Posted by: luisabaldwin | May 8, 2011

The Organic, Hydroponics Greenhouses of Boquete, Panama

HIDROPONICOS DE BOQUETE

Dioselina's Hidroponicos de Boquete Boutique Organic Hydroponic Greenhouse

Guillermo E. Bell S. and Dioselina E. de Bell
Cell: 6799-7809
d_de_bell@hotmail.com

NOTE: From time to time I thought I would run a new series of articles on the little treasures of Boquete, Panama.  These articles will focus on some of the special allures that make living in Boquete so attractive.  

Well, I never thought I would be writing an article on lettuce but I’ve got to tell you, Hidroponicos de Boquete makes a huge difference to many Panamanian and ex-pat dinner tables.

Beautifully grown and perfect every time!  If you want to buy their products & a live food source, look for the little cups

In the USA organic produce is so readily available but here in Panama a few years back, a shopper would walk through the produce line in the local grocery stores and walk right past the locally grown wilted head of lettuce.  Sorry to say, it was really bad because produce in Panama is still not transported in refrigerated trucks and we’re talking the tropics here.

The Bell family offer a wide variety of lettuces

But for a few years now, and thanks to Guillermo and Dioselina de Bell S. we now walk into the local grocery store and get to buy a wide variety of organically grown hydroponics lettuces and herbs.  Furthermore, as offered by Guillermo and Dioselina, the lettuces are still a living growing food source as they are delivered in the same little containers they are grown in.

There are 2 fincas (farms). This is the 1st. one in Alto Boquete.

In 2001 Guillermo E. Bell S. was the first pioneer in Boquete, Panama to supply farmers with seeds for their crops.  Then came the ex-pats and, sadly, local farmers were willing to sell their land. A lot of farms were transformed into housing projects.  Since farming was dwindling, seed sales didn’t produce the results the Bell family needed to send their two children Henry and Jean to University.

A colorful display for our tables

So Guillermo and Dioselina thought of a new idea. Entrepreneurial and industrious in nature, this wonderful family got very creative; thinking up a new idea centered on farming, which is Guillermo’s passion in life.  They conceived the idea of Boutique farming and Hidroponicos de Boquete was conceived.

A mixed head of lettuce – ingenius!

Success didn’t come without a multi-year struggle.  As Dioselina told me, “luchamos mucho en esos anos” (we waged battle a lot in those years).

They’re even growing a crop of edible pansys

But then came those finicky ex-pats that were used to having one or two salads a day and didn’t want to come down with dysentery from eating fresh produce.   Sales started picking up. The ex-pats finally found organic, hydroponics salad greens in the local grocery stores and felt safe in eating fresh produce again without getting some kind of a bug.  And here’s the really special part.  When you buy a head of lettuce and water that little cup it comes in, it will just keep on growing if you keep the roots watered!  You won’t lose your uneaten greens; you’ll just get more.  Go figure!  How innovative can you get?

None of this came without hard work and long hours. Dioselina even worked while she gave me the tour!

We haven’t even thought of that idea in the good old USA.  And here’s another creative idea they came up with – a mixed lettuce bunch!  We all like a variety of lettuces in our salads and now Guillermo and Dioselina are providing that in one living head of lettuce.  Talk about innovation. Now they have three farms.

Talk about fresh from the farm! It’s only a block away from our grocery store.

Well-deserved rewards grew into a big business and soon the Bell S. family supplied the town of Boquete’s grocery store called Romeros with their products. The top restaurants soon followed and were ordering from Hidroponicos de Boquete.  They expanded their different lettuce offerings and developed a whole group of herbs and edible flowers.  Now Dioselina, who has been a Psychologist for twenty years, needed to prioritize.  She still teaches Psychology at the Universidad Santa Maria la Antigua but only one-day a week.

