Atis: The Ice Cream growing on Trees

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu

This September, atis is available at most fruit markets around the Philippines. I know most people associate atis with its custardy consistency. But I like to freeze fresh atis. Scooping out the smooth, creamy sweetness of frozen atis is second to none.

As farmers harvest ripe atis fruits, the trees continue to sprout new shoots. New atis leaves unfurl. Young fruits ripen till the next harvest (Photo 1). Under the best conditions, atis carry on  producing fruits from July to late November. Since September is part of the dry season, farmers continue to water and fertilize these precious ice cream trees.

Photo 1. Atis fruit maturing in the Healing Present agroforest. (Photo by S. Suson)

In celebration of Atis, I’ll share some cultivation tips (Photo 2):

  • Atis seedlings thrive in open, sunny spots with well-draining environments like limestone-based soils. Choose an areas with any obstructions like nearby buildings or powerlines (Photo 2). If an atis tree’s roots are crowded, obstructed, or rotting in wet soils, you will not produce healthy fruits. So be sure to give atis trees ample space and well-draining soil.
Photo 2. Main cultivation techniques for Atis tree
  • Make sure to weed around your atis trees. Ideally, 3 feet around the atis trunk should be weed-free (Photo 2).. Weeds include crab grass and common herbaceous growth around trees.
  • Atis don’t like competition from small weeds or other trees. Give at least 15 feet between atis and it’s neighboring trees (Photo 2). Many agroforests grow atis with mango trees and vegetable gardens. If you choose this mixed-crop planting technique, be sure to provide adequate spacing.
  • A 4-inch layer of vermicompost can be added around the base of the atis trunk (Photo 2). You can spread the layer 5 inches away from the trunk.
  • Atis trees are also periodically pruned to 8-12 foot high. If the grow taller, they may not get adequate air ventelation and sunlight throughout their branches (Photo 2).
  • Atis fruits are considered ripe when the segments on their greenish skin turn creamy-yellow. If they ripen on the tree, local birds and bats feast on the delicious fruit (Photo 3).  Sometimes, overmature fruits burst while attached to the branch.
Photo 3. Damaged, overmature atis may have burst or been partially eaten by a bat
(Photo by S. Suson)

Thanks for reading about my appreciation for Nature’s ice cream trees. Enjoy the rest of your week. And I hope you get to sweeten your weekend with some fresh atis.

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.

Starter Citrus Garden

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu

In a previous article, Bees and Belonging, I suggested a ‘Citrus Home Garden’ as a potential design for a beautiful pollinator garden. The Citrus Home Garden featured fragrant potted dwarf citrus trees that provide delicious fruits and nourished native butterflies and stingless bees.

In this post, I’ll provide growing recommendations for dwarf citrus varieties that are easy to grow.

1. Starter Citrus. Limonsito (calamansi), Makrut Lime, and Kumquat are great for beginner gardeners (Photo 1). Dwarf varieties can be placed in containers and easier to manage.

Photo 1. (Clockwise from top right) Kumquat; Variegated Limonsito; Makrut Lime

They also require less space. In general, they can grow to 6 feet and can be easily pruned. The best part is that your shorter citrus produce fruits with the same size and flavor as their standard, taller counterparts. Nothing is sacrificed. Dwarf lime, limonsito, and other dwarf varieties also produce the same leaves, flowers, and signature aromas.

2. Well-lit Location. Dwarf citrus can easily adorn a small apartment patio, balcony, terrace, or cozy backyard. They just need a well-ventilated space with at least 6 hours of sunshine.

3. Cozy Container. I like to plant young, dwarf-citrus tree saplings in a 1-foot diameter pot. As the mature, I transfer them to containers that 2 feet wide around 20 inches tall. Light-weight containers made of resin or fiberglass with ample drainage are great choices. Store a mini cart or platform with wheels in your tool shed. With this, you can easily move your container plants when re-decorating or re-arranging your garden.

4. Soil Mix Savvy. If you’ve read my previous articles, you’ll notice I usually recommend “well-draining soil”. Same goes for citrus trees in pots. They thrive in soil that absorbs the water well. Their roots suffer in soggy soil that lacks drainage. In general, I mix garden soil with vermicompost to make sure the citrus trees have enough micronutrients. You can also choose a special organic fertilizer that may be available in the plant nursery.

If all goes well and you’ve successfully cared for your citrus garden, you can expect amazing fruits and fragrant blossoms for the pollinators (Photo 1):

  • Limonsito (calamansi) can produce bright yellow, green or orange fruits. Their leaves can be glossy green or variegated with white pigment (Photo 1). Limonsito is a common flavor in the Philippines. In any Filipino kitchen or restaurant menu, limonsito juice is squeezed into sauces, entrees, dessert drinks, herbal teas, and more.
  • Makrut lime trees produce aromatic leaves perfect for soups and curries. The limes are wrinkled and bumpy with a thick, zesty rind. The rind can be grated into your favorite noodle and stir-fry meals as well.
  • Kumquats are tangy fruit snacks to pop in your mouth. They also make perfect jams and marmalades. The entire fruit, including the thin skin, is edible.

Who knows? After a few years of successful harvests and feeling confident with these easygoing citrus varieties, you may want to venture into more demanding citrus trees like pomelo and mandarin.

Related Articles with Citrus Trees

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, makrutlime, 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 kaffir 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.