TWO weeks ago, we were discussing how we made little square and rectangular sunken garden plots to conserve water, prevent soil nutrients from escaping the plots and see how the Three-sisters method would work in a sandy hot garden like ours at The Happy Scion. We also talked about a discovery that a layer of gravel lies a few inches from a layer of topsoil we have been enriching with mulch and other soil amendments.
I left the garden, literally, as soon as we were through sowing new seeds of beans and okra, and new camote cuttings just planted on the plots almost simultaneously. Okra seedlings were then struggling out of the soil surface, beans had also begun to sprout and the camote cuttings were showing signs they were thriving despite some leaf scalding. It was a fine feeling leaving the garden that way. Well, it may not be as successful as some two months ago when we tried sunken plots the first time. It was raining almost daily so we did not have to sprinkle the plots with anything but some potassium bath. It will be a different thing with four consecutive dry days now. La Niña may be bidding us goodbye soon.
Allowing squash to ripen on the shelf
Squash thrown in some holes also germinated in time. These may need some thinning because we did not expect every seed would germinate. Some of these appeared very flat and we suspected that the kalabasa I got on my way home was not matured enough to give us beautiful seeds for sowing. We can always be wrong in our presumptuous ways as new farmers.
This is actually a little experiment on seed-sowing. We used to have stored squash seeds and oftentimes we find the seeds have “expired” and thus fail to germinate. We tried storing the squash with the seeds and flesh intact inside the woody skin. “Pinaluom” or in our language, “impaluto” for about three months.
Ñanay kept asking why I was not cooking my squash.
“It will trigger arthritis,” I would simply answer. We could not tell her that we were trying to give our seeds some time to rest. Ñanay would always tell us to give seeds a rest period of around two months. Everytime we had papaya, or a drying pod of beans and peas, she would tell us about giving each seed its rest period.
Again, our experiment with squash may take some time to prove whether we succeeded or failed. We are as curious as always and we shall keep an eye on this.
It is our first time to nurture native trees in our space. We have allowed “queer-looking weeds” to grow into beautiful small trees that turned out to be native in the country and are truly coastal forest covers elsewhere in the archipelago. Our colleagues have identified native coastal trees matang-hipon, siar, Alim, binunga, anabiong, talisay or salaysay malabago, narra, bangkal or bulala, alagaw or agdaw, ar-arusep or ayusep, Madre cacao and banaba to be in our space or at a 100-meter diameter from us. Having been sown by bats, birds, insects, animals and the wind, these forest trees serve as pioneers in our neighborhood. Our space used to be a wasted grassland with cogon as a prominent ground cover. Looking closely, though, there were catnip, and other weeds with tiny dainty flowers. Low-flying birds and bees forage on these and appear happy too.
Now we are altering its vegetation, planting the cogon-filled space with cassava, lemon grass and other crops, experimenting on each type of crop until we find out what to plant without exerting much effort watering each time the rains abandon us.
Done with such lamentations over our failures, we decided to plant trees while we had the rains.
Again, what trees were we going to plant? We already had a lot of Asian acacia and neem, one gmelina and one Narra.
We have started growing fruit trees while conceptualizing a beach-line food forest.
It was timely that a group of native tree enthusiasts visited us after our landlord asked for some native tree seeds. That was when we started to sow balitbitan, supa and bani seeds, which sounded foreign to us. So we had outplanted these in August last year, when the rainy season suddenly stopped and we bade our first native tree seedlings “good luck!”
Companion planting for native trees
From readings we learned that planting trees alongside vegetables is way beneficial giving the trees lush ground cover and the crops, a canopy that protects these from the sun and heavy downpour. Such a symbiotic relationship in the plant kingdom. Again, the haunting question: what trees, what crops?
We had decided on planting native trees and heirloom crops earlier on. It is just what to plant and when to plant it, that we wanted to experiment on.
So we are now collecting seedlings as we have been doing when we first embarked on our beach-line food forest. This time, it has to be native Philippine trees on the top of the list, although we still accept all that come along. Zoning may spell the difference.
(First of two parts)