Garden Pests

If you've been following my gardening adventures, you may have noticed that I've been using the word was (as in past tense) in describing how things were going with it.  There's a really good reason for this.  You see, as I was experiencing the excitement that I was growing all kinds of yummy stuff, unbeknown to me, critters were plotting the demise of my garden.

I definitely anticipated that the garden would be visited by some sort of worm or other leaf eating insect.  I was mentally prepared for that.  What I was not prepared for was this.

Carmen next to the RE-planted garden.

Yup, that is what a dog (Carmen) looks like after she's spent the afternoon destroying three months of my hard work and anticipation.  She's lucky I love her so much or she may have been homeless after this.  I came home one afternoon and happened to glance over at the garden.  I noticed that one of the tomato plants seemed to be dangling horizontally, and the tall basil plants were no where to be seen.  I stepped closer and peered over the little fence and almost fainted!  The garden was about 85% d-e-s-t-r-o-y-e-d.  My first thought was raccoons or squirrels, of which there are plenty.  But when I noticed the ripped out fencing in the corner of the garden and paw prints all over the place, and it quickly became very clear what happened.  Damn dogs!!

I stomped over to the patio, glaring at them and pointing at the garden demanding, "WHO did this?  Huh? Who did this?"  They laid there lazily pretending they had nooooo idea who this crazy lady losing her mind was.  Well, all of them except Ms. Carmen who happened to have an awful lot of dried dirt all over her front paws and nose.  And she wouldn't even turn her head in my direction.  She stared far into the distance in the opposite direction blinking 100 times a minute (dog body language for "I know I'm in big trouble").  "The very least you could have done was clean off your paws and try to look innocent!" I scolded.  All Carmen could respond was "blink-blink-blink-blink-blink-blink."

So frustrating considering we have this ginormous yard for them to dig and do what they want with, but NO, they had to take my one little corner of the yard and obliterate it!  My theory is that nearly every morning I spend at least half an hour in the garden.  I'm always really happy and peaceful there (as my friend Miranda says "Gardening is the best therapy") and so I think they can sense that and they wanted to be in the peaceful place too.  Ok, maybe a lame theory but it at least helps me make some sense of things :)

I replanted what I could but I lost quite a bit and my tomato plants were pretty traumatized.  I put another layer of chicken wire around the entire garden , but needless to say, over the next 3 weeks, not only her, but the rest of the pack starting infiltrating the garden while we were gone.  I repaired, replanted and tried to patch up the fence but they just kept finding new ways to bust through 2 layers of chicken wire.  I even put barb wire around and when that didn't keep them out (these Costa Rican dogs are tough!!), I really started to lose hope that I could have dogs AND a garden.  Then the hubby came to save the day!!!  He purchased and wrapped the entire garden with this strong, thick metal trellis type stuff.  It's been a month and they have been unable to get back in so I feel confident that I can go ahead and try again.  

I'm kind of right back at the beginning as far as the garden bed goes.  I still have some jicama in the back and 5 very tall cherry tomato plants, but everything else that was planted in the bed is gone.

I still had seeds left for more basil, cilantro, broccoli, snap peas and 3 types of yellow tomatoes (hello salsa!!) so I started over from the seed trays. 



Garden Update

Despite my best intentions at writing more consistently, nearly 3 months have passed since I've written any updates about my gardening endeavors.  Luckily, I'm diligent about taking photos of things to refer back to and recollect my thoughts.  If only I could get myself to be that diligent about the written word, eh?

Things were going really well with the garden.  By October, everything had been in the bed for about 2 months.  The arugula, Swiss chard, jicama, basil, jalapeno, and cherry tomato plants looked awesome!

cherry tomato (left), arugula (first row), Swiss chard (second row), marigold (center), basil (back left), jicama (last row)

The cherry tomato plants just kept getting taller and taller -- hitting the roof and flowering like crazy.    

This is definitely a good sign!

And within a week or so of the flowers appearing, all four plants were full of green tomatoes.  Yay!!

At this point I was patting myself on the back because I actually g-r-e-w something -- I really did it!  I thought this was all pretty exciting considering all of these grew from seeds I saved from table scraps. 

