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.

      Flavorful, Fruitful Harvest

      By Michelle Domocol

      Back to Inflourish: Cebu Blog

      This November, fruit markets and fruit growers will offer seasonal treats like lansones, papaya, guyabano, atis, sambag, and mangosteen. When my family goes to the fruit market we search for the Longkong variety. It comes in compact clusters with super sweet and aromatic fruits (Photo 2, D). Longkong is a cross between other lansones varieties called Paete and Duku. This November, don’t forget to pick up your favorite varieties of some lansones or other in-season fruits.

      In celebration of November’s seasonal treats, here are some fun facts and cultivation techniques that help lansones produce delicious fruits.

      Photo 1. Different types of mulch for lansones cultivation.
      1. Lansones are grown throughout Philippines’ orchards, farms and backyards. They are usually planted in November or other months during the rainy season. Since they thrive in high humidity and moist soil, farmers and gardeners, water lansones regularly during the dry season.
      2. To preserve the soil moisture, lansones growers add a layer of compost and mulch over their roots. Mulch (Photo 1) can be:
        • A: dried banana pseudostem fibers,
        • B: rice hulls,
        • C: coco coir, or
        • D: coconut husk chips
      3. Most farmers like to transfer lansones seedlings into the field. The seedlings transfer when they have a pair of mature leaves and a strong root system. Young lansones seedlings are planted with partial shade over their canopy. Lansones are commonly intercropped under mature coconuts since their fronds provide natural shade. Other shading companions are madre de cacao and ipil-ipil trees. Otherwise, you can shade seedlings with netting cages or mini pergolas made with banana fronds.

      Photo 2. Seedlings and fruits of lansones during cultivation and harvest.
      1. Pruning is essential for fruit growth and pest reduction. Farmers and gardeners remove any unproductive side branches, watersprouts, dead branches and some top portions of the young tree. Watersprouts are thin, useless branches emerging from old bark. Pruning trains the branches to be aerated, well-spaced and lateral. When the top of the lansones canopy is partially removed, it keeps the height at 1 meter. This height is more accessible for harvesting.
      2. Lansones fruits appear in 7-inch long bunches (Photo 2, B & C). Depending on the variety they can be compact or loose bunches with up to 25 or more fruits. When it’s unripe, lansones skin is green (Photo 2, B). As it matures and approaches harvest time, lansones skin becomes thin, leathery and brownish-yellow (Photo 2, C-E).
      3. After planting lansones, you’ll have to wait for 15 to 20 years to see fruits (Photo 2, D). While farmers and gardeners wait, they usually harvest faster-growing trees and vegetables grown in between the lansones trees.

      Wow 15 to 20 years! Lansones cultivation makes me appreciate the arduous journey growers and fruit seeds make. As you munch on your delectable fruits this month, I hope you feel inspired to thank a local fruit farmer or learn more about fruit cultivation.

      Till next post, hope you have a fruitful, flavorful November.

      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!