May 22 2015

Retire for Less Newsletter – May 22, 2015

Welcome to our Retire For Less In CostaRica Newsletter

Paul and Gloria

In This Issue:



Gardening in Costa Rica with Steve

– Meet Steve and See What He’s Growing

– Growing Lettuce (Lechuga)

by Steve Johnson

GardeningWithSteve_smOver the years I’ve met a lot of people who tried gardening and gave up. They made classic mistakes, like:

  1. Not enough sun
  2. Poor soil
  3. No fence to keep out animals
  4. Didn’t pay attention to bugs until it was too late
  5. Chose a crop that was difficult to grow

Some crops are much more problematic than others. A lot of people begin with tomatoes. What could be more delicious than a great big juicy red tomato fresh out of the garden? Tomatoes tend to be finicky to grow and they are the target of many insects and plant diseases. Or take asparagus. We have a wonderful asparagus patch. When people see it they say, “I love fresh asparagus; it’s so expensive in the store; I want to grow my own.” I try to dissuade people from growing asparagus. The seeds take three to four weeks to germinate; it needs excellent, well-drained soil; after planting you should ideally wait three years before the first harvest, and during those three years you need to keep it weeded and fertilized.

lettuceSo let’s start with something simple, like lettuce – easy, quick, and almost no pests or diseases.


First you have to remember that lettuce is a cool weather crop. In the States, I grew it in the spring. By mid-June it would bolt (go to seed) and the leaves would become bitter. Where I live in the highlands of Costa Rica the climate is like eternal spring, so I can grow lettuce all year long. It will eventually bolt, but this takes months to happen. In the States I would break off a leaf and if a milky substance oozed out, I knew it was ready to bolt and the leaves were getting bitter. Here in the highlands that rule does not hold true. If you live below, say, 3,000 feet where it is hot you should grow your lettuce under shade cloth and you should grow leaf lettuce rather than head lettuce. My friend Justin Dolan grows lettuce in the hills above Playa Esterillos, at just a few hundred feet above sea level, and gets good results.


The rainy season has begun, so now is a good time to plant. Due to the heavy rains in September and October I avoid having lettuce in the garden during those months. So I stop planting by mid-July and start up again in November. I grow lettuce right through the dry season. During the dry season I water daily for the first two weeks and then every other day until harvest.


Lettuce seeds are tiny, almost like dust, and should be planted near the surface. During the dry season I plant them directly in the garden and water them daily. During the rainy season I plant them indoors in flats and move them out to the garden after a couple of weeks. Many hardware stores (ferreterías), pet stores, and feed and seed stores carry lettuce seeds. I have had much better luck buying them from the metal seed cans than from the paper packets. Recently I have begun buying flats. It took a long time to discover a ferretería that carried small flats. Initially I found a couple of places that sold to farmers and the minimum size flat contained 50 plants, way more than I needed.SteveLettuce


I have built up very rich, well-drained soil with high organic content. Lettuce is not a particularly heavy feeder like, say, tomatoes or onions, and with my rich soil I frequently don’t have to apply fertilizer. After a couple of weeks, if the plants look a little under par, I will give each plant just a pinch of a well-balanced granular fertilizer such as 10-10-10. I always use “formula completa” fertilizer, which contains micro-nutrients. I never had a micronutrient deficiency problem when gardening in the States, but the high rainfall here in Costa Rica tends to leach micronutrients out of the soil. I make a small hole about two-three inches from the plant and two inches deep, and cover the fertilizer with soil.


It is hard to give advice in this area because, after five years of growing lettuce here, I have yet to have a pest or disease. In the States, we once had slugs, which we quickly eliminated by putting out saucers of beer at night. Another time we had cutworms eating the young plants. Cutworms frequently feed at night so not long after sundown we went out with a flashlight and handpicked them off the lettuce plants.


There are many good resources for growing lettuce on the internet. Here are a couple of links that I like.


Related Articles:


Monthly Costa Rica Weather Report for San Ramón, Atenas, Nuevo Arenal, Quepos, Near San Isidro de General, & San Rafael de Heredia – April 2015

Click to enlarge.