They changed from green to RIPE quickly which is good because I was way too excited to taste them.  I loooove tomatoes!! 

At the same time, the arugula and Swiss chard were really filling out.  I always buy arugula at the market and so I kept waiting for my leaves to grow as large as the store bought version.  But they'd get to a certain size and then wither within a week or so.  In a moment of sheer **ahem** brilliance, it occurred to me that perhaps the type of arugula I'm growing doesn't grow as large as the type that I buy.  So I decided to harvest it as it was and see what happened.



Apparently I was right.  They were not meant to be larger because after trimming all of the leaves off, they regrew.  Makes me wonder how many harvests I missed by waiting for them to get bigger.  Oh well, I'm learning.

I also trimmed up all the Swiss chard and to be honest, it tasted like earth.  I'm all for healthy greens, but they gotta taste good -- and my Swiss chard did not.  

Of course the next logical step was to combine the arugula and tomatoes (and lots of other yummy stuff) and make salad!  My favorite salad is a fine chopped mixture of arugula (check!), tomatoes (check!), raw broccoli, raw carrot, bell pepper, fresh made garbanzo and white beans, avocado, Swiss chard (that doesn't taste like dirt!), shredded red/green cabbage, and hemp seeds tossed with my homemade balsamic vinegar pear dressing.  Oh and I'm really treating myself right, it even has some goat's milk feta cheese from Rancho Avellanas.  DELISH!!

Oh. My. Gosh.  People, seriously, I cannot tell you how tasty these tomatoes were!  Sometimes cherry tomatoes can be on the sweet side, which is not my favorite, but these were just the right mix of sweet and tangy (more on the tangy side).  And the arugula (mouth is watering!) was so crisp, nutty and with just the right amount of that peppery taste.  The end result was definitely super encouraging!  Putting lots of love and energy into something and then having it give back to you in such a tasty way!  

At the same time, the rest of the garden was definitely on it's way to producing other goodies for us to eat.  The jicama leaves were creeping up the trellis reassuring me that somewhere deep below the soil a yummy, crispy root was forming.  The basil was getting larger and taller and was so fragrant you could smell it from outside the gated garden area.  The peppers were producing more leaves and tiny flowers.  I was feeling pretty optimistic about the whole garden thing and looking forward to planting my next batch of seeds.

But that's whole other post which I p-r-o-m-i-s-e to write in the next few days.  Promise.


Parking Attendants

Out in the country and at the beaches, if there are places to park, there is also a man  wearing some sort of fluorescent safety  vest, strap, tape, etc., who is the “Parking Attendant.”   Considering the auto break-in rate in most areas, paying someone to watch your car while you’re away, in theory, is an excellent idea.

The problem I have with this is that these **ahem** “Parking Attendants” always seem to look an awful lot like the person I think I want my car guarded from.   Your nice and friendly crack addict with rotted front teeth.   The eerie looking man who plucks his beard hairs in a broken piece of mirror and that all of my dogs seem to want to kill??  The drunken sailor who I think may be an American who I believe has the beginning stages of gangrene in his feet due to diabetes angry because of years of alcohol ingestion. 

It’s a strange lil’ business.  They don’t work for anyone, no one hires them.  They just show up and charge what they think they can get.  This is a pretty good deal because in reality, they do watch your car and it is how they buy their drugs and alcohol….so…that’s sort of an honest living…at least from one perspective.  And really, if you think about it, you have to appreciate the honesty in it all.  “Look, I could just break in your car and steal your crap, but why don’t you pay me not to.”

Usually they’re harmless but there have been a few strange ones.  There was the ridiculously unconvincing 50'ish transvestite that liked to wear cut off t-shirts that showed his (eerrr..) her pot potbelly.  Or the super eerie, deep set eyed, red faced man who turned out to be the world’s best mariachi singer.  Who knew!?!?  And my personal favorite, the 12 year old juvenile hall escapee that kept saying  “Mmmmm mamacita” every time I walked by.

Yeah, thanks kid.  I’m flattered.  Really.

While walking around a local city this week doing some errands, I noticed a very intoxicated Parking Attendant teetering, loudly negotiating a “surveillance” deal with a European looking man.  I came across the same Parking Attendant about 20 minutes later on the way back…executing an excellent visual of himself hard at work.


