The end of the dry season is here, finally the heavy hot humid nights have a chance of breaking into real rain.  Two nights ago we fell asleep to such a pleasant soft rain – a gentle beginning to what we know will be months of torrential downpours and dramatic lightning storms.

espiritu del patio

The dry season here is s o  d r y  that we had just about given up our back yard garden. We could keep a few pots of herbs in the courtyard, but watering behind the house became so time consuming and difficult to coordinate with all of our business trips up to the coffee region. The courtyard thrived, the ornamentals enjoying the pure sun, and we’ve enjoyed a few more heads of those heavenly little banano rosas.  Everything changed when we installed a drip irrigation system with a battery run timer in the back garden.  Amazing.  Irrigation is a life and farm changing technology here. I knew that theoretically, but now I have lived to see and feel the difference a good system can make in a gardeners life.  Finally we can have a green garden out back, with basil and eggplant and tomatoes and garlic and ginger. Drip irrigation systems do not, however, resolve the leaf-cutter ant and iguana pest problems, and they continue to devour anything that isn’t smelly or spiky.

espanta pajaroAlong with our little chicken coop and garden, we have managed to cultivate such a sweet relationship with our next door neighbors.  Luisito, who is five, is in charge of our chickens when we leave on a trip, and has done such a good job that he has been promoted to garden-waterer and protector-of-the-garden-against-iguanas. Which he usually does with his little rubber slingshot.  Although I haven’t witnessed a successful hunt, I often get long rambling accounts of which trees and holes the iguanas came out of while I was gone, and how many piedras Luis slung to scare them all away. When we left for the states for a short trip last month, Luis promised to be extra attentive.  The morning after we returned I glanced out the back and stopped, thinking someone was in our yard.  No, Luisito and his grandfather had built us a “scare-iguana” in the back bed!  Now we just need to figure out what a “scare-leaf-cutter-ants” looks like!

ginger sprout

Ginger is one of my favorite things. Period. To watch sprout, to grow, to grate, to eat, to drink.


On it's way to unfurling into an impressive 5 feet tall orange cactus flower.

On its way to unfurling into an impressive 5 feet tall orange cactus flower.


Sacuanjoche, the national flower

A Sacuanjoche tree, the national flower, unfurling new leaves


Gallon water bottles make excellent seed trays along the sunny wall in the courtyard.

Gallon water bottles cut in half make excellent seed trays along the sunny wall in the courtyard.


Last week we celebrated my birthday with lots of tropical flowers, fruits, and friends.

Last week we celebrated my birthday with lots of tropical flowers, fruits, and friends.


It’s summer, the dry drought filled half of the year in the western plains of Nicaragua.  Dust invades your life and your respiratory system as the green fields along the highways turn into brown desertscapes.  First the peanuts are harvested, then the sugar cane begins to dry up until it is finally burned and harvested, adding clouds of black smoke to the dust filled air.  Cattle trample into the bare peanut fields after the gleaners are gone to chew mouthfulls of dusty peanut cud.  The middle of the day is suffocatingly hot.

Making leaf compost has made all the difference to our garden! It's not common here, usually all organic trash is burnt.

Although I have seen marked improvement in the infrastructure here over the last three years (read: from power cuts twice a week to maybe once a month), during the dry months there is still no running water in our section of the city from 7am until 5 or 6pm on a daily basis.  If we failed to remember to fill our trash cans and barrels at night, the next day we were scrounging for water to flush or drink, forget throwing any on the dusty backyard!   Now, thanks to a 750 gallon water tank and electric pump that Nick installed last year at our house, we’ve been able to create a fresh green micro-climate at our house.  The inner courtyard is lined with herbs and flowers in pots, and the backyard has another herb garden at the back of it.  Over the last two years I’ve fought hand, tooth and nail against our urban pests – garrobos (iguanas) and leaf cutter ants, eventually finding the best tactic to be avoiding those plants which they find the tastiest (unfortunately, among those we find the tastiest as well, such as squash and beans!).  We’ve also been most diligent composters, and I was delighted to find that with the constant heat of León I can churn out a whole batch of rich dark compost in just a few months, especially in the rainy season when the moisture level is up.  The compost has made an enormous difference in the soil over two years, and now there are plants thriving where there was compacted construction rubble-filled earth before.  The result is a compromised garden of smelly, spiky, and odd plants that garrobos and leaf cutter ants don’t like, but that we DO like and eat happily.  Oh, and our ever-changing fauna, which have included over the last two years 11 chickens, 2 blue-winged teals, a chompipe (turkey), two turtles, and various cats.  Along with the constant march of visitors that pass through (both foreign and Nicaraguan!), our house is generally interesting and chaotic, and we like it that way!

This is what our back yard looked like when I moved in two years ago and double dug the first raised beds:

And this is how it looks now, with a chicken coop, water tank, lemon grass, pineapple, oregano, chili and ginger plants.  This is during the dry season – if I had taken this picture four months ago it would have been alot greener!

A banana plant I brought when I moved in finally sprouted a head of bananas – over the roof!  They are mini bananas, called banano manzana or banano rosa here.

Trimming the banana flower off (should be done once the flower produces several “false” hands of bananas) provided us with an excellent excuse to climb up on the roof and enjoy a different view of Sutiaba, and our patio!  Most of the plants inside are ornamental, except for the mint, oregano, italian and thai basil, and this miniature basil that we found near Masaya and has an incredible flavor.

In our chicken coop, our first chicks hatched two weeks ago!  The first hatched during a day I was working from home, so I kept checking on it and got to see it when it was first hatched.  The neighbors all tsked tsked when the mother left the nest and a different hen jumped in.  We feared the worst but then the hen just ate the egg shell and skin, and snuggled the chick until the mother finished eating and they swapped places.  Some excellent chicken co-parenting!

The second chick was born during the night.  Two out of the three eggs hatched – not bad!

I am very excited to discover how well ginger grows here!  I started with a bit from the supermarket, and have just heaped compost on it and done virtually nothing else.  9 months later my friend Alejandra helped me harvest this one.  You can see the original piece hanging down on the right – to our surprise it was still fat and not shriveled!  I cut it off and re-planted it, we’ll see if it sprouts again.  Garlic has failed, I think I haven’t been able to find the right seed (most of available garlic even in the local markets is from China).  Plans to try sesame, turmeric and many more flowers next!

The rains have started here, turning the streets of León into raging currents…

…and all sorts of things to sprout.

We made a little wall to keep the mud from washing up against the house,

while Theo explored new heights hunting the winged ants that hatched with the rain…

…and enjoys snatches of sun in between the rainstorms.

I gave a presentation in Managua about Sustainable Farming here,

and celebrated Nicaraguan mother’s day on May 30th with my friend Yuri, her mom, grandmother, and family.