Dioselina in front of her Alto Boquete greenhouse

Since both of their children are now grown, Dioselina now devotes herself to Sales and Administration in the family business.  Guillermo heads up production.  Soon Dioselina started bringing in the city of David’s grocery stores.  David is about forty-five minutes down the volcano from Boquete and a central hub with more goods and services than the little town of Boquete is able to offer.  Hence, a lot of ex-pats do their grocery shopping there.  Dioselina got her lettuces and herbs into Rey’s and Super Baru in David.  Of course again, the top restaurants followed.  Onwards and upwards, or should I say Eastwards, they went to Panama City and the big supermarkets, including Riba Smith (a market frequented by ex-pats because they carry things the other markets don’t).  And yet once again, the restaurants followed.  Now they’re thinking international.  (Do they ever give themselves a day of rest?)

This is such an innovative manner of farming. Check out the PVC pipes fed by a constant supply of recycled water!

But here’s the most innovative part of these unique boutique farms; the ingenious method of farming that has been devised.  Those of you who are eco-enthusiasts are going to love this one.  These three farms are all operated off of recycled water!  It’s a closed system.

The water cistern feeds all the PVC pipes

Water is collected in a cistern and pumped up to feed the PVC pipes you see in the pictures.  The water then drains down by gravity back to the cistern and voila.  As you can see, each PVC pipe has a hole punctured in it and a screen-sided cup filled with peat moss provides the growing environment for the herbs and lettuce.

The off the ground support system

The vertical pipes grow strawberries at times during the year. Under the elevated planting beds were rows of seedlings and other plants.  Wow!  Every inch of precious greenhouse space is put to use.  No chemicals are ever used, only soap when they have a bug problem.  The workers are never allowed to touch the leaves, never. They have to wear gloves when they are working and they are only allowed to touch the cups or roots!  Clean.  It’s like buying one of those “washed” bags of lettuce back in the US. only better, you can keep growing it.

Hidroponicos de Boquete grows edible Nasturtiums

Here’s what you can get from the in-town farm, which is just across the bridge and straight ahead. Or you can buy some of these varieties at Romeros.

LETTUCES:
Romaine, red and green
Escarole
Butter
Japanese
Oak leaf lettuce, red and green
Red
Loyo Rosa

HERBS:
Basil, Italian, Thai, Re, Cinnamon, Lemon
Mint, Spearmint, peppermint, mint
Sage
Thyme
Arugula
Dill
Tarragon
Oregano, small and large leaf
Spinach (baby spinach is on its way)
Parsley, regular and Italian
Onion chive
Watercress
Micro watercress
Chives

EDIBLE FLOWERS:
Nasturtium
Orchid

MICRO GREENS (NEW)
WHEAT GRASS (NEW)
SWISS CHARD (NEW)

The Bell family is an example of the best entrepreneurial spirit going. They are an example of the sweet success that capitalism can bring when coupled with an economy that is not excessively regulated.  Coupled with hard work, determination, and stamina, this family is an example to us all that a successful business concept can grow from a seed to a large plant – from a struggle to a successful, thriving, and growing enterprise.  Congratulations Guillermo and Dioselina!  On behalf of the ex-pat community of Boquete, I think it’s safe for me to say thank you.  May your successes keep growing and may you be an example to others of what they can achieve when they put their minds to it.

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Responses

  1. Luisa,

    What an informative and refreshing article! Quite a ‘joy’ to read of this success story and the fine, pure, and natural vegetables that this family raises and sells!

    Really quite a local treasure!!!!

    Lo

  2. Luisa,

    I absolutely LOVE reading your articles and seeing the beautiful pictures. I learn new things new each time I read your blog about this beautiful part of the world in which we both live. Keep up the good work!

    Kathy

    • Hi Kathy,
      Thank you so much for that! It makes my “community service” project worth while.

  3. Apreciada Luisa, en nombre de Guillermo y el mio te damos las gracias por el articulo de nuestra empresa.
    Gracias, por tu gentileza,solidaridad y buen actitud por motivarnos a seguir adelante.

