Summer Sweetness

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu Blog

I went to elementary and highschool on the east coast of the US. But almost every summer was spent in the Philippines. Summers meant trips around Cebu, Negros Oriental, Bohol, and Mindanao. I treasure those summers meeting extended family and making new friends.

Summers also meant FOOD—specifically feasting on fruit I never ate in the US. Those vacations imprinted enduring, flavorful memories.

I still remember the sheer volume and variety of saging and mangga piled in the back of my grandpa’s pick-up truck. And the pink plastic bags of santol hanging off my uncle’s motorbike’s handlebars. Of course, I still recall the food preparation for beach outings. Truly epic. We would fill the back of multiple cars with bukags of mangosteen, rambutan and lansones. Even though we had a caravan of cooked meals and fresh fruit, we stopped at streetside fruit stands on the way to the beach. How could we resist the golden yellows, deep purples, dark reds, bright oranges of ripe summer fruit (Photo 1)?

Summers feasts introduced me to new tastes, textures, and distinct methods of opening fruit. Most american kids never needed a precise or unique way to open common grapes, apples, and pears. So it was marvelous to watch vendors remove pineapple eyes and decoratively cut mango cheeks with such finesse. Or it was wonderous to learn how my cousins ate mangosteen, marang, and santol. I recall Lola sharing her special technique for opening pomelo. She didn’t pierce the bitter skin with a knife. Instead, she used her hands to open the pomelo. This way, the skin’s bitter juice wouldn’t escape and ruin the sweetness inside.

I hope you too have precious and remarkable memories of fruits and summer fun.

In celebration of fruity sweetness, I’d like to share how summer mangosteen is grown. Depending on your location in the Philippines, mangosteen fruits may already be available this month. I hope you feel inspired to to grow your own backyard fruits. Or maybe you’re urged to interview local farmers about their fruit cultivation techniques. Either way, below are some fun techniques for mangosteen cultivation.

Marvelous Mangosteen

Photo 1. Summer fruits like (clockwise from top) mangosteen, durian, santol, marang, and mangga.

When I was younger, most of the mangosteen sold in Cebu came from Mindanao. Through the years, I learned farmers in Luzon and Negros Oriental also cultivate mangosteen. Here are a few mangosteen techniques:

  • Soil health is vital for a successful mangosteen harvest. They thrive in soil that is regularly watered. However, the soil should drain well so many amend it with sand or silt. Otherwise, mangosteen roots suffer in from standing water or waterlogged soil. A layer of mulch is also added above the topsoil. Many farmers add a layer of compost, rice hulls, and/or coco coir as a mulch. As a fertilizer, compost is mixed with the tree’s topsoil to improve the texture and nutrition.
  • Since mangosteen takes up to 15 years to produce fruit, many farmers add fast-growing crops in between the mangosteen trees. Mangosteens can be grown with fast-growing beans, peanuts, and other legumes.
Photo 2. Diagram with young mangosteens grown in fruit tree agroforest.
  • Other fruit farmers may want to build an agroforest with multiple types of fruit trees (Photo 2). So they may add young mangosteen trees to an orchard with mature trees like banana, durian, marang, papaya and/or lanzones. The taller, older trees can provide partial shade and protect young mangosteen from damaging winds. The variety of fruits ensures farmers can profit from fast-growing fruits while they wait for slower-growing fruits like mangosteen. For instance, in 7 months, papaya starts to bear fruit. And you wait for less than 2 years (around 22 months) to produce bananas.

July Joys & August Arrivals

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu Blog

How has your farm or garden faired in the July weather? Are you letting your soil rest and adding layers of nutrient-rich compost? Or maybe you’re harvesting some fruits?

This July, I spent my summer enjoying new places and learning a new language. But now August has arrived and I’m ready to share more design and garden inspiration.

Throughout August, I’ll post more design inspiration for food production, outdoor relaxation, and habitat restoration. I’ll feature:

○ Seasonal fruits available in August
○ Indigenous Philippine re-forestation species
○ Terrace Gardening
○Unique Floral Arrangements
○ Outdoor Eco-Activities for Children & the Young at Heart

and more! Also remember to check out my other blog, Inflourish: Around the World, to learn about gardening techniques in environments and gardens outside the Philippines.

