Lola’s Bam-i Garden

By Michelle Domocol

Inflourish: Cebu Blog

Last week was my grandma’s birthday. She passed away more than a decade ago but my family still celebrates her birthday every year. We mark her birthday with small blessings to maintain our connection and to ensure her afterlife is peaceful.

My mom and her sisters call a priest and request grandma’s name is included in the mass petitions. I usually take a nature hike and quietly recall fond memories with her. Or I watch one of grandma’s favorite movies.

Families in Cebu practice many beautiful and creative traditions to honor those who passed. Another way to commemorate or celebrate a loved one is to build a garden.

I would build a Bam-i Garden to remember Lola. Bam-i is a dish with two types of noodles, vegetables, and chicken. In Cebu, it’s commonly served on birthdays and a delicious symbol for long life. My grandma’s recipe was especially delectable.

Lola’s memorial garden would feature her signature Bam-i ingredients. I’d add garden beds of carrots and celery with potted napa cabbage and sweet peas. Limonsito (calamondin) and wood ear mushrooms are also essential to Bam-i.

In a cooler dark shed, I would install an indoor mushroom bed. Finally, in sunny spots of the garden, I would add clusters of limonsito trees. Since Lola was a movie buff, I might add some seating and a white wall so we could project her favorite comedy films. Photo 1 shows my sketch of Lola’s Bamb-i Garden.

Photo 1. A sketch of Lola’s memorial garden

On All Soul’s Day, in Cebu, I see many families honor the dead in joyful and beautiful ways. Some families visit the graves of deceased relatives and set up picnics. They eat the deceased one’s favorite snacks, offer flowers, conduct mass, and recite prayers.

A memorial garden can be an extension of those joyful rituals. It can be a small, intimate space to remember and reflect by yourself. Or it can be an outdoor room to gather, honor and celebrate loved ones together with family and friends.

If you feel inspired to build your own memorial garden, you can plant it with loved one’s favorite flowers or fruits. Or maybe fill it with ingredients from a favorite dish. Hope you have a peaceful and creative time celebrating loved ones!

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June’s Easy Leafy Greens

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish:Cebu

June is a great time to plant fool-proof leafy greens like mustasa, petsay, and spinach. In Cebu, these are leafy greens are essential ingredients in delicious stir-fries, pickled side dishes, adobos, fish entrees, chicken stews, and more.

Luckily, mustasa (mustard greens), petsay (pechay) and spinach have similar growing requirements. In Healing Present, we like to plant rows of these veggies in the same area. Here are some quick reminders to help you start your own leafy green garden plot:

  • Prepare a raised bed or pot of well-draining soil. Amend your soil with vermicast, compost, or rice hulls to increase the nutrient content. Some gardeners make a special mix with all three of these amendments. Spread a layer of leafy green seeds over the soil. Then, cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil.
  • Water the seeds thoroughly. As they grow, increase the frequency of watering to 3 times a week.
  • Regularly check the garden for any hungry insect pests or invasive weeds. Be sure to remove them. For added protection, you can make a permeable, rectangular tent to protect the seeds. The tent can be made of shade netting to repel any pests. It can also shade young seedlings. As the seedlings grow, you can remove the tent to increase light exposure.
  • In Healing Present, we make the rectangular frame for the tent. All sides except the bottom of the frame are covered in green or white shade netting. The frame is simply made of dried reeds, bamboo, or wood.

Happy June gardening! Remember to stay on schedule and get your own Cebu planting calendar here.

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Magenta Dragon fruit in May

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu

Around May, I notice beautiful dragon fruits flowering and fruiting. Dragon fruit is grown in backyards and farms around Cebu as well as other provinces. The fruit variety with magenta, juicy flesh is featured in numerous recipes in Healing Present’s Divine Sweets & Treats cookbook. Ice creams, sorbets, juices and jams other treats are enriched by dragon fruits sweet and refreshing flavor.

Each chapter in our cook book bursts with unique recipes for tasty treats (Photo 1) like :

  • Dragon Creamsicle
  • Berry Dragon Mousse
  • Dark Dragon BonBon
  • Dragon Fruity Pizzeta
Photo 1. Clockwise from Top-Right: Dragon Fruity Pizzeta; Dragon Creamsicle; Dark Dragon BonBon; Berry Dragon Mousse

Before dragon fruit can flavor amazing desserts and snacks, this beautiful night-blooming cactus leads an exciting life as a plant. If you’re interested in growing your own dragon fruit, here are 5 techniques for successful cultivation.

1) Seedling or Cutting. For beginner gardeners, care a young dragon fruit seedling with established roots. If you’d like to grow your own dragon fruit roots, I recommend using a foot-long cactus stem cutting. The cutting should come from a healthy dragon fruit mother plant. Make sure your cutting is dried for about 2-5 days. Once the cutting’s tips are white, you can insert it in a large 2-foot diameter pot or directly in your garden plot.

2) Sun & Sand. Like many other cacti, dragon fruits like sun and sand. That means dragon fruits are sensitive to overshading and overwatering.

Dragon fruit roots prefer sandy, well-draining soil. So only irrigate or water when the top of the soil is completely dry. Add vermicompost to increase the soil’s  nutrient richness. 

Make sure your dragon fruit is in direct sunlight. Without daily sun exposure, you may not produce fruits. 

3) Supports & Props. You can prop up your dragon fruit with a trellis, fence or pole. They can be made of simple pvc pipes, metal frames or even concrete. A support structure will allow the branches to hang down in an umbrella-shaped canopy. This will facilitate more budding, flowering, and fruiting.

