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.

Growing Children’s Creativity

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu

For families with children or teachers with young students, a garden can be an opportunity to create and celebrate fictional stories, characters and fantastical worlds. A garden can be reminiscent of a child’s favorite book characters, cartoon scenes, or computer game landscapes.

Children (with the aid of adults) can sketch gardens with plants, sculptures, and visual art inspired by their favorite fiction. Teachers can also use a themed garden design to engage students with new literature.

While planning, children’s garden ideas can reflect the character’s personality or a landscape depicted in their favorite book, movie, cartoon or video game. Here are some sample prompts to launch the child-designer’s brainstorm:

  • What adventures did your favorite character go through?
  • Does your favorite character have favorite colors or favorite foods?
  • In the video game, what are some amazing worlds you experience as a player?
  • Does your favorite cartoon character say funny things or do funny activities?
  • Do any of your favorite movie characters live on other planets or fantasy worlds that amaze you? Describe or draw them.

Based on the responses, you and the children can choose plants, sketch designs, plan murals, build mini sculptures, or paint quotes from literature or media. The plants can be ingredients to the characters’ favorite foods. The mural can replicate a scene from the character’s adventure. The flowers can be the favorite color of the computer game character. A character’s funny quotes can be painted in large letters across a garden fence or on the plank of a raised bed. If the child’s favorite story has notable architecture like a castle bridge, a treacherous maze, or magical doorway, you can integrate a small version of this feature in the garden. The possibilities are boundless.

As you brainstorm, be open to children’s creativity and expression. The more exciting the garden planning, the more they may feel connected to the resulting garden.

Growing up, I would have loved to grow a fruit garden adorned with art from Filipino folk tales. The legendary origins of makopa, piña, and manga would be great reference material. Or maybe I would have designed a mini terrarium inspired by Miss Honey’s cottage in Roald Dahl’s book, Matilda. Or maybe my classmates and I would have planted raised beds with pickling cucumbers in honor of Shel Silverstein’s poem Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too. We would have filled it with other edible plants you could pickle and flowering groundcovers that tickled.

Literary gardens are long-beloved destinations. Many botanical gardens around the world construct themed gardens inspired by historic literature like a Shakespearean play, a Dr. Seuss bestseller, or a classic like Alice in Wonderland.

I suggest you and your children (or students) plan a garden that directly connects to their contemporary literary or media interests. The contemporary stories may be a better channel to facilitate children’s creativity and engagement.

After the designs and brainstorming, the resultant garden can start out as a modest landscape. At the start, you can hang a gallery of framed artwork from your child’s planning process in the garden.

With more time, resources, and creativity, you may even build features from your children’s sketches. You may find the children increase their time playing and creating in the garden.

If children sustain their connection to the garden, you can further celebrate their passion for literature and storytelling. Maybe add tables for an outdoor art studio. Include a mini platform for stage plays. Perhaps more comfy seating can create calm reading nooks. As the children grow, the garden can continue to evolve and foster creativity for many years to come.

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“Gourd-geous” Garden

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu

May is all about starting those gorgeous and versatile gourds. They are relatively easy to grow and a fun project to start with your students or kids at home.

In Cebu, vining gourds like ampalaya (bittermelon), kalabasa (squash), sikwa (luffa), and kalabasang puti (aka kalubay/ bottle gourd) are hardy options.

You can cultivate one type of gourd or experiment with a combination of different gourds. The flowers, leaves and dramatic vegetable shapes are a joy to observe as they grow. And if your efforts yield large gourds, you’re guaranteed a source of pride.

Here are 7 strategies for a successful, Gourd-geous harvest:

1. Select a site with at leat 6 hours of sunshine and well-draining soil.

2. Add around 4 inches of organic matter (like compost or vermicompost) into a raised bed or large garden pot. Ideally the pot is 15 inches high and about 15 inches wide.

3. Start planting with healthy seedlings to make it easier. If you have seeds, plant them 1 inch deep and 2 feet apart. Depending on the variety, your calabasa may require more space (like 4 feet) between each seedling.

4. Apply organic fertilizer like vermicompost or compost tea to the soil at least once a month

Photo 1. A trellised kalabasa (squash) in Healing Present’s gourd garden. Nylon netting and reed poles were used as the trellis.

5. Use a trellis (Photo 1) to prop up the growing gourds and leaves. This helps ventilate your plants and prevent any rotting or moldy growth. Remember to remove any dead leaves and damaged young gourds.

6. Remove any weeds trying to compete with your young gourd plants. Use mulch like coconut fiber/coco coir, dried leaves, rice straw, rice hulls, or chopped dry palm fronds to suppress weed growth. Continue to remove weeds as your gourd plants mature.

7. Every week, water your gourd plants. Make sure the water is percolating the soil and reaching the roots. Well-draining soil absorbs the water and allows it to travel to the roots. You can provide water through a watering can, drip irrigation, soaker hose or underground ollas.

Happy Planting! And hopefully your harvest will add home-grown flavor to your delicious lunches, dinners and desserts. Check out our cookbooks for recipe ideas featuring yummy squashes and gourds.

Planting Utan Bisaya in May

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu

Happy May! It’s truly a month of PLANTiful bounty.  In May you can sow seeds or transplant seedlings of marvelous leafy greens, legumes, gourds, vining veggies and herbs. The vegetables planted in May eventually produce essential ingredients for our favorite soups, adobos, and sinigangs.

Photo 1. The colorful and textural mix of Utan Bisaya ingredients

Many of the veggies planted in May are the ingredients for a delectable soup called Utan Bisaya (Photo 1).  Friends from other Visayan regions call this delicious, hearty vegetable soup Law-uy and Laswa. What did you call it growing up? 

The soil and weather in May are warm enough to support Utan Bisaya ingredients like:

  • Taong (Eggplant)
  • Okra 
  • Kalabasa (Squash)
  • Atsal (Bell Pepper)
  • Sikwa (Luffa Gourd)
  • Sitaw (Yard Long Beans)
  • Kamatis (Tomato)
  • Alugbati (Malabar Spinach) 
  • Luy-a (Ginger)

For a complete list of May plants to cultivate in Cebu, download your planting calendar here

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Binignit Garden

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.

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