When I arrived in Aquiares, our garden didn’t have drainage, beds, plants, seeds, or anything, really. There were a few pairs of boots, some shovels, and the three women that were going to work to together to grow organic food to sell. And there was me: a college student/aspiring farmer from Ithaca, NY here to help. The earth they’d been given was rich and dark, full of organic matter. But it was also full of water. Therefore, the first thing we had to do was dig some drainage so the water all could leave. After a week, we’d done it, but it wasn’t working as well as it would just one week later, with the help of men from the plantation who made our ditches deeper. So when I got there on September 22, 2014, it was dry. The ditches, the beds, everything was ready for plants.
We’d already planted a few things in the places that were driest at the start; they had radish, cabbage, and lettuce. Among these to keep away insect pests is basil, which is fragrant enough to discourage some insects. The raised beds in these areas were able to drain quickly and stay drier than the others that still had residual water, making them muddy and leaving the ditches around them as swampland.
In the ground
From seed: beans, carrots, radishes, corn, culantro, sweet and hot peppers, tomatoes
Transplants: cabbage, lettuce, basil, zucchini
In addition to planting and maintaining the plants, there has been a lot of other work to do. Rocks were removed, enough to piece together a floor on the ground. Dirt was massaged out of dense, wet balls into finer soil before planting, weeds were pulled, and ants were attacked with soggy coffee grounds so they would stop cutting the leaves off the plants. In addition to the coffee and the basil that is growing among other plants, it has been necessary to take more steps to discourage insects. We are adhering to organic methods, and to do so we are using garlic extract that will repel pests with its foul odor. There is also flor de muerto planted around some sections, which also has a strong smell to deter pests. We hope this will help with the holes made by caterpillars and snails, the chunks ripped from leaves by ants, and the beetle eggs that will hatch into hungry larvae.
It has been a lot of work, and amazingly fast without ever feeling rushed or urgent. I have three new friends that are like aunts to me, laughing and singing as we dig in the dirt. On Costa Rica’s Independence Day, they made me traditional food and we had a picnic in the grass by the garden, then we worked on the drainage with their families, who added fun and efficiency. We have worked together in the hot sun despite bug bites and mud holes, learning from each other and encouraging each other. The work is tiring but so, so satisfying, and I am proud to be a part of this community effort for the garden. With luck, our first harvest of the lettuce will be in 4-6 weeks, and I can’t wait to try the food we’ve grown together.