By Philip "Felipe" Hancock
There is a lot of ground to cover at Finca Quijote and the mixed blessing of the Wet Tropics climate is that everything grows rapidly. Weeds grow like… well they grow like weeds with all of this rainfall. Eliminating and controlling them without herbicide presents a challenge.
The traditional Costa Rican (or Tico) method of planting involves a sharpened, short shovel with handle, and a really strong back. Ticos in the campo will chop an area to be planted with cuchillos (machetes) then cut off weeds at the roots along with an inch of topsoil to form the row to be planted. The spoil goes on top of the monte, between the planted rows. Sometimes there would be an herbicide application.
Our method is different in that we prefer a smooth strategy using polypropylene fabric to smother the area to be planted. The area is first chopped, and often more organic trash is added, sometimes with manure and leftover grass from the cow feeding. The area is then covered with fabric for two months. When ready, the men make their rows & hills and then plant as usual corn, beans, ayote (pumpkin) and other food crops.
The repurposing of cardboard comes into play when the plants and weeds spring up in due course. We set out half sheets of newspaper around the crop to suppress the weeds before they are strong. Rows of cardboard (cartón) are then laid between the crop rows. A further mulching on top of the newspaper is very helpful in reinforcing the newspaper although when wet it forms to the land and does not blow away.
Sure, everyone has a few cardboard boxes around the house, but where do we get enough to cover major plantings? Our cartón comes from Costa Rica’s favorite trading partner for consumer goods, China. Garbage pickup in many small Costa Rican cities is pretty basic, each day homes and businesses place their garbage out at the curb. There are no fancy containers or mandatory recycling rules; however most businesses will put their cardboard aside to be picked up by recyclers or anyone who wants it. Whenever we must go to Turrialba, we try to go early and breeze through town once planning our collection. It was once easy to fill the pickup, but now we have to compete with recyclers using push carts. We have the advantage of speed, but if we are late, we look for our favorite recycler and just buy it. They are only too happy to avoid pushing it uphill to sell it and they load the truck nicely with flat, broken down boxes. Back at the farm we pile it up and cover it close to the next planting project.
Have any cute re-purposing ideas of your own? We’d like to hear about them.
by Ginnee Hancock
4 years ago I was given a small Brazilian spinach plant purchased at the local feria. A nice gesture, but what do you do with just one small spinach plant?
I decided to plant my gift and propagated it. It is easy to grow from cuttings, I lay the stem sideways in good mulched soil, dug in just enough to cover the stem, and I have left the leaves on. Give it some water each day and year after year you will have a rich fast growing crop.
Brazilian Spinach (Alternanthera sissoo) is also knowns as Poor Man's Spinach, Samba Lettuce, and Sissoo Spinach. It is a low growing perennial leaf vegetable, which forms a neat mound. It is used as tropical spinach, suitable for subtropical and tropical areas only. It is a tasty wet-season green leafy vegetable, for us it is for all seasons. I love it cooked in stews, soups, stir-fries, in empanadas, with eggs or raw in salad. Use it as you would any other spinach.
It turns out that it is also a great ground cover. I began to notice that where the spinach grew, there were no weeds, so I started planting the spinach as ground cover. It is a beautiful rich dark green editable ground cover that requires almost no maintenance. Even better, the chickens like it as do the pigs.
That little spinach plant became a huge gift, we now have hundreds planted all over the farm as food and ground cover.