Category Archives: planting

Hope Springs, Patience Wells

My great, great grandmother’s maiden name was Patience Wells.  I grew up sleeping in a spool bed made of Black Walnut from her Texan walnut bottom.  A walnut bottom, which I think was her dowry, is a low, flat place which has enough water to support good growth of walnut trees.  It was worth quite a bit. My great grandfather thought he had probably been born in that bed.  But she died young, and he grew up an orphan, raised by his older sister along with another six brothers and sisters. This wonderful name to me is forever linked to the bed. It is true that if hope springs, patience wells. I have needed a lot of it in the last few years, and the slow, seeping well of patience hasn’t let me down yet. Maybe it comes from Patience. Her name is all I know of her.

Finally we have gotten something to eat from the property. Today my friends Val and Dek helped me bring roof tiles up to the bodega and I was able to offer them a big bag of lettuce.  I am learning how the rainy season affects the garden. Some things, like my looseleaf lettuce, go wild with the unlimited rain in good  sandy soil. I say good, because it drains and is rich in minerals.  Apparently heading vegetables, like Napa cabbage, may rot. And now that we have put irrigation on the beds, the lettuces may continue into the dry season, if the rock edges protect them sufficiently from the winds that will come soon. If they don’t, I can stretch cheap shade cloth across the beds and that may do it. The rain also means that any slopes of recently worked loose soil will gully, so we lay down rows of rocks with small angular pebbles to block openings underneath, and the next rain terraces it. The idea is to slow the flow of water so that it can absorb into the soil more deeply, and not carry off nutrients; big terraces like the one in the picture as well as tiny ones perpendicular to water flow.

In the other beds I have planted kale, dill, basil, mustard, arugula, okra, pretty runner beans, a few Prudence Purple tomato plants donated by a friend, papaya seedlings, artichokes, and Guato, which is a bean tree!  Leafcutter ants ate the okra. I put out a sulfamide bait resembling smoke- smelling mouse turds, which they happily gathered up and carried back to their secret mushroom beds. The sulfamide isn’t toxic to us but it is anti-fungal so it destroys the ant nests that are feeding on my garden.  They aren’t actually eating the baby okra- just cutting it up to feed their fungus farms.  It worked; I planted more okra and they are still standing! There is hope yet.

Semillas and Hijos

Semillas are seeds, but the top of a pineapple is a semilla, because you strip off the bottom inch of leaves and plant it. Some people here say you can only plant the small side shoots that occasionally appear on pineapples, like a pineapple with two or even five little tops on it. I have never seen them in the US, so perhaps they are removed before shipping.

Ok so abandoning the zapallo/pumpkin as cover crop idea at least amongst the bananas. The coffee I seeded last year is ready to be interplanted, and pumpkins would drown them. Plus I am putting in pineapples. I spent the morning planting pineapples from scavenged semillas along the edge of our most dramatic vegetable garden-dizzying cliffside river view. Some say the tops are all you need; others say only the small extra shoots on the tops of the pineapples are any good. My semi controlled experiment is going. I lifted a particularly miserable looking one I planted last week and the roots are just started, so I stuck it back.
My friend Annemiek showed up on her motorcycle and walked around with me looking at the various projects, then whizzed off and returned with a bag of cuttings which we stuck in along the terrace garden behind my rock wall- as opposed to the superior rock walls made by Francelin Tacuri, our man of all work. I love people who love working.
She is pulling out some healthy mature coffee plants for a client and I wondered if they could be transplanted if they are that big. It would give us a jump on the homegrown coffee dream we have.

Pedasos are cuttings, or “pieces.” Here the climate is so perfect that if you stick a piece of a plant in the dirt during the rains, it will grow. It’s magic.

That’s how we grow our living fences, the cercas. Ours is made of the 1-2 inch thick branches that are trimmed off mature fences made of porotillos. Porotillos are leguminous- pea family- and have bright red flowers and scarlet beanlike seeds. They are much favored by hummingbirds.

Everybody in the world probably knows you can stick a coleus in a bottle of water and it will root, and of course succulents are unsurprising that way, but here I just make a hole in the earth with a piece of rebar I keep on hand, and slip in a cutting and keep it watered for a few days. All kinds of marvelous flowers work that way. Golden Glow, Frangipani, crotons, ciruelas, Joshua trees, poinsettia. There are less exceptions than not. I have been told Bougainvillia is impossible, although I did root one in a wine bottle. We will try with Rootone, which is generally unknown here. I am told that a slurry of germinated and fermented lentils will work.

But first you have to make the beds, and we have about the rockiest soil I have ever seen…..

Letters Home


Today I picked up rocks and piled them for an hour, then walked around planting cuttings of some kind of pretty sedum and also some croton and a lovely vine that grows huge and has big blue trumpets. Then I went to check on Francelin, who had cleared an area under the faique trees right by the river. He was throwing the rocks off the cliff when I saw that there was a sort of topography that we could line the rocks along and make some irregularly shaped terraces. We had it roughed out in under an hour and it looked magical. It was just about quitting time and we were discussing what to do the next day. I was remembering the enormous spreading avocado tree at the Rendez Vous B and B in Vilcabamba, so I said we should plant a big avocado tree. Francelin thought a mango would be better for shade. I decided we should plant a non-grafted mango, one that will grow to full size. Francelin reminded me that it would be years before we saw fruit, but we have plenty of room to plant grafted trees, and I have a pit-grown sapling ready to go. I said, let’s plant that one, and it can fruit after we are dead. They get as big as an oak. Who would eat the fruit, he asked, your kids? I don’t know, I hope so, but I hope it will someday be an enormous dark green tree covered in sweet rosy mangoes.