Cotacachi / Ecuador / Ecuador Culture / Ecuador Lifestyle / Ecuadorian food

Planting a Garden in Cotacachi, Ecuador

It’s definitely planting season in Cotacachi.  Here and all over Ecuador the fields are brown and furrowed.  You can still see oxen laboring in teams and little old ladies are busy hoeing industriously in their small garden plots.

The day after we went to Blanca’s house to sort beans, we met at a small plot of land that she owns near Cotacachi.  She is graciously allowing us to plant our vegetable garden on her plot because our land isn’t fenced yet.  Neighboring cows, goats and sheep munch all day in our fields and we are not living out there yet so there’s no way to monitor these bovine visitors.

So we will plant at Blanca’s for now.  In the middle of her extended family plot is the simple house where her parents lived and died and raised her and her nine siblings.  The land has been divided among the nine kids and she shared part of her land with us so we could try our hand at organic gardening Ecuadorian style.

She helped us plant rows of shoepeg corn, heirloom bush beans and lots of vegetables, all organic and brought from the states.  She said that when I’d shown her our gringo seeds in their little paper packages, she hadn’t believed they were organic or heirloom, because in Ecuador they would have been wrapped non-commercially and kept at home.

She was eager to see the corn we’d brought for planting but disappointed when she recognized the shoepeg corn we had as a variety that’s been planted in Ecuador since ancient times.  She was wanting to see something more exotic, like the Hopi red corn I’d told her my son Scott had brought to us from the U.S.

But I didn’t want to take the chance of contaminating the Hopi corn with nearby local corn growing in the same field.  We planted the shoepeg some distance away but there is still a possibility that it will be cross-pollinated with other corn in the area.

The name of the local variety of shoepeg corn even sounds similar– chulpy in Quechua.  It’s not grown much any more because the seeds are expensive compared to other corn varieties.  Blanca said Ecuadorians would eat their variety only when it was dried.  She didn’t seem to like the idea that I prefer to eat it fresh-picked and raw, right off the stalk.

In Ecuador rows are fairly far apart and lots of room is taken up for planting.  I’d rather grow things closer together and mulch well to conserve moisture and inhibit weed growth.  But in Ecuador we will first do as the locals do to experience the growing cycle as they experience it.

Blanca set to work right away.  We’d brought along our tools–a shovel and spade, but Blanca didn’t use them.  She preferred to work with only a long pointed wooden stick to dig holes in the ground for seeds.  And her foot. Gary helped.

She planted the corn and beans quickly and expertly on one side of earth mounds a few inches off the ground.  These crops are usually planted and left to survive on their own without irrigation.

We will have to water our more delicate vegetables like broccoli, radishes, squash, watermelon, kale and lettuce.  We don’t know if the seeds we have will grow since they went through airport x-ray machines without any protection.  I was later told that covering them with aluminum foil would have reduced the effects of the x-rays.

Our little plot isn’t fenced.  While our plants won’t be disturbed by animals wandering in, there will definitely be hungry kids and hungry bugs around. We don’t know what kinds of winged and crawling creatures will be arriving to munch and suck and devour our delicate plant leaves and produce.  There will probably be bugs as exotic as the fruit and vegetables that grow in Ecuador.

But I’ll be ready for them.  I know how to make a potent and deadly mixture of onion, garlic and peppers in my blender to spray on menacing insects.

If we are even moderately successful, we’ll soon be sitting down to a smorgasbord of locally grown organic produce bursting with flavor, vitality and nutrition.  And just today, Blanca reported that we already have 38 corn plants peeking up out of the ground.  Can’t wait to bite into a succulent ear of my own shoepeg corn, grown organically in Ecuador.



  1. “I just hope that nobody would bring GM (genetically modified) seeds/plants to Ecuador. One of the reasons why I contemplate moving to Ecuador is due to its organic foods. If expats start to bring in their countries garbage, it will destroy the natural beauty of Ecuador. I hope it’s not happening yet.”


    I hate to see Americans trying to do things the only way they know in a new country. It is only a matter of time before Monsato has ruined the whole world with the help of ignorant Americans.

  2. Hi Linda!
    I was in Eucador in January/February [2011] and was trying to understand what kind of corn they were selling in the market [Quito] I have a picture and wanted to know where I can buy seeds for the kinds of corn they grow down there.

    Wondering if you can give me a ‘tip’ on the kinds of corn to look for!?

    Christine in Ohio

    • Hola Christine,

      As a matter of fact, this last Saturday there was a large seed fair in Cotacachi right across the street from our apartment. Daniel, an expat, held an English-speaking tour of the fair. He is very knowledgeable about plants and seeds and was a wealth of information. There were lots of different kinds of corn for sale, so if you are ever in Cotacachi again, check out the fair and buy all kinds of seed corn. There were so many different varieties and colors, from palest, almost transparent popcorn to the deepest, blackest corn I’ve ever seen.

      Daniel says there are so many varieties because of open pollination. If you plant corn and don’t protect it, it can be cross-germinated from someone else’s corn and you will end up with something different from what you planted. Locals cover their new corn to keep it genetically true to form.

      It’s hard to get North American corn strains to grow here, or at least that is my experience as well as others who have tried. Our shoe peg corn grew about two feet, turned yellow and died. Dan says it’s because there is fourteen hours of sun in the U.S. and only twelve hours of sun here. Plus altitude differences.

      While many claim they don’t like Ecuadorian corn because it isn’t sweet like hybrids in the U.S., it may also just be that it is picked and sold after the sugars have turned. I’ve had fresh-picked corn in Cotacachi that was sweet and delicious.

  3. Cindy Keegan says:

    Linda and Gary, So excited for the two of you! Your own garden and hopefully next year it will be garden(s) on your own land. What a blessing Blanca has been to you and you to her! Hugs to all of you!

  4. Aubrey Pope says:

    Seed Savers Exchange in the states in a great place for heirloom seeds.

  5. I just hope that nobody would bring GM (genetically modified) seeds/plants to Ecuador. One of the reasons why I contemplate moving to Ecuador is due to its organic foods. If expats start to bring in their countries garbage, it will destroy the natural beauty of Ecuador. I hope it’s not happening yet.

  6. Pingback: Morning Update – Monday, October 25, 2010 « South of Zero

  7. There is a guy here in the States who produces some organic material to protect plants and make them grow better, I have some pictures on my computer which I will send by separate mail. I am planning on having a garden in Ecuador. There is a place in California where they sell heirloom seeds.

    • You can buy heirloom seeds from many sources. In California I bought some at a seed savers co-op in Sebastopol. I ordered some online from Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply in Grass Valley, California. My son Scott picked up some good heirloom seeds at Berkeley, too.