You’ll notice that we now show rainfall and temperatures for six towns in Costa Rica. This isn’t weather forecasting. We report after the fact to give you a much better picture of the weather in each of these areas.

Do you track the weather data for your town in Costa Rica? If so, we’d like to talk to you about including it in our monthly report. We would especially like to add weather reports from Grecia and Puriscal. Anybody interested??

You can click on the map to the right to enlarge it and check out the average rainfall for the towns in which you are interested. Remember that the areas shaded in darker blue tend to be higher in elevation and also the places most expats choose to live.

Paul’s San Ramón Observations, Facts, & Tidbits for April:

  • We had 22 days with temps over 80° F and 3 days at 84° F, the high temperature for the month.
  • April is a transition month. Often the winds stop and usher in the rainy season in May. With the decrease in wind, there are more clouds and higher humidity, along with more bird and insect activity.
  • Although it can rain some in April and early May, usually it’s mid-May before the rainy season really kicks in.
  • Usually in April, in our part of San Ramón, we get about 2 inches of rain. However, in April of 2012 we had a record-breaking 11.9 inches of rainfall, all within a one week period.
  • costa-rica-map_cropped4Total rainfall in 2014 total was 120 inches and 2013’s rainfall was 111 inches in our area of San Ramón.

Lance T’s Atenas Observations, Facts, & Tidbits for April:

  • We heard a few days ago that April and May which bridge the dry and green seasons in Costa Rica are the hottest months of the year. At least for the area of Atenas where we live, this is confirmed by last year’s weather records – and it appears that the same will be true this year.
  • Characteristic of the green season, there were four days in the latter part of April with short lived downpours of rain. The hottest daytime high air temperature so far this year was on 90.3°F on April 6th. But, characteristic of the dry season, this was accompanied by a relatively low humidity reading of 21%. The net result was a “feels like” temperature of 89.3°F.
  • In contrast, while daytime high air temperatures during the last four days of April were about the same as in early April, the humidity skyrocketed. On April 28th, the daytime high air temperature was 89.6°F. This was accompanied by a humidity reading of 64%. The net result was a “feels like” temperature of 101°F. “Feel like” temperatures over 100 degrees can be expected on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, but not Atenas. Even the Ticos (native Costa Ricans) were complaining. During the entirety of last year, the hottest “feels like” temperature where we live in Atenas was measured as a mere 94°F.
  • Total rainfall in 2014 was 73.59 inches and 2013’s rainfall was 63.84 inches in our area of Atenas.

John’s Nuevo Arenal Observations, Facts, & Tidbits for April:

  • April, which is usually our driest month, had double the normal 3 inches of rainfall.
  • For you birding enthusiasts, we identified two more birds in our area: the grayish saltator and the red-throated ant-tanager.
  • We had a record-breaking 185 inches of rain  for the year 2014. Total rainfall in 2013 was 164.75 inches in our area of Nuevo Arenal.

Lance M’s Central Pacific Observations, Facts, & Tidbits for April:

  • April turned out to be one of the hottest months of the whole dry season. The locals have told us that they can’t remember an April being this hot. We had 4 days under 95 with the coldest being 91 and the hottest being 102 with a heat index of 127. The cooler days were when we had rain so the cloud cover and the rain really helped cool us off. We broke down and ran our A/C in the bedroom on the steamy nights.
  • The town has quieted down since the majority of tourist have left going back to their homes. The town has painted parking spots on the streets and now you have to go and buy a parking pass to legally park in a spot. Not sure how it is going to work. People are still trying to get used to the way the city has changed the direction of travel on the streets.
  • When it gets as hot as it has been, I wonder if we should live at a higher elevation but there is a magical draw back to the sand and waves of the Pacific.
  • On a happy note, on the 21st of May our family will be getting our residency. It has been a long time waiting but well worth it.
  • Map_Quepos_SanIsidro2014 rainfall for the Quepos area of the Central Pacific was 73.54 inches (as of February 2014 when I started measuring it for this newsletter).

