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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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.

June’s Easy Leafy Greens

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish:Cebu

June is a great time to plant fool-proof leafy greens like mustasa, petsay, and spinach. In Cebu, these are leafy greens are essential ingredients in delicious stir-fries, pickled side dishes, adobos, fish entrees, chicken stews, and more.

Luckily, mustasa (mustard greens), petsay (pechay) and spinach have similar growing requirements. In Healing Present, we like to plant rows of these veggies in the same area. Here are some quick reminders to help you start your own leafy green garden plot:

  • Prepare a raised bed or pot of well-draining soil. Amend your soil with vermicast, compost, or rice hulls to increase the nutrient content. Some gardeners make a special mix with all three of these amendments. Spread a layer of leafy green seeds over the soil. Then, cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil.
  • Water the seeds thoroughly. As they grow, increase the frequency of watering to 3 times a week.
  • Regularly check the garden for any hungry insect pests or invasive weeds. Be sure to remove them. For added protection, you can make a permeable, rectangular tent to protect the seeds. The tent can be made of shade netting to repel any pests. It can also shade young seedlings. As the seedlings grow, you can remove the tent to increase light exposure.
  • In Healing Present, we make the rectangular frame for the tent. All sides except the bottom of the frame are covered in green or white shade netting. The frame is simply made of dried reeds, bamboo, or wood.

Happy June gardening! Remember to stay on schedule and get your own Cebu planting calendar here.

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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, care 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 pvc pipes, metal frames or even concrete. 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.