Garden - 3rd Week Update

Just thought I'd post a little update about how remarkably well the garden is coming along!

On August 24, I finally got around to transplanting arugula, Swiss chard, jicama, basil, jalapeno, 4 cherry tomato plants, as well as ayote into the raised bed. 

Tomato (left), arugula, Swiss chard (center), ayote (left), jicama (top) and of course Manchita...my best garden helper!!

Fast forward only 3 short weeks and everything is growing so quickly!

The tomato plants come up to my chin and I just spotted the first flowers a few days ago.

The arugula and Swiss chard are looking really good.  I took a few little snippets of the arugula to test the flavor because I read that if you are growing in a hot climate, and you allow the leaves to get too large, they can become hot or bitter.  So far my arugula is just simply yummy and I'm having to practice self control to not cut it all too soon and eat it.  Patience Tricia, patience.  Arugula is one of my favorite salad greens -- I think I could live on arugula salad.

The jicama has lots of nice green leaves and vines working themselves up the fence.  But since it's a root
vegetable I know all the magic is happening out of sight.  Mmmmmm, I can't wait to have chilled, chopped jicama with lemon and chili powder. 

I'm not sure how the ayote is coming along, it seemed to be growing really quickly but has now come to a halt -- other than blooming these beautiful big yellow flowers that stick around for a few days.  I'm just kinda' waiting to see what happens on these.  I assume that blooming means something good.  They seem happy, nothings dying and for that I give myself a huge A++ ;)
The leaves are a little muddy but the flower is gorgeous!
I also sprouted some chili dulce seeds (which are a lot like a red bell pepper).

Sprouted seeds from chili rocotto, aji and Panamanian.   I make a mean salsa and can't wait to use these!!

The jalapenos are coming a long as well.

After the first cherry tomato seeds sprouted from kitchen scraps, I got super excited and started saving a bazillion cherry tomato seeds and planted them -- not thinking they would all survive, but, they have!!  So now I have a number of small plants growing - that I guess I'll keep giving love to and see what happens.  I was thinking that if they actually grow and succeed, I can give them away to folks.  Food is food, right?

It's been a lot of fun to see how these things grow.  Every morning Manchita and I go outside and inspect all the plants to make sure there's no creatures devouring my veggies before I do, however, other than one worm, I have not found any pests at all.  I'm not sure if I've just been really lucky (fingers crossed) or if it could also be that I've planted lots of marigold all over the veggie bed and along the shelving after reading that it is a great all pest combatter.  Maybe it's working, maybe it's luck.  Whatever it is, I'm really happy about it.

Manchita on Pest Patrol
My little vivero (nursery) is coming along!!
I purchased some more seeds for three different types of tomatoes, some purple carrots, broccoli and green beans that I may not get around to planting until after the rain.  Additionally, I purchased a medicinal herb kit consisting of 25 different herbal plants which I'm very anxious to plant and learn more about.  

Until then.....


Monkey Business

There's lots of monkeys that live and pass through the trees in my backyard every day.  The dogs go totally nutso watching them cross overhead.

Recently, one monkey decided to venture down a tree branch to sample the flowers on our blossoming papaya tree.  (Yummy!)  He suspended himself by his tail and nibbled the flowers while keeping a close eye on the dogs who were watching intently below.

After a few minutes, the monkey seemed to lose interest in the flowers and allowed himself to start bouncing and hanging like he was bungee jumping directly above a completely mesmerized Merlin.

The dangling monkey above head was just too much to take and the monkey knew it!!

He bounced himself lower and lower and lower over Merlin's head teasing and taunting him.

The other dogs got really excited, and were barking and running circles around Merlin until he just couldn't take the teasing any longer.

For being such a large dog, Merlin is able to jump amazingly high.  In fact, it's one of his favorite pastimes!

With a huge jump, Merlin lunged upward toward the monkey.  Just in time, the monkey tugged the branch with his tail and sent himself high up into the tree.

Maybe next time Merlin.  For the monkey's sake, let's hope not.


How Well Does Your Garden Grow??

