Holiday gardens with Family

By Michelle Domocol
Back to Inflourish: Cebu Blog

December is the holiday season throughout Cebu. Families, schools, churches, restaurants, and offices are busy planning for Christmas parties, Sinulog festivities and other barangay fiestas. Many households and local businesses are prepping for the arrival of overseas family members. In that spirit of holiday festivities and joyful reunions, here are two fun family activities to share:

Activity #1: Family Storytelling Garden. Grow your own magical, native tree with your children, nieces or nephews. Certain native tree is perfect for small spaces or cozy backyards. As the tree matures, you can surround it with add seating, tables, cheery decorative lights, and art. You and your family can spend a fun time taking pictures, sharing meals and telling stories around your magical tree. Here are some native trees with their own magical, natural qualities:

Winged Alibangbang (Piliostigma malabaricum ). This beauty is adorned with flowers shaped like cattleya orchids. The leaves are resemble butterfly wings. It grows to 10 meters with either white, purple, or yellow blossoms. They are resistant to fires and droughts. And their strong roots are used to regenerate dry, hilly areas in the Philippines.

Perfumed Champak (Magnolia champaca). This tree possess beautiful yellowish-orange blooms with a fragrant aroma. In a small space, it will adapt to a compact 8 meters. In the wild, they can grow to 50 meters.

Mighty Maritima (Drypetes falcata). This small, straight-trunked tree symbolizes strength. It’s strong roots famously withstands floods and typhoons.

    Activity # 2: Lucky New Year’s Garden. Usually, families in Cebu prepare bowls of round, lucky fruits to welcome prosperity. What other traditions do you have on New Year’s Eve? In my house, we where polka dots, have a bowl of lucky fruit, turn on all the lights.
    How about another tradition–A Lucky New Year’s Garden?
    With the children in your family, grow a lucky fruit to celebrate the upcoming new year.
    You and your family can plant lucky pomelo, star fruit, or limonsito (Photo 1) in containers in your backyard.

    Here are some general reminders when growing fruit trees in containers:

      • A: Beginner gardeners should buy a young grafted or marcotted tree with an established ball of roots (rootball). Pick a dwarf variety so it fits your small space. Grafted pomelo, star fruit, and calamansi all like full sun exposure. So give them a bright, sunny spot in your garden.
      • B: Give your fruit trees well-composted soil that drains well. Water them regularly for the first few months. As they mature only water them when the soil is dry.
      • C: Choose a container that is 30%-50% bigger than the rootball of your fruit tree. Young trees (aka saplings) already have an established ball of roots. Make sure your container is big enough for them to spread and stay healthy.

      Hope you’re inspired to create fun memories in the garden. Happy Holidays and have a fun-filled time with friends and family!

      Sweet, Succulent Singkamas

      By Michelle Domocol

      Back to Inflourish: Cebu Blog

      November is time to plant one of my favorite snacks: singkamas. I like preparing eating fresh sinkgkamas slices. They’re naturally sugary and crunchy. When I was younger, my lola would slice a bunch of singkamas and store it in a big pitcher.

      I loved it so much that I sold bags of Lola’s sliced singkamas snacks to neighborhood kids in Cebu. It was the best and most fun way to share good food, learn about Filipino currency, practice Cebuano and make new friends. Lola set up a cute wooden table right outside the local basketball court and I sold fresh singkamas to my friends and new customers.

      How do you eat singkamas—as fresh, raw slices? in salads? in stir-fries? If you want your own supply of singkamas, it’s quite easy to grow in a small space, apartment balcony, or modest backyard. Here are some cultivation techniques to get you started.

      Photo 1. Singkamas pruning and pot dimensions.
      1. Prepare large pots or a raised bed. For instance, the pot could be 11 inches wide x 14 inches (Photo 1).
      2. Place the containers in a sunny part of the garden and fill them with well-draining soil. Mix the soil with compost to increase soil fertility.
      3. Plant the seeds 2 inches deep. Seeds can be planted 8 inches apart. Seedlings should emerge in a week.
      4. Singkamas develops large, fast-growing INEDIBLE leaves and vines (Photo 2, A & D). The seed pods are also inedible. Support the vine with a trellis (Photo 1).

      Photo 2. Harvested singkamas with leaves (A); seeds (B); washed roots (C); pods (D).
      1. Prune the flowers and leaves so that the plant is only 3 feet high (Photo 1). This ensures most of the nutrients and energy are feeding the singkamas roots you plan to harvest.
      2. After 4 months, the singkamas roots will be ready for harvest (Photo 2, A). They’ll look like fat, cream colored turnips (Photo 2, C). Cut off all the vines and leaves and wash the singkamas roots. You can store them in the fridge or freezer for future meals.
      3. If you’re feeling ambitious and have more space, you can add other complementary November plants like beans and ginger in the singkamas garden.

