I decided about six weeks ago that I have lived for much too long now without a garden of my own, and it was time to put some of the tropical farming knowledge I’ve absorbed in a year and half in Nicaragua together with my years of farming experience from New England and start digging in the dirt.  Six weeks later, and I have…virtually nothing to show for my efforts.  Partly because of the limited time I can devote to it and mostly because it’s a losing battle against Green Iguanas and Leaf Cutter Ants.

First step was buying some basic gardening tools and attacking the back yard.

I decided to do a circular bed pattern, like the Mandala bed we designed for Long Lane Farm at Wesleyan University.  The beds are double excavated and mixed with compost from kitchen scraps I started six months ago.

I collect all the dry leaves from the yard and courtyard inside the house on the left, and then use them to layer the compost pile which I keep covered with a piece of black plastic. The “pile” is actually sunk in the ground to create direct access with microorganisms in the soil which will speed up the process.  It’s divided into halves – I fill the left hand side with kitchen scraps layered with weeds from the garden and dry leaves for a month.  At the end of every month I rotate – the right half onto the garden and into the trash can, the left half to the right, and start over.  The seedlings I started in the courtyard with a mixture of compost with soil and sand came up beautifully but had their struggles…

…which only increased once I planted them in the backyard.  This is damage due to leaf miners, a small insect that burrows through the leaf, destroying individual cells and inhibiting photosynthesis.

And then EVERYTHING I planted disappeared into the belly of one of these lovely green iguanas that inhabit our roof,

or disappeared into the nests of  the leaf cutter ants, zompopos, that live in holes in the backyard and under the courtyard.  They chew the foliage they gather and cultivate a fungus on them that they then eat.  My rival farmers.

I’ve had the best luck so far using urban gardening container planting, like these cilantro, cucumbers, and pinuela in the courtyard…

…and focusing on native plants like this large leaf cilantro, which also has the advantage of having fewer pests because of its strong odor (iguanas, for example, have so far left it alone).  My current strategy is to plant everything stinky and spiny – garlic, onions, pineapple – and experiment with some netting or caging for everything else.