Thriving during the El Niño, Prepping for the La Niña

These past months, we kept ourselves busy despite the onslaught of the El Niño phenomenon that was predicted to be one of the worst and longest ever.  And while we say goodbye to drought, we brace ourselves to the upcoming heavy rains of La Niña.

During the first weeks of the year, we prioritized installing the water distribution lines to the fields and gardens before we could plant anything.  With the help of the RDC-Kaduami, our non-government organization partner, we’re able to set up the lines using International Boat Containers (IBCs) for storage, irrigation pipes for distribution and plumbing fixtures including sprinklers.

Unlike the past dry seasons, we were able to plant some crops this year because of the availability of water.  Because we were still observing the first year cycle of our groundwater source, we decided not to plant rice, which requires more water than other crops.  Instead, we planted the fields with legumes such as mung beans, peanuts and bush string beans. We also had some native corns.  In our vegetable gardens, we planted pechay/bok choy, eggplant, lettuce, white radish, tomatoes, long chillies, bitter gourds, okras, patolas, squash, patani, sweet potatoes, yams and some herbs like basil, oregano and rosemary.  And just after a few weeks, we started harvesting.

We worked in the fields and the gardens early mornings and late afternoons.  During the hottest part of the days, we stayed under the shades and built our cob oven, two-burner rocket stove and a cob wall of our semi-outdoor kitchen.  We started this build project in February and finished it in April.

We now bake our own bread and pizza! And we can cook two dishes at a time with only one set of firewood.

While we kept ourselves busy working in the farm, we also had a number of visitors and volunteers these past months.  But the most special was the crew of the show Green Living, a national TV show that features sustainable practices all over the country.  They came and shot a feature on us and what we do.  We had a great time during the shoot. The feature will be aired on June 28 (Tuesday) at 6PM on ANC, to be replayed on Wed (June 29) 1:30am, 2:30pm, Thurs (June 30) 3am, Sun (Jul 3) 9:30am, 9:30pm.

Last May 3, we were invited by the Commission on Audit (CoA) to share our stories during their 117th year anniversary celebration.  We were personally invited by Commissioner Jose Fabia who’s also a certified permaculture designer and a weekend farmer.  According to him, he wanted the commission’s officials and employees to learn permaculture and its advantages.  His dream is for government employees to have an option when they reach retiring age and for more Filipinos to learn to love farming again.  And he sees it through the practice of permaculture.

And now we’re geared towards preparing for the rainy season and the forecasted La Niña these coming months.  The tools are oiled and ready to be used for digging some swales and catchment ponds.  Trees are set to be trimmed off of dead branches, to be chopped and used as firewood.  The clearing of the dead bamboos and clumps has started.  The materials are gathered for securing existing pens and coops and for building new ones.

Although we’re prepping for the rains, we’re also set to grow more food.   The compost materials sitting and brewing for a few months are ready for harvesting.  The tree seedlings slowly growing in bags will be transplanted.  The mature and dried vegetable seeds are set to be planted.  The raised beds and trellises are being repaired and readied for the next batch of veggies.

Here’s to more bountiful harvests for the rest of the year.  We’re praying to the gods and goddesses for everybody to be safe during this rainy season.

Births and Deaths: Celebrating Life

Most people may think that when you’re a farmer your job is to simply grow food. We now realize after a few years of this kind of life that it is just part of the pie and that it is beyond the daily chores of tilling, sowing and taking care of the livestock. The past few weeks have taught us that when you work with nature, celebrating life and accepting deaths makes most of that pie.

The months of April, May and June are our birthday months, April 16 for Cye, May 2 for Ranie and June 15 for me. This year, we decided to celebrate along with Cha, Cye’s sister whose birthday also falls on May.  But we didn’t just want to have a typical party all by ourselves.  We wanted to give more meaning to our special days. We decided to have a children’s party with our neighbors’ kids, something that we didn’t experience when we were young.  And instead of asking our friends for gifts for ourselves, we asked for their pre-loved items that we could give away, like toys, clothes, books, school supplies and then some.  We were surprised to have received a lot, not just used items but some brand new ones.

It took us a few days to sort the gifts we received.  Special thanks to Cha who took time to solicit these items from friends.

We were all excited on the day of the party last May 16. We danced, we played, we ate, we partied! We didn’t just give away gifts to the kids but we were also able to give books, toys and school supplies to the village daycare center.  Even the parents received some gifts. It felt good to have shared with the community especially the kids, all farmers’ kids.

On the same week of our birthday bash, we also celebrated the birthing of our livestock.  Ka Ambing, our goat, gave birth to two kids, a boy and a girl. While Biiktorya, our native pig, gave birth to nine healthy piglets. And just days after, our native hens hatched a total of 27 chicks. Witnessing births first hand and helping give life are simply amazing.  We wouldn’t have done it without our friends in the community who coached us on what to do in assisting the mothers, especially Biiktorya.

You can just imagine how tired we were that week of birthing.

But as we celebrate life, we also mourn the passing of our neighbor and close friend, Zaldy Laroya. He practically helped us kickstart the farm the past three years. He helped build our bamboo hut, mud house, Pinoy banga (ferrocement tanks), pump house among others.  What we loved about Manong Zaldy were his willingness to teach us his skills especially in building with bamboo and his eagerness to learn new things from us.

It was Manong Zaldy who observed, in August of last year, when our bolo bamboos dominant at the farm started to bloom. He told us it’s a rare event and that elders usually say when bamboos flower, “thirst and hunger will follow.”  It made sense to us that time because we were in the middle of the El Niño phenomenon, which was expected to be one of the worst El Niño ever.  Eventually we found out that bamboos live for 40-100+ years and die after blooming.

We are now challenged to harvest the dead bamboos and clear the clumps. But as what permaculture has taught us, problems should be seen as opportunities.  We now see the death of our bamboos as an opportunity to make a part of the forest a “bambooseum” where we can diversify and plant other bamboo species and another part where we can start a food forest. We dedicate this bambooseum project to Manong Zaldy.  He will forever be part of The Pitak Project family.

While I ponder on these events, I put wonderful rich soil in bags and pinch a seed into each while watching seeds earlier sown sprout and grow to become trees. I now see the meaning of life and death in a different perspective.  I know there is a better life for humankind – new beginnings, new economies, new priorities to restore ecological and social health. And if we cannot live to see it, then we will die trying to achieve it.