My grandma, a legendary green thumb, once tried her hand at growing bananas. She was successful, producing exactly one banana… from a plant in a pot, in her living room, in Wisconsin, in the dead of winter.
The bad news? I didn’t inherit my grandmother’s green thumb. The good news? Living in Vilcabamba, Ecuador, I don’t need it. And neither will you because the area has such ideal growing conditions that anybody can be successful, even with little or no experience.
Here’s what you need to know to get started:
Water. Vilcabamba gets a reasonable amount of rain but for the most part, it comes gently in the night and the showers are fairly well spaced. Even the dry season sees a smattering of showers although they may come weeks apart instead of days or hours as happens in the rainy season.
Sunlight. Just 4 degrees south of the equator, the sun rises around 6.00 a.m. and sets around 6.00 p.m. so everything gets 12 hours of sunlight each and every day. That sunshine is intense at an elevation of 5,000 feet with the sun directly overhead. In the tropics, your house has no “dark side” and there are no dull, dreary winters either.
Perfect temperature. Because of Vilcabamba’s elevation and latitude, temperatures are as consistently pleasant as you’ll find anywhere. I’ve never seen the thermometer at our house higher than 88 F or lower than 50 F. Most days, the mercury hovers between 60 F and 80 F. Your green growy things will like that… and so will you when you’re outside tending to your property.
No pesticides. In a town that doesn’t have a gas station due to environmental concerns, natural methods of pest control are preferred, including the use of chickens. They do a great job keeping the bug population under control while providing you with fresh egg—and a surprising amount of entertainment.
Weed control. What makes this area a gardener’s paradise…unfortunately means that weeds like it here, too. Your property will require regular weeding but the exercise will do you good (unlike the use of chemical weed killers).
Good soil. The mountainous terrain means the soil is not always the best although it can be quite good in river bottoms and flatlands. Do your research and this shouldn’t be a problem—many trees, plants, and flowers will grow in most any soil condition. Ways to give your dirt an upgrade are readily available.
• Composting: With plenty of rain, sunshine, and composting material (don’t forget those pesky weeds you pulled?), you can make your own rich, black dirt in a shorter amount of time than you’re probably used to. If you can’t wait, you can buy it. In our area, a major source of compost is milled sugar cane.
• Fertilizer: In an area full of animals (watch your step!), manure is readily available. If you want more, let your neighbors (or more accurately, your neighbor’s cows) use your land for grazing. Everyone benefits and you may just make a friend or two.
Helpful people. The locals are a very valuable resource (everyone grows something, it seems) and they’re quite happy to share their knowledge. So work on your Spanish and not only will you learn, you’ll have something to talk about with your new neighbors.
Enough land. You won’t need much to grow more produce than you need. A typical backyard garden could supply you with more than enough fruit and vegetables all year ’round. If you do grow more than you can eat—and you probably will—your excess can be used as “currency” or as a welcome gift to a friend or neighbor.
The Vilcabamba area has such ideal growing conditions that your success is almost guaranteed—no matter what your knowledge or skill level may be. That doesn’t mean everything will go and grow according to plan. But with some on-the-job training and a little sweat, your garden will flourish. Everything you need to be successful is already here—except for you!
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