I've always been intrigued by people that grow their own veggies and herbs.  A green thumb seems like such a great talent to have.  I love plants, but through trial and error I arrived at the conclusion that cactus seems to be what I'm good at growing.  They don't depend on me much and so our relationships have always been pretty satisfactory.  

Earlier this year someone forwarded me an article regarding The Monsanto Protection Act.  I'd heard little bits and pieces about GMO vs. non-GMO, organic vs. non-organic, etc., but had no idea what the commotion was all about.  After a little research I was stunned.  (Talk about living in a bubble!)  It just seemed so illogical what's happening with the food system when there is such an obvious problem.  And these toxins aren't only in the food we eat, they're in products we expose ourselves to every day by using toiletries and cleaning products loaded with poisonous ingredients.  What the....??

I've always considered myself a healthy person.  I'm athletic, I eat mostly a vegetarian diet and feel that I live a generally health conscience life.  But after learning about what's really in all that we consume, it became clear that unless a person makes some conscientious decisions about what they eat and the products they use, they are slowly poisoning themselves.  I wanted to eliminate these things where I was able to.  So, I slowly refilled my medicine cabinet with organic or homemade toiletries and started paying more attention to the labels on products, the food I was buying and questioning where it came from. While for the most part the agriculture industry here in Costa Rica is not saturated by GMO crops, many of the food that is available at the supermarket are products manufactured using altered crops.

The hubby and I decided that we would start a veggie garden.  We have tons of space and the climate and soil here are ideal for growing.  However, since I've never grown anything successfully, I wasn't really sure how to begin.  I starting collecting ideas and learned that it was possible to sprout seeds from kitchen scraps, which I found amazing.  I can start a tomato plant from the seeds that are left on my cutting board?  Really?  I can have ayote (Costa Rican version of butternut squash) by sprouting the seeds inside rather than throwing them away?  Yes. 
Cherry Tomato Sprouts

I started viewing just about everything as potential food to grow.  Curious, I attempted to sprout the seeds from the kitchen scraps of several types of chilies (Jalepeno, Aji, Rocoto, Panamanian), cherry tomatoes, ayote and even lemons.


I was so excited when after few days, there were roots growing out of the seeds.  Neat-o!!

Around that time, my beautiful friend Miranda started sharing photos with me of her amazing garden.  She has a raised bed and grows pumpkins, tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, strawberries, honeydew, watermelon, bell peppers, and purple peppers, not to mention some unbelievable dahlias!  She really inspired me out of the curiosity stage of gardening into the "let's do this" stage.  Her stuff was beautiful!!

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We placed our first order of seeds -- arugula, swiss chard, jicama (which does not exist here), edamame, wheat grass and some anti-mosquito plants, catnip, mint, lemon balm and marigold flower.  We started them in little seed planters and slowly moved them to larger containers as they grew.


Arugula, Swiss Chard and Wheat Grass

Cherry Tomato
I decided to do a raised bed garden like Miranda was using and asked my bro-in-law to build us two (we'll be starting off with just one).

We live close to a wooded area that has really good, dark fertile soil (says the hubby who knows these things), so we've been making trips there, filling buckets, cleaning the soil, and slowly layering the bed with the cleaned soil.

One day we went to get some soil and as we started, a tractor came by and offered a helping hand.  What luck!!

It's warm all year long here, but the rainy season is definitely WET.  As of a month ago, we were dragging all the plants out into the sun every morning and then heading home when it was going to rain to put them all back under the patio.  What a pain!!  So we decided to build a covered gazebo garden area with a clear roof so the plants could get light all day long, but still have protection from the rain (more of which is coming!).   It is SO nice to be married to someone that knows how to build things!

We also needed a fence to keep the doggies out -- boy do they love to dig!!

Hopefully in the next few days I'll replant much of the stuff in the containers into the bed. 

First flower on the ayote :)


Arugula and Swiss Chard

I love this new addition to my daily routine.  Every day I wake up, rub the sleepies out of my eyes and go out to check on my lil' garden.  It's so much fun to see each of the plants growing and changing.  Sometimes things shoot up overnight! 

I have more seeds on the way with the intention of growing the veggies we use most regularly as well as a medicinal herb garden.  We shall see how this all turns out...this would be a huge move up on the green thumb ladder from the cactus that I've had so much luck with ;)

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