UGA Costa Rica Blog

¡Pura vida!


Bananas are one crop we have on the farm here at UGA Costa Rica that I knew nothing about when I arrived. I think they may be my favorite plant that we have. First of all, bananas are the largest herbaceous flowering plant, and the fruit, botanically speaking, is a berry. The plant looks kind of like a small tree and each one produces only one bunch of bananas before it dies.

141018_kdi_farmetc057We have bananas growing in a few places around campus. These are from a plantation next to the main farm.

We have three varieties of bananas on campus. There are cuadrados, which are a slightly square variety that can be eaten cooked or raw; plantains, which are bigger, tougher, and eaten cooked; and then a sweet variety that is usually eaten raw and is called “banano”, the Spanish term for banana.

To the left is a nearly full grown bunch of bananas. It’s a bit hard to see how it connects to the tree, but you can see that they grow upwards and there are quite a few per bunch.

Banana plants produce flowers, and the bunch of bananas grows along the stem of these flowers. As you can see in the photo to the right, the flowers are open at the beginning of the process and they close once all the bananas have begun growing. The banana variety in this picture are plantains. Even with these not fully grown plantains you can see that they are bigger than the sweet bananas.


These are some sweet bananas in a fairly similar point in their growth.

141018_kdi_farmetc051 (1)This is a banana flower. I know you already got a pretty good look, but our photojournalism intern took this picture and it’s a pretty shot.

141018_kdi_farmetc050 (1)These are caudrados. They are about the same size as the sweet bananas but they have sharper edges. Most people like to eat them cooked but I think they’re really good raw if you get them at just the right time (which is once they’ve turned yellow but haven’t gotten kind of woody from sitting there too long without being harvested).



Here’s the whole operation. It’s easier in this picture to see how it connects to the tree and how it relates in terms of size. The bunches are actually quite heavy, which can cause problems when harvesting them. I’ll cover that in another post.




I’ll leave you with this picture of a tiny banana tree. Like I said earlier, banana trees only produce one bunch of bananas and then we cut them down.


Fortunately, small bananas spring up right next to the large ones and the cycle goes on. On the one hand, there’s something kind of sad about taking this beautiful mother/daughter banana tree combo and hacking the mother tree to the ground. So it goes. On the other hand, I like bananas, and chopping them down with a machete is just as much fun as it sounds like it would be.

In a follow-up post I will attempt to make a tutorial covering the harvesting process.

The Job of a UGA Costa Rica Resident Naturalist

One of the friendly faces you are certain to see on a stay at UGA Costa Rica is the face of a Resident Naturalist. Our naturalists do everything from checking guests into their rooms and planning activities, to leading hikes, tours and dance lessons. Watch this video to see our naturalists in action!

Student Highlights

A few of our fall semester students have shared their favorite moments from this semester so far. Between hikes, chocolate tours, and home stays with local families, it is hard to pick just one great experience. 

Two students look at a tiny egg found on a hike to the San Luis aquifer.

When most students arrive, they are struck by the beauty and mystery of the natural environment surrounding campus. Julia Kim remembers one of the first nights after they arrived at UGA Costa Rica. They went on a night hike to experience the forest at night. “We were above a storm,” she said. “We could see the lighting below us and it was amazing.”

One of the most important parts of the study abroad experience is staying with a local family in a home stay. There they have the chance to practice their Spanish and experience daily life with a family from San Luis.

Bonding with a home stay family is often the first step of getting connected with the larger community. For Lindsey Roper, her favorite thing has been how much a part of the community the students have become. “When there was the big fundraising dance in lower San Luis, we had the chance to participate and be part of it.” Between playing bingo, dancing merengue, and bidding on auction items, the dance was a great experience.

And of course, one of the most special parts of the experience is the bond that students develop with each other. After spending so much time together in class, at meals, they naturally develop strong friendships. “I think my favorite thing is being with our group,” said Ally Pixler. “And my favorite time was when we went to get pizza with everyone down the road and we felt like a family.”

