THAT is nothing but monsoon rains. Ulang tikatik. Millennials call it “ulang matanda“. Why? It is weak. It lasts for days. It seems not to have an end. I say, “In that case, I am not yet old. Not yet a senior citizen.” 

“Millennior,” my friend quips. A millennial citizen who is above 60, that is. 

Oh well, I love these monsoon rains. It gives me so much time to do other tasks than watering the plants.  It allows me a lot of room to think of what else to add to our borrowed space for a food forest. It just allows me to relax a little more, seeing to it that other aspects of transforming our borrowed space into something thriving are in place and done in the proper perspective and pace. It also expands my network of acquaintances as we have ample time to leave the garden for other important tasks to do. 

It used to be limiting when we had to tend to plants and their needs to survive. Water is very essential, as well as soil nutrients and exposure to the sun. Having the rains almost daily (or nightly) takes away one-third of the tasks on the farmer’s yoke. So the other two-thirds can be given more attention. 

Some readings tell us that while we aim to give plants the best nutrients they need through the soil and water, we also have other options for nourishment. 

One of these is seeing to it that we include natural nitrogen-fixing agents in the garden. The simplest is to plant trees, crops and weeds that are known for nitrogen-fixing. Some of these are native trees like narra and ipil or leguminous crops like peanuts and beans.  

My Kuya used to tell me that we did not have to plant peanuts and harvest them either. He also tells me of a rich farmer who sprinkles tons of monggo in his rice fields just before transplanting rice. The mung beans are not for harvesting. These are plowed back into the paddies as fertilizers.  A copycat, we planted some peanuts, a handful of monggo and round-the-clock cropping of various types of beans, including kardis or kadyos. We never harvested peanuts. Neither with beans nor kardis. We are happy though that our other crops got healthier. 

We also planted four narra and true ipil trees. Thank God they’re native species. Besides being windbreakers, these are also nitrogen-fixers and their leaves fall as thick mulch that naturally provides nutrients to the sandy soil. 

With these native trees, we were told that we are also planting the rain deep into the ground.  It is actually two-way because with trees, natural precipitation occurs and in layman’s terms, this is rain.  

How soon can we achieve the trees bringing us more rain? Well, we are not scientists but it does not matter if we cannot tell when. What matters is that we have started the long process of planting the rain, the quality of which depends on what trees we have sown. 

We go for native trees, not discounting that other non-native trees also help us realize our dream food forest. 

Counting what we have now elicits pride in what we do. We have almost 50 different native trees in our care. Some have been there before us. Most were given to us as gifts for a tedious but enjoyable service that we offer.  We do not care much if these are edible or not, because we have been tending some that bear edible fruits, tops and flowers. What we care for now is that these trees provide food for insects, birds and other wildlife. Pollinator attractant, bird sanctuary, reptile friendly.  These are somewhat new concepts to us. Now we feel that we care for more, not just for our own food. Since we are raising farm animals, we also want to plant those that do not hurt the chickens, ducks, cats and dogs.  We even plant for ruminants that we do not own in our mind. So we also plant Napier, Madre de Agua, maiz and bird seed for these animals.  For now, a big chunk of our farm budget goes to animal food. Our aim is to plant for these loveable pets too. 

The sun can be very hurtful to our crops when it does not rain.  So we want some trees swaying above some crops to shield them from scalding or the scorching sun. For these we want more malunggay, some vines on trellises and some other trees like bamboo. It will be much cooler, yet the sun can still see through the leaves. 

We still get some mulch and green manure to enrich our soil, in the meantime that our space is not yet that rich. We also allow our chickens to roam around for their droppings. We noticed though that it is much easier to grow vegetable crops than two years ago. 

We have always failed to grow malunggay from cuttings before. Now, we just stab the soil with the trunk or branch and leaves would start to sprout. Even our papayas and bananas do not wilt any longer. We are able to grow mulberry, sineguelas and Madre de Agua from cuttings as well. Growing Himbabao and Madre  de Cacao remains a challenge, though. 

Detoxifying the land of toxic heavy metals also helps. This is where one of our native trees comes in. Matanghipon, a native small tree, absorbs nickel from the soil. Nickel causes stunting of plants, according to a plant book we browsed one time.  This explains why our pechay plants were small two years ago when we only had one matanghipon in the vicinity. Now that we have more from wildlings left to grow, we expect healthier pechay soon. Wait, we have to sow our seeds to realize this. 

Our weekly tree-planting events at Daang Kalikasan in Mangatarem, Pangasinan rewards us with more native tree species, but more importantly we have been learning a lot from fellow native tree enthusiasts.