4) Prune for Shoots. Prune your dragon fruit often to maintain the umbrella canopy. Pruning is also recommended after you harvest fruits since it triggers new cactus shoots.

5) Pest control. Dragon fruits can attract a variety of insect pests. Monitor your dragon fruit regularly. Once you see any pests like ants, aphids, mites, or beetles, spray them with a stong jet of water. The force of the water spray should remove them effectively. Make sure pruning tools are always clean. Dirty tools with pests sitting on the blades can unintentionally spread pests to your plants.

“Gourd-geous” Garden

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu

May is all about starting those gorgeous and versatile gourds. They are relatively easy to grow and a fun project to start with your students or kids at home.

In Cebu, vining gourds like ampalaya (bittermelon), kalabasa (squash), sikwa (luffa), and kalabasang puti (aka kalubay/ bottle gourd) are hardy options.

You can cultivate one type of gourd or experiment with a combination of different gourds. The flowers, leaves and dramatic vegetable shapes are a joy to observe as they grow. And if your efforts yield large gourds, you’re guaranteed a source of pride.

Here are 7 strategies for a successful, Gourd-geous harvest:

1. Select a site with at leat 6 hours of sunshine and well-draining soil.

2. Add around 4 inches of organic matter (like compost or vermicompost) into a raised bed or large garden pot. Ideally the pot is 15 inches high and about 15 inches wide.

3. Start planting with healthy seedlings to make it easier. If you have seeds, plant them 1 inch deep and 2 feet apart. Depending on the variety, your calabasa may require more space (like 4 feet) between each seedling.

4. Apply organic fertilizer like vermicompost or compost tea to the soil at least once a month

Photo 1. A trellised kalabasa (squash) in Healing Present’s gourd garden. Nylon netting and reed poles were used as the trellis.

5. Use a trellis (Photo 1) to prop up the growing gourds and leaves. This helps ventilate your plants and prevent any rotting or moldy growth. Remember to remove any dead leaves and damaged young gourds.

6. Remove any weeds trying to compete with your young gourd plants. Use mulch like coconut fiber/coco coir, dried leaves, rice straw, rice hulls, or chopped dry palm fronds to suppress weed growth. Continue to remove weeds as your gourd plants mature.

7. Every week, water your gourd plants. Make sure the water is percolating the soil and reaching the roots. Well-draining soil absorbs the water and allows it to travel to the roots. You can provide water through a watering can, drip irrigation, soaker hose or underground ollas.

Happy Planting! And hopefully your harvest will add home-grown flavor to your delicious lunches, dinners and desserts. Check out our cookbooks for recipe ideas featuring yummy squashes and gourds.

Starter Citrus Garden

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu

In a previous article, Bees and Belonging, I suggested a ‘Citrus Home Garden’ as a potential design for a beautiful pollinator garden. The Citrus Home Garden featured fragrant potted dwarf citrus trees that provide delicious fruits and nourished native butterflies and stingless bees.

In this post, I’ll provide growing recommendations for dwarf citrus varieties that are easy to grow.

1. Starter Citrus. Limonsito (calamansi), Makrut Lime, and Kumquat are great for beginner gardeners (Photo 1). Dwarf varieties can be placed in containers and easier to manage.

Photo 1. (Clockwise from top right) Kumquat; Variegated Limonsito; Makrut Lime

They also require less space. In general, they can grow to 6 feet and can be easily pruned. The best part is that your shorter citrus produce fruits with the same size and flavor as their standard, taller counterparts. Nothing is sacrificed. Dwarf lime, limonsito, and other dwarf varieties also produce the same leaves, flowers, and signature aromas.

2. Well-lit Location. Dwarf citrus can easily adorn a small apartment patio, balcony, terrace, or cozy backyard. They just need a well-ventilated space with at least 6 hours of sunshine.

3. Cozy Container. I like to plant young, dwarf-citrus tree saplings in a 1-foot diameter pot. As the mature, I transfer them to containers that 2 feet wide around 20 inches tall. Light-weight containers made of resin or fiberglass with ample drainage are great choices. Store a mini cart or platform with wheels in your tool shed. With this, you can easily move your container plants when re-decorating or re-arranging your garden.

4. Soil Mix Savvy. If you’ve read my previous articles, you’ll notice I usually recommend “well-draining soil”. Same goes for citrus trees in pots. They thrive in soil that absorbs the water well. Their roots suffer in soggy soil that lacks drainage. In general, I mix garden soil with vermicompost to make sure the citrus trees have enough micronutrients. You can also choose a special organic fertilizer that may be available in the plant nursery.

If all goes well and you’ve successfully cared for your citrus garden, you can expect amazing fruits and fragrant blossoms for the pollinators (Photo 1):

  • Limonsito (calamansi) can produce bright yellow, green or orange fruits. Their leaves can be glossy green or variegated with white pigment (Photo 1). Limonsito is a common flavor in the Philippines. In any Filipino kitchen or restaurant menu, limonsito juice is squeezed into sauces, entrees, dessert drinks, herbal teas, and more.
  • Makrut lime trees produce aromatic leaves perfect for soups and curries. The limes are wrinkled and bumpy with a thick, zesty rind. The rind can be grated into your favorite noodle and stir-fry meals as well.
  • Kumquats are tangy fruit snacks to pop in your mouth. They also make perfect jams and marmalades. The entire fruit, including the thin skin, is edible.

Who knows? After a few years of successful harvests and feeling confident with these easygoing citrus varieties, you may want to venture into more demanding citrus trees like pomelo and mandarin.

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