Thursday, 13 January 2011

Down at the messy end of the garden....

Cashew nut tree in flower

Summer's here and the garden needs watering. The taps and hoses have been set up again and as soon as the sun is off the plants in the late afternoon I'm off on my rounds.

There's the front drive...too imposing a name really for the gravel road from the gates to the house, but it is beginning to look something now we are here all the time to make it worthwhile planting it up....there was  a huge cactus and papyrus and gingers to make a background screen for one side and on the other we're planting flowering climbers on the boundary wire and putting in avocados and ornamental trees.

Then there's the house garden....palms and flowering shrubs and the vegetables behind....

And then there's the messy end of the garden, down across the wooden bridge over the stream - a torrent in the rainy season - and out to the old tilapia ponds and the asparagus beds.
The latter are looking a bit battered after the rains, but are picking up now and giving the first spears of the season, but there are other things down there....things previously unknown to me.

How about these?

These are naranjillas...a member of the solanum family...and I first saw them in the gardens of CATIE, the tropical plant research station out at Turrialba. We have a plant with similar leaves but with ferocious spines and much smaller fruit growing wild on the slopes, but Danilo, who looks after the coffee, tells me it is poisonous and this coming from a man who uses everything to hand is good enough to persuade me not try it.
So we grew the non poisonous variety from fruit that the CATIE gardeners gave us.

Danilo brought some up to the house to make into a drink....into the blender and mix with sugar and water, but it was so acid that it left my mouth dry for some time afterwards and I thought no more about it until watering down in the messy end when I saw that the fruit was turning a soft gold in colour and thought to try it again.

Its acidity was now balanced by sweetness, but I think I'll make jam from it rather than drinks...if I can find out its level of pectin.
And that's something else...making jam at altitude.

At higher altitudes, atrmospheric pressure is less so water boils at lower temperatures...which has altered my tea making techniques already as far as brewing is concerned.
So when you're making jam, the water evaporates more quickly and the fruit and sugar syrup reaches jelling point at a slightly lower if I boil it to 105 C, then it turns out sticky rather than set...I have to boil it until only 101C at my altitude, some 900 metres above sea level.
Sounds like pedantry, which is what I thought it was until my first jam turned out sticky rather than set...

And what about these whoppers in the photograph above? I have no idea what they are called as I had the originals from a neighbour last year and accordingly used the tuber in stews..where it gave texture rather than taste...and cut off the top of it to replant.
I think they're some sort of yam, but I'll have to ask her for the name when she next comes round for coffee.

Now this is not a good photograph, but can you see a white flower on top of the spiky leaves? It's called Flor d'Itabo...but to me it's a yucca flower. You cut down the flower spike, take the flowers from the stems and nip out the bitter stamens. You blanch the flowers, then add them to an omelette or cook them with cooked boiled potato, egg and onion as a side dish. I've seen a quiche recipe but have not yet tried it.

The cashew tree in the photograph at the top of this post overlooks the messy end. 
Later this year we will have the fruit and the nut to use. 
I find the fruit too astringent, but having seen cashew wine for sale on the Caribbean side of the country it's back to home wine making...I have the airlocks, so I'll be looking for carboys or anything else suitable for the fermenting brew.

The nut contains a powerful acid...friends have shown me how to heat the nut over the flame to break the casing, but I'm a butterfingers and the whole thing ends with a charred mess. 
Another technique to learn.

And then there's banana vinegar...

We've made so many gardens in our time.

I do wonder, as I stand with the hose pipe in the soft evening light, whether this will be the last one.


  1. Wow. It's like living in Kew - only with much better weather!

  2. Wow, there's so much to learn about gardening when you move about all over the world, isn't there?!

    Especially what you can eat and what you can't!

    It all sounds very exotic what with cashew trees and the like. Yum!

  3. How lovely it is to make a garden with so many completely new things. And how lucky you are to have the people to ask what they are and what they do with them. I remember trying in Singapore with a tiny patch and watched in dismay as plant after plant succumbed to rot/insect damage of one sort or another.
    Are the ginger plants the wonderful scented ones that sell as flowers as common as daffodils in Hong Kong? (Sorry to name drop)

  4. Oh what a lovely post. It's great seeing pics of your garden and all the interesting stuff growing there.

    I never knew that about learn something new every day.