August Arrival: Caimitos

In the meantime, did you know many delicious fruits are available in August because they need the dry season to develop their fruits. Caimitos (star fruits) are one of those delectable fruits available in August. Check your local vendor to see if they are available particular area. Before caimitos reach your local markets, they are grown in the ground or in containers.

Here are some tips to help you grow caimitos in your garden:

  1. Many experienced gardeners plant caimito seeds just before the rainy season. For beginners, I suggest you get a healthy young caimito sapling (aka a young caimito tree) to plant in a container or in the soil. Plant your young caimito sapling in a spot with full sun exposure. These plants thrive with sunlight and warm soils. Ideally, your soil should have great drainage. But I’ve seen caimitos thrive in poor soils around Cebu.
  2. If you have a small caimito sapling, make sure your hole is 3 times the diameter of the container. Dig a hole as deep as the container so the roots remain healthy.
  3. Fill in the hole with soil and water thoroughly. Make sure the water is directed at the roots.
  4. Fertilize your caimito every 2 months within the first year of planting your sapling. You can use vermicompost with rice hulls or other types of mature compost. After the first year, you can apply the organic fertilizer to the soil around the caimito 3 times a year.
  5. Make sure the caimito is watered every two days for the first week of planting. Then reduce the watering to 2 times a week for the first two months. Increase the frequency during the dry season. And reduce watering during the rainy season.

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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Savvy Seed Collecting

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu

Some of the most important parts of plant cultivation occur after fruits and vegetables matures. So far my blog posts describe seedling care and daily garden maintenance. After harvest, what happens? What about collecting or saving seed from your prized flowers, vegetables, fruits or trees?

Will the seeds we collect be viable?

These are all fair questions from a beginner seed collector. If you want your plant to be ever-giving, here are some tips to extract its seeds.

  • Choose a flower, vegetable, fruit, or other amazing plant in your garden. Make sure it came from non-GMO and open-pollinated seeds. These plants are viable and can pass on their genetic traits. Photo 1 shows popular vegetables and flowers that produce seeds you can save. These include lettuce, beans, tomatoes, squashes, eggplants and cucumber. Irises, marigolds, hibiscus and sunflowers are flower seeds you can also collect.

Garden Bonus! Download this fun seed saving envelope activity. Happy Seed Collecting!

Photo 1. Clockwise from Top Left: Hibiscus; marigolds, lettuce; squashes; cucumbers; eggplants. These plants produce seed you can save.
  • Collect seeds from plants that have favorable features or traits. If you like your corn’s flavor, color or size, collect the seed. Or maybe your gardenia’s petals were huge and produced a brilliant yellow. Save the seeds so you can grow more! Seed saving may generate custom garden full of plants you curated and collected.
  • Once you pick a plant for seed collection, observe how the seed matures and how the plant sheds the seeds. For instance, cucumbers and eggplants chosen for seed collection need to stay on the plant longer than the crops chosen for eating. The seeding cucumbers and eggplants are only harvested when the seeds mature. Mature seeds can withstand drying and storage. Do some research and ask fellow gardeners about your target plant. Observations of your personal plants form the best guidance.
  • Identify the type of seed your desired plant produces. Do they have dry seed cases like sitaw beans? If your plant has dried seed cases like many bean varieties, garlics and onions, then remove the seed head by hand. Then use a paper bag to catch the individual seeds inside the seed head. Other gardeners may shake the mature seed pods or seed heads so they fall into a bucket.

Or maybe you have a plant with seed pods split open? Or perhaps the seeds naturally pop out of the seed case? Will you be threshing or winnowing to separate some seeds from their seed cases? Or, like mango, will you remove your seed from the older, fleshy fruit? Once you find out your plant’s seeding behavior, then you can use the best way to catch and harvest the seed.

  • Make sure you use the correct method to clean and store your seeds. Fungal diseases, rain, hungry insects and even hungrier birds can threaten your seed collection process, so be vigilant.

Saved seeds can be stored in paper envelopes, water-tight jars, camera film cases, and glass jars. Some gardeners then store the containers of seeds in a refrigerator or a cool, dry, dark cupboard.

Make your batches of seed are labelled. Labels can include the seed collection date, plant names, and the plant’s notable traits or features.

Garden Bonus! Download my seed saving envelope activity. Creating unique seed envelopes or other types of seed containers can inspire you and curious, young gardeners. Happy Seed Collecting!

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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