Fighting the Gusanos

Our sustainable agriculture intern, Evan, works on the farm six days a week along with Marlon, who manages the farm and stables. They noticed that our lettuce beds were being eaten by gusanos, the Spanish word for worm. We believe these gusanos are beetle larvae that cut through the soil looking for nutrients.

They devised an experiment to find the best way to deter these pests. Watch the video below to find out their three methods as well as get a look at our farm and greenhouses.

Don’t forget to check back next week to find out the results!

Insects and Butterflies


We had a chance recently to visit the Monteverde Butterfly Garden and get a closer look at many of the insects that live in Costa Rica. In the above photo, naturalist Caley Zazula holds a Hercules beetle. Be careful not to get your finger caught in his pincers, the same strength that allows him to lift 850 times his body weight will also give you a pinch.

Below, naturalist Sarah Kelehear holds a butterfly with distinctive owl spots. The top right photo is a dung beetle, also a powerhouse insect. Some types of dung beetles can roll dung balls up to 50 times their weight. The bottom right photos is an ironclad beetle, whose hard exoskeleton makes pinning it for an insect collection impossible without a small drill.


140901_kdi_BirdsButterflies137The garden’s butterfly areas feature different habitats from the hot lowlands, to the shady areas of the forest where many glass-winged butterflies make their home.

Introduction to the UGACR Farm, Part 2


Thank you for reading part one of my introduction to the farm at UGA Costa Rica. Today, I’ll share a little bit about our greenhouses and other crops we grow here.

This is a better picture of our large greenhouse. The top keeps the rain out but allows sunlight to go through. As you can sort of see, we are growing lettuce in the bottom of the greenhouse, and grass up top. We are growing the grass on purpose, which is strange for a farm, but I will explain it more fully in a later post.


Here’s a look at the beds. We’ve put branches on the bottom to limit erosion. The bed featured in the photo is made up of cabbage. I know that this picture makes things look fairly chaotic, and sometimes they are, but this was from early on when we were losing the battle against the weeds. The beds look a bit more organized now.

IMG_0142 This sign warns people that the fence is electric. It hurts if you touch it. Believe me. I’m not speculating.


One cool thing we do here is that we compost both the weeds from the garden, and food waste from the kitchen. The weeds from the garden go into large piles that look like the one above. The food waste goes into the building below. In both cases we are warm composting, which involves raising the temperature of the material being composted high enough that bacteria and small insects can break it down. The heat is generated by letting the compost sit, though it must be turned over periodically so that every part gets warm, and water must be added occasionally to help sustain the bacteria.


We plant a variety of crops, although the most common are lettuce, cabbage, and carrots. The top picture is a type of lettuce that is new to the farm, and is pretty funky looking.

To protect the lettuce and cabbage from the elements we plant it in small trays and then transplant it once it is a bit hardier.

This is about as big as we want to let it get before it goes into one of the beds. As you can see the plants are running out of real estate.

We grow a bit of sugarcane, and it makes a great snack if you cut it down and chew on the white stalk.

This is called chayote, and tastes like squash. It grows on these vines and we don’t have to do anything except go around harvesting it every couple of weeks.

Stay tuned for more updates from the farm!

An Introduction to the UGACR Farm


My name is Evan Senie and I’m the Sustainable Agriculture Intern at UGA Costa Rica. I’ll be doing some blogging focusing on my work at the farm. The farm here at UGACR is organic, and the food produced is used to feed the volunteers, students, and tourists who stay at the facility.

We use terraced beds on the farm, due to the relatively steep grade and the fact that during the rainy season there is significant water flow down the farm.

IMG_0097There are many crops on the farm but the first one I’ll mention for now are the bananas. There are actually three things that grow from similar looking trees but I’ll cover them in another post. This plantation is behind the farm and we harvest these every couple of weeks.


