tomatillo). These tomatoes are much hardier than their larger counterparts. They resist disease and pest problems because they are genetically stronger. Tomatillos can be grown in five-gallon containers around small homesites or apartments. Be sure to tie them to a pole or trellis. Choose bright sunny spots with welldrained, fertile soil.
Green beans (vainica). These veggies provide an ample supply of high-quality protein for the family. Agricultural supply stores offer the variety called “Provider” or “Proveedor.” Plant the seeds directly in the garden in bright sunny spots with welldrained soil.
Green bunching onions (cebollinas). These hardy onions grow well in most regions of the country without significant pest or disease problems. Chives and garlic are also easy to grow at home – garlic does particularly well as a potted plant in the tropics – and lots of onions and garlic keep the doctor away!
Start your seeds in a flat or small pots. Once they become hardy, transplant them to the garden. Green bunching onions are also called dividing onions, because they propagate new shoots from each plant. That means you keep getting new plants for free. Plant your onions in raised beds or containers with fertile, well-drained soil. Harvest mature leaves at the base of each plant for salads and seasonings.
The secret to growing lettuce in the tropics is to grow hot-weather varieties, such as openleafed salad bowl or oak leaf. Lettuce is tender and needs sunny to partially shaded areas and welldrained, rich soil for good production. During the heavy rains, it’s easier to grow lettuce in containers around the sunny sides of the home under the eaves of the roof, out of the heavy downpours that tender lettuce just can’t take.
Mustard (mostaza). This is the easiestto- grow and perhaps most nutritious of the leafy greens. You can plant the seeds directly in the garden or in pots or containers. Mustard does best in bright, sunny areas with well-drained, even average soil. You can tame the fiery taste of mustard by steaming it, or include it in your favorite omelets, stir-fries or vegetable dishes.
Radish (rábano). This root vegetable is very popular with the locals, and is used in a vinegar and vegetable mix with hot chilies called chilero. Seeds are planted directly in garden beds with average to fertile soil. The fastest-growing garden veggie, radishes harvest in fewer than 45 days. The variety “China Rose” is a favorite among gardeners.
Aloe vera (sábila). Large, potted aloes can create a cactus-like effect in your decorating design. Often called a physician in a pot, they provide useful medicine as well.
Cilantro (culantro). This is a traditional green used to flavor salads and many other Tico dishes such as gallo pinto and ceviche. This queen of the salad greens is hard to beat nutritionally. Seeds can be sown directly in the garden or in pots for the kitchen. It’s easy to collect seeds for replanting.
Mint (hierbabuena). This is one of the most useful home remedies for digestive problems and nervous disorders. Mint grows well as a container plant in the hotter regions and thrives in the cooler highlands outside in the garden.
Mint loves moist, fertile soil and partial shade. It makes a tasty tea, hot or iced.
Oregano (orégano). Here in Costa Rica, a bushy plant known as Lippia graveolens is used as an oregano substitute. The scent and flavor are virtually identical to European oregano. The herb is commonly found in nurseries, or the woody stem cuttings can be used for propagation.
Parsley (perejil). This herb grows well in gardens in cooler regions or as a potted plant indoors. Seeds are delicate and do best planted in a flat or small pot. The seeds take two weeks to germinate, so don’t get impatient.
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