Gordon’s Quebradas (San Isidro de General) Observations, Facts, & Tidbits for April:

  • Yup, the rain man cometh! We had 50% more rainy days in April than in March, (15 days this month) with 5 days of less than 0.1″ (.254 cm.), only fractionally higher – 7.5″ (18.4 cm) in March compared to 7.45″ (18.92 cm) April.
  • And it sure is nice to see everything getting nice and green again!
  • More good news…I finished painting the interior of our house! And we have
    installed a custom made cedar screen door on the front – nice to be able to get the
    gentle breeze without the bugs and creepy crawlies!
  • We made a Panama border run last month to keep legal with our car insurance and, later in the month, a 3 day 2 night trip with 2 other couples into San Jose. That trip was good news for the economy of the city – heck, I’m surprised they didn’t offer us a key to the city!!
  • And it is still a wonderful life in Costa Rica! Pura Vida!

Steve’s San Rafael de Heredia Observations, Facts, & Tidbits for April:

  • El Niño — Total rainfall to date is 19.2 inches. Last year at this time it was 12.4 inches. This January was the rainiest January we’ve had since I began collecting data five years ago. We’d had two relatively dry years and I began to suspect this was going to be a wet one. The trend continued in February when rainfall was above normal. March rainfall was about normal, and now, get this, April was the driest we’ve had in five years. What happened? Well, about a month ago NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) issued a report that a new El Niño had been detected, a late one and a weak one, but still, an El Niño. My understanding is that this means warmer and dryer weather for Costa Rica.


  • Rain Shadows — I grew up in Longview, Washington. Longview is west of the Cascade Range. The weather in Longview comes in off the Pacific Ocean so it is rainy most of the winter. I remember once when we drove across the Cascades to eastern Washington, where the climate is completely different. I asked dad why it was so dry there, and he told me it was because it was in the “rain shadow” created by the Cascade Range. So when we moved to Costa Rica in 2009 I knew automatically that we would be living in the rain shadow during the months of December through April when the weather was dominated by the trade winds, which blow from the northeast across the mountain ranges. We live on the south side of Cerro Chompipe (Turkey Hill) which is part of the Cordillera Central. As the yigüiro flies, we’re two miles, more or less, from the continental divide. But we get lots of rain during the “dry” months. I have come to realize that my understanding of the “rain shadow” effect was too simple. The rain shadow doesn’t actually start at the top of the range. The rain slops over onto the leeward side. The distance the rain encroaches on the leeward side depends on the height of the mountain and the force of the wind (which is changing constantly). So during the dry season we get lots of fine horizontal rain. Another two miles downhill it is as dry as a bone. But where we live the grass generally stays green all during the “dry” season.
  • The Longest Day of the Year – We were all taught in school that in the northern hemisphere the summer solstice takes place June 20, 21, or 22 (depending on the year). This is the date when the sun reaches its highest position in the sky, and is also the longest day of the year. What we weren’t taught was that this only works if we live north of the Tropic of Cancer. The Tropic of Cancer is the most northerly circle of latitude on the Earth at which the Sun may appear directly overhead. If you live in Costa Rica you live south of the Tropic of Cancer and north of the Equator. This means the sun is highest in the sky on two different days – one day in April as it moves north and then again on a day in August as it moves south. This means that Costa Rica actually has two days a year that are the “longest day of the year.” Where I live the first longest day is April 18. I found this out by searching “San Rafael de Heredia Costa Rica” and “latitude” on the internet. Then I went to the Table of the Declination of the Sun and looked up my latitude. You can do the same thing to find out what your two longest days of the year are.
Costa Rica Weather

Click to Enlarge

Costa Rica Weather

Click to Enlarge



Our San Ramón Weatherman, Paul Yeatman

Meteorology has been Paul’s lifelong hobby.  As a child, he devoured books about the weather and earth sciences vigorously. Later, he took a few college courses in meteorology, and still later, he served as a meteorologist for the U.S. Army in Vietnam.  Now, Paul gets to practice his avocation in Costa Rica, albeit on a very small scale with just temperature and rainfall data, probably the two most important factors regarding the weather. He wanted to include weather info on our website to help people decide where to live, although weather is just one of many factors to consider in determining where to relocate. Current weather data is from our current home at about 3,000 ft. elevation and 10 minutes outside the town of San Ramón. Weather data prior to December 2012 is from our previous home at about 4,000 ft. elevation and 10 minutes outside the town of San Ramón.

