Seed Bank

“Seeds are more valuable than guns and bullets. –Lucinda Bailey a.k.a. The Seed Lady”

She might be right. Whether it be war or a disaster, seeds may be more valuable than guns and bullets. You can feed your family with seeds you have sown, or with a small patch of vegetables nearby. I still remember the last calamity. Entire communities were going hungry, cut off from the rest of the world. What if they had a homestead, or a community garden nearby?

We ought to start saving seeds. Call it survival packets.

Cherry TomatoSeed saving is an age-old practice. Traditionally, farmers would select the most robust and disease-resistant plants and then save the seeds during a season. With the advent of hybrid seeds however, farmers have stopped the practice of saving their own seeds. This is because seeds harvested from hybrid plants produce seedlings that are unlike and inferior to the parent seed. Also, most of the seeds you purchase are treated with fungicides.

Our small farm has started a seed bank. (Biodynamic practices require the use of untreated seed. One way to ensure that seeds are not treated is by saving the seeds yourself.) We bank on heirloom seeds that are open pollinated. These are seeds that have been handed down and successfully cultivated for generations. A vegetable variety can be considered an heirloom once it has been cultivated for over fifty years. Heirlooms have a different flavor. We have heirloom seeds for tomatoes, eggplant, and some varieties of corn. We even have seeds for purple corn, a locally adapted variety that we got from individual farmers. Heirloom seeds reward us with better tasting produce. Unlike the hybrid varieties, heirlooms can be saved and replanted every year. (Hybrid varieties require planting new seeds every year.) Additionally, heirloom seeds adapt to the location over time and what you have are resilient seeds that will grow abundantly where you are. They are more resistant to disease or to harsh weather.

Heirlooms

We’re looking to save more and more varieties of heirloom vegetables, flowers and herbs. We’re trying to find and collect heirloom varieties and then grow these on site. And then we collect seeds when they are fully ripe and dry.  Easy seeds to collect are from tomatoes and beans. As our climate becomes more erratic, seeds that have been passed down, adapted to our soil, and grown resilient over time, will thrive and produce better crops.

Saving seeds gives us the means to grow our own food. It is the key to food sovereignty because you know how to get food and exactly where it comes from.  A huge chunk of the seed market is already controlled by big companies like Monsanto and Bayer.  These seeds are treated with pesticides, herbicides or are even genetically-modified. If you are able to save your own heirloom, local, open pollinated variety seeds, you are able to replant and regrow them every year, without being dependent on the big companies that patent and control hybrid varieties.

To Everything There is a Season

What happens now, when farmers have lost the rhythm of the seasons? When there is no longer a time for everything: to plant; and to pluck what has been planted? And what happens when farmers give up on the land?

Every year for the last 20 years, we had sown seeds on December and then harvested a predictable volume on February.  It was perfectly orchestrated. The plants would shoot up, bud, and then burst forth in blossom for Valentine’s Day.  There was a season for everything: a time to plant; a time to pluck up what is planted.

Except this year. Up until February, our farmers were still waiting for the flowers to bloom.  By then, we had lost half of our harvest to the unusual cold.  The dependable season of wet and dry had gone awry. For the first time in 20 years, clouds blanketed the sun for days. And the cold lingered.  Before that, farms had to take on the epic winds of Pablo and Yolanda, or the torrential rains of Sendong.

The changing climate.  You hear about melting ice caps and rising sea levels and yet there’s very little said about agriculture.  You trust nature will find a way.  And perhaps, if there was a threat to agriculture, it wasn’t going to put farmers at risk soon.

Except that climate change doomsday for farmers is already here.

Extreme weather. And not only that, extreme AND unpredictable as well.  Mindanao, the country’s breadbasket, the fortunate south that used to be spared from storms, that is where our farm is. With the shifting weather patterns, we now have to bear the full brunt of storms.  You give all you’ve got for one planting cycle, extreme weather visits, and it’s pfft to 3 months of farming.  Toss in the changing rhythm of seasons and we could no longer foresee warmth or rain.  We previously timed sowing and harvesting to nature’s cycle of wet and dry. Except that the only predictable thing these last few years is that of torrential rains and violent winds. Everything is just up in the air!

DSC_7754What about small family farms everywhere?  The farmers plant for weeks. Wait for weeks. Weed, water, and reap. They are cash strapped and fall prey to usurious financiers who lend at high interest rates.  They enter into contracts with onerous traders who snatch up their crops at rock bottom prices.  They are beholden to landlords, financiers, and traders, working on land that’s quite often not theirs.  Except now they also have to weather the likes of Pablo, Yolanda and Sendong, and bank on a temperamental Mother Nature.  It is no wonder we have aging farmers.  Who wants serfdom, muscle and sweat, with almost nothing at the farm gate? They would rather go to the city and sit on a desk.

Drought and rain.  At the wrong time. Crops that wither or wash out. And famine or food prices that soar to record highs.

Perhaps it is none of your affair.  The poor vulnerable farmer, at the mercy of an extremely erratic Mother Nature. Who cares? You can enjoy the unusual cold with a cup of cocoa, or the hot day with a summer salad.

Except. It is this poor vulnerable farmer who actually supplies you the cacao that makes you hot chocolate. It is the poor vulnerable farmer who tends to the lettuces and carrots that make your salad. And when your farmer is not secure, the food on your table is not secure either.  You can only reap what they sow.

Salad Leaves

 

Far removed from the seed, the sprout, the produce that magically settles on our plate, we take farming for granted. We cannot appreciate the daily grind of the farmer who works the land.  We cannot grasp the medley of earth, nature, seasons and the farmer that bestows us fruit, flower, vegetable and grain. And because we can buy the fruit, the salad, and the rice at ease, in nice packages at the supermarket, we forget that it takes at least three months of industry to get anything from seed to plant.

