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Tips from an Amazon Gardener


As heard on radio, as seen in the Amazon, and now, on the TP blog, here are Dona Raimunda's chives protected against jealousy and evil by sentinel eggs. photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR hide caption

toggle caption photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR

Dona Raimunda is a rock star. A meteor shower. A force of nature. It's amazing to me how that much personality can be contained in such a diminutive body.

She is the mother of farmer Rosario Costa Cabral, the Amazon farmer featured in these pages a few months back. Rosario has made a name for herself growing crops never before tried in her region of the Amazon flood plain, where she's encouraged other farmers to branch out.

Whereas Rosario relies on observation and experimentation, her mother channels ancestral know-how.

woman blowing smoke on plants

Dona Raimunda regularly wanders past her seedlings in the course of the day and blows a bit of her tobacco smoke from her pipe to keep away the crickets and discourage butterflies from depositing their eggs. photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR hide caption

toggle caption photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR

Dona Raimunda is who-knows-what-generation caboclo, the Brazilian word for the ethnically mixed people who live in the Amazon. In my Weekend Edition Sunda radio piece about Dona Raimunda, I listed six tongue-in-cheek gardening tips I'd observed watching this caboclo gardener at work. My hunch is they'll make a whole lot more sense if you care to join me in her Amazon garden but in any case, here they are:

#1 Mind how you talk to your plants
#2 Cucumbers and cabbage are sworn enemies and cannot be grown together
#3 Chili peppers are stubbornly reluctantly to let go of their fruit
#4 Plants are no co-dependent; they don't care if you garden in a bad mood
#5 Ugly chives save lives (a reference to putting anti-evil eggs in the vegetable garden)
#6 Smokers are welcome in the garden

portrait of Dona Raimunda

She is a rare beauty, the dona, but this isn't a very typical pose. She's usually up to something: telling stories, making acai, and of course, talking to her plants. photo credit: Ketzel Levine hide caption

toggle caption photo credit: Ketzel Levine



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There, and soon a trasnational will visit her place, get her in tape, get her knowledge and patent her ancestral widom in the US and make huge profit.
This happens all the time


Sent by John | 6:39 PM | 3-22-2008

Somehow I can't see a trans-national worrying about either a feud between cabbage and cucumber, or the protective power of eggs.

Sent by Ketzel Levine | 7:38 PM | 3-22-2008

only the positively evolved trans-national. Corporate darwinism .....

Sent by Z | 12:33 PM | 3-23-2008

It amazes me that here is a true to herself person, a person that few of us here could wholly comprehend for she has had in her natural life, a training that can only come from ancestors and nature- who offers such wisdom that is authentic, open, free- such a positive all around lesson- and still, a negative reaction is taken from the story, a her "rare beauty", her lack of trying to impress any of us...just being who she is. Thanks, good to know such people still exist..and thrive!

Sent by Terry Starks | 10:02 AM | 3-24-2008

The use of companion plants to enhance growth, and of smoke to repel insects, are well-known techniques, not just in the Amazon. They were practiced in Europe since medieval times. Any observent gardener will agree with most of Do??a Raimunda's advice. By the way, why has the tilde been omitted from her name? I noticed that it is pronounced as if the tilde were present.

Sent by Judy G Hart | 6:45 PM | 3-24-2008

Feisty old garden ladies rule, wherever they are, and often fool the trans-nationals. The ecologist in the story had an Iberian surname, and I don't know whether he is an intellectual property thief or a home-grown fan of the dona. I grew up in el norte, where we know bugs hate nicotene, chives deter browsers, some plant families feud, and that you should listen to the old garden ladies. And to sows as big as VWs.

Sent by mo major | 12:57 AM | 3-25-2008

My grandfather who was born in Nepal and lived all his life on the foothills of himalayas made the same point. Mind how you talk your plant. I respected his words because of his authority, but your piece on amazon helps me decipher why he said what he said. Thanks for a nice piece.

Sent by Sudesh Banskota | 6:40 PM | 3-25-2008

Loved this story -- I almost sent my car crashing into a highway column, I was laughing so hard about the feuding veggies. Came looking for a link to send a friend who is planting heirloom tomatoes from the US in her Italian garden. Wanted to make sure she knew about protecting her transplants with chives and eggs!

Sent by Manju | 6:53 PM | 3-25-2008