Our Atenas Weatherman, Lance Turlock

Lance and his wife, Diana, moved to Costa Rica about 2 years ago after living 30+ years in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia (Vancouver and environs). They live in the Central Valley near the town of Atenas and are at an elevation of about 2700 feet. They have no need for air conditioning or heating. Overnight low temperatures are comfortably cool (low 60’s). Daytime highs can be relatively hot (high 80’s, low 90’s), but rarely uncomfortably hot.Lance started to keep track of daily temperatures and rainfall in order to have factual ammunition to help disabuse friends, relatives and acquaintances of any misconception that the weather must be like that of a tropical jungle.

Our Nuevo Arenal Weatherman, John Nicholas

After many visits to Costa Rica, John and Cathy Nicholas moved from New York to Costa Rica in 1991.  They chose Arenal for its sacred, majestic beauty, its lush wildlife, its relaxing lifestyle, and its proximity to activities and sites such as the Volcano Arenal and the beaches. They own the B&B, Chalet Nicholas, which has been in operation since 1992. Temperatures and rainfall are measured at Chalet Nicholas which is located at approximately 2,200 ft. elevation and 1 mile west of the town of Nuevo Arenal.

Our Central Pacific (Quepos) Weatherman, Lance Miller

LanceM2I was born in a very small town in northwest Iowa and raised on a farm. When I was 18, I joined the service, in which I spent 22 years before retiring in 1990. For the next twenty three years my family and I lived in south central Pennsylvania. After having a stroke in 2012, I was unable to work and that is when my wife and I began talking about retiring. Thanks to your newsletter and a website we found about San Isidro, we began looking at Costa Rica. We came down in March 2013 and looked around for a week. Went home, packed up, and moved here in April. We settled in a small village called Playa Matapalo which is located between Quepos and Dominical. We later moved to Quepos. The word Playa means beach. It is so nice to lie in bed and listen to the ocean. Pura Vida. We will continue the weather info next month.

Gordon_photo_croppedOur Quebradas (15 minutes north of San Isidro de General) Weatherman, Gordon Stanley

Gordon and his wife Bea moved here from Lloydminster, Alberta, Canada, where he used to track the correlation of the winter hoer frost and the spring/summer rains. After 30+ years as a Purchasing Agent for a retail lumber yard/Homes Manufacturing company, he decided to say “Adios” to the snow and ice. They arrived in Costa Rica Oct. 3, 2014, and live in Quebradas, which is a 15 minute drive North of San Isidro de General, at an elevation of about 3600 feet. There is a stream that runs behind the hill in their back yard, so are “forced” to listen to the sound of running water 24/7. Ahh the tough life! They are totally enjoying their new found retirement freedom in this wonderful land that they discovered thanks to this newsletter.

SteveJohnsonOur San Rafael de Heredia Weatherman, Steve Johnson

I’m a weather geek and have been recording daily weather data for the last 4 years in Concepcion de San Rafael de Heredia. We live at 5,000 ft. (1,500 meters) elevation, above San Rafael centro on a low ridge that comes off of Cerro Chompipe (between Barva Volcano and los Cerros de Zurqui). We have a 60 mile wide view from Turrialba Volcano east to somewhere around Cerro Turrubares west. I first lived in CR as a Peace Corps volunteer (1968-71), married a tica school teacher, and moved back to Costa Rica in 2009. My wife grew up in downtown San Rafael just three miles away, and the weather is quite different there. I am also an avid gardener and birder.

