Gardening has been one of my biggest vices here in the campo. I absolutely love being outdoors with my hands in the soil. Watching little baby seedlings grow into big, beautiful plants is truly rewarding. I joke that I should have been placed by Peace Corps as an Agriculture volunteer! Once I moved into my own house, I started composting and gardening right away. In my kitchen I have a composting cubo, which is frequently taken out to the larger outdoor composting pile. I compost most kitchen foodstuffs- fruit and veggie scraps, coffee grounds, loose tea- “brown” items-shredded paper and cardboard, coconut husks, old cacao pods, dried grass clippings-and animal manure-chicken, duck and cow. About every six months I am able to combine my household compost with soil ($2-3 bag of soil from Boquete..sold at the veggie stands) and till the mixture into my two gardens.
I started out with one garden, a small plot in front of my house. For the fence I used chicken wire and unwanted pieces of wood. Using smaller planks of wood, I created four distinct sections. I have planted some seeds straight into the garden, and others transplanted as seedlings in egg cartons. Over the last year I have planted copious herbs, greens and veggies (culantro, cilantro, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, cucumber, beets, tomatoes, sorrel, radishes, spinach, green beens, chard, kale, hot peppers, eggplant, basil, chives, dill, oregano, mint, and more). Not all have lived to my dismay, and others have flourished- mainly the green beens, culantro and basil. I made a terrace just for culantro! More have perished than grown, but it is all about learning and trying new methods. I have found that some plants-like tomatoes-grow best in a container. Others need a lot of space…which led me to creating a second garden on the side of my house. There, I made three terraces which grow sweet potatoes, watermelons and sweet melons. My seeds have come from the Peace Corps Panama group SEEDERS, others smuggled from the States or shipped from ECHO community.
It is so fun preparing a meal and going into the garden snipping a bit of this and that. I find the food actually tastes better too, knowing it has come from a rich compost! It is also a wonderful educational experience, teaching those who visit about nutrition, gardening and composting. The kids love trying and smelling herbs; always coming by to ask for a few culantro sprigs. I have learned to have patience and not get upset if a plant does not survive. It is all about trial and error, but more importantly about finding peace in this roller coaster of an experience.