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.

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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