The tropical garden

This posting is mostly for all our friends who love to garden but live in an area where tropical plants won’t grow. Or for those who are just interested in how some of your favorite foods grow. Anyway, we love to garden and have always had a garden, but we have mostly lived in a desert climate where the weather or soil was not the best. So moving to Belize with its great climate and rich soil was a dream for us. Now we can grow things we never even considered growing before.

That’s a lot of bananas

Everyone loves bananas, but have you ever thought about how they grow? Banana plants might look like a tree but they’ve actually classified as an herb. This is because the trunks are made up of leaves, not bark like a tree. A banana plant will take about 10 months or so until it produces a flower. Once the flower is there it will take another 3 months or so until the bananas are ripe. The bud will have both the male and female flowers in it so that it can self-pollinate.

The bud is at least a foot long

Once the plant produces a bunch of bananas and they ripen, it will be done and die. Not to worry though, because while the plant is growing, it’s producing more stalks around it’s base that will each produce bananas in the order at which they grew.

New stalks shooting up from the base

They say that the average American eats 27 lbs. of bananas a year. I’m not sure we ever ate that many before, but now that we are growing our own, we are way above that. Currently, 3 of our plants have bananas on them and two bunches are about to ripen at the same time. And just in case you didn’t know, each banana is called a finger, each cluster is called a hand, and the whole stalk is called a bunch. We just call them, free breakfast.

Each flower will become a coffee bean

Coffee is something a lot of us can’t live without. It just happens to grow great where we are and is very easy to grow. Our plants went from about 1′ to 5-6′ in just over 2 years. They start by getting flower buds on most of the main branches. After a few months, the green berries will start to turn red in color, that’s the time to start picking them. Usually every few days we will need to go and pick the red ones as they don’t all ripen at the same time.

Coffee ready to be picked

Once we pick them, we need to peel off the skin or fruit from the berry. Then they are soaked in water overnight to remove what is still left on them. After that, they are placed in the sun for a few days to dry. Once thoroughly dry then they can be roasted. Prior to roasting a thin parchment skin must be removed from the bean. After roasting then they get ground up and used as coffee. We have been drying the beans and then vacuum sealing them until we want to roast them. Unroasted beans will last a couple years whereas roasted will lose their flavor after a couple months.

When pineapples first start they are beautiful

I’m sure at some point everyone has cut the top of a pineapple and tried to get it to grow. That’s how we started out here and after two years they are finally producing pineapples. But there is a quicker way.

Mature pineapple with slips around its base

As the pineapple fruit is starting to mature it starts to produce slips around its base. Once the slips get big enough you just pick them off and plant them in the ground. Doing it this way can produce a pineapple in eight months or so, as opposed to two years rooting the top. At this point we have around 150 plants going and there are at least 30 pineapples on them currently.

Cacao blossoms

Cacao or ‘chocolate once it’s processed’ grows quite well here also. Someone told us that it wouldn’t grow in this area, but we planted it anyway and it’s thriving. The cacao pods grow on the trunk and branches of the plant, not around the leaves. The blossoms that do survive will turn into this big, dark chocolate-colored pod. Once the pod starts to change colors toward red and yellow it’s time to pick them.

Cacao pods

Now the fun starts. You cut the pod open to reveal the big white seeds that are covered in a fluffy white sweet flesh which is very tasty. After the seeds are collected, they must ferment for about a week or so. Then the fermented seeds must dry in the sun for a few days, where they will start to turn light brown in color. Once dried they can then be roasted and peeled. Finally, they are ready to be ground into chocolate and enjoyed. While grinding they will first turn into a powder and then the oils will start to come out and turn it all liquidy. This is where (if you choose) to add some sugar and make it into some great-tasting chocolate.


Starfruit is something that maybe you’ve seen in the produce section of your favorite grocery store but have never actually tried. It’s a really good fruit that has the flavor between an apple and a pear with a little sour undertone. Our tree was 18″ tall two years ago and is well over 15′ tall now. In the spring is when the little pink and white blossoms start to appear.

Starfruit blossoms

The blossoms that do get pollinated will develop into these wonderful fruits. When you slice them they are a perfect five-point star shape which is where the name Starfruit comes from. They say that a mature tree could produce between 200-400 lbs. of fruit each year.

Macadamia nuts, a favorite treat from Hawaii. Our tree is 9′ tall now and seems to be growing great. We have no idea yet as to how the nuts grow or even how to prepare them to eat. As soon as we see some blossoms or nuts we will let you know how all that goes.

I know it might seem that processing the coffee or cacao is a lot of work, but we love it! Hope you enjoyed this little insight into our tropical garden.

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