      Till next post, hope you feel inspired to plan your own starter singkamas garden.

      Small but Mighty Kitchen Gardens

      By Michelle Domocol

      Back to Inflourish: Cebu Blog

      Luckily, November’s planting season includes vegetables that grow in small spaces or containers. Even with the reduced space, they produce a big harvest. Even better, these vegetables are readily used in meals so you’re plentiful harvest won’t go to waste.

      Some of these high-yielding, small-space veggies (Photo 1 & 2) are: letchugas (lettuce), mustasa (mustard), petsay (pechay), okra, spinach, kamatis (tomato), luy-a (ginger), rabanos (radish), ahos (garlic), sibuyas bombay (onion), and atsal (bell peppers). And have some empty walls or fences, grow gourds (like kalubay and kalabasa) vertically. Check out this article for growing vertical, space-saving techniques.

      Below are some container sizes and plant spacing suggestions to start your own kitchen garden this November (Photo 1 & 2). Keep these dimensions in mind when you’re deciding which vegetables fit in your small space.

      Photo 1. Spacing for mustasa, pechay, rabanos (radish), letchuga (lettuce), & spinach.

      All of these small but mighty vegetables can grow in raised boxes that are at least 3′ x 6′ or larger (Photo 1). If you prefer, individual garden tubs or pots, go for it. Here are a few special notes for particular vegetables (Photo 2).

      • Okra: 1 okra seedling can be grown in a container at least 12” wide x 11” tall
      • Atsal: 1 atsal (pepper) seedling can be grown in a container that’s 10” wide x 10” tall
      • Kalubay & Kalabasa: 1 gourd per 12”x 11” pots. You can plant more in larger containers.
      • Kamatis: Plant 1 kamatis (tomato) seedling plant in a 9” wide x 6” tall container. Depending on the variety, it may need a larger container.

      Photo 2. Spacing and containers for sibuyas bombay (onions), gourds (kalubay & kalabasa), kamatis (tomatoes), & atsal (peppers)

      Remember, don’t ever feel pressured to grow a huge variety in your kitchen garden. Grow what you regularly eat and use in the kitchen. I know beautiful, healthy kitchen gardens that specialize in different varieties of lettuce. And that’s it—just lettuce. If you have more time, resources and confidence, then add more vegetables each season. Be patient, enjoy, and grow at your own pace and skill level.

      Vegetable Combos in November

      By Michelle Domocol

      Back to Inflourish: Cebu Blog

      November is a time to plant an amazing assortment of vegetable seedlings in Cebu. You can start planting seeds or seedlings of kalabasa, repolyo, rabanos, singkamas, leafy greens, atsal, sibuyas bombay, and more. For a complete list of November’s options, download this free planting calendar.

      Ever since I was 19, I’ve learned planting techniques from various types of organic gardening. In previous posts, I’ve shared agroforestry combinations and crop rotation techniques I’ve learned from farmers in different regions of Philippines.

      I’ve also had teachers practice planting techniques from styles like French Intensive Gardening, Korean Natural Farming, Australian permaculture, and Japanese Companion Planting. With this array of cultivation styles, beginner gardeners can be unsure of which technique to choose.

      In my experience, you need to experiment and test what works for your garden. In farming, we call these experiments test plots or plant trials. These experiments help you record and determine which techniques work with your garden conditions (aka soil, pests, wind, water, etc). It’s perfectly fine to apply various techniques from a mix of gardening styles. You may even adapt or innovate a technique along the way.

      The following planting techniques emphasize mixed cultivation and intercropping. The methods aim to:

      • prevent fungal growth & plant diseases
      • maximize garden space
      • hasten vegetable growth
      • deter insect pests

      This planting season, experiment and see if they work in your garden. Each illustration below shows how much space is between each seed or seedling. This space gives the plants enough room to mature and grow.

      Plant Combos

      Ampalaya with sitaw. Ampalaya and Sitaw are grown in a row and supported by a trellis.

      Cabbage & lettuce. Varieties of Cabbage and Lettuce are grown in separate rows, next to each other.

      Spinach & Onion. Spinach and Onion are grown in short, alternating rows.

      Gabi & Camote. Gabi are grown in separate rows next to each other

      Eggplant Complementary Pairs. Eggplant can be grown with a few key companion plants. Eggplant can be planted with rows of garlic, raddish and ginger. The illustrations below show suggested layouts and spacing.

      Enjoy, experiment with different techniques and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Remember, green thumbs and gardening instincts are born out of practice, observation and hard earned experience. Have fun and happy planting!