    Deseo corregir mi correo que es d_de_bell@hotmail.com o dioselina.bell@gmail.com

    • Ola Dioselina,
      Muchas gracias por sus bellas palabras. Voy a tratar de traducir para los que no entienden Espanol.
      Dioselina stated that, in the name of Guillermo and she, that they were very appreciative of the article and thanked me for it. “Thank you for your genteel, solidarity, and good actions. They motivate us to continue forward.” They invite further correspondences at the above e-mail addresses.

  4. Congratulations. Most interesting story and beauyiful crops. Scenery makes me want to run away. I truly believe Hydroponic Gardening may be the answer to famines and the homeless here in USA could have better meals than shelter.
    God Bless& Good Luck

    • Hello Linda,

      Thank you for your input. Yes, I get a lot of interest in this story to this day even though I published it a while back. Hydroponic garden can fit into tight spaces. That’s what I really like about it. And, if one uses a screened in area, there are no bugs to deal with so it’s easy to stay organic. Hope you’re starting one at your home. Eat well and stay healthy!

  5. This is really fantastic. Can’t wait to visit when we return. Thanks for such a great article.

    • You’re welcome Karen. We also have a number of organic farms who all sell their produce at out Tuesday morning ex-pat meetings. One of these days, I’ll feature an article on them.

  6. I just wonder if hydroponic vegetables taste as good as those grown in soil?

  7. I was extremely pleased to discover this site. I
    wanted to thank you for ones time for this fantastic read!
    ! I definitely appreciated every little bit of it and
    i also have you saved to fav to check out new stuff in
    your web site.

    • Hello Carolyn,
      Thank you so much for your compliments. Feedback keeps me going! One of these days I’ll tell you about the wonderful organic farmers we have here and the jersey raw milk ranch that some friends of mine have. No antibiotics in the meat supply and totally fresh fish to be had. You can eat really healthily here!

      If you experience a slight delay in entries, it’s only because I’m building a house here and it gets pretty busy. Have patience. More will come.

  8. We live in Thailand but the humidity is getting to me,
    What is the average living cost for you there?
    Are there good places off the street for long distance runners that are safe and mostly stray dog free? Bike paths? I would appreciate any help particularly to the running…thanks dean

    • Hello Martin,
      Forgive me in taking so long to respond. I’m building a house and it is all consuming. On to your questions. You are going to have humidity anywhere in the tropics. But my friend Steve in Ecuador, who used to live here in Boquete and now lives in Ecuador, states that Ecuador has a lot less humidity. There is a search function on my website so if you just key in both Ecuador and cost of living, I think you’ll arrive at some older articles that I wrote on the topics.

      Boquete is in the rain forest and is surrounded by mountains. There are plenty of safe and stray dog free running areas around here. First of all, we don’t have too many strays because we have a spay and neuter clinic here and a program to take strays off the streets. Secondly, we have the “Alto al Crimen” group here who work with the local police to keep crime at bay. This group consists of some very effective retired American police and detectives and they are very organized. While we do have a bit, mostly robberies, it can’t be compared to large city crime by a long shot (just to put it into perspective for you).

      We’re not quite far enough along for bike paths, however. We’re just beginning with sidewalks. I haven’t seen any bike paths although we do have biking clubs who peddle up the volcano on the highway from David to Boquete – I have seen them. Hope I have been of some help to you.

  9. Someday soon, I hope that can visit Boquete soon. Would really like to see your fincas. I live in Las Cumbres, but would prefer to live in Boquete. Maybe someday I will live in your beautiful community.

    • Hi Terry,
      The fincas aren’t mine. They belong to the above named person. This website is a community service project. You’ll have to contact Dioselina to see her fincas.

  10. […] Esa dama que hace de la alta gastronomía panameña un jardín de flores y hierbas aromáticas con sus microhierbas hidropónicas cultivadas por ella misma y su marido Guillermo Bell, que dan frescura, color y vida a las recetas de los cociner@s más […]


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