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All you need to know about soil basics for the transplant

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Published on Friday, May 19, 2023


By Victoria Torley

Well, here you are, having transplanted yourself from the North with all its seasons to Costa Rica which has only two, the rainy and the dry or, in some places, the rainy and the rainier. But, hey, itís mostly warm and itís the South, right? You can grow anything here!

Okay, thatís kind of true, depending on where you settled and how much work you want to do.

Asparagus, for example, takes a lot of work. Soil preparation, manuring, and then waiting and waiting for the first pickable crop, but then asparagus takes time anywhere.

Or how about tomatoes? Tomatoes are easy. Except they bleach out in the Costa Rican sun and hate wet feet . . .

You would think that with all this lush growth, trees that grow twenty feet in five years, things that spring up unplanted and unwanted that the soil here is really rich, right? Wrong. Oh so wrong.

We have some basic soils here. Sandy soil, clayey soil, and beautiful black soil that looks so rich you can almost taste the vegetables before you plant them. 

Let me explain, itís the rain.

All that wonderful rain that washes the nutrients right out of the soil. Itís also the leaves from all those trees. Up North, leaves rot out quickly leaving behind perfect hummus. Down here, mature leaves, the ones that fall, often have a waxy coating on them to protect them from predation which is the reason that howler monkeys eat primarily new leaves and need large territories. No, our waxy leaves do not compost quickly or well unless chopped up first. 

So, what to do?

If you have sandy soil, you want some clay, decayed vegetation, and manure. The best clay Ė because it is already in tiny particles comes from leaf-cutter ant mounds. Just be sure to mix it quickly before it hardens. 

Manure? You may have to mature your own, no sacks of it like we bought from Home Depot. Decayed vegetation comes from kitchen scraps.

Clay soil? Some people will tell you beach sand, but sand and clay make bricks. I know from experience. For clay, very very coarse sand and maybe some of those red gravely stones they use for walkways. Plus manure and composted veggie matter.

That beautiful black soil? That takes manure (get the picture of manure?) and composted veggie matter.

Now a word about composting kitchen scraps. Do not, not ever, let any meat get in there. And be sure to put your pile far from the house or in a solid container. Why? You donít want to know about the rats.

Plant of the week. The nance (Byrsonima crassifolia) is a small tree that rarely grows to fifteen meters. It usually has a multi-stemmed trunk and is in flower now in the Arenal. Yellow flowers turn orange as they age making the tree quite attractive. The fleshy fruit is yellow to red when ripe and edible although it is most often used to make an alcoholic beverage or added to one as flavoring.

For more information on this article or about gardening, Ms. Victoria Torley our gardener columnist can be reached at 

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