“This magical, marvelous food on our plate, this sustenance we absorb, has a story to tell. It has a journey. It leaves a footprint. It leaves a legacy. To eat with reckless abandon, without conscience, without knowledge; folks, this ain’t normal.” –Joel Salatin

What happens now, when farmers have lost the rhythm of the seasons?  When there is no longer a time for everything: to plant; and to pluck what has been planted? And what happens when farmers give up on the land? 

Multiple Cropping, a Mitigation Strategy

The doomsday scenario for agriculture and food security has arrived. The climate is already changing. Along with mitigation strategies that would take the edge off doomsday, farmers will now have adapt to the changing seasons and the shifting weather that is already here.

More than these, we have to recognize that the unusual cold and the impending hot summer means more than just buying a scarf or air conditioning.  Extreme and unpredictable weather will hit us at the dinner table. Aside from our annual saga of waist-water floods and relief packs, climate change will threaten the food on our table. We all have a responsibility towards the land, the people who grow our food, and what we consume. This vulnerable country, our poor farmers, and our insecure food system will be hit the hardest. It is hard hit already. And we are running out of time.

“The average person is still under the aberrant delusion that food should be somebody else’s responsibility until I’m ready to eat it.” –Joel Salatin

Ecological Pest Management

This is the 6th of a Series on Backyard Farming.  This article deals with natural methods for pest and disease management and control.
We practice ecological pest management in the farm. This means that you manage the ecology of your farm and not just get rid of pests by toxic pesticides.
  • Build a strong ecosystem with healthy soil, mulch and organic fertilizer. Your first line of defense is a healthy soil. Your plants will be healthy if your soil is healthy. Healthy plants will be able to resist insect and disease attack.
  • Mulching is a good way to control pests.  The mulch will house beneficial insects and earthworms.
  • Crop rotation will keep your soils healthy too.  Make sure that plants and not planted on the same spot every time.   Multiple cropping or companion planting also helps rid you of pests and diseases.  These too methods will provide a continuous source of food and encourage beneficials insects to remain in your bed. See article on Crop Rotation and Multiple Cropping.
  • We practice cover cropping in our farm.  The legumes boost our soil’s nutrient content, build more organic matter in the soil, and prevents erosion.
  • Make sure you have plenty of earthworms too!
  • The kind of plants you have will be crucial for pest/disease management and control.  Make sure you plant varieties that are resistant to the diseases that are common where you are.  Also, plant the kind of plants that thrive well given your topography and weather conditions.

If despite a healthy ecosystem and healthy plants, you still have pests/disease here are some tips and physical controls:

1.  For temperate crops, keep the leaves dry.  This is because insects and fungus thrive on wet leaves.  Wet leaves also spread disease.  In the farm, we use drip irrigation to make sure that our leaves are dry and there is not too much water.
2.  Your best control is BIOLOGICAL control.  This means you need to understand the life cycle of insects or pests so you can control them.  Also, the more variety of insects and animals you have in farm, the better your Biological Control.
Beneficials3.  We rely a lot on Beneficial Insects.  These are using insects, microbes, or bacteria to control pests and disease. They keep the population of damaging insects under control.  Unlike pesticides, they only kill the BAD guys.  IN our farm, we use  ladybugs, lace wings or stingless wasps that feed on pests.   For example, ladybugs are able to eat up to 1000 aphids a day.  Lace wings eat more than 200 pest eggs a week.  Wasps (Trichogramma) are able to control up to 28 species of insects.  You can read more about nurturing and making use of Beneficial Insects here.
Homemadetrap4.  We also make Homemade Controls and Sprays.  Here are some of what we use:

  • Flypaper
  • Do-it-yourself Sticky Traps:  Hanging sticky traps in trees or posts can help capture a lot of flying insects.
  • Neem Citronella:  Neem does not immediately kill the insect. Instead, it alters an insect’s behavior or life. Eventually the insect can no longer feed or breed or metamorphose, and cannot cause damage.
  • Fish Emulsion (Fish Amino Acid/Foliar): More than a pesticide, it doubles as a great fertilizer. Fish emulsions are wonderful sources of nutrients.  Read about Fish Emulsion here.
  • Coconut oil tobacco
  • Raw milk and Raw whey
Common Pests:   These are the common pests you will find in the garden and our recommendations:
  • Worms and Caterpillars:  They eat the larvae of plants and eradicate seedlings.  Effective controls are beneficial insects, multiple cropping and crop rotation.
  • Aphids: Aphids feed on the sap of the plant. They also transmit disease. You get aphids usually from too much nitrogen in soil and too much water or over fertilization.  Control aphids maintaining balance in soil.  You can do this by lessening water use and in our case, spraying BD 501.  We also us Neem Spray and alternate it with Coconut Oil Tobacco.  Another way is to flush aphids with high pressure sprayer (fish emulsion/milk)
  • Leaf Miner- You can prevent Leaf Miner if you spray Fermented Fish waste and Milk. You can also use sticky traps.  Crop rotation is recommended for prevention.
  • Flea Beetle–These insects attack during summer months and usually Asian vegetables.  They like dry environments.  Control these pests by wetting beds and mulching.
  • White Fly- You can use a spreader sticker (sticky traps) or coconut-oil based soap spray to control White Fly.
  • Diamond Back Moth–These moths will attack cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage.  To prevent outbreak, control the moth that lays the eggs through light traps, ordinary mosquito traps or have sacrificial beds.
Common Diseases
Note that with healthy soil enriched with biodynamic compost, most of your disease problems will disappear.  However, these are common diseases you may encounter:
*Always remember to prune or remove diseased plants.
  • Mildew is a fungal disease and includes white patches on leaves, discolored or yellow leaves and wilting.  Remove the infected areas and dispose it.  Do not add to your compost pile.