Related Articles:


Our Ultimate Healthcare Tour of Costa Rica

Our newest tour is the Ultimate Healthcare Tour of Costa Rica. When asked what he liked best about our healthcare tour, one of our guests wrote, “the wide variety of places we saw, the experts that Paul HCTOUR_030arranged for us to meet and talk with, and an emphasis on all aspects of health, not just doctors and hospitals. Mental health is just as important as physical, if not more so.” HCTOUR_008

We’ve lived in Costa Rica for over five years and have used the Caja, Costa Rica’s public healthcare system extensively, as well as the private system, when needed. We’ve learned the system and have been referred up the ladder to see specialists in the maze that is the Caja system. Gloria’s even had surgery here.

Our blend of personal insights and on-the-ground experience combines to answer your questions about whether or not Costa Rica’s healthcare system could meet your individual needs.



But, while it is focused on healthcare, you will learn a lot more about living and retiring in Costa Rica’s Central Valley. Most of the second day of the tour takes place in the town of San Ramón where we live and use the services. And you will come to our home for lunch that day to listen to two of our featured speakers. Our tour is designed to save you both time and money, packing a lot of information into a short period of time. Our goal is to show you the possibilities and to try to demystify Costa Rica’s healthcare system. Our tour lasts two days and 1 night and includes lodging, transportation, meals and non-alcoholic beverages.

Sample Itinerary

You’ll visit:

  • At least two private hospitals in San Jose area
  • Hospital Mexico, the largest and best public hospital (they even do open heart surgeries there)HospitalMexico
  • An insurance broker for a presentation on the various supplemental health insurance options, including public, private, and international plans
  • A senior living retirement community
  • CPI language school for a presentation about how learning Spanish increases your options for healthcare and some basic medical Spanish.
  • Our local hospital here in San Ramón
  • A local EBAIS (community clinic)
  • A local private medical and dental clinic
  • A local Seguro Social office where you would sign up for the Caja (national healthcare coverage)
  • A pharmacy
  • A health food store (macrobiotica), and more!

EBAISStaffYou’ll learn:

  • If the Costa Rican healthcare system could meet your needsand put your mind to rest, once and for all, about this sensitive subject.
  • About the public system and how it works, about the private healthcare system, and how you can use a combination of both to your advantage.
  • About the EBAIS – where healthcare starts in Costa Rica.
  • Approximately how much you would pay for Caja.
  • About medical tourism in Costa Rica.
  • About home health care in Costa Rica.

Introductory prices: $550 for a couple, $450 for a single.

Please contact us if you are interested in booking this tour. Space is limited.

Related Articles:


Featured Property: Modern Home with Volcano and Lake Arenal Views-Reduced for Quick Sale-$100,000

Lake ArenalListing ID# RS1302639

Price:$100,000 (reduced from $140,000)

Beds/Baths: 2/2

Location: San Luis, Tilarán, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Location Type: Countryside

View Type: Garden View, Lake Arenal View, Mountain View

rs1302639_img-5_largeTotal Living Area: 100.00 m² (1,076.39 sq ft)

Total Area under Roof: 130.00 m² (1,399.30 sq ft)

Total Lot Size: 2,643.92 m² (28,458.80 sq ft)

Floor Type: Tile

Year Built: 2008

Year Remodelled: 2010

Appliances Included: Dryer, Microwave, Refrigerator, Stove, Washing Machine


Fairly new modern home with views of Lake and Volcano Arenal and the surrounding mountains. The home offers a large open concept (kitchen-dining-living room), 2 bedrooms and 2 full baths, walk in closets, laundry corner, storage space, large porch with glass sliding doors, garage with electric door.

The semi-open bedroom off the living area could be used as large office/work space or hobby room.

Lake Arenal

On the property we find a large selection of tropical flowers, plants and fruit trees as well as a small stable for a horse or other animals.

Lake Arenal

Located in a quiet corner of a small pueblo, walking distance to bus stop and basic grocery, 5 Minutes from lake access (yacht club, public boat ramp) and 5 Minutes from the next larger town Tilaran.

Click here for more photos and information and to contact the realtor for this property.

Click here to check out our other properties under $150,000 and read about what to do before you buy.


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