Terrific AgroforesTrees

By Michelle Domocol

Inflourish: Cebu Blog

In previous articles, I described the environmental recovery and reforestation techniques practiced at Healing Present. In this post, I’d like to continue our chat about agroforestry and forest restoration.

We select a variety of indigenous trees that will survive the current conditions of Healing Present’s site. We also choose them for the ecological benefits. Generally, all of the species chosen for reforestation enrich the land by:

  • increasing soil fertility,
  • supporting native wildlife,
  • feeding food pollinators like bees and butterflies, and
  • controling soil erosion
Photo 1. Healing Present crew grow, plant, and monitor the health of the native agroforest trees.

Healing Present’s crew cultivates hundreds of tree species (Photo 1). Many of these species are already established or waiting to be planted. The current rainy season and typhoon repairs delay our progress sometimes. But I want to highlight 5 indigenous trees and the important roles they play in our restoration:

1. Toog (Petersianthus quadrialatus)

When respected and left alone, this towering giant can grow to 65 meters. As part of an agroforest and restoration site, Toog has the ability to repel pests like destructive woodboring beetles. Toog are homes to important wildlife and mitigate the loss of tropical forest biodiversity.

2. Dakit (Ficus benjamina)

On a sunny day, you’d want rest against a Dakit’s trunk and under its canopy. On average, its leaves and branches spread to a 21-meter crown. The canopy provides the best shade for people, shade-loving plants, and animals. Thankfully, the shade also suppresses sun-loving weeds. On top of that, Dakit attracts vital seed-spreading wildlife like birds and bats. It can endure degraded soil and quickly occupy abandoned areas that need reforestation.

3. Kapok (Bombax ceiba)

Traditionally, Kapok’s seeds and pink blossoms were used for food and medicine. In Healing Present, kapok is primarily planted for its ecological functions. Like Dakit, it can quickly occupy barren woodland. Its fragrant flowers also attract key pollinators like bees and birds. In addition, a 25-meter tall Kapok tree can serve as a boundary marker. A group of Kapok can also form a living fence.

4. Banaba (Lagerstroemia speciosa)

Banaba (Photo 1) is more than the gorgeous purple flowers. Agroforesters treasure banabas and their ability repair unstable soils, control erosion, and add nutrients to formerly degraded forests. Beyond those incredible qualities, banaba can be pruned. The pruned leaves, fruit, and branches can be food for livestock and medicine.

5. Kamagong (Diospyrus blancoi)

Finally, we arrived at the beloved Kamagong. With its reddish, velvety mabolo fruit, Kamagong has so much more to offer than furniture timber. Kamagong in restoration projects are amazing partners in soil erosion control and wind-resistance. Wind-breaks and wind-resistant trees are like environmental guardians in a country so vulnerable to typhoons.

There you have it…5 rockstars in Healing Present’s growing reforestation project. I hope you get inspired to learn more about our precious environmental heritage and the various ways to protect it.

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Grow your own Party Decor

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu Blog

Nowadays, many event designers, party planners and hosts want to incorporate “sustainable” floral bouquets and “sustainable” floral décor to make their party gorgeous and delightful. The request for more sustainability has increased as people realize the negative effects of corporate floristry practices.

In short, standard flowers require lots of agricultural chemicals, fossil fuel-sourced transportation, and energy-intensive refrigeration. Many choose sustainable floral options to avoid flowers grown in this industrial way. One very fun way to get your own sustainable Bouquets and Floral Decor is growing a Party garden.

Photo 1. A collage of flowers, grasses and herbs for a Party Garden.

Below are 10 ideas for your own Party Garden:

  1. Party Gardeners might like to grow in a group of medium-sized pots or raised beds. This may be more manageable and easier to re-arrange when necessary.
  2. Plants with similar water, soil and sun requirements should be grouped together.
  3. If you have a spare garden space, then go ahead and plant the Party Garden florals directly in the ground. Just make sure your garden is well-contained with a fence so the decorative flowers don’t invade natural areas that may be near your garden.
  4. Choose flowers that are easy to cultivate repeatedly bloom in your area. Depending on your region’s climate, this may be zinnias, coreopsis, begonias, marigolds or dahlias. You may also want to choose varieties that have long stems (Photo 1).
  5. Grow plants with elegant foliage like coleus, local ferns, lilies, and irises.
  6. Select some bouquet fillers. Grow some grasses, vines, or long-stem herbs to add volume to your boquets. This can be amaranth, thai basil, pea vines, or passionfruit vines. You can also choose local field grasses (Photo 1).
  7. Make sure you incorporate wide paths or enough space around your plants. Always make it comfortable for you to cut and harvest your flowers and foliage.
  8. Have buckets of water or baskets ready when you cut and harvest your living decorations.
  9. Mulch with dried leaves, rice hulls, or coco coir. Mulch around your flowers so the weeds are supressed. Then they won’t consume your beautiful party garden plants.
  10. If you notice your flowers or foliage is dying or looking diseased, replace the weak plant with new seeds or seedlings and fresh compost.

And here’s some inspiration for using your Party Garden plants:

Once you have a successful garden, there are so many was to use your harvested decor. You can create fresh bouquets, floating flower designs, dried bouquets, framed dried flower collages, garlands that wrap around arches, and more.

For a simple & fresh bouquet, remember to:

  1. Cut the stems at an angle and remove the lower leaves before you place them in a container of water. It can be a vase, flower frog or other receptacle.
  2. Remove any lower leaves or petals submerged under water. Submerged foliage invites unwanted bacteria. This might infect your lovely bouquet.
  3. Make an arrangement you want. Generally, I add a graceful spiral of filler and foliage plants. Then add a few featured flowers. But you can have themed bouquets based on edible plants. Or add a combination of large foliage and long-stemmed tropical flowers like gingers and heliconias. Experiment with Party Gardens and have fun!
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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 fruits (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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