-Powdery Mildew- During dry season, you may experience powdery mildew.  To control or prevent this, keep leaves wet.  You can also use milk spray or neem oil.

-Downy Mildew- During wet season, you may experience downy mildew.  Don’t wet leaves at night.  You can also use milk spray or neem oil for prevention.
  • Blight– This is bacterial damage that causes rotting stems and roots, black or brown spots and lesions.  Trichoderma can suppress blight.  Once you have it, make sure to remove the plant and dispose.  Do not put in your compost pile.  To avoid the disease, practice crop rotation and plant resistant varieties.

Good luck!  You will be able to manage pests and diseases with a combination of: (1) Strong Ecosystem; (2)  Attentiveness; and (3)  Good use of organic controls.

Structures for Backyard Gardening

This is a 5th of a series on Backyard Farming.  This article discusses simple structures for your garden and water conservation techniques.

A backyard farm or a kitchen garden will be usually small.  Most of us will have a small yard, a patio or even some space with a window.  Here are some of the structures you can use:

Yards:  Instead of having a lawn, create space for an edible garden.  This means you should have space in your lawn or yard for a bed or two.  Use the borders of your spaces for vegetables too.  We recommend you use raised beds for your farm or garden.  Make sure they are at least 24 inches deep.

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Containers:  You can grow vegetables in containers too.  Just make sure they get enough sun.  Make sure your container is big enough for a full grown plant.  You will also have to always water as containers dry out quickly.  The soil will also have to be fertilized and changed every planting cycle.  In our patio, we grow some of our vegetables in large black bags.

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Small structures:  

While you can already grow vegetables outdoors in raised beds or containers, you can put up small and cheap structures using bamboo, pipes or wood.   Screen houses will protect your plants from insects and from nature: too much rain, wind or sun. You then use mosquito nets for your sides (buy these from general merchandise shops or those that sell fishing gear.)  The rooftop is often made of UV treated hard elastic plastic.  You can buy these from Hobee Packaging Co. 

Our farm has built Bamboo Greenhouses. (Read more about our greenhouses.)  Bamboo is treated with borax and boric acid. It is important to sit your post on cement to avoid termites and rust.  We then use thick elastic plastic as a cover.  We use Use U.V. stabilized greenhouse film.  A short term structure can last you from 6 to 8 months.  You can also build long term structures of 2 to 3 years. 

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SIMPLE IRRIGATION
As we have consistently stated, you need rich living soil with plenty of organic matter.  The irrigation technique we recommend is TRICKLE IRRIGATION.  This is a system where water drips slowly directly to the roots of plants through pipes (with small holes.)  The mechanism allows the water to drip directly where it’s needed.  You also do not  have runoff or wasted water.  The technique also reduce evaporation, soil erosion and deep drainage.  More importantly, it gets rid of many foliar or root diseases that spread through the water.
 
 
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When to irrigate
 
Irrigate plants closer to the evening so you decrease the loss of water through evaporation (except if you water by sprinkler. If sprinkler, do it in the morning to prevent fungus).  Some other techniques we follow:
When it is a Full moon, there is an increase in the water element. We sow seeds two days before a full moon to take advantage of the water.
When it is a New moon, there is more water in the soil. Two days before a new moon, we do transplanting to take advantage of the soil’s increased water content.
 
Water conservation techniques
Here are other water conservation techniques we use:
•RAIN HARVESTING AND CANALS
Catch the rain.  You can do so by having rainwater catchments like basins, ponds or canals.  When it rains, the water falls from the rooftops to micro basins or canals, which catch them.  What you can also do is line the canals with thick mulch (4 inches at least) to ensure less evaporation.  It is best to take advantage of slopes in your garden so the rainwater gently seeps towards and is absorbed by your beds.
•NATURAL WINDBREAKS
Plant legumes in between and at the boundary of your beds to act as windbreaks.  The windbreaks again reduce evaporation.
•CONSERVATION TILLAGE
Raised beds get more aeration in its roots so you do not need to till as often and protect topsoil.  Also, a good topsoil won’t be washed out by rain.
•MULCHING
Mulch your beds to conserve on water.  Read more about Mulching.
 
Next article: Integrated Pest Control

Sowing and Transplanting

This is the 4th of a series on Backyard Farming. This article discusses sowing and transplanting.  We will give you tips on how we ensure that are seeds are able to germinate and that plants are able to survive well before they are moved to plant beds.

You have prepared your beds, started to make your soil healthy and put in your compost.  It is now time to sow your seeds or set out your seedlings.

Backyard Farm Nursery

Backyard Farm Nursery

Sowing

Seeds should be allowed to germinate.  Seeds only germinate when they absorb enough water (moisture), light and air. 

When to Sow?

If you want to follow the Biodynamic calendar, the right time to sow is right before the full moon. This is when water (including the water in your ground) rises because of the influence of the moon. This is also the time when seeds will be able to absorb the most water.  Thus, the best time is two days before a full moon.  Note though that when it is the rainy season and you already have too much water, you do not have to follow this process.

Also, as this is just a backyard garden, it might be best to sow seeds every 2 weeks so you have a steady supply of your crops.

How do you sow? 

