Magenta Dragon fruit in May

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu

Around May, I notice beautiful dragon fruits flowering and fruiting. Dragon fruit is grown in backyards and farms around Cebu as well as other provinces. The fruit variety with magenta, juicy flesh is featured in numerous recipes in Healing Present’s Divine Sweets & Treats cookbook. Ice creams, sorbets, juices and jams other treats are enriched by dragon fruits sweet and refreshing flavor.

Each chapter in our cook book bursts with unique recipes for tasty treats (Photo 1) like :

  • Dragon Creamsicle
  • Berry Dragon Mousse
  • Dark Dragon BonBon
  • Dragon Fruity Pizzeta
Photo 1. Clockwise from Top-Right: Dragon Fruity Pizzeta; Dragon Creamsicle; Dark Dragon BonBon; Berry Dragon Mousse

Before dragon fruit can flavor amazing desserts and snacks, this beautiful night-blooming cactus leads an exciting life as a plant. If you’re interested in growing your own dragon fruit, here are 5 techniques for successful cultivation.

1) Seedling or Cutting. For beginner gardeners, select a young dragon fruit seedling with established roots. If you’d like to grow your own dragon fruit roots, I recommend using a foot-long cactus stem cutting. The cutting should come from a healthy dragon fruit mother plant. Make sure your cutting is dried for about 2-5 days. Once the cutting’s tips are white, you can insert it in a large 2-foot diameter pot or directly in your garden plot.

2) Sun & Sand. Like many other cacti, dragon fruits like sun and sand. That means dragon fruits are sensitive to overshading and overwatering.

Dragon fruit roots prefer sandy, well-draining soil. So only irrigate or water when the top of the soil is completely dry. Add vermicompost to increase the soil’s  nutrient richness. 

Make sure your dragon fruit is in direct sunlight. Without daily sun exposure, you may not produce fruits. 

3) Supports & Props. You can prop up your dragon fruit with a trellis, fence or pole. They can be made of simple bamboo poles, metal frames or even concrete posts. A support structure will allow the branches to hang down in an umbrella-shaped canopy. This will facilitate more budding, flowering, and fruiting.

4) Prune for Shoots. Prune your dragon fruit often to maintain the umbrella canopy. Pruning is also recommended after you harvest fruits since it triggers new cactus shoots.

5) Pest control. Dragon fruits can attract a variety of insect pests. Monitor your dragon fruit regularly. Once you see any pests like ants, aphids, mites, or beetles, spray them with a stong jet of water. The force of the water spray should remove them effectively. Make sure pruning tools are always clean. Dirty tools with pests sitting on the blades can unintentionally spread pests to your plants.

Binignit Garden

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu

For many in Cebu, April is a time for family meals, Binignit, and Easter festivities. It’s also a great month to start planning a Binignit Garden.

Binignit (Photo 1) is a hearty, delectable dessert that features sweet root crops and fruits. Gabi (taro), camote, ube, cassava, kardaba bananas, landang, and nangka (jackfruit) are some of the natural sweeteners of Binignit. My extended family in Cebu proudly served delicious, homemade binignit during Holy Week meals. Honestly, outside of Easter, binignit is an eagerly welcomed dessert at any office party, birthday, or special celebration.

Planning & Growing a Binignit Garden

If your garden or farm has moist soil or a water body (like a pond), this can be a great site to plant some of the water-loving ingredients in Binignit. If you start planning in April, you’ll have time to gather healthy planting material like gabi roots and cassava cuttings. You can also prepare any soil amendments like vermicompost or mulch. With ample time for preparation, planting can start in May. You can design a waterside garden with gabi, ube, cassava, and camote. These sweet root crops adapt to partial and full sun exposure.

In portions of your garden with more well-draining soil, you can grow other Binignit-themed plants like nangka, kardaba, buli palm (aka landang tree). As these trees mature and grow taller, they can provide partial shade to the low-growing root crops. If you need ideas for more shade-providing agroforestry trees, check out “A for Agroforestry”.