      For our Singing Feathered Friends

      By Michelle Domocol
      Back to Inflourish: Cebu

      October in Cebu brings steady rainfall and a daily chorus of bird calls. Healing Present’s (HP) headquarters is located in the bustling, concrete landscape of Cebu City. It sits far below from the farm’s upland vegetation and pocket forests.

      Photo 1. Features in Bird-friendly garden behind HP headquarters–A: Assorted foliage plants; B: Fruiting vines; C: Flowering ginger lilies; D: orchids attached to post

      Although the headquarters are surrounded by cement homes and ragged roads, we manage to create an oasis for local birds (Photo 1). It’s truly awe-inspiring what a collection of potted plants, raised beds and vines can do (Photo 1). Without fail, every morning and afternoon, we are visited by local avians like black shamas, sunbirds, flowerpeckers, and more.

      In general, adding plants that attract local birds benefits you and the local ecoystem. Birds visit urban gardens for food, water, and temporary protection from predators.

      In turn, they grace us with relaxing songs. For some, birdsongs are reminders of our unique ecological heritage. These urban bird oases are also wonderful venues to teach children about nature without traveling too far from home.

      Here are 3 strategies to create your own bird-friendly garden.

      1. Offer a Fruit & Nectar Buffet. Add fruit-bearing and nectar-rich, flowering shrubs, vines and trees. If you live in a smaller space with a balcony or small courtyard, select dwarf fruit trees or shrubs that grow well in containers.

      In urban Cebu’s humid, rainfall, and tropical climate, we can plant so many combinations of tropical fruit or berries. Try adding your favorite local fruit. I’ve seen birds flock to gardens with batwan, biasong, lomboy, or seryales.

      If you have a larger space, add mature native trees and vines. As your fruit/flower garden matures, birds will appreciate the free food and nectar. You can add non-fruiting plants too. Birds like to protect themselves amongst large leafed plants (Photo 1) like elephant ear, ferns, crotons or other foliage.

      2. Leave the fallen leaves. In Cebu, there’s a compulsion to constantly clean up old leaves. In a bird garden, fight this urge. You can sweep the leaves and debris under the plants. But please don’t throw them and worse yet, burn them. These precious leaves return nutrients to your plants. They also attract harmless insects birds love to eat.

      3. Discourage cats. Cats can threaten and attack local birds regularly. In Cebu, sometimes it’s difficult to protect your garden from stray cats. If you have your own pet cat, try to keep it inside or away from your garden. You can also put a bell on your cat’s collar so birds are warned as it approaches.

      Photos 2 to 5 are my sample designs to inspire your next bird-friendly garden.

      Each design illustrates an outdoor space with bird-attracting flowering and fruiting plants. Native and endemic plant varieties are also highlighted.

      “Tropical Lounge” (Photo 2)
      Photo 2. “Tropical Lounge”

      A: Outdoor seating area with cluster of native Phalaenopsis orchids, flowering Heliconia latispatha, and a local variety of Dwarf Lakatan bananas.
      B: Bignay fruit tree (Antidesma bunius) and Kamagong (Diospyros blancoi)
      C: Dwarf lakatan in container
      D: Large-leafed foliage plants

      ○ ○ ○

      “Relaxing Patio(Photo 3)
      Photo 3. “Relaxing Patio”

      A: Kamuning shrubs (Murraya paniculata) around a pond
      B: Talamisan Citrus tree (Citrus longispina) with Vanda orchids attached to trunk
      C: Mix of Luy-a (Zingiber officinale), ginger lily (Zingiber spectabilis), and ferns
      D: Reclining outdoor chairs to observe birds and rest

      ○ ○ ○

      “Garden path” (Photo 4)
      Photo 4. “Garden Path”

      A: Walkway with bordering gardend. A mix of cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) and local Santan shrubs (Ixora philippinensis).
      B: Native Dendrobium orchids growing on decorative boulder
      C: Behind the flowering borders, you can add large-leafed foliage like taro. If you have more space, you can plant trees like Cebu Cinnamon (Cinnamomum cebuense) or Banaba (Lagerstroemia speciosa)

      ○ ○ ○

      “Terrace” (Photo 5)
      Photo 5. “Terrace”

      A: Islands of Gumamela varieties (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)
      B: Dwarf Limonsito (Calamondin spp.) tree in a large circular raised bed with attached circular seating
      C: Group of dwarf papaya growing in containers
      D: More hibiscus shrubs in front of a slightly raised terrace

      I hope these designs inspire some enthusiastic brainstorming for our feathered friends. Till next post, enjoy the rest of October’s birdsongs.

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