 

Sowing Process

Waking up Seeds

Sowing your seeds

Sowing your seeds

We recommend that you sow in multi-celled trays.  The procedure we follow is this:

  1. Make a Potting mix:  Mix together 1/3 rich top soil, 1/3 compost and  1/3 river sand;
  • You can use the soil that is silted down from your beds and that goes to your drain canals as topsoil
  • River sand is dark gray and comes from a riverbank, not the sand for construction
  • Put the potting mix in multi-celled trays

2.  Wake up your seeds. Put seeds in damp tissue.  Mist it thoroughly overnight.   Cover for protection and keep in dark to wake up the seeds.

3.  Put seeds in potting mix, which are in the trays. We recommend 2-3 seeds per cell.  As you put the seeds, cover it a little with your potting soil.

4.  As soon as your trays are ready, put them in your nursery or seedling house.

Transplanting

Transplanting is the method where you uproot your seedlings from a seed tray, and then replant them to a new location.  What we do is that a few days after sowing, we prick the seedlings or small plants and first transfer them to small transparent plastic bags.  The plastic bags ( 1.5×3 inches) are big enough to so plants will be able to develop secondary roots in 2 to 3 weeks.

Transplanting

Transplanting

Moving to beds

Moving to beds

When the seedlings/plants are ready to be moved to beds, we transplant them.  We recommend you do so on a cloudy day, especially when there is not much wind.   Transplant late afternoon so it is not too hot and your plants can adjust the whole night before the are exposed to harsh elements during the day. Also, water your beds a day before you plant.

  1. Make plant holes in your bed, big enough for the root ball of your plants but not too deep.  The lowest leaves should be above the topsoil but make sure that it is not too shallow so that the plant bends.  Always try not to disturb the roots.
  2. Firm up your plants by pressing the surrounding soil towards the roots.
  3. Water the bed.
  • The distance between plants should be that the leaves do not overlap those of the next plant when they have grown.

You have sowed and planted, now the real fun begins!

Next article: Building Resilient Structures for your Backyard Farm or Kitchen Garden; Water Conservation

Coming Up:  Integrated Pest Management

Growing your Garden: Compost, Fish Emulsion & Mulch

This is the 3rd of a series on Backyard Farming.  This article will discuss how you can grow your garden.  We offer you tips on composting and using fermented fish waste, and also Mulching.

Remember that you need healthy soil.  You don’t feed the plants. You feed the soil.  Thus, the key to having vibrant plants would be to have fertile soil.  And feeding the soil means that you enrich it with organic matter or compost.  In the farm we do this by: (1) Composting; (2) using Fermented Fish Waste; (3) Applying Biodynamic Preparations; and (4) practicing Mulching.

While preparing your vegetable beds, you will have to dig the soil, get rid of weeds and enrich it with compost before you start planting. In the farm, we apply Biodynamic Preparation 500 to your soil. The preparations bring back balance to the soil and make the soil a rich place for micro organisms.

COMPOSTING

Note that you will have to start composing way before you plant.  Compost will take 2 months to mature. Biodynamic or organic compost can replace any chemical fertilizer. Biodynamic compost especially builds the soil and reduces pest attacks.  Your compost will increase your yield and improve the life of your soil in the long term.  Our flowers and vegetables derive more than 90% of its nutrition from our compost.  To learn how to make biodynamic compost, please read a previous article here:  Biodynamic Composting.

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GREEN MANURE

You can also improve your soil’s fertility and texture by growing legumes, and then cutting them and putting them back into the soil or composting them.  This is called Green Manuring.  These are string beans, baguio beans, monggo or peanuts.  These plants have rhizobium, a microorganism that is able to capture nitrogen from the air and deposit it to the roots. We grow these legumes as raw material for our compost, and also in the beds between cropping seasons to improve our soil fertility.  To learn more about this process, please visit our old article on Green Manuring.

FISH EMULSION

While planning your garden, you should also prepare fermented fish oil. Our farm uses a lot of fish emulsion as natural fertilizer. Fish emulsion has high organic nitrogen. It’s a great soil conditioner and provides bacterial food to feed the soil’s microherd. Fish emulsion is nothing but a concentrate made of saltwater and fish scraps. We spray the fish emulsion to our plant leaves or pour it in the beds.  Here is a link on how to make fish emulsion.

If you want to further enrich your soil with earthworms, here’s a previous article on it: Vermicompost. Earthworms aerate the soil and create worm castings, which contain nutrients, minerals and a lot of beneficial organisms.

After the application of compost  and the application of BD 500 to your soil, we recommend mulching.

MULCHING
Mulch is a layer of dried weeds, grass, or leaves placed over plant beds.  It is best to mulch during rainy months; beds are protected from erosion, which would otherwise remove topsoil.
HOW to MULCH:
  1. Gather the weeds, leaves, twigs you have.
  2. Can also use rice straw, dried napier grass, wood chips or sunflower leaves.
  3. Dry them under the sun.
  4. Grass clippings must be dried and without any seed before application.
  5. Cover the beds with 4 to 6 inches of mulch. Place the “mulch” on top of the soil and around the base of your plants.
•Note that it is best to water your beds in morning to allow the leaves to dry up before night, this will discourage fungus problems in the evening.
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Some benefits of mulching:
•Attracts Earthworms:  Mulch attracts deep soil earthworm that go down as deep as 5 meters to aerate the soil.Earthworms love mulch.  As they feed on the mulch, they create air tunnels.  Earthworms also eat dead plants and can produce up to 10,000 kilos of castings per hectar  in one year.  Earthworms also increase the water holding capacity of sandy soils.
•Conserves the soil’s moisture: Water is lost through evaporation because of wind.   A  good mulch cover prevents a lot of evaporation
•Prevents weed growth:  At a depth of at least 2-3 inches mulch can smoother the weed seeds so that they don’t germinate
•Improves the soil’s aeration:  Mulch prevents crusting from hard rain.  The plant roots can have continued access to air.
•Provides a home for beneficial insects: Some beneficial insects are able to live under mulch
•Prevents soil erosion:  Mulch protects your bed by preventing rain from removing topsoil.
•Insulates the soil
•Adds organic matter to your soil: As the mulch decomposes, it adds organic matter to the soil.
With composting, fish emulsion, biodynamic preparations and mulching, you will have healthy soil in no time.
Next article:  Sowing, Nursery and Transplanting
Coming soon: Building Structures

