Special techniques needed for altitude

Over 1,200 meters gardening changes, and the biggest change may be that there are no earthworms at that altitude. There are also no termites.  This means that leaf litter breaks down more slowly even in torleyheader062314the tropics. So, if you are in the drier highlands and you are going to compost leaves and debris, it will need to be in smaller pieces and will benefit from the addition of bacteria.  Naturally, you will remember to keep the pile damp and bacteria is easy – just add manure or urea.  But get that compost pile working as soon as you can because it will take some  time to break things down.

There are other hazards at higher elevations here in the tropics and one is too much sun. “But sunlight,” you gasp, “is required for plant growth!  How can there be too much sunlight?”

Good question.  After all, sunlight is necessary for photosynthesis which is required for growth.  The problem with too much sunlight is threefold.  First, the intense light in the tropics, especially at altitude, can scorch and bleach leaves reducing the chlorophyll needed for photosynthesis.  Second, the sun’s heat can increase the rate of water loss through the leaves, drying the plant.

Third, when the leaves are overheated, an important enzyme system in the plant becomes inactive, and this also slows photosynthesis.  Combined, these things slow plant growth and slow the absorption of carbon dioxide and the production of oxygen.

So there you are, above 1,200 meters (3,937 feet) and you wonder what to do next.  You are going to experiment with shade cloth, that’s what.  Most vegetables, tomatoes, beans, zucchini, carrots and such, benefit most from morning sun and some afternoon filtered shade.

You have put in your veggies and now your job is to watch them.  Really.  You need to be there every day looking for tell-tale signs that they are getting too much sunlight.  Look for bleaching of the leaves.  Look for signs of wilting, which can mean that there is too much sun and the leaves are losing water quickly.  Then, if you see the signs, take action.  Get some shade cloth and experiment with partial or total protection from the late morning to mid-afternoon sun.

Your elevation and gardening practices will come into play here and you may lose some plants or an entire crop, but keep at it.  Once you find the right combination of sun and shade, your garden will prosper.

This entry was posted in Costa Rica News. Bookmark the permalink.