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.

Inspiring Us Back

Last year was great for us in terms of our exposure to the worldwide web.  We got inspirational feedbacks, insights and messages of support from all over. According to WordPress, our blogsite was viewed 4,300 times in 2014, viewers coming from 80 countries in all.  Most visitors came from the Philippines of course but the United States, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, Singapore, Germany, Bangladesh and other countries were not far behind.  Some of our posts were reblogged in other sites including the World Organic News (their site is currently being updated), Toemail and Idealistic Rebel’s Daily View of Favorites.  We were also featured in some blogs like in Bahay Campina and Travel Dive Connect.

We now have almost 7,000 hits and 28 blog followers.  Our Facebook Community Page has reached almost 600 “Likes.” And these first few weeks of 2015, our blogsite has more than 500 new views already.  Our listing in the Worldwide Permaculture Network is getting a lot of “Likes” as well.

Here are some of the feedbacks we got from our viewers and followers:

“Congrats. I’m amazed about what you did in a short time.  We also have future plans to develop a permaculture farm in our property in Polilio Island (Quezon Province, Philippines).  It’s a very remote site so still need to learn a lot to be self-sustainable.  Thank you for your information and keep writing about it!” -Pascal and Marigien Bos-Manlugon (Belgium)

“Congratulations on your successful SRI trial.  I have worked with the SRI team at Cornell since 1999 and now help the company Lotus Foods in California connect with SRI farmers to market rice in the US.  I just wanted to let you know that red and black rice are the healthiest rice, healthier even than brown rice.  Pigmented rice [varieties] have very high antioxidant levels.  I started a bibliography on research related to red and black rice. It’s my prediction that in the future, people will return to eating healthier rice. -Olivia (California, USA)

Aside from inquiries we received, we also got some messages of support since we started the project:

“I just want to say thank you for creating a sustainable way of life model and sharing it with the world through the internet. More power to you!” -Eric (Quezon City, Philippines)

“This is just a short message to let you know how inspired and enthused we are watching you (via your website) developing your wonderful project.  We intend to emulate your endeavour and just as you were before you got started, we have ZERO skills in building and being self-sufficient.  Please pray for us that we may gather the courage and start living the life of our dreams.” -Enver and Lerma (Ireland/Philippines)

“I just saw your site and read the articles and think you guys are doing great!  Your humanure toilet especially made me smile.  I have my own humanure toilet but acceptance is still low (just me), everyone else is a fecophobe at this point.  Anyways, I wish you guys all the best.” -Rommel (Mindanao, Philippines)

And here are some of the messages from those who visited us and volunteered in the farm last year:

“Thank you so much for sharing your bit of paradise with me.  Thank you for the generosity of your time in speaking of your experience but also listening and giving guidance as I contemplate on how to follow in your footsteps.” -Maria (New York City, USA/Batangas, Philippines)

“Visiting your haven of wonders made me think and realize a lot of things. Thank you for your selfless efforts in sharing your vision with us. My short stay made me feel very healthy and gave me peace of mind and tranquility. I will come back to build with you again. The SRI insights are pushing me to convince my family to adopt the method. I wish you all the best.” – Clyde (Hungduan, Ifugao Province, Philippines)

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Clyde and Maria

“I came to visit with a certain expectation of what to see.  I can say that my expectations have been surpassed!  What you are doing here is not just amazing, it’s inspirational.” -Alex (United Kingdom)

“Thank you for welcoming us into your home.  I’ve learned so much about sustainable living.  I’m inspired by your passion and dedication.  I’ve never felt so connected to the earth as I did when we planted rice and cleaned ourselves off in the river.  I’m going to take what I’ve learned and apply it to my life back in the US.” -Ai (San Francisco, California, USA)

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Ai

“I’m very impressed by your visions, dedication and tenacity in not only pursuing your dreams but creating one that is fluid, flexible and that will grow with you literally over time.  Your bravery in leaving behind a former lifestyle is not to be underestimated, and your inspiration to prove that the Philippiines can truly be a sovereign, self-sustaining land for our people is revolutionary in a daily, concrete and tangible way.  As a city girl, comfortable with cars, concrete, traffic and consumer goods, caring for the earth as it cares for us is not something I practice, but now hope to integrate into my urban existence somehow when I return to the US.” -Kristen (San Francisco, California, USA)