Planning your Backyard Farm: What to Grow

This is the 2nd of a series on Backyard Farming. This article will give you tips on a garden plan, what to grow, crop rotation and multiple cropping.

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What to plant?  What you plant will depend on: (1)  What you need; (2) Where you are; (3) The needs of the plant; and (4) How much time and patience you have.  If you want easy vegetables, here’s an old article:  Easy Vegetables to Grow in the Tropics.  Remember that there are crops that you can plant in the lowlands, and crops that will only grow in lower temperature or in the highlands.

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CROP ROTATION

We practice crop rotation in our farm and in our kitchen garden.  This means you plant different kinds of vegetable in your garden bed every cropping season.  Why? Crop rotation will prevent pests and diseases from building up in your soil.  If you keep planing one kind of vegetable in the same bed every time, you will be attracting the pests and diseases that are common to that plant.  These pests and diseases will then keep building up on your soil.  However, if you rotate your crops, you will have a different set of vegetables that do not interest the pests/diseases from the last crop.

Another reason for crop rotation is that different crops have different demands on the soil.  For example, salad greens, tomatoes or eggplants are heavy feeders.  Carrots and root crops are light feeders. Planting legumes will add nitrogen to your soil. A crucial part of biodynamics is the need to allow nature to follow its own pace and not force growth or impede it.  Do not try to force the soil to produce as much as it can just because it can.  Thus, alternate the vegetables you plant to allow the soil some breathing space in between crops.

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Some tips: Follow Give and Take in succession.

  • Cabbage plants are heavy feeders.  They are TAKERS.  Do not plant them on the same plot one after another.  
  • Fruit crops need plenty of compost but very little nitrogen.  They are moderate takers.
  • Root crops and legumes require very little fertilizer. They are GIVERS.  They actually ADD nitrogen to your soil.  In our farm, we use legumes for the nitrogen-fixing qualities. We plant the legumes and then cut them leaving the roots under the mulch.  (Note that one hectare of legumes can fix up to 500 kilos of nitrogen per crop.)
    The roots of legumes also have other micro organisms that destroy pathological bacteria in the soil.
  • Foliage crops need plenty of nitrogen and compost. They are TAKERS.
  • Following biodynamic farming, you should be inter-cropping leafy vegetables with root vegetables and legumes.  

DO NOT:

  • Plant the same veggies in the same bed in succession.
  • Have cabbage crops succeed each other

MULTIPLE CROPPING

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Another practice we follow is multiple cropping.  On the same bed, we plant vegetables that support each other.  Some plants may house beneficial insects, which the other plant needs to control pest.  They ward off each other’s bugs or thrive well together.  You can also use companion planting to make better use of your soil or so you have windbreaks that protect sensitive crops.

Some tips:

  • Marigolds emit a strong fragrance that confuses pests.  You can plant marigolds all over your garden. They are pretty too!
  • The strong aroma of herbs like dill, rosemary or thyme also repels pests and attracts predators (insects that eat pests) and pollinators.

Next article: Growing your Garden: preparing your beds, mulching, sowing, nursery and transplanting.

Planning your Garden

This is Article 1 of the Series on Backyard Farming.  Before you start though, go easy on yourself.  Leave your dread at the garden gate.  We will try to make gardening easy for you.  Enjoy getting dirty!

The first thing you have to do is plan your garden. What this means is that you determine where you will be planting. What will be the layout, orientation and planting areas?

Evaluate the area where you are planning to build a kitchen garden or backyard farm.  Remember that gardens are ECOSYSTEMS!

Some questions to answer:

  • Where are you growing your vegetables? For example, what is the type of soil you have.

Clay-soil may be problematic as it does not drain well.  Dry soil close to the sea should also be avoided (except for certain crops that do well in dry soil such as bananas and papayas.)  The best soil is loamy soil with a good balance of sand, clay and organic matter.  Whatever the soil is, it will always benefit from a lot of compost (Biodynamic Composting.)

  • Do you live in the lowlands or highlands? (A list of lowland and highland vegetables to plant will be discussed in the next article.)
  • How big is your area?

Plan out the space so your planting area is not too far from your compost pit or water source.  Also identify if there is space for a small nursery.

  • Is there a slope?

If your area is slightly sloping, make sure that it is not prone to flooding during the rainy season.  A steep slope will wash top soil right away.    If you have a low lying area where the rainwater collects, consider turning the lowest lying area into a small fishpond or reservoir for water.  When you have to garden in a slope, it will be best to restructure the slope into terraces.

