Happy May! It’s truly a month of PLANTiful bounty. In May you can sow seeds or transplant seedlings of marvelous leafy greens, legumes, gourds, vining veggies and herbs. The vegetables planted in May eventually produce essential ingredients for our favorite soups, adobos, and sinigangs.
Many of the veggies planted in May are the ingredients for a delectable soup called Utan Bisaya (Photo 1). Friends from other Visayan regions call this delicious, hearty vegetable soup Law-uy and Laswa. What did you call it growing up?
The soil and weather in May are warm enough to support Utan Bisaya ingredients like:
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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:
In Cebu, March is a great time to start or expand your Food x Flower gardens. These seeds or young plants can be arranged in containers or beautiful borders around a walkway. Photo 1 (top) shows a welcoming border garden in Healing Present. In March, you can start planting gotu kola, heliconia, basil varieties, and celosia. Photo 1 (bottom) shows what these colorful additions look like when they bloom and mature.
When we held workshops and retreats in Healing Present, we had many visitors, supporters and retreat participants from Bohol. To celebrate their Healing Present advocacy, I want to feature some vegetables and groundcovers you can plant in Bohol. Some of these featured vegetables are
mani-mani (peanut grass groundcover)
Below is a garden design that includes the featured vegetables. Photo 2 shows a planting map with raised beds. Each raised bed has vegetables, flowers, or groundcovers that are grouped by their similar nutrient needs. For instance, eggplants and tomatoes absorb lots of nitrogen and similar micronutrients from the soil so they are placed in the same raised bed. These groups in Photo 2 are designed for crop rotation.
The arrows in Photo 2 show each group will be planted in a new raised bed each season. This diagram shows how planting design changes from one season to the next. So in Season 1 Tomatoes and Eggplants are grown in the Top Left raised bed. The next growing season they are planted in the Top Right raised bed.
Crop rotation is a method to ensure your soil provides the nutrients your vegetables need to grow well. When gardeners and farmers plant the same vegetables in the same place every season, the soil loses its minerals and nutrients. They have been absorbed by plants that were previously planted and harvested. Instead of depleting the soil quality, you can rotate crops. After you harvest your vegetables in one area, the soil can sustain a second group of plants with its a different unique set of nutrient needs.
But how do we know what plants have similar nutrient needs? This is only a brief introduction to crop rotation. More details and examples will be highlighted in upcoming articles and downloadable info sheets.
There are nuanced techniques in crop rotation. For example, after two seasons of rotating crops, some gardeners let a raised bed or farm plot rest. They add layers of vermicompost to the resting plot. They may also plant green manure or leguminous groundcovers like mani-mani into the resting plot. These plants do not heavily absorb nutrients. They can actually add nitrogen into the soil.
Crop rotation one of the many organic methods to manage soil quality. Rotated crops can ensure tomatoes have a vital supply of calcium and manganese from their soil. As a result, we get luscious and disease-free tomatoes. Nutrient-rich soil also produces large, green leaves in bok choy and lettuce. In short, better soil quality means thriving plants and a nutritious harvest.
So we ended our first month of Inflourish: Cebu articles and posts! I’ve had so much fun sharing stories about Healing Present’s land management and design. Throughout March, I’ll continue to post fun gardening projects, outdoor design inspiration and land management food-for-thought. I’ll feature:
Healing Present’s farm crew & their amazing garden skills
Greenhouse management activities
Philippine Native re-forestation
In the meantime, click below and download your own free Cebu Planting Calendar. I made it just for you! Enjoy!
With Healing Present and other landscape design clients in Cebu, I use agroforestry practices. Agroforestry is a set of sustainable land management strategies practiced globally. These land management practices take many forms and integrate existing and accepted types of farming. In Healing Present, I chose agroforestry as a design approach for their crop systems and forest rehabilitation projects. This design approach met their preferences for organic cultivation and environmental stewardship. If successful, agroforestry can achieve goals that are important to me, my clients and maybe you too. These goals include:
increase organic crop productivity
restore and conserve local native plant and wildlife biodiversity
Don’t worry if these terms are new to you. Below is an example of how these strategies are combined in a landscape.
As you can see Photo 1, three main components are included in this agroforestry system. The shorter perennial food and medicinal crops occupy the central food gardens. Then the outer layers are taller fruit trees and native habitat species. If site conditions were favorable, you could even grow some of those shorter perennial species under the tree canopy. The vegetation strip with native trees serves as natural erosion control. Th trees’ roots stabilize the soil and reduce major landslides. In practice, these species are not frequently managed. Instead, they are monitored monthly and designated as a biodiversity corridor.
Less visits from the farm crew and others humans allow shy wildlife to feel safer in a new biodiversity corridor. The native species also:
increase the land’s soil fertility,
provide nutrient-rich mulch layers
regulate nitrogen cycles, and
support local food pollinators.
The staggered rows of fruit trees are both windbreak and living fences. This means some species protect crops, farm facilities and local wildlife from storm damage and high winds. As a living fence, a group of the fruit trees demarcate property boundaries. The fruit species are situated closer to the central food gardens. They are seasonally harvested for personal and commercial use. The central food gardens are cultivated and managed daily. Other examples of agroforestry systems include the following combos:
Sample 3. Shade tolerant herbs and yams with Sun-loving Native tree species like Talisay, Molave and Narra
The planting design must reflect your site conditions, harvest needs and environmental goals. For instance, Sample 1 is full of species for food harvests, soil improvement, and windbreaks. Sample 2 is great for food harvest, medicinal uses, and living fencing. Sample 3 can provide erosion control, food harvests, habitat restoration, and soil improvement.
I also practice agroforestry because the methods aim to address Philippines’ major environmental crises. Many agroforestry practitioners in the Pacific and Southeast Asia recognize biodiversity conservation needs to be integrated into agricultural landscapes. This action reduces the direct pressure agriculture can play when practiced with destructive land conversion, chemical-based fertilization, and crop cultivation that depletes soil. Through my environmental studies and research in Cebu, I learned we need biodiversity preservation and ecological health. We also need food systems that safeguard biodiversity and the sustainable use of our natural resources. Beyond human needs, the indigenous wildlife of greater Luzon, Mindoro, western Visasays, Mindanao and Sulu have suffered species losses from weakly managed wildlife reserves.
Unsustainable agriculture and biodiversity loss directly impact our economic health. Millions of Filipinos depend on the services and biological products of functioning forests and ecosystems. Without functioning forests, coastal storm buffers, fertile soil, and healthy watersheds, we are susceptible to natural disasters, commercial market instability, widespread malnutrition and a degraded water supply. Cebuanos know all too well, the price we pay for rapid, exploitative urbanization, massive deforestation, and coastal degradation.
It’s no wonder, agroforestry is selected as a land management approach in the Philippines.
If practiced successfully, agroforestry can increase harvest yields, improve soil fertility, restore habitats, and protect watersheds from agricultural chemicals. Indeed, agroforests can’t substitute well-preserved natural ecosystems. And it’s certainly not a panacea. But perhaps it’s a step in a beneficial direction.