Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Your Backyard Garden: Food Bank and Living Laboratory

There are crops “we plant and forget.” Before the pot starts to shimmer, you realize you need some malunggay leaves, a dozen tops of kamote, a handful of fresh onion leaves, etc. All you need is to dash to the backyard and pick these green ingredients. Paminta, kamias, tanglad, pandan - they go with your recipe, too. Reserve those pullets and catfish for special occasions.
Dr Abe V Rotor 
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By size, my home farm is a Liliputian version of a corporate farm. Intensive cultivation-wise however, it dwarfs the monoculture of a plantation. It is only when your area is small that you can attend to the requirements of an integrated farm with basic features of a garden.
Our children grew up with a garden at home.

When I moved to the city, I set aside a corner lot equivalent to a space of a two-bedroom bungalow. Here, after two years of experimentation and redesigning a city home garden evolved - a miniature version of tri-commodity farming where I have vegetables and fruits, chicken and hito.

My wife, who is an accountant, estimates that presently, the garden could save up to 20 percent of our family’s expense for food, in exchange for twenty family man-hours every week. Labor makes up to 50 percent of production costs, she says. Since gardening is a hobby in lieu of outdoor games, we agreed not to include labor as cost. This gives a positive sign to the garden’s financial picture.

We do not also consider in the book the aesthetic value of weekends when the garden becomes a family workshop to prove green thumbs, and gainful influence my family has made on the community, such as giving free seeds and seedlings, and know-how tips. When my children celebrate their birthdays, the kids in the neighborhood enjoy harvesting tomatoes, string beans and leafy vegetables - a rare experience for boys and girls in the city.

What makes a garden? Frankly, I have no formula for it. I first learned farming from my father who was a gentleman farmer before I became an agriculturist. But you do not have to go for formal training to be able to farm well. All that one needs is sixth sense or down-to-earth sense, the main ingredient of a green thumb. Here are valuable tips.

1. Get the most sunlight

A maximum of five hours of sunlight should be available - geographically speaking that is. Morning and direct sunlight is ideal for photosynthesis. But you need longer exposure for fruit vegetables, corn and viny plants like, ampalaya. So with crucifers like mustard and pechay because these are long-day plants.

Well, to get more sunlight, I prune the surrounding talisay or umbrella trees at least once a year. I use the branches for trellis and poles. Then, I paint the surrounding walls with white to enhance reflected and diffused light to increase photosynthesis.

Plot the sun’s course and align the rows on an East-West direction. Plants do not directly over-shadow each other this way. This is very important during wet season when days are cloudy and plants grow luxuriantly. Other than maximizing solar radiation you also get rid of soil borne plant diseases. Sunlight that gets in between the plants helps liminate pest and pathogens. And in summer, you can increase your seeding rate, and therefore potential yield. Try planting in triangular formation or quincunx. Outline that part of the garden that receives the longest sunlight exposure. Plant this area with sun-loving plants like okra and ampalaya.

Lastly, remember that plants which grow on trellises and poles “reach out for the sun,” thus require less ground space. Put up trellises at blind corners and train viny plants to climb early and form a canopy. For string beans, use poles on which they climb. You wouldn’t believe it but as long as your rows are aligned with the sun’s movement, and that trellises and poles are used, you can plant more hills in a given area, and you can have dwarf and tall plants growing side by side. Try alternate rows of sitao, tomato and cabbage.

2. Try Mixed Garden or Storey Cropping

What is the composition of an ideal garden? Again, there’s no standard design for it. The most practical type is a mixed garden. A mixed garden is like a multi-storey building. Plants are grouped according to height. That is why you have to analyze their growing habits.

Are they tall or dwarf? Are they seasonal, biennial or permanent? What part of the year do they thrive best? Refer to the planting calendar or consult your nearest agriculturist.

Look for proper cropping combinations through intercropping or crop rotation. Malunggay, papaya, kamias, banana and the like, make good border plants. Just be sure they do not shade smaller plants. Cassava and viny plants trained on trellis are next in height.


Community gardening, QC

The group of pepper, tomato and eggplant follows, while the shortest in height hierarchy are sweet potato, ginger and other root crops. Imagine how these crops are grouped and built like a tall building. We call this storey cropping.             

A friend commented, “Why streamline your garden the American way?” I agree with him. Plant the Filipino way.         

At any rate there are crops “we plant and forget.” Before the pot starts to shimmer, you realize you need some malunggay leaves, a dozen tops of kamote, a handful of fresh onion leaves, etc. All you need is to dash to the backyard and pick these green ingredients.

3. Practice Organic Farming

Traditional farming is back with modern relevance. Organic farming is waste recycling - not by getting rid of the waste itself but by utilizing it as production input. “This system is an alternative to conventional chemical farming”, says Domingo C. Abadilla in his book, Organic Farming.
Practice organic farming for two reasons. Crops grown without chemical fertilizers and pesticides are safer and more nutritious.
What would you do with poultry droppings and Azolla from the fishpond? Kitchen refuse and weeds? Make valuable compost out of them. For potash, sieve ash from a garbage-dumping site. Just be sure it is not used for industrial waste. Can we grow crops without insecticides? Generally, no. But there are ways to protect plants in a safe way, such as the following:

Alugbati, tops gathered for diningding and salad

• Use mild detergent, preferably coconut-based soap, to control aphids and other plant lice.
• Plant tomatoes around pest prone plants. They exude repellant odor on a wide variety of pests.
• Keep a vigil light above the garden pond to attract nocturnal insects that may lay eggs on your plants at daytime. Tilapia and hito relish on insects.
• A makeshift greenhouse made of plastic and mosquito net will eliminate most insects.
If you find stubborn insect pest like caterpillars and crickets, make a nicotine solution and spray. Crush one or two sticks of cigarette, irrespective of its brand, dissolve it in a bucket of water. The solution is ready for application with sprinkler or sprayer. But be sure not to use the solution on tomato, pepper and eggplant. It is possible that tobacco mosaic virus can be transmitted to these crops.