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THE ESSENTIALS for a KITCHEN GARDEN OR BACKYARD FARM:

  • SUN: Almost all vegetables and fruits will need at least 8-10 hours of sun every day to thrive.  Pick a place that gets enough sun and make sure it is not too close to existing trees.  Trees will place a shadow on your vegetable beds most of the time.
  • WATER: Find a place that will allow you easy access to water. During the summer, you will have to water your plants more so you might want to have it closer to the tap or water source.
  • SOIL:  Good soil will be the most crucial.  Where is your best top soil found?  You will need to build the quality and structure of your soil with good compost and in our case, biodynamic preparations.  One of the most important thing you will have to do is to build healthy living soil.
  • PROTECTION: Make sure that it is protected from wind drafts and too much water.  As we live in a tropical country, we often suffer from strong winds and heavy rain.  These factors should always be considered when planning the garden.  For example, if your area is prone to strong winds, it may be best to have windbreaks.  These are structures that will slow down the wind like hedges, rows of ipil-ipil trees, bamboo fences, or a net.  You can also have bamboo sticks as support for plants.  More on windbreaks and protection from rainfall here.  Find the area where the water runs if it rains and make sure your beds are not there.

Once you have these questions answered, and have the essentials figured out, it is time to plan what vegetables to plant.

Next article: What to Grow.

Related articles: Growing your Garden: Composting and Mulching

Sources: Decades of farming wisdom imparted by experience, Grocery Gardening by Jean Ann Van Krevelen and Growing rich, tasty veggies in harmony with nature by Jef Van Haute

Backyard Farming Series

We will be writing a series of articles on Backyard Farming.  People often comment on how much work farming must be.  But they also want to start their own gardens and have started asking questions.  We have been getting so many queries about how to grow food for small spaces, that we thought we should just share the joys of farming.  The articles will focus on the basics of backyard farming, how to plan your garden, building simple structures, sowing and transplanting, organic pest and disease management, and even harvesting and preserving your produce.

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The Joys of Growing your Own Food

Drop by every week for a new article!  This week, we will begin with: Planning your Garden using Biodynamic and Permaculture Principles. We will cover the basics of where to plant, what vegetables to plant and grow, nourishing your soil and building simple structures for a tropical climate.

Food for Thought

“If more of us valued food and cheer above hoarded gold, it would be a much merrier world.” J.R.R. Tolkien

African Food Garden

And so began merry.  My otherwise unquenchable appetite finally had its fill.  My senses were filled to the brim with tastes and aroma, and an abundance of color and sound in several languages.   It was so overwhelming I panicked.  I was being handed the entire world in a plate and my plate was too full. But there on my plate was culture and gastronomy in its vivid and authentic state.  “Devour and digest everything slowly”: I told myself. I would be there for days and there was no sense hurrying a “SLOW Food” market. There should be enough time to behold, sniff and savor. And so, my palate savored one country after another, sampling food in its extraordinary diversity, ingesting the pleasures of the planet.  There were figs from Afghanistan, baobabs from Sri Lanka, spiced coffee from Egypt, black salt from Russia, couscous from Palestine, and flower concoctions from Mali.  I had to try the citrus wine from Croatia. And I couldn’t count the number of times I dropped by the Provencal 45 nougat flavors booth. They had stacks of nougat with Inca berries and dark chocolate you can buy by the kilo.  I had never tasted nougat so soft; you could actually sense the kneading that came it.

45 flavors of Nougat

The entire world’s cuisine was there for me to devour. Belarus had wild fruit.  There were dates from Al Jufrah in Libya.  Slovenia had herbs I didn’t know existed. Portugal had some dried flowers and figs while Uruguay asked me to sample their chilies. Then there was Motal, cheese in terracotta, ash and beeswax from Armenia.  By the time I inched my way to Ecuador for coffee, my stomach was about ready to give up.   But I had to try Huehuetenango coffee from Guatemala; it was in the “top 10 things to try” list. That one burned my tongue.  Too bitter and I couldn’t find the promised hint of chocolate. I had to sample two more Joes, one from Costa Rica, another from Nicaragua.  The coffee was too sharp or maybe I wasn’t quite the coffee connoisseur I thought I was. Then there were the salts from Iceland, so queerly and delightfully flat.  I had to sample every bit. Smoked salt would be delightful on the next steak I would grill.  I bought those, and added the white onion salt, that would be delish on my fish.

Flavored salts

We dined on forgotten food and tastes: raw milk cheeses from small dairies.  The stench was awful, the taste divine. There was meat from native animal breeds and the Euskal Txerria pig and my husband doted on the Basque jamon. We even sniffed and sipped wines from grapes long forgotten and rediscovered.  Now my taste buds have been elevated to be partial to the Sangiovese grapes. There were still 1000 wines to experience at the Enoteca and I had a workshop to sip 5 different Lambrusco wines fermented inside the bottle.  If I had to write about all the ales, the birras and the hops I got to try, I won’t be able to end this article.  And let me not start telling you about the chocolates or the cheese. These artisanal products, I had an abundance of.

Artisan cheese from raw milk

So on to the sausages.  There was a pretty girl in a costume from the Slovak Republic and men were lining up to sample, the sausage or the beauty, I don’t know.  I finally got a shot of Cachaca from Peru, the drink my brother-in-law once raved about on a tour to South America. The Peruvian man who insisted I chugged his 40% organic corn liquor and I couldn’t quite understand each other. But the hand signals and the alcohol were easily understood. And I kept drifting back to the Domaine a Lafitte booth. They had Armagnac brandy aged in oak barrels this was one drink I definitely wanted to understand.

Our (Philippine) booth had a culinary offering (courtesy of Margarita, Tricia, and Monica) as well. We had overbooked tables as diners feasted on Adobo, Sinigang, traditional mountain rice, lechon and suman. These and they we’re serenaded hours on end by the ethnic beats and Igorot moves of  Django and Manny.