For those of you who don’t know, this is how bananas grow. There is a large flower that hangs down and then extends upward in bunches. Once they’re ready we get to chop the entire tree down with a machete, which is awesome. If you’re not good at it (I am not good at it), it is possible to chop the tree in such a way that it crushes the bananas, rendering the entire exercise useless.

Assuming we avoid this unfortunate outcome, the bananas go into this bucket to ripen for a few days before we bring them to the kitchen.

We have to put a top on the bucket because of the monkeys and the pizotes, or coatis. The monkeys seem cute but they’re actually thieves.



To wrap up, here’s a sunset picture from the farm. It’s got a nice view out to the west over the mountains. Part two of the overview will look at some more of our crops, composting, and our chickens.


Celebrating Day of the Cultures


On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus first landed in America. Costa Ricans mark this historic day with Día de las Culturas, or Day of the Cultures. Three main groups have influenced Costa Rican culture: indigenous people groups, the Spanish, and Afro-Caribbean culture. This day also celebrates people from around the world who have influenced Costa Rica.

The Alto San Luis Elementary School celebrated the day with a special presentation about the history of the indigenous people of Costa Rica and the effects of Columbus’ arrival. They performed traditional Costa Rican dances and also had the chance to sample food from different parts of the world!

Climate March in Monteverde

Steve Padgett Vasquez is a UGA doctoral candidate in Integrative Conservation and Geography doing research at UGA Costa Rica. His research focuses on using freely available GIS and remote sensing software to help conservation efforts in the Bellbird Biological Corridor. During his two-week stay, he attended a local march raising awareness about climate change. Today, he shares his account of the march and this video he shot as well.

Shortly after arriving at the UGA Campus in the valley of San Luis in Costa Rica, I noticed a poster about an upcoming climate march. At the time I didn’t realize that I was going to be involved in something bigger than raising local awareness about climate change. This march was parallel to the People’s Climate March in New York City and timed in anticipation of the UN Climate Summit.

Despite only knowing where the march was going to start in the town of Santa Elena, I managed to convince three UGA study abroad students to go with me. What we saw at the local high school were hundreds of people from all ages and representing different elements of the Monteverde community getting organized to raise awareness about climate change. With sirens blaring, a Red Cross ambulance led the march. Incorporating Tico culture into the march, a group of high school students dressed in “trajes típicos” with the colors of the Costa Rican flag danced to the beat of a makeshift band. Colorful signs and posters, usually attached to shovels, followed a group of street performers. Along the way we passed a tree where a sloth was resting, which energized the march.

We made it all the way to the new Catholic Church, but the event was far from over. Awaiting us behind the church were trees brought from a nearby nursery. Volunteers gathered around and started planting the trees in an old cattle pasture in an effort to help reforest the Monteverde region. When I decided to join the march and document the event, I had no idea that I was going to be part of a bigger narrative. With all the attention being focused on the People’s March in New York, I am glad that a small community in Costa Rica helped raise awareness and turn words (and posters) into action!

Visiting the Water Source


Our students recently had the chance to visit the source of San Luis’s water. UGA Costa Rica Business Manager Virgilio Brenes led us on a trek to a mountain spring where it all begins. Even though the path to the spring is less than a mile long, it feels much longer, with treacherous slopes of slippery rocks and ankle-deep mud.

Before starting down the trail, Virgilio held up a rock to remind us that all the materials to build infrastructure for the spring had to be carried there. Like many projects here, the community built it themselves. As difficult as some parts of the trail were to walk, someone did it carrying heavy bags of concrete. One local man made up to 20 trips a day carrying 100 lbs of concrete each time.

In fact, there was no trail to the springs when the project began. Workers had to repel down the rocks to the spring before starting to cut a trail to an accessible place in the road.

From the spring, the water travels down to lower San Luis, passing through water stations along the way that control the speed and pressure of the water.



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