A friend who is a heavy smoker, came to visit our garden. When he touched the tomato plants, he was unknowingly inoculating mosaic virus. Tobacco virus can remain dormant in cigars and cigarette for as long as twenty years. Then it springs to life in the living system of the host plant that belongs to Solanaceae or tobacco family.

4. Raise Fish in the Garden Pond

Catfish (hito) fattened in our garden pond have become pets; the biggest measures 2 ft long. 

Water from the pond is rich with algae, plant nutrients and detritus. While you water your plants, you are also fertilizing them. The pond should be designed for growing tilapia, hito or dalag, or a combination of these. For tilapia, keep its population low to avoid overcrowding and competition. Stock fingerlings of the same size and age.

Try growing hito, native or African. When you buy live hito from the market, separate the small ones (juveniles), which will serve as your growers. They are ready to harvest in 3 to 6 months with 3 pieces making a kilo. Hito is easier to raise than any other freshwater fish. One thing is that you do not change water often because the fish prefers to have a muddy bottom to stay.

Feed the fish with chicken and fish entrails, vegetable trimmings, dog food, etc. Just avoid accumulation of feed that may decompose and cause foul odor, an indication that Oxygen is being replaced with Carbon Dioxide and Hydrogen Sulfide.

Azolla, a floating fern, is good fish and animal feeds because it contains 20 to 25 percent protein,. It is also an excellent organic fertilizer because it is rich in nitrate, a product of nitrogen fixation by Anabaena, a microscopic blue-green algae living in the fronds of Azolla. Nitrate is important for plant growth. Grow Azolla in a separate pond, or in floating cage, so as to maintain a regular biomass supply.

5. Integrate Backyard Poultry  

Raise some broilers and layers in separate cages. Have other cages to rear chicks and growers to replenish your stock. Formulate your feed. If not, mix commercial broiler feed and yellow corn in equal proportion. This is more economical and you may get better results than by using commercial broiler feeds alone.

Construct a fence around the cages and have some turkey on the loose. Similarly you may rear a few native chickens to get rid of feed waste. Clip their wings regularly to prevent them from escaping and destroying your garden. I don’t recommend piggery unless the neighborhood does not object to it.

6. Plant Fruit Trees
Do not forget to have some native fruit bearing trees such as guava, atis, guyabano, kamias, kalamansi and other citrus species. If your area is big you can include coconut, mango, kaimito, bananas. Rambutan? Why not? There are fruit bearing rambutan trees in some residences in Quezon City.

Atis, ripe in the tree

Just like annual plants, adopt the East-West planting method for trees so that you can have seasonal crops in between their rows. Use compost for the fruit trees, just like in vegetables. You can plant orchard trees like mango, guyabano, coconut and cashew along the sidewalk fronting your residence.

7. Make Your Own Compost, and Grow Mushrooms, Too
In one corner, build a compost pile with poles and mesh wire, 1m x 2m, and 2m in height. Dump leaves, kitchen refuse, chicken droppings and allow them to decompose to become valuable organic fertilizer. Turn the pile once a month until it is ready for use.
In another place you can have a mushroom pile made of rice straw, or water hyacinth. After harvesting the mushrooms, the spent material is a good compost material and composting will take a shorter time. To learn more about mushroom growing and composting, refer to the technology tips of DOST-PCARRD, or see your agriculturist in your area.

8. Plant Herbals - Nature’s First Aid
It is good to have the following plants as alternative medicine. Lagundi for flu and fever, guava for skin diseases and body odor, romatic pandan and tanglad for deodorant and air freshener, oregano for cough and sore throat, mayana for boils and mumps, ikmo for toothache, pandakaki for cuts. There are other medicinal plants you can grow in your backyard. Remember, herbals are nature’s first-aid.
 Pansit-pansitan (Piperomia felucida) for arthritis; Oregano for colds and sore throat, also for food flavoring (dinuguan, pizza)
 Pandan mabango for rice flavoring; soro soro for lechon
Coconut provides  the family young (buko) and mature nuts every two months. 
 Tanglad for food flavoring, also as deodorant  
 Saluyot and squash flowers grow with very little attention. 
 Malunggay is a must in every backyard. It grows along fences and in dead corners into a moderate size tree that remains productive up to 20 years or even more. Our malunggay tree at home is around 35 years now. Both leaves and young pods are rich in vitamins and minerals.  

These things and many others are the reasons you should have a home garden. One thing
is sure in the offing: it is a source of safe and fresh vegetables and fruits, fish and meat, and natural medicine. Most important of all, the garden is a re-creation of nature itself, a patch of the lost Eden. •

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