Here are some more tips for your Binignit garden:

Photo 1. (Clockwise from top left) Binignit, gabi, kardaba, ube, landang, cassava

Gabi (aka taro) thrives in partial sun with constant soil moisture. In Cebu, you can plant gabi from May to July. Gabi prefers a waterside garden, pond border or site with wet soil. Make sure the soil is fertile. If your soil needs nutrients, amend it with vermicompost. You can plant the entire root or small sections of the gabi root. I like to plant gabi 5 inches deep. Then I cover the root with about about 2 inches of soil. If you have multiple root sections, you can arrange them 2 feet apart so they have room to flourish. Make sure to regularly remove weeds that compete for space and nutrients. They can ruin the development of young gabi.

Ube is another bountiful addition to your waterside Binignit garden. Like gabi, it loves the constant moisture and fertile, composted soil. I like to add mulch over the soil to increase organic matter and suppress weeds. You can mulch with dried leaves from surrounding trees, old palm leaves, or rice hulls. You can also adorn your waterside garden with decorative trellises to lift the trailing ube vines.

Cassava can be planted from May to June. Unlike gabi and ube planting methods, I plant cassava from cuttings. Cassavas thrive in a wide range of soils including moist soil. So they can accompany your ube and gabi. Ensure cassava is surrounded with at least 3 feet of space. They also enjoy full sun exposure cutting. If you’d like tips on growing camote, check out “Camote, February’s Featured Crop”.

Hope you enjoy your Binignit this weekend and Happy Planting!

April’s Dessert Garden

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu

April is the perfect time to add dessert plants to your garden. These dessert plants are excellent flavors for ice creams, delicious smoothies, healing teas, favorite soups or other comforting dishes (Photo 2 and 3).

For April, I suggest a dessert garden planted with acerola, makrut lime, gumamela (hibiscus), luy-a (ginger), and turmeric. (Photo 1)

Photo 1. (Clockwise from Top Right) Acerola cherries; gumamela; harvest mix; makrut lime; turmeric & ginger

If you’d like to add some April savory ingredients, plant sayote, atsal (bell pepper), chili pepper, or repolyo (cabbage).

If you need more garden inspiration for April check out these past articles and my Cebu planting calendar:

Want some exciting dessert recipe ideas? Go to our Cookbook Store. We feature recipes for: Marang Acerola Ice Cream, Gingered Avocado Ice Cream Gingered, Pili Pineapple Ice Cream, Acerola Aloe Custard and sweet smoothies (Photo 2 and 3).

Photo 2. Assorted Acerola-flavored desserts from Healing Present cookbooks.
Photo 3. Original smoothies using April’s dessert garden plants; recipes in Healing Present’s cookbooks.
April Planting Advice

Here are some cultivation tips for turmeric, ginger, makrut lime, and acerola.

Acerola and Limes. Acerola and makrut limes are beautiful fruit shrubs that bloom almost year paths. They are both perfect in containers or planted directly well-draining, composted soil. They thrive in full sun exposure.

To produce more fruit, we like to prune the limes and acerolas so they remain short. Ideally, they stay 3 or 4 feet tall with lateral branches. Abundant fruit harvest on on the lower branches are easier to pick.

When I prune, I remove some upward growth tips near the top of the main stem. This ensures lower branches grow outward and horizontally. Pruning also trains the buds, flowers and fruit to grow on the lower portions of the shrub.

Ginger and Turmeric. These versatile gems thrive in partial sun exposure. The garden site should be well-draining, composted, and protected from strong winds. In the farm, they are shaded by fruit shrubs or fruit trees.

I like to get my ginger and turmeric root sections from other gardeners, official seed suppliers, or plant nurseries. Sometimes, if you use kitchen leftovers or roots from a grocery store, they may be sprayed with growth inhibitors. This affects its root growth when transfered to your garden.

If you still want to experiment with the common grocery store ginger or turmeric, soak them in water overnight. This may remove the commercial spray residue.

Ensure your ginger and turmeric roots are plump and healthy. Don’t plant any shriveled root sections. The root section should have well-developed buds (aka “eyes”). If you cut the ginger root section into smaller pieces, make sure the sliced area is calloused. To callous, dry the section for at least 24 hours. When I plant the root sections, the growth buds (or “eyes”) are pointed upwards. I cover them with 1-3 inches of soil.

Water well after planting. Regularly monitor your soil. The soil should be absorbing the water. Ginger and Turmeric roots rot easily in waterlogged, soggy soil with stagnant pools of moisture.