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
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.
With Healing Present and other landscape design clients in Cebu, I use agroforestry practices. Agroforestry is a set of sustainable land management strategies practiced globally. These land management practices take many forms and integrate existing and accepted types of farming. In Healing Present, I chose agroforestry as a design approach for their crop systems and forest rehabilitation projects. This design approach met their preferences for organic cultivation and environmental stewardship. If successful, agroforestry can achieve goals that are important to me, my clients and maybe you too. These goals include:
increase organic crop productivity
restore and conserve local native plant and wildlife biodiversity
Don’t worry if these terms are new to you. Below is an example of how these strategies are combined in a landscape.
As you can see Photo 1, three main components are included in this agroforestry system. The shorter perennial food and medicinal crops occupy the central food gardens. Then the outer layers are taller fruit trees and native habitat species. If site conditions were favorable, you could even grow some of those shorter perennial species under the tree canopy. The vegetation strip with native trees serves as natural erosion control. Th trees’ roots stabilize the soil and reduce major landslides. In practice, these species are not frequently managed. Instead, they are monitored monthly and designated as a biodiversity corridor.
Less visits from the farm crew and others humans allow shy wildlife to feel safer in a new biodiversity corridor. The native species also:
increase the land’s soil fertility,
provide nutrient-rich mulch layers
regulate nitrogen cycles, and
support local food pollinators.
The staggered rows of fruit trees are both windbreak and living fences. This means some species protect crops, farm facilities and local wildlife from storm damage and high winds. As a living fence, a group of the fruit trees demarcate property boundaries. The fruit species are situated closer to the central food gardens. They are seasonally harvested for personal and commercial use. The central food gardens are cultivated and managed daily. Other examples of agroforestry systems include the following combos:
Sample 3. Shade tolerant herbs and yams with Sun-loving Native tree species like Talisay, Molave and Narra
The planting design must reflect your site conditions, harvest needs and environmental goals. For instance, Sample 1 is full of species for food harvests, soil improvement, and windbreaks. Sample 2 is great for food harvest, medicinal uses, and living fencing. Sample 3 can provide erosion control, food harvests, habitat restoration, and soil improvement.
I also practice agroforestry because the methods aim to address Philippines’ major environmental crises. Many agroforestry practitioners in the Pacific and Southeast Asia recognize biodiversity conservation needs to be integrated into agricultural landscapes. This action reduces the direct pressure agriculture can play when practiced with destructive land conversion, chemical-based fertilization, and crop cultivation that depletes soil. Through my environmental studies and research in Cebu, I learned we need biodiversity preservation and ecological health. We also need food systems that safeguard biodiversity and the sustainable use of our natural resources. Beyond human needs, the indigenous wildlife of greater Luzon, Mindoro, western Visasays, Mindanao and Sulu have suffered species losses from weakly managed wildlife reserves.
Unsustainable agriculture and biodiversity loss directly impact our economic health. Millions of Filipinos depend on the services and biological products of functioning forests and ecosystems. Without functioning forests, coastal storm buffers, fertile soil, and healthy watersheds, we are susceptible to natural disasters, commercial market instability, widespread malnutrition and a degraded water supply. Cebuanos know all too well, the price we pay for rapid, exploitative urbanization, massive deforestation, and coastal degradation.
It’s no wonder, agroforestry is selected as a land management approach in the Philippines.
If practiced successfully, agroforestry can increase harvest yields, improve soil fertility, restore habitats, and protect watersheds from agricultural chemicals. Indeed, agroforests can’t substitute well-preserved natural ecosystems. And it’s certainly not a panacea. But perhaps it’s a step in a beneficial direction.
In Healing Present’s Edible Buffet garden, children planted herbs, veggies and flowers. This interplanting method was readily used. With this type of planting scheme, you too can build simple and fun children’s gardens. If you’re a teacher in an outdoor classroom, you can have a steady harvest of edible plants for scrumptious meals with garden-based activities. Your classes’ flowers primarily attract beneficial insects that help your veggies and herbs grow. As you learn what grows well in your area encourage students to experiment every season. Add new varieties. Ask your students to record and journal what plant varieties were bountiful. Your garden can change every season so why not keep it thriving and buzzing with engaged students and blooming food. Below are more tips and insights to building educational and productive raised bed gardens.
When I’m designing and growing raised bed gardens in outdoor classrooms, students love combining flowers and edible crops. Some projects allow a more collaborative garden planning process with students. This is a key teaching method for student involvement and project engagement. When we plan together, we invite inspiration and
list down student’s favorite meals,
browse through inspiring online art and illustration websites
peruse seed catalogs or
visit botanical gardens to brainstorm the best and most meaningful plant selection.
In this collaborative, student-centered method, students determine what grows in the garden. They help direct the artistic and scientific investigation in their outdoor classroom. Through their involvement, I want the students to care and feel connected to the garden. As they contribute planning input, they may engage more with fellow students and their lessons. If they grow vegetables and herbs they recognize from their favorite meals and snacks, they may feel more invested.
I also want them to incorporate flowers they remember from past vacations or field trips. Memories of food and exciting field trips reinforces continuity between old and new concepts.
As a teacher and designer, I sometimes wish we could grow and build everything our students want. But that’s not always possible. At best, we can grow a simple cross section of our student’s requests. Thankfully, simplicity can breed focus and innovation.
Many new garden-based teachers ask themselves what grows well together? What plants are easy to grow?
Well there are a multitude of approaches and answers to these questions. One method I favor is organic, chemical-free interplanting. It’s a safe and fun way to interplant a combo of flowers, herbs and vegetables with students.
Here are some planting combinations our team has planted in the Eastern US, California, and Healing Present:
cluster of large wooden barrels planted with masses of bokchoy and napa cabbage were interplanted with dill. Separate raised beds of sunflowers were installed beside the bok choy and napa cabbage
Raised beds with Rows of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage interplanted with marigolds. At the edge of each row, Queens’s Anne’s lace, lamb’s quarters, golden rod
Paths lined with dwarf bean varieties; every fourth bean plant was combined with zinnias and tansies
Whether in class or at home, choose a raised bed that suits you or the end user. Be it students, your family, or fellow community members. Match the raised bed to the specific needs of your end users. Who’s primarily gardening in the garden? You? Taller, Adult students? Younger, shorter students? Visitors with specific mobility needs? When you’re planning, take the time to investigate raised bed products or build custom raised beds. In Healing Present, different raised beds and container gardens that serve various visitors, farmers’ needs and the requirements of our clay, rocky soil. Photo 1C shows raised beds that accommodate visitors with wheelchairs and limited mobility in their backs. Photo 2 shows my designs for seated planters. These suit gardeners who’d prefer or need to physically sit while taking care of plants.
Choose or design raised beds with features that accommodate the height of your students. Photo 3 displays a variety of planting combos and raised bed materials. Photo 3A shows a raised bed with a durable, plastic basket weave frame. Inside, you can plant flowers like Iris and purslane and vegetables like purple camote (sweet potato) and munggos (mung bean).
In Photo 1, Healing Present use small containers, coconut shells and green roofs to substitute our site’s ground is naturally rocky and heavy soil. So we can’t directly plant in the ground all the time. Sometimes our vegetables and herbs grow better with lighter soil with less rocks. So we give it to them in containers. In Photo 4A, you can see Healing Present bed frames are made of local fish netting in protective greenhouses. This helps our farmers increase harvest yield, improves the drainage of our rocky soil and protects the bok choy and lettuce from pests and wind. Photo 4B also shows kale thriving in a netting raised bed with lighter soil, vermicasts, and compost.
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