EXPERIENCE tells us that indeed a good soil quality, ample water and sun exposure are important factors for our select seeds to grow and yield.
Since we are not seasoned farmers to start with, we had a lot of gardening woes here and there and these failures have led us to try and experiment on so many things. Add to this some insights from other gardeners who readily offer expert opinions on socmed platforms. All we have to do is to try and test it on our own garden.
Two or three months ago we started our experimental sunken plots. We dug square pits about one foot deep on the ground or as soon as the clean bluish wet sand showed, we dumped fresh leaves and twigs inside, covered these with ordinary soil taken out of the small pit, then dumped again dry leaves and twigs and covered these with the top soil previously taken. The plots were then watered extensively or allowed to stand for one day on a rainy day.
We then sowed okra and beans and as soon as these sprouted, we added camote vines. The combination is an adaptation of the three-sister method, which has corn, beans and squash as companion crops.
Okra will grow tall. It will provide a vertical structure on which the beans may climb. Beans, bush or vine, provide nitrogen-fixing bacteria to balance the carbon nitrogen content of the soil. Camote will act as ground cover as it creeps low on the ground. It will make the soil cooler and more moist.
It is our first time to do this type of plots, sunken to allow water to stay on the plot and not spread into the space between two elevated plots. It has been raining since we did this experiment so we cannot tell yet how effective it is in water conservation.
Its viability may not be questioned because we produce robust beans and camote. At least we can now harvest camote tops every other day and the sitaw gives us three to five pods daily. Okra yield averages five daily because not all the seeds sown grew to be beautiful plants. Some appear stunted. Others are tall and thin.
We can wait for the next cropping season to change the companion plants. Or we can sow another batch of sitaw as the first crop has started to wilt. We can also test if the camote has yielded underground tubers, despite thrice weekly harvest of tops. The okra can continue to bear fruits as long as these do not dry up.
On another portion of the borrowed property where we just harvested cassava, we also tried to dig small canals. Underneath the heavily mulched topsoil, is a thick layer of gravel and stones the size of potatoes. We had to dig deeper to get these out of the canal. Next we piled garden sweepings of fallen tree leaves, flowers, pods and fruits, including seeds that have started to germinate. Left there to rot in the incessant rains, the biodegradable wastes will also feed chickens and ducks with small ground creatures that thrive on rotting matters. To my surprise, the chickens and ducks have turned the pile for us, mixing it with some soil piled on the side in the natural process of scratching and foraging for worms and small snails. We had dug three of these one by one by eight feet canals. After the chickens have turned the pile, fresh leaves will again be dumped and topsoil added to cover.
These will be planted with a row each of okra, beans and squash. We lost our corn seeds partly to the ducks, but more to poor soil and the erratic downpour.
The same area used to have camote and eggplants in summer. It was then too hot so we did not get a good harvest. We then planted it to cassava, but the little whirlwind overran the crops in July. In both cropping, we did the conventional raised beds so that we did not know that a layer of gravel was heating the plots from underneath. Water evaporated very quickly and the leaves scalded under the hot sun.
I cannot wait for another harvest of squash, okra and beans with the gravel taken out and the plots sunken.
We also tend to lose our pechay at the growing stage, or just after transplanting our seedlings from the seed trays and into growing bags. Sometimes, after these are transferred to the ground, insects feed on the little pechay. Growing pechay and harvesting it too remains a big challenge so I particularly want to try what others on socmed do: grow them in hanging planters. It is quite unacceptable for me to use hanging planters when there is enough space on the ground to grow pechay. Despite this, I sowed pechay seeds on seedling bags instead of the usual seedling trays. My plan is to transplant these directly on some repurposed plastic food-grade containers that I will hang on the trellises. Weird, but it is worth giving a good try. This will give pechay a second chance in our planting sites.
Sowing fruit tree seeds
Ñanay and my younger brother have a hard time sowing atis seeds. They keep on passing on the seeds to me because they want me to try planting more atis. Besides the fact that ruminants shy away from atis, this small tree or shrub bears fruits in less than two years from sown seeds.
Surprisingly, the seeds that I sowed on big seedling bags germinated earlier than I expected. All I did was throw the seeds on a bag of soil, topped it with a thin layer of soil, watered them and forgot all about it. Watering was daily on no-rain days. After a few days, the seeds germinated.
I even threw seeds from atis that we just ate directly into the pots, without sun-drying them.
I learned from native tree enthusiasts that tree seeds that are recalcitrants have to be sown at once. These seeds tend to dry up when left to dry. Most fruit seeds have to be sown at once.
Some seeds have a hard cover that have to be either cracked, or removed. Such is the chico seed and kaimito seed as well.
If there is a very small space to plant, we do remedies so we can plant our own food sources. Now that we have a very big space to do it, we still have to experiment to optimize its use.
These little trial-and-error tests will eventually bring us more safe food on the table to sustain our journey with the soil, sun and water.
Happy farmers here!