Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Backyard as Science Laboratory and Workshop 4: Sandpaper plant, cover crop, green water fertilizer, others

Topics: Cover crop to control weeds, green water as garden fertilizer; is-is (Ficus) as natural scrub and sandpaper; pansit-pansitan as home remedy for arthritis... and when a guava bonsai is no longer a bonsai. 
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

Learn from the things around you with the coming and passing of seasons, with plants that spontaneously arrive, grow and vanish, of their hosts and tenants from reptiles to insects to mushrooms. Your backyard is a living laboratory.  It is an extension of the classroom, it is a microcosm of the living world. 
   Plant competition for space and sunlight.  

Spiny spinach (Amaranthus) sprouted and quickly established dominance, producing flowers and subsequently seeds which will be disseminated. It took just a month since the first rain of May to complete its life cycle. 

But in the process, the wild kamote (Ipomea) slowly rose from beneath the wild amaranth, and finding no other support, started to use the latter for its ladder to reach for the sun. In no time it began to strangle the amaranth (left photo), choking it ultimately. 

By this time the amaranth has produced seeds which will be disseminated by wind, water, animals and man, but the seeds will not germinate until the next rainy season. The seeds remain dormant in the soil during the dry season (amihan). 

The wild Ipomea flowers later, and produces similarly dormant seeds. In the next rainy season the next year the competition takes place once again. These two players are not alone. Any other plant within the areas participates in this drama, an unending process in evolution.   

This is the principle in cover cropping to protect fruit trees like citrus, lanzones, cacao, papaya and young coconuts from weeds that compete for soil nutrients and moisture, and space. Centrosema or tapilan, kudzu, spineless Mimosa are among the most popular cover crops. These are leguminous plants which have another advantage: they add fertility to the soil because they harbor nitrogen fixing bacteria (Rhizobium). Kamote or its wild type, and relative kangkong, belong to another family - Convulvolaceae. 
 Bonsai no more

Not so many people are aware that fruit trees can be made into bonsai, the dwarfened plant through an ancient art founded by the Chinese and Japanese. This guava bonsai must be seventy years or more.   

We are the second owner after it had outlived a kindly old lady. It grew very slowly like any other treasured bonsai, but when it began showing senility, and we feared it was going to die, so we transferred it to an earthen plant pot thrice the size of the original one.

Soon it began to bear fruits, and to our delight, picked them just like ordinary guava.  The leaves became robust so that we have to prune the new stems now and then, and even use them for home remedy (bath for convalescents, scrub to clean fish and letchon, decoction for digestive problem). 

Our bonsai survived termite attack,thanks to its active cambium in its trunk, mealybugs and white flies attacking its leaves, and if we miss to water it daily, it could withstand wilting for two or three days. 

Which is more important - bonsai or just a potted guava? We miss the ohs! and ahs! Our guests cannot differentiate one from the other anymore. It is a sign of relief whenever we believe we saved our bonsai, and that it is more at home with us.
Is-is (Ficus ulnmifolia), natural scrub and sandpaper
It is a wild growing shrub or tree, its leaves are picked to scrub the floor, cooking pots, and smoothen wooden handicrafts and toy, just like commercial scrubbing pads and sandpaper. It grows at a corner in your backyard, or on the sidewalk, and assures you ready supply of this natural material.
When we were kids we used to gather the ripe fruits which turn dark red to purple before they fall off. The fruits are sweet, and I am reminded of the only commercial fig - Smyrna fig from the Middle East. One characteristic of figs is that their fruits are "inverted". Yes the flowers are borne inside the fleshy ovary, so that it takes a wasp specific to the fig species to do the pollination and fertilization.
Figs are among the most disseminated wild plants by animals, specially bats and birds. Scientists say without figs the landscape is not complete. So with the kitchen.

Green water as natural garden fertilizer

What makes water bright green is because it contains a high density of one-celled green algae. Algae are photosynthetic; they produce sugar and oxygen under sunlight. That's why aquarium fish are healthy and may not need motorized aerator. Oscar fish (left photo) are at ease in an aquarium rich in algae. When viewed against the light in a beaker, the green water is emerald, which means the algae are very much alive and fresh, their cells are actively dividing.
So when you water your garden plants, use the green water from the aquarium or pond, then replace it with tap water. This serves also in keeping the aquarium water fresh.  Actually you are continuously harvesting the algae as organic fertilizer, and allowing young cells to grow. 

When using water from the faucet it is advisable that you let it stand in an open tank overnight to allow chlorine to escape as gas. 

Pansit-pansitan or Piperomia (linlin-na-aw Ilk) for arthritis 

Pansit-pansitan is a home remedy for arthritis. Used as fresh tea, once or twice a day it can relieve you of the swelling and pain characteristic arthritis in advancing age, or due to poor healthy habits. 

It has been my experience that when I needed this herbaceous plants, I would be searching for it in the most unlikely places - damp, shady and remote.

Yet here it is, you can culture it in a flowerpot, and allow it to stay in your garden year round. It's here when you need it, when a neighbor comes around limping. 

The seeds will simply sprout in your backyard.  But the best way to assure you of supply is to grow it is pots and let the plant freely grow just like in the photo.~

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