I am now home with a bounty of dulce de leche liquor and Polish honey wine, the rose, cypress and poppy chocolates, lavender jams, Armagnac brandy, truffle crèmes, salted butter and pistachio pates, spicy pork and flavored salts.  And, I, finally understand humanity’s perennial obsession with food.

Food is immensely rich as it is full of wisdom and pleasure.  Every bite is a history and a story. And each person’s, each country’s, and each region’s identity lies in their food.   Sample a simple dish from Norway and you are somehow linked to the Fjords and its past of salting herring.  Imagine how every wine you sup is a memory of a place, of the seasons and the heat and the cold it had to go through, of an entire landscape, or the exquisite taste of a single vine. And isn’t it fascinating how one can go places, relocate and live in another place, but will always hunger for the tastes of home?

7 continents, 1 table.

Rushing through all the trappings of modern life, we forget how rich and vivid food tastes like.  Everything is fast, often cheap, even easy. But food is so much more than just the food we gobble up.  It can be an entire culture and whatever we chose to consume, spells the life or death of animal breeds, seed varieties, or even a small farm or community.   And now I know why eating should be slow: unhurried in the way one delights in it, and especially in the way it gets to the plate.  It is only when we see the wisdom and rewards of eating will we realize how much is at stake at the plate.  And I say anew, “if more of us valued food and cheer above hoarded gold, it would be a much merrier world.” J.R.R. Tolkien

And so, have a merry feast!

Why you can still eat meat and save the world

“[I]t is doubtful that you can build a more sustainable agriculture without animals to cycle nutrients and support local food production. If our concern is for the health of nature … then eating animals may sometimes be the most ethical thing to do.”

– Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma

 Well, some people have opted to go vegan. They say the way animals are raised (cows, pigs, chickens, a.k.a. factory farming) is fraught with evil. The animals suffer in cramped spaces, force-fed, dehorned, castrated, and injected with antibiotics, hormones, living in cruelty and deprivation.

But as it often happens, the ones who truly care find a way.  They don’t shake their heads in disgust and look the other way. Instead, they go into the system and change it.

That’s what sustainable meat is. It is supporting a system that raises animals in an ethical and sustainable way. A simple definition: it’s a way of raising animals on open pasture, grazing as nature intended them to be, and without hormones or antibiotics.

For us, there are several reasons why sustainable meat is the answer to the problems posed by eating meat: animal welfare, economics, the environment and your health.

Animal Welfare

Everyone knows how factory farming treats animals: cages, hormones, antibiotics and cheap feed, sometimes even animal by-products and oftentimes GMO.

On the other hand, sustainable meat come from animals raised on pasture.  The animals eat grass and live as they would in the wild.  The Philippines can boast of an even more humane treatment of animals.  For example, DowntoEarth sources its pasture-raised meat from small family sized farms with as few as 1or at the most 4 cows.  Local, small-scale animal farming works on many levels. With a small-scale system, the animals are never confined in small spaces. Why? It is simply not practical for small-scale farmers. They cannot afford it.  Instead, they let the animals stay outside, grazing in the open field. More importantly, animals are treated in a much better way than animals on factory farms. In fact, the animals are treated almost like pets. Animals are not stressed. There’s no need to castrate or dehorn the bulls, for example, because they’re tame. What you get in the end are meat products from animals that have been raised humanely.

Environment

We all know how much havoc factory-farming has caused the environment: greenhouse gases, harmful air and water pollution and destruction of ecosystems.  Aside from the that, factory farming transports its meat over large distances, using valuable fossil fuel and causing further air pollution.

On the other hand, sustainable meat, will do little harm to the environment.

“When raised on properly managed pastures, ruminants [cows] don’t compete with humans for grain-producing acreage; in turn, they supply us with bountiful nutrients and leave the earth better for having walked upon it. On intensively-managed pasture, they have been shown to restore vegetative cover, increase biodiversity, and improve soil fertility, thereby making our fields more resistant to both drought and flood.”  (http://eartheasy.com/blog/2010/07/the-case-for-sustainable-meat/)

Farmers who raise their animals sustainably will often see the entire system as interconnected. They will see the need to make sure that the soils are healthy and that the grasses grow abundantly.  Also, animals are slaughtered in ways that cause minimal environmental harm.  You also don’t have to worry about waste.  The manure acts to fertilize the portion of pasture they leave behind (and again don’t need to use synthetic fertilizers to keep their pastures lush.)  Small-scale farmers also do not have the money for large-scale trucking or transport.  Thus, meat is sold locally.

Support for the small farmer

Sustainable meat will often be from small family-owned farms.  By supporting and buying meat from these small farmers, we help them find marketing and distribution channels for their meat.  Local, grass-fed beef used to be the meat no one wanted to sell or buy. Farmers had to sell it at a very low price.  However, with the increasing consciousness on the benefits of grass-fed beef, it has since climbed up the ranks and has now won a niche market.

Health

If you are still not convinced, think about what you are eating.  You are what you eat.  “Grain-fed, factory-farmed, industrial meat is pumped full of hormones to increase the amount of meat that can be produced from a single animal and antibiotics to counter the unsanitary conditions on factory farms. The animals are fed cheap grain and waste in order to decrease the cost of raising the animal and increase corporate profit margins.”  (http://www.saisriskandarajah.com/happymeat/why.php)  Also, imported meat, even if partly grass-fed will most likely be still grain-fed, simply because grass isn’t as readily available in colder climates. In cold climates, grain feeding becomes economical and practical because in winter there is no grass and hay is more expensive than subsidized grain.  Some countries also get several months of drought because they have dry weather.

