“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.

Related Articles with Citrus Trees

April’s Dessert Garden

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu

April is the perfect time to add dessert plants to your garden. These dessert plants are excellent flavors for ice creams, delicious smoothies, healing teas, favorite soups or other comforting dishes (Photo 2 and 3).

For April, I suggest a dessert garden planted with acerola, makrutlime, gumamela (hibiscus), luy-a (ginger), and turmeric. (Photo 1)

Photo 1. (Clockwise from Top Right) Acerola cherries; gumamela; harvest mix; makrut lime; turmeric & ginger

If you’d like to add some April savory ingredients, plant sayote, atsal (bell pepper), chili pepper, or repolyo (cabbage).

If you need more garden inspiration for April check out these past articles and my Cebu planting calendar:

Want some exciting dessert recipe ideas? Go to our Cookbook Store. We feature recipes for: Marang Acerola Ice Cream, Gingered Avocado Ice Cream Gingered, Pili Pineapple Ice Cream, Acerola Aloe Custard and sweet smoothies (Photo 2 and 3).

Photo 2. Assorted Acerola-flavored desserts from Healing Present cookbooks.
Photo 3. Original smoothies using April’s dessert garden plants; recipes in Healing Present’s cookbooks.
April Planting Advice

Here are some cultivation tips for turmeric, ginger, makrut lime, and acerola.

Acerola and Limes. Acerola and kaffir limes are beautiful fruit shrubs that bloom almost year paths. They are both perfect in containers or planted directly well-draining, composted soil. They thrive in full sun exposure.

To produce more fruit, we like to prune the limes and acerolas so they remain short. Ideally, they stay 3 or 4 feet tall with lateral branches. Abundant fruit harvest on on the lower branches are easier to pick.

When I prune, I remove some upward growth tips near the top of the main stem. This ensures lower branches grow outward and horizontally. Pruning also trains the buds, flowers and fruit to grow on the lower portions of the shrub.

Ginger and Turmeric. These versatile gems thrive in partial sun exposure. The garden site should be well-draining, composted, and protected from strong winds. In the farm, they are shaded by fruit shrubs or fruit trees.

I like to get my ginger and turmeric root sections from other gardeners, official seed suppliers, or plant nurseries. Sometimes, if you use kitchen leftovers or roots from a grocery store, they may be sprayed with growth inhibitors. This affects its root growth when transfered to your garden.

If you still want to experiment with the common grocery store ginger or turmeric, soak them in water overnight. This may remove the commercial spray residue.

Ensure your ginger and turmeric roots are plump and healthy. Don’t plant any shriveled root sections. The root section should have well-developed buds (aka “eyes”). If you cut the ginger root section into smaller pieces, make sure the sliced area is calloused. To callous, dry the section for at least 24 hours. When I plant the root sections, the growth buds (or “eyes”) are pointed upwards. I cover them with 1-3 inches of soil.

Water well after planting. Regularly monitor your soil. The soil should be absorbing the water. Ginger and Turmeric roots rot easily in waterlogged, soggy soil with stagnant pools of moisture.

Can’t Contain my Joy

By Michelle Domocol

Inflourish: Cebu Blog

I can never contain my joy for a radiant and flourishing container garden. Container gardens are one of the foundational landscaping techniques used in Healing Present. Container gardening is the technique behind our beautiful azotea greenery, sunken gardens (Photo 1), vertical walls and gate plantings (Photo 3 & 4).

Photo 1. Container gardens in our sunken garden (top) and azotea areas (bottom).

In previous articles, we’ve focused on container gardens like raised beds. We’d like to share inspiration and more possibilities you can apply with container gardening techniques.

Below is a potted sanseveria plant Ariel (one of the gifted farm staff) prepared. In this particular project, he adorned the pot with dried fern fronds from the farm. Staghorn ferns are common epiphytes that self-propagate around the farm and forest. Dried jackfruit, taro, and breadfruit leaves are also wonderful options we have at Healing Present. When their leaves drop and naturally dry, they become gorgeous material to decorate furnishings and garden pots.

Photo 2. Ariel planting a sanseveria in a plastic pot decorated with dried fern fronds.

Here are seven lessons Ariel and the rest of Healing Present crew learned from our container planting adventures:

1) Suitable Soil Level. Make sure your container is large enough to provide room for soils and roots. Make sure the soil is at least 1 inch from the top of the container. Don’t fill a container all the way to the top of the container.

2) Well-Drained Soil. Does you container have drainage holes at the bottom? When you water your containerized plants, you want excess water to drain out of the soil. If not, the plant roots can rot from too much stagnant moisture.

3) Strong Containers. At Healing Present, the containers chosen for the garden are planned. They are suited to the environmental conditions and style we want. We use a range of containers, but we ensure they are strong. For us, durable containers can withstand our site’s level of rain, wind, humidity, pests and other factors that can degrade or break down a container. What are the specific site conditions in your backyard or balcony that may affect the durability of an outdoor container?

If you have a sheltered patio garden with little wind, maybe your containers can be ceramic pots & gorgeous glass terrariums. At Healing Present, we’ve used coconut shells in our gate gardens (Photo 3). And we’ve reused thick plastic water bottles for our wall gardens (Photo 4). In other parts of the farm, we’ve used terra cotta, stone, and plastic composite.

Photo 3. Vertical pots adorn our farm gates. Containers are coconut husks and decorated plastic pots in various sizes and shapes.
Photo 4. In our vertical gardens, we used thick plastic Evian bottles and green netting to hold soil and roots.

4) Stylish designs. To achieve a certain style, sometimes we use plastic pots and then insert them in a larger decorative reed or fiberglass container. Sometimes, we embellish an ordinary pot with dried leaves or other natural materials from the farm (Photo 5). Since we have weather that ranges from high humidity, torrential rain, and blasting dry heat, we don’t choose heat-conducting aluminum or brass containers. Over the years, we also learned hungry termites occupy our site. So we don’t use containers made of untreated wood.

Photo 5. A common black plastic pot is decorated with a reed shell to match the decor.

5) De-stress Roots & Repot. Repotting means transferring your containerized plant into a larger container with new fertilized soil. Not all of our container gardens are repotted. We only do this when we notice roots are expanding outside the container. Or sometimes the roots are wrapping around the inside of the pot. Sometimes we repot when the plant’s soil is drying out faster than usual. We also try to repot when the container is no longer half the height of the container.

For instance, one time we neglected a ginger plant that grew 3 times taller than the height of the pot! It was hidden with a group of other container plants, so we didn’t notice it at first. The roots were stressed and needed more room to expand. Instead, the roots were cracking the sides of the terra cotta pot. So it really needed a larger pot and new soil to thrive. Make sure your new pot is at least 2 inches larger in diameter than the current pot. It should also be at least half the height of the current plant.

6) Organically fertilize. With our container plants, we use a soil mix that is mostly made of vermicast. This is a great fertilizer and helps nourish the new roots before and after repotting.

7) Weed Control. Monitor your container plants on a daily or weekly basis. For many, this is a meditative and relaxing exercise. Observe your plants’ growth. If you notice any weeds in your potted plant, pull them out. Don’t let them mature and grow large roots. Get them when they’re young. Weeds can steal water, sun, and nutrients from the plant you want to cultivate. If you have a larger container with a lot of exposed soil, you can add a groundcover plant to suppress any weed growth (Photo 6).

Photo 6. Low growing groudcovers & trailing vines are planted to suppress weeds and create visual interest.

In an upcoming article, I’ll share techniques for creating new container gardens through a technique plant division. See you then.

If you need ideas for plant combinations for your container garden, check out these articles from last month: