Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Reviving Old Folk Technologies. Here are 10 traditional practices.

Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature - School on Blog 
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid with Ms Melly C Tenorio, 
738 DZRB AM Band, 8 to 9 evening class, Monday to Friday

 1. To control coconut beetles broadcast ordinary sand into the leaf axils.

This insect, Oryctes rhinoceros, is a scourge of coconut, the larva and adult burrow into the bud and destroy the whole top or crown of the tree. There is scientific explanation to this practice of throwing sand into the axis of the leaves.  Sand which is silica, the raw material in making glass, penetrates into the conjunctiva - the soft skin adjoining the hard body plates, in effect injuring the insect.  As the insect moves, the silica penetrates deeper into the delicate tissues of the insect. As a result the insect dies from dehydration and infection. Thus we observe that this beetle seldom attacks coconut trees growing along the seashore. 

2. Wounding a tree induces it to fruit.
There are trees that tend to grow luxuriantly, bearing few or no fruits at all.  Imagine a disappointed a farmer reaching for his bolo, but instead of cutting down the whole tree, he inflicts wounds on its trunks and branches, resulting in multiple staggered wounds. As the wounds start to heal the tree starts to bloom.

What could be the explanation to this?  Nature has provided a coping up mechanism for organisms subjected to stress so that they can successfully pass on their genes to the next generation – reproduction. We may be surprised to see plants under dry condition profusely blooming.  Some bamboo species flower during the El Niño.  Starved caterpillar transforms into pupa, skipping one or two moultings, and soon metamorphoses into butterfly, diminutive it may become. Early sexual maturity is also observed in many animals that are under stress compared to their normal counterparts.      

To the mango tree, the effect is the same, a phenomenon that is not clearly understood. Physiologically the stored food in the wounded plant will shift to be used for reproduction, rather than continued vegetative growth, which explains sudden blooming. This is the same principle in pruning grapevines to induce fruiting. 
mango tree
3. Smudging induces flowering of fruit trees and protects fruits from pests. 
This is a common practice on many common fruit trees, especially mango. Old folks gather dried leaves, grass, rice hull, corn stalk and the like, and burn them slowly under the trees.  The smoke is directed to the branches and leaves early every morning until flowers come out, and is later resumed to protect the fruits from insects and fungi. Smudging is preferred over potassium nitrate spraying used to force mangoes to flower out of season.  Repeated chemical spraying reduces the life span of the tree, which is not the case in smudging.

Century old mango tree in its senile stage.  Grafted mango trees die very much earlier, specially if subjected to induced fruiting.   
4. Pruning induces growth and development of plants. 
Farmers prune the leaves of rice seedlings before they are transplanted to quicken recovery.  Cuttings such as cassava, sweet potato, sugar cane, and even ornamental like croton (San Francisco), are planted by first removing all the leaves attached to the stem.  This reduces transpiration or loss of water through the stomata (breathing organ) located on the leaves, that would otherwise lead to the drying of the planting material. For sugarcane tops, with the older leaves trimmed the bud can come out more easily and start to photosynthesize.

5. To increase corn yield “decapitate” the standing crop. (detasseling)
Detasseling or removal of the male flower of the standing corn plant reduces the chances of corn borers (Pyrausta nobilales and Heliothes armigera) infestation by almost one-half. Detasseling is done when one-half to three-fourths of the tassel has emerged.  Pulling out the tassel or cutting it at the base of the peduncle does it.  This technique has been found effective when performed to 75 percent of the plants or in three to every four corn rows.  Detasseling at this level does not significantly affect pollination and subsequent yield.
Farmers know plant physiology, a major subject in botany and agriculture.

6. “Blind” the eyes of the Cavendish banana sucker before transplanting it, otherwise it will die.
Now this is a paradox, for how can a blinded creature have a better chance to survive?  But this traditional practice is not to be taken literally.  Actually the eyes being referred to are the developing suckers on the base (corm) of the sucker to be transplanted.  The scientific explanation is that, these very young suckers compete with the transplanted sucker drawing out the nutrients it needs.  Thus “blinding” is actually aborting the small suckers, which appear like eyes on closer look. (Note: This practice is done only to Cavendish or tumok variety and not to other banana varieties.) 

7.  Pinag-aasawa ang bulaklak ng kalabasa. (Pollination)
Squash (Cucurbita maxima), being monoecious has both male and female flowers in the same plant.  Old folks believe that in order for the female flower (the one with a bulbous bottom) to develop into a fruit, it must be pollinated (lagyan ng semilya) with the male flower. It is usually in the early morning that the patient farmer pick a stamen loaded with pollen from the same or nearby plant and insert it into a receptive female flower, ceremoniously folding the petals inward after. While pollination is mainly the work of insects and wind,  man’s intervention often yields better results. 

Female and male flowers of squash, respectively

8. It is a common practice of farmers to cover fruits with ash, sand or sawdust to delay their ripening and minimize losses.   
In the countryside where there are no modern facilities for storage farmers have devised methods of storage to increase the shelf life of fruits, and allow them to ripen properly. One method is to cover the fruits, such as tomatoes, mango and bananas with ash or sawdust.

To validate the effectiveness of this practice, scientists at UPLB tried storing tomatoes (Pope variety), for the duration of one to two weeks, in rice hull ash in two preparations – moist and dry.  Tomatoes stored in dry ash ripened faster, while tomatoes stored in moist ash ripened slower and showed a more uniform and deeper red color.  The tomatoes were also heavier and firmer than those stored in dry ash.  Tomatoes that were simply stored in pile suffered significant losses and ripening was uneven. The colors of the fruits were pale red and predominantly yellow.

It was an old practice I observed among vegetable traders who ship green Pope tomatoes grown in Claveria (Cagayan de Oro) all the way to La Trinidad Valley in Benguet by boat and truck. The tomatoes were laid open in the cool air, until they ripened into bright red color.  They were then individually wiped with waxed cloth, assorted and returned to their crates and branded Baguio tomatoes. Tomatoes that ripened on the way, which normally took about a week, turned into yellow to orange color and were priced much less than those ripened under a temperate climate in the highland.

There is now a substitute to this practice.  Tomatoes can be delayed in ripening and ripen uniformly into red color when stored in moist rice hull ash.  We can only imagine the high cost and difficulty of shipping the fruits all the way from Mindanao via Manila pier to the Benguet, then transporting the commodity back to Manila where they are sold.     

9. Apply lime or alum on the butt end of cabbage to stay fresh and longer in the shelf.
To validate this practice, an experiment was conducted at UPLB using common lime (CaO) or apug. The powder was applied on the butt end of cabbage after trimming it together with the two or three wrapper leaves. This simple practice prevented soft rot caused by the bacterium Erwina carotovora by 70 percent.  The use of alum (tawas) on the other hand reduced rotting by 53 percent. It has one disadvantage though – the aluminum salt cause black spots.  Lime-treated cabbage had better appearance after four days in storage than those treated with alum, borax or sodium hypochlorite (Ordinary household bleach) and salt (sodium chloride).     
10. Water remains cool in earthen pot (calamba or caramba) even in hot weather.
Notice that the earthen pot “perspires” because it is porous.  Like sweat it keeps the body cool. Cooling is the after effect of evaporation. Fanning increases the rate of evaporation, so with cooling. ~

Acknowledgement: Wikipedia, Internet Images

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