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.

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Small but Mighty Kitchen Gardens

By Michelle Domocol

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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. For detailed food garden designs, order my new Kitchen Garden design book.

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.

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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. For detailed food garden designs, order my new Kitchen Garden design book.

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!

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October’s Optimistic Seedlings

By Michelle Domocol
Back to Inflourish: Cebu Blog

Gardening is a constant invitation to observe, experiment, and refine your plant growing techniques. October is an opportune time to learn new skills and sprout a wide range of optimistic seedlings.

In October, Cebu’s weather and rainfall is generally suited to planting squash seedlings, seeds of leafy vegetables, a few root crops, beans and more. Here are a few suggestions of specific vegetables you can plant from seed or seedling:

  • Leafy Vegetables: repolyo (cabbage), cauliflower, pechay, mustasa (mustard)
  • Onions: garlic (ahos), sibuyas bombay (onion)
  • Gourds: sikwa (luffa), calabasa (squash), kalubay (bottle gourd), ampalaya (bitter gourd), sayote (chayote)
  • Sun-loving veggies: kamatis (tomato), okra, taong (eggplant)
  • Roots: gabi (taro)

For a complete monthly planting list, download the free planting calender here.

This list above includes links to previous growing guides. Click on one of bold vegetable categories above to see my specific guides for squashes, leafy vegetables and more.

This past March, I introduced techniques like crop rotation. In that post, I explained how plants are grouped by their similar cultivation needs. Crop rotation is about enhancing plant compatibility.

Plant Incompatibility is when you place two vegetable groups with drastically different watering, sun, or soil requirements next to each other. Problems can occur. You may see stunted growth, leaf diseases from mineral deficiencies, mold, or pest infestations.

For more details, check out March: Food x Flower Gardens.

Below are some sample designs that integrate crop rotation groups and outdoor seating areas (Photos 1 to 3). The sample planting arrangements can be applied to home or school gardens. Each design features raised beds and plots with particular vegetable groupings. You’ll also notice pollinator attractants like cosmos and pest repellents like lemongrass.

A combination of Crop rotation groups, pollinator attractants and insect repellents ensure:

  • fertile soil (full of minerals and nutrients for healthy vegetables)
  • weed control, and
  • pest control
Photo 1. Design A

Leafy Vegetables & Onions
Combinations of repolyo (cabbage), cauliflower, pechay, and mustasa (mustard) are featured in all three designs. They all benefit from weekly watering and deep, fertilized soil. Remember you don’t need to grow all types of leafy vegetables in one space. You can combine 2 options like cauliflower and pechay.

Leafy vegetables and onions are commonly grown together (Photo 1 & 2). The members of the Onion family such as garlic and large white onions repel pests (like aphids and beetles) that can harm leafy vegetables.

Gourds like sikwa (luffa), calabasa (squash), kalubay (bottle gourd), ampalaya (bitter gourd), sayote (chayote) really thrive in compost-rich soil and mulch. When they grow together, you can easily monitor their leaves. Gourds require ventilation and trellising to prevent mould on the leaves and vegetables. When they are in the same garden section, you can gently tie their long vines to a trellis, net, arbor, pergola (Photo 1 & 3). For instance, in Healing Present’s farm, we’ve grown sayote with ampalaya on the same trellis.

Photo 2. Design B

Sun-loving veggies
Kamatis (tomato), okra, and taong (eggplant) can be grouped together as well (Photos 1 to 3). All three of these vegetables need plenty of water, sun exposure, heat and well-draining soil. They also need lots of nitrogen in their soil.

Photo 3. Design C

Different cultivars of gabi/taro (Colocasia esculenta) can grown near edges of ponds or swampy areas. If you include these root crops in shallow ponds make sure the roots are planted in soil (Photos 1 to 3). They do not have floating roots. In some parts of the Philippines, gabi is combined with other species of taros like Xanthosoma sagittifolium, giant taro (Alocasia macrorrhiza), and swamp taro (Cyrtosperma chamissonis).

I hope this intro to plant compatibility and crop rotation inspires you to explore new gardening techniques. Be that new seedling…so full of potential and optimism. Who knows? This month you may find a technique that boosts your garden’s growth. Green fingers crossed.

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Uphill Garden Solutions

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu

When you drive through Healing Present’s farm gate, you’ll immediately notice sets of stone stairways and terraced gardens (Photo 1). A lush mix of vines, fruit trees, ferns, kitchen gardens and other tropical vegetation grow on these multi-level gardens. The mosaic and terrazo stone steps lead to a payag and guest houses (Photo 2). Each house door opens to a terrace with greenery, lounges and café tables (Photo 3).

Today’s terraced garden is a far cry from its original landscape. Before the outdoor lounging areas, stairs and gardens, the area was rough, steep terrain. The hill was originally embedded with large boulders, some ferns, and weeds.

Photo 1. Multi-level terraced garden in Healing Present with series of vegetable gardens, fruit trees, ferns and stone wall edging.
Photo 2. High stone retaining walls and mosaic tile stairways in Healimg Present.

The hillside was completely transformed with retaining walls, stairs and terraces. The terrace edging and steps were constructed were stones and soil directly from the property (Photo 2 & 3). This reduced costs and the volume of raw materials transported into the farm.

Photo 3. Comfortable lounging & play areas in flat areas of Healing Present’s terraces.

In general, terraced gardening is an effective way to transform a steep, eroding hillside. With terraces, the steep angle can become an easy-to-maintain garden with multiple levels of flat spaces. Then, you don’t need to worry about falling debris, mini landslides, or tripping down a dangerous slope.

If you have a slope or hilly area you’re trying to transform, here are some encouraging reminders:

1. Retaining walls can be customizable, affordable and made of local materials. In my travels, I’ve seen creative retaining walls made from locally sourced materials like:

  • limestone,
  • recycled plastic bottle bricks,
  • concrete,
  • quartz,
  • pruned tree trunks,
  • scrap lumber,
  • adobe clay,
  • old tires, and
  • bamboo

Make sure you use durable materials that suit your site conditions. In Healing Present, we are prone to termite infestations, so we don’t use wood for our retaining walls.

2. Always consult an engineer to determine the slope of your hill. They will help you determine how much material you need to form the steps, garden beds, retaining walls and edging for your terraces.

3. Your sloped garden is unique to the characteristics of your hillside. Consider your soil type, water drainage, and hill angles.

4. You will also have to determine how much weight your terrace to hold. This will help determine your construction materials and stairway style. This will also help you identify the appropriate depth, width and height of your terraces.

5. Make sure your terraces suit you and your visitors. If you have elderly visitors or children, create stairs with railings and other safeguards. Add features that appeal to you and your visitors. When you create more flat areas and multiple levels in your terraced garden, you can plant more themed decorative gardens vegetable beds, play areas or even water features.

Below are 3 different terrace garden concepts I made for you (Photo 4 to 6). They have different features to inspire you.

Photo 4. Vibrant, edible fragrant garden beds wth multiple stairways & a central landing.
Photo 5. A limited variety of plants for a calmer, unified aesthetic with two main terrace levels connected by small set of stairs. Bottom level has seating built into terrace edging.
Photo 6. A formal, low-maintenance decorative border garden with central, open terraces.

When you find the best solution for difficult terrain like a steep slope, it’s incredibly rewarding. Make sure you take the time to plan your sloped landscape. Hasty decisions can make wasteful results like worsened soil erosion. So enjoy the uphill planning process to your hillside solutions.

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