“The stories and experiences you’ve shared about The Pitak Project opened my eyes and made me imagine a place like this of my own, somewhere I can live simply and peacefully.  I hope someday, every farmer would replicate the system that you do here, I’m sure no one will get hungry.” -Mariz (Benguet, Philippines)

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Mariz and Kristen

“May The Pitak Project enlighten a lot of people into realizing that self-sustainability is just rght under our feet.” -Cha (Quezon City, Philippines)

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Cha

“You have a significant adobe brick upon the foundation of my house of dreams! I find words to be somewhat inadequate to enunciate and define the golden moments you have shared with me.  The whole experience at the farm, including those preceding the meeting, has bound me to thee.  May our organic advocacy be further strengthened over time, and this shall never be the last visit.” -Jesi (Negros Occidental, Philippines)

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Jesi

Because of our exposure, we were also invited in some speaking engagements to talk about our project in different provinces of the country, including Occidental Mindoro, Bicol, Nueva Ecija, Batanes, La Union, Ilocos Norte and Baguio City.

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Kalikasan (Environment) Youth Leaders’ Congress in Baguio City, organized by the Philippine Information Agency Region 1 and Cordillera Administrative Region. Photo courtesy of Cristina Arzadon.

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Climate Change Advocacy Campaign Media Forum in Currimao, Ilocos Norte organized by the Philippine Information Agency Region 1. Photo courtesy of Joanne Namnama Parrocha Dilim.

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Basic Environment and Tourism Course in Sorsogon, Bicol Province organized by the Blue Water Consultancy.

We are grateful for all the support we are getting. It feels good that we inspire people from all over despite our limitations and struggles. This in return inspires us to strive better in what we do to build a better world. How shall we live? We hope The Pitak Project gives a real and viable answer.#

What we’ve been up to (Part 3): Sowing the Seeds for the Future

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In between mixing mud, tending the animals, making tools, composting, cooking meals, running errands, accommodating visitors and napping, we are also occupied with growing all sorts of plants.  We grow food for us and the livestock, herbal plants, legumes as green manure, and materials for building.  We now have a variety of vegetables, herbs, fruit trees, shrubs, bamboos, cover plants and flowering plants.

A Food Forest and Kitchen Gardens

Food source tops our list of priorities of what plants to grow.  Our goal is to produce our own food and veer from buying as much as we can.  We’ve started to establish our own food forest, an edible forest that works as a natural self-sustaining living forest ecosystem.  It’s a permaculture practice to design a food forest with layers such as the canopies, understoreys, shrubs and bushes, herbs, groundcovers and climbers.

Aside from the already existing fruit trees within the farm like guyabano (soursops), buko (coconut), suha (pomelos), native cherries and bayabas (guavas), we’ve planted more guyabano, mangoes, marang (johey oak), santol (cottonfruit), sampalok (tamarind), rambutan, lanzones (langsat), chico (sapodilla), avocado, duhat (black plum), aratilis (strawberry tree), atis (custard apple), calamansi, chestnuts, kaymito (star apple), langka (jackfruit), dalandan (Philippine orange), bread fruit, some varieties of bananas, papaya, and vines such as passion fruit and grapes.

Banana circles

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A young marang tree and one of our many productive papaya trees

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We’ve made a small kitchen garden, which is a vegetable plot that is near the kitchen for easy access when preparing meals.  We plant it with pechay (bokchoy), bitter gourd, onions, a variety of chillies, black pepper, pandan, mustard, lettuce, French beans and some herbs like oregano, basil, mint and rosemary.  We also have small patches of gardens for other annual plants like turmeric, ginger, eggplant, okra, string beans, corn, patola (luffa/loofah), upo (long melon/calabash gourds), kundol (white gourd melon), string beans, tomatoes, watermelons and pineapples.  And we plant peanuts and mung beans interchangeably with rice.

Green leafy vegetables and a blooming kundol (white gourd melon)

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French beans and string beans

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Our current turmeric garden and last year’s harvests

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We have perennials like malunggay (moringa), red katuray (hummingbird tree), calamansi, dragon fruit, cacao and coffee.  We also have root crops such as sweet potatoes, cassavas and taros. We also have wild vegetables around like saluyot (corchorus), native bitter gourd and singkamas (yam beans).

