Naturally occurring on Isla Palenque, pockets of coconuts, plantains, and bananas grow in scattered spots around the island, along with other trees bearing miscellaneous tiny fruits that our native howler monkeys love. And right by the North Bay, at Playa Girón, two giant mango trees stretch up into the sky right next to the place where our entry pier will soon be built. I don’t know how old they are but I’m guessing it’s upwards of a century. They’re absolutely huge, dwarfing the now three-year-old mangoes we planted back in the late spring of 2009 as part of “the orchard.”
“The orchard” is about an acre of trees located in the southwest portion of the island which had been cleared for cattle many years ago. The basic idea was that – even though we wouldn’t need them for a few years – it would be cheaper and easier to bring over tiny seedlings then, rather than larger trees at the time of actual landscaping needs. It’s not a permanent orchard; we will be transplanting these trees to other portions of the island: around the back-of-house facilities, as well as alongside guestrooms, hotel amenities, and our restaurants.
The orchard began as 500 young trees, purchased for a quarter or 50 cents apiece from a local greenhouse – a garden variety (pun intended) of fruits already growing on the island, plus a few others. Apples, oranges, guanabana (guava), multiple varieties of limes and mangoes, cacao… Our thought was to get a bit of everything in the ground and see what would happen.
This part of the island doesn’t have easy access to water, and it’s pretty far removed from where we have been working, so we have done nothing to tend to it, other than occasionally cut down the grasses around the trees that choke out the sunlight. It’s a testament to the naturally-favorable growing conditions in Panama and on Isla Palenque that 150 of the 500 we planted still stand after three years of leaving it to the wild island to take care of them. They’ve suffered through a couple of dry seasons, which sometimes means going as long as four months with next to no rain.
Some have sprouted up to 8 feet, others are still a bit stumpy at 5; some are already bearing fruit, and others won’t be yielding for another 4-5 years. Emily’s already taste-tested the limes:
“When I visited the orchard [in May of last year] only two years after it had been planted, I expected to see a wide expanse of seedlings. Standing among trees taller than I was, I asked how much farther it was to the orchard and to my surprise was handed a tiny lime, the size of golf ball, with the words, ‘This is it. Taste it.’ Our baby limes were tart and refreshing – I cannot wait for an island mojito.”
Planting the orchard was one of the earliest steps we took towards our ultimate goal of being able to produce many of the ingredients we’ll need for our island cuisine on Isla Palenque. In the next month or so, we’ll be taking another important step towards this goal: we’re preparing to plant our organic farm on Isla Palenque.
This effort will be guided by principles of permaculture we’ve learned from a local expert, plus plenty of our own research into sustainable agriculture. We’ve been planning the organic farm for almost as long as the little trees in the orchard have been growing – great things are coming to fruition on Isla Palenque, and we can’t wait for our guests to taste the rewards.
It’s such a simple thing – to have fresh fruit growing all around you in your tropical paradise – and to then see these elements of your environment wind up on your breakfast table, on the edge of your glass, on your plate. Simple, yes, but I think it’s going to be one of the things our guests love most about the immersed-in-nature experience they’ll have on Isla Palenque.