    Oh and your messy end of the garden looks fine to me...but then we seem to have quite a lot of messy ends in our garden!

  5. Steve, we both loved Kew...and we're finding all sorts of plants here that we remember from our Kew days!

    Sarah, we certainly have a lot to learn, particularly about what will or will not grow in the rainy season, and how to prevent plants from being waterlogged for seven months and then dry for five!

    Rosie, yes, the rot and insect damage are big problems here too...some stuff we have to keep in pots on the balcony.
    Our gingers aren't scented, unfortunately, but Mr. Fly is now off on the net in search of those from Hong Kong! Thanks for the tip!
    It is fun to start out gardening as complete novices again...the curse here is the leaf cutter ants which can clear a whole patch in a night.

    Ayak, I love being in the garden and I'm enjoying trying new fruit and veg too.
    There's always a messy end in my gardens...the bit we can never decide what to do with...

  6. What a fabulous garden - the last one or not.

    I do like gardens and I'm learning fast with our new one - but I keep getting distracted by the wildlife, making list, recording - but always of the insects and birds and not the plants. So much to find out.

  7. Mark, I know what you mean about the wildlife...a trip into the garden means pausing to watch something new about its business and that was the same for every garden we started.

    I always think that the current garden is the last one, but we seem to be repeat offenders...

  8. I think it must be these

  9. Rose, thank you! That's a great help!

  10. I am in awe of your garden, and I love cashews, so please eat some for me. I am trying to figure out what to do with a bunch of kumquats given to me. They are rather tart.

  11. Wow, it sounds like a forest of plenty! Do locals get obsessive about methods for dealing with cutter ants there in the way UK gardeners do with slugs? Not sure if you could get them drunk on ale in quite the same way...

    I spent many years home wine making, my most exotic brew being made from oak leaves (tasted a bit like sherry) but I've never heard of wine made from nuts. Good luck with this, whatever you use; I look forward to hearing about the results.

  12. e, I too like cashews, but Mr. Fly will never buy them as he saw for himself the damage to the hands of the, if I want to eat these I'm going to have to learn not to char them on the gas!
    About the kumquats...marmalade, mixed with oranges?
    Zoe, the first time we were in Costa Rica on holiday we had been reading a guide to a National Park which stated that is we were very lucky we would see leaf cutter ants.
    The next morning our host's gardener was busy pouring petrol on a nest of them!
    We showed out host the guide book and he laughed like a drain!

    The wine will be from the cashew fruit....the nut hangs down under the fruit which is heart shaped and a bit squishy, even when under ripe...I'm brewing up limon mandarinas in the wine bucket at the moment....very sharp and as i don't like adding a lot of sugar to my fruit drinks I thought I would turn them into alcohol.

    My favourite when in Europe was gorse flower wine.

  13. There's an award for you over at mine xx

  14. Ayak, that's most kind of you!
    I shall seek it out...

  15. What a fantastically exciting garden. You're the only person I've ever known with a cashew tree!

    Interesting idea for eating the yucca flowers. I will try that, as we get dozens every year.

    Your garden sounds so exotic and seductive, it must be the next best thing to the Garden of Eden. Or better. :)

  16. nodamnblog, I suppose for anyone who has lived in the tropics, mine is a disorganised mess with not much variety...but to me...coming from Europe where I had exotic plants in pots and nearly ruptured myself dragging them into the house in winter and out in the summer every year, it is a sheer delight!

    I have a lot to learn about gardening here...but it's great to start out again with something totally new.

    Something which has gone well is peas...petit pois.
    You can buy them in cans confusingly called sweet peas (!)...but when they grow so well, why don't I see them on the markets?
    I suppose they are not part of local food culture...

  17. I used to have bananas, passionfruit, guavas, avocados and locquats growing in my garden in Kenya, and I can't remember ever bothering to pick or eat them. I could smack myself now. :)

  18. I love how you passionate you seem to be about gardening. It's infectious.

  19. nodamnblog, if I had not frozen all the raspberrie..

  20. Those pictures make my heart grows;) I miss hot temperatures and I would like to see green outside my window!