We do most of our gardening in Vermont from April through November. But now, Lynette and I are also gardening in Costa Rica from December through March. There, in addition to the usual vegetables, we also harvest pineapples, coconuts, mangoes and some amazing wild edibles. In this photo I’m in our yard holding the amazing fruit cluster of the pinuela (pineapple family). In recent years, Lynette has become the Euell Gibbons of our communities in both Vermont and Costa Rica, discovering “super foods” provided every day by nature. I asked Lynette to tell her tropical super foods story:
“For 35 years, Will and I have called Vermont home and have accepted the seasonality of gardening under northern climate conditions. Five years ago, we became official “snowbirds” and began to also sink roots in the country of my maternal ancestors: Costa Rica. With this change came new joys, opportunities and challenges of gardening in the tropics. Even though the ambient temperature seems hospitable to year round gardening, there are many other factors in play that dictate a seasonal aspect to gardening there as well! With drip irrigation, shade structures (natural shade from high trees and constructed from durable shade cloth), and some wind protection, it is possible to enjoy many of the veggies that thrive in Vermont, such as tomatoes, peppers (of every color and heat), eggplants, cucumbers, summer and winter squash and some herbs.
What is new and exciting for us are the plants that serve as replacements for the greens that prefer cooler temps. Malabar and New Zealand spinach, and the leaves from nutritionally superior quelite and ketuk shrubs replace spinach and lettuce in salads, soups and green drinks. Purslane, a common, tasty and highly undervalued weed in both climates, grows with abandon in poor soils. Omega 3’s are rarely found in the plant world but purslane is loaded with them. The nutrient-dense moringa tree (which hails from Africa where it is being credited for saving countless lives) is thriving in Guanacaste. Its foliage has a high protein and mineral content and it offers every required enzyme (a rarity in the plant world). By “stumping” (heavily pruning) the moringa tree, it can be kept short and will produce a continuous profusion of new growth. Lightly steamed, these tips are dead ringers in flavor for asparagus!
Aloe Vera, another superfood, grows willingly along the roadsides. Applied topically, the gel is famous for the benefits it imparts to the skin. But did you know that the gel is also an unequalled healer of the digestive tract? Noni – the stinky fruit – is yet another superfood that we ingest daily. I can’t say I love the flavor…but dehydrated and powdered I can hide it in fresh juices so we can reap the benefits of its anti-oxidant and cell renewing action.
The list of tropical fruits that we grow or have access to is astonishing. In addition to muskmelons and watermelons, we eat papaya, pineapple, mango, bananas, citrus and guanabana, and there are nearly 100 others fruits that I’m aware of in the region that range anywhere from “interesting” to “delectable” in flavor, while offering yet more remarkable nutritional benefits.
Gardening in Costa Rica poses daunting challenges for those who restrict themselves to growing typical North American plants. But I am discovering that the tropics offer a treasure trove of wild and cultivated vegetables, fruits and herbs. I can’t imagine ever losing interest in the fun of exploring these foods.”
I have convinced my partners in www.tierrapacifica.com, a conservation and gardening community, to offer a free Costa Rica vacation so lucky Gardener’s Supply customers can win a trip this winter to visit where we garden. Lynette and I will be your tour guides for discovering and eating some delectable tropical super foods. Click here to learn how you could Win a Free Costa Rica Beach Vacation!