THE dry season has started and it caught us figuratively with our pants down. We were trying to transplant tree seedlings a week before the rains stopped coming in September. It was just one full week after the last young sampaloc tree got its place on the ground when the rainy season suddenly came to an end.
I kept telling my companions that they did not have to water everything in the garden. I felt my words fell on deaf ears. My advocacy for the Tamad farming systems finds a barren land to take roots, with traditional farmers around. They are all ready to carry pails of water again. As for me, I have to let them do their thing as I quietly observe the garden.
In the meantime, the soil appears moist where the plants grow together in shared plots. We prepared the beds in August, when the rains drenched everything. First, we dug the soil with the weeds turned inside and dry leaves covered the freshly dug plots. Next we had the plots planted with two types of oregano. When these grew a little more lush, we added camote, later cassava, and much later, string beans. All these were lining up the same shared raised beds. 0ccasionaly, my garden partners would sprinkle some water, because they could not understand why I keep saying, watering is not necessary.
The area also has rows of lemon grass, intercropped with more cassava and on the ground are creeping camote. It is lined with fully grown wood trees like Asian acacia, neem and lately, we have malunggay, narra and sineguelas. We also have newly transplanted kasuy seedlings. Edible weeds, gooseberries, wild ampalayang ligaw and singsing carabao are left alone where these are growing wild as they should be.
The moving shaded area in this part of the garden helps retain moisture and keeps the ground temperature in check. Even during the rainy season, this area was where plants grew better. It is where the impact of wind and rain was relatively tamer. We only had to make the fence more durable than the ones we originally installed to keep away stray cows, goats and sheep. It seems that these farm animals keep coming back to feed on our plants.
Looking closely into the choice of plants for companion gardening, cassava provides shade, camote is the ground cover, erect oregano is an insect repellent and string beans are vines that give the soil nitrogen-fixing bacteria.
The height of each plant compliments each other and may give the plants a chance for sunshine and not compete for nutrients. Almost all do not require much water and may only harness the dew at dawn for their water needs. Dry leaves serve as mulching media, while the green manure inside the plots help maintain moisture underground. Falling cassava and other leaves also add to mulch the plots.
My garden companions noticed that the plants in this area in the garden do not look like wanting of water. They noticed that dragonflies and other insects also populate the garden. What is more important is the observed absence of pests, that are in the other parts of the garden.
My Nanay Nena keeps saying that some plants need a lot of watering, others do not have to be wet all the time. Taking from that piece of advice, we only have to get acquainted with the water requirements of a variety of plants. That we still have to learn.
For example, cassava, as we have learned, needs water in the first few weeks from the time the twigs are staked on the ground. After that, no watering is needed. It taught us, however, that those planted near water pumps give us bigger, longer and more yield.
String beans need water, so these have to be planted during the rainy season or in areas that remain moist or damp year round.
Papayas wilt with too much rain. These due ones water logs on their roots. It has to be planted where the soil is draining well. Camote does not need a lot of watering either.
Seasoned farmers know when to plant crops. We had our tomato seedlings in December, when a lot of farmers were already harvesting theirs. Wrong timing, it turned out. We had to water plots of tomatoes only to find that these wilt under a hot summer sun. We wasted three to four months tending to a crop that just wilted without bearing any fruit for the garden pantry.
We also sowed okra after the rainy season so we had to drench these in pumped water. We could have harnessed the rains.
There was once a lazy farmer who just waited for the yield of whatever grew voluntarily on the hallowed ground. I am tempted to just be that lazy farmer. No intervention, nothing but nature’s will, and wait what the soil has in store for us.
This in mind, I suspended sowing squash seeds, took care of the squash that grew voluntarily near the hut. It bore more fruits than we expected. We stopped counting until the vine finally dried up.
I dropped a patola seed near the trellises intended for passion fruit vines. It germinated, dominated the trellises, and bore a lot of fruits, flowers and tops for my daily vegetable dishes. The vines got so heavy that it entailed the building of a sturdier one. We did not expect patola to be as prolific as ours. Now we are sowing more near the fence.
By the way, our lone banana, which finally bore fruit, is struggling to nourish it’s little fruits. Four sapad in all and a small blossom that I cooked with saluyot were all we got from a year tending bananas. Again, the timing might be wrong again. We await for more banana blossoms to show up.
We keep learning, appreciating what growing food crops really entails. We shall never stop learning. We shall never grow tired of growing our own food.