State of the Tropical Garden Address

My tropical garden right now is at what must be the height of lushness for the season. Most of the plants are fully grown and providing me with wonderful organic fresh produce. I harvest splendid bunches of greens daily, enough for my smoothies and salads and soups, but not so much that I have to cut more than what I can use in a day. I love it when I can snip off leaves to use daily and then see them come back and replenish themselves happily afterward.

As I experiment with my garden and do research on what grows well in the tropics, I am constantly surprised at having such good luck with leafy green veggies, which is what I most want to cultivate because they make up such a large portion of my diet–and there is simply nothing like snapping the plump, crisp, green leaves from the stem and throwing them into my morning green smoothie.

I’ve read and heard that very few greens do well in the type of heat and humidity that we experience here on the central Pacific coast of Mexico. I’ve sought out and planted varieties of greens that are tropics-friendly: amaranth (green and red), which takes well to the heat; Malabar spinach, which is purported to thrive in temperatures over 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit); arugula, which seems to accept life in the tropics quite happily, and collards, which I do believe would be happy anywhere it is given a bit of love and attention. (Why are collards not more widely used and respected?) All those tropical greens do just fine, of course.

In addition, though, I’ve tried greens that consider heat their greatest personal enemy–greens that, they say, thrive only when subjected to cool weather at some point of their lives (and some even want full freezing temperatures!). These greens include kale (both dwarf curly kale and purple-stemmed kale); turnip greens (a variety that is grown for its leaves, not its root); broccoli raab (a leaf broccoli); gai-lan, or Chinese broccoli or kale, which is yum-luscious; sorrel, with its wonderful tang, perfect for salads; dwarf choy sum, another Oriental green similar to bok choy; and beets, which are giving me a colorful variety of tender greens that are delicious both raw and cooked. Nevertheless, all these greens seem to be doing just fine in my garden despite constantly high temperatures, although some of them were a bit slow to germinate and start.

Just so you can see how happy they are, below is a series of photos taken today.

And the failures? Well, I can’t call them failures, exactly, but they were plants that were disappointing, that gave less-than-optimal results, and that just did not seem worth the effort of nursing them along in an unfriendly climate: leaf lettuce (it bolts and gets bitter and just isn’t very satisfying); escarole (which started well and looked gorgeous but the leaves never firmed up, so eating them was akin to ingesting air: no substance); spinach (scrawny!); and Swiss chard, which I think might have been affected more by the salt air here close to the sea than by the heat itself. I’d give Swiss chard another try or two before scratching it from my seed list, but the rest, well, I think I’ll just have to give them up and save myself some aggravation.