Malunggay (moringa) and cassava plants

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A salad of red katuray (hummingbird tree) flowers and boiled cassava

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Saluyot (corchorus) and bitter gourd growing wild around the farm

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Aside from these, we’ve discovered adlay (Job’s tears), a tall plant that bears grains.  Filipinos usually use the grains to make beadworks.  It is now being promoted by some non-government organizations as an alternative to rice and corn.  It can also be used as livestock feeds.  A friend gave us some seeds for planting.

Our first batch of adlay plants

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Growing Livestock Feeds 

So far we have a goat, some chickens (native and bantam), a couple of native pigs and ducks.  We only feed them with organic feeds.  Although the chickens and ducks are free range, we still feed them every now and then with corn grits and rice bran, a by-product of rice milling process.  We buy the rice bran from a neighbour for a very cheap price.    The pigs get to enjoy boiled leaves of taro and sweet potato and some vegetable peels.  They also love eating fresh leaves of papaya, banana and ipil-ipil (white leadtree). We also found out that madre de agua (Trichanthera gigantea) is also a good animal fodder especially for goats, ducks and pigs.  We’ve planted some already around the farm.

Friends helping us plant some madre de agua

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Our neighbours taught us to feed the pigs with boiled chopped buga, a yam species, which grows wild in the forested part of our farm.  It can also be consumed by humans and can be prepared as halaya (pudding).  After some research, we found out that buga is indigenous to the Philippines and that it is already a nearly threatened species.  That’s why some local groups of scientists are advocating for its conservation and propagation.  With this information, we are now geared towards planting some buga in our farm.

Plants for Building

We use bamboo for our main building material.  We use it as posts, walls, frames, trellis and livestock housing. We already have a variety of bamboos in our site namely bolo (Gigantochloa levis), bayog (Dendrocalamus) and bikal (Schizostachyum dielsianum).  We’ve planted more bayog because it’s one of the best bamboo species used for posts.  We are planning to plant other bamboos that we can use for building like kawayang tinik (Bambusa blumeana), kawayang kiling (Bambusa vulgaria) and giant bamboo (Dendrocalamus).

We’ve experimented on so many possible ways of using alternative building materials, including using natural paints.  We’ve researched on paint recipes using natural ingredients like starch, flour and linseed oil.  To add color, we tried using workable plant pigments.  We’re able to use the seeds of achuete, which usually used here in the Philippines to add color to some local dishes, and it was a success. The paint came out the shade of yellow-orange.  We’ve already planted a couple of achuete trees a few months ago and they are already blooming.

Young achuete tree already in bloom

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Green Manure

Aside from animal manure, we use green manure as fertilizers.  These are foliage from plants that are nitrogen-rich like legumes.  One of the most common green manure used by Filipino farmers is kakawate or madre de cacao (Gliricidia sepium).  We’ve planted some particularly on the eastern side of the farm to also serve as a living fence to prevent the neighbor’s carabaos from entering our fields.  We also use the kakawate leaves to rid our livestock of fleas including dog fleas.  We’ve also planted some sunflower plants to use as green manure.

Other beneficial plants

To attract beneficial insects like bees, we’ve started growing flowering plants around the farm.  On the other hand, to naturally repel unwanted insects, we’ve planted marigolds in our vegetable gardens and citronella and lemongrass around the living area and the rice fields.

Aside from some food plants that are also used as herbal medicines, we have an assortment of herbal plants.  Sambong or subusob in Ilocano (Blumea balsamifera) can treat colds, kidney stones, urinary tract infections and can lower blood pressure.  We’ve planted tuba-tuba (jathropa), which is also commonly used by Filipino traditional healers. We also have wild pansit-pansitan (Peperomia pellucid), which can lower uric acid levels, treat fevers among others.

Citronella around the rice fields and wild pansit-pansitan

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All of these we did in just two years, with limited resources, without prior farming experience, with irregular water supply, using only organic inputs and with the help of friends, neighbours, volunteers, learners and families.  If more people engage and practice permaculture, there would be stability, resilience and abundance.  If peoples’ needs are met in compassionate and simple ways, without exploitation, abuse, inequality, injustice, oppression… this would be a better world.  And we believe it’s not too late.

*Photos by Cye Reyes