Sunday, 19 July 2009

edible landscape, looking for help!

When I was little I always wanted a garden where everything was edible, perhaps inspired by that glorious garden in 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory', I wanted to be able to eat outside without having to use a knife and fork. We're working on that here.

Our edible landscape includes plants suitable for this climate, and we are constantly researching to find local plants which can be used for food. It's a slow task: the local indigenous culture is in that unfortunate stage of shedding all past knowledge, embarrassed that they ate from the jungle when they "were poor". It's hard to get information from a culture increasingly dependent on canned tuna and white bread. The local afro-carribeans brought much of their foodstuffs with them rather than spend years figuring out what they could eat here. So while the rainforest must be full of good greens it's still a mystery really which to eat. Rather we are using greens from other places: katuk from Indonesia, spinach from Malabar and Brazil, false roselle from Africa, plus several common to Central America: camote, pumpkin, chaya, chili, tomato.

Ours is a humid and hot climate with two wet seasons and two dryer seasons, so finding what grows well is a game of trial and error. The false roselle for example prefers a dryer climate than the one we can offer, so it grows really well during the dryer months and suffers in the wet seasons. Being an organic farm we also have our fair share of bugs and some of our greens are really prone to insect damage.

Our last challenge is finding plants, whether it's seeds or starts, to experiment with. Costa Rica is a country of diverse ecosystems and the stores which sell seeds tend to sell varieties that will grow in the highlands, not down here. It's amazing to me that even in the stores in this immediate area one will find carrot and onion seeds, asparagus and beetroot - none of which will grow at all. The seeds are typically imported, mostly from Holland. Who buys these? So while we can discover plants online - yacon for example, or water spinach that might grow here, we don't have access to them. Importing seeds is difficult and in most cases illegal without a permit, and getting a permit is awkward and unpredictable.

So. We grow what we can and experiment and save seeds from what we eat and try to find others who are also trying.

We are most interested in salad greens and edible leaves and flowers. Right now we have:

katuk (Sauropus androgynous)
false roselle / cranberry hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella)
Malabar spinach (Basella alba)
Brazilian spinach (Alternanthera sissoo)
camote (Ipomoea batatas)
pumpkin (Cucurbita sp.)
purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
culantro (Eryngium foetidum)
basil (Ocimum basilicum)
impatiens (Impatiens sp.)
wandering jew (Tradescantia fluminensis)

We add various ginger flowers to our salads too.

If anyone can suggest other possibilities I would love to listen!


  1. The one green veggie that is always fed to me when I'm in the Caribbean is dasheen (also called callaloo or taro in the US). Its root is probably the most widely used, but in the Caribbean I see it used as a green vegetable more often.

  2. Hello Daphne, nice to hear from you!
    Thank you for the suggestion, we do have taro here and it is widely used, though mostly as a root. Yes, the leaves can be used cooked and taste quite good, thank you for the reminder,


  3. Amaranthus is another spinach like plant that is used in the caribbean. It grows wild and is very easy to find around the garden.

  4. Ooh yes! Thank you, I keep forgetting about that one, and it does grow wild everywhere! Must keep an eye out for seeds.
    Have you thought of what fruit seeds you might like yet?


thanks for sharing!