 

Again, this is where small-scale local farms in the Philippines have an edge. In the Philippines, not only do we have an abundance of grass, we also have good rainfall patterns all year round.  This makes local grass-fed beef production sustainable and economically viable. Small-scale farms will let their animals roam free, and let their cattle eat grass.  And because the cows were fed grass as nature intended them to and have lived stress-free, happier lives, there is no need for antibiotics. What you have then is food that is low in fat, and a great source of Omega 3 and the cancer fighting CLA.

Some Sources:

www.examiner.com/article/sustainable-food-101-what-is-sustainable-meat
www.eatwellguide.com
www.sustainabletable.com
www.eatwild.com
http://grist.org/sustainable-farming/farmer-responds-to-the-new-york-times-re-sustainable-meat/

Pig Heaven: What Makes Free Range Pigs Different

More and more people are loving our free range pork.  The favorites? Pastured Smoked Bacon and Canadian Bacon, even our Smoked Farmer’s Ham.  What makes our pastured pork products different?

Pigs living on pasture

FEED: GREENS, COCONUT MEAT, WHEY

Our pigs live out their entire lives on pasture!  Look at their 5-star pig pens! Our pigs are never crowded in small dark pens.  They have access all day to vegetation and a lot of fresh air and sunshine.  They even have their own mud pools!  The pigs live happy healthy lives. Aside from what they eat out in the pasture, we give them cassava, copra cake, chopped greens and coconut meat.  We do not feed them corn or soybean.  We make the feed ourselves so we know exactly what the pigs eat! The pigs have NOT been fed animal by-products, given growth hormones or therapeutic antibiotic treatment. They have not been fed genetically modified corn or soybean.

PROBIOTICS

Our pigs get a daily dose of raw whey.  This gives them a daily dose of probiotics, making them healthier and less prone to disease.

DURATION

Commercial pigs are raised to a size that’s good for the market, in barely 4 months.  This is because of the heavy feeding of commercial feed, and because the pigs are kept in small pens, unable to move.  Naturally-bred pigs or natural pork are from swine that are raised also in just 5 months. While they have more space to move and fed chopped greens, they are still fed corn and soybean.  This makes it possible for natural growers to raise their pigs to a marketable size in barely 5 months.

DowntoEarth pigs take at least 10 months to grow!  This is because of the feed we give them and because they are always outdoors.  The duration is similar to the Iberian pigs in Europe, which are fed a lot of acorn (in our case, we feed them coconut meat).  We follow slow food principles, and thus our pigs take so much longer to raise to a good size.

THE END RESULT

Rolling in the muddy outdoors

Raising pigs on pasture adds real nutrients and flavor to the meat. A pig is by nature, born to root, dig, and run in pasture.  And because they are able to live as nature intended them to, their quality of life is tops, and the quality of the meat is improved.

Our pork is darker in color with good marbling. A darker color in pork means the meat has a higher pH score.  A higher pH score relates to low cooking loss, better water holding capacity, loin firmness, less drip loss, improved processing quality and a richer flavor.

Our version of Pig Heaven is definitely heavenly! DowntoEarth just does not raise pigs, we raise happy and healthy pigs.

Check out our Pasture-raised pork products.

Pasture-raised v. Free-range Chickens

We have been receiving a lot of inquiries about “the difference between native, pasture-raised chickens and free-range chickens.”  Are “pasture-raised” the same as “free-range?”

NO they are not.  Here’s why.

Free range- The USDA free-range label (which we assume most Philippine brands also follow) requires that poultry be “allowed access to the outside.”

However, the USDA does not require the hens to be actually going outside (only access is required), nor does it define what outside is.  They also do not have any requirement on the size or type of the outdoor space.  “Free range” can actually include a chicken coop with a small door that leads to just a small outdoor pen, or a patch of dirt or concrete (even without grass.) In fact, Michael Pollan, in Omnivore’s Dilemma, describes a free-range CAFO as thousands of birds packed into windowless, military barrack like buildings with one or two small doors to a 10×10 outdoor pen. He also doubted any of the chickens actually ventured out for fear of the unknown.   The hens may spend their lives inside the pens, not have enough sunlight or breath natural air.

Additionally, free-range poultry are usually fed grains, which are not the natural food of hens/chickens. Hens/chickens are omnivores, and naturally eat seeds, insects, and grubs. They can also consume small lizards, mice, and frogs.

Healthy eggs and meat come from poultry that were able to eat green plants, seeds and bugs, and exposed to sunlight.

Thus, if you buy “free-range” make sure your farmer or supplier does it the true “pastured” free range way.  That is, the hens/chickens have actual time outside eating grass and grubs, and exposed to sunlight and fresh air. The best ones we have found are those hens that are housed in mobile structures so you can move the houses around and give the hens constant and easy access to vegetable and bugs. 

Pasture-raised-

Pasture raised poultry mean the hens/chickens actually stay outside.  They are able to eat bugs and vegetation.  These hens/chickens eat seeds, green plants, insects, and worms.  The chickens and eggs laid tend to be more nutritious because these chickens have exposure to sunlight, which their bodies convert to Vitamin D, and pass it on to their eggs. Eggs from pastured-hens have three to six times more vitamin D than eggs from hens raised in confinement.

Read more: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/2007-10-01/Tests-Reveal-Healthier-Eggs.aspx

Native and Pasture-raised

DowntoEarth poultry and eggs are native and pasture-raised.  The reason why we choose native chicken and eggs is because the native breed cannot be confined.  By nature, they cannot be placed inside cages as they are wild animals.  They also cannot be kept together in enclosed quarters, as they fight other chickens/hens and have a tendency to fly.  These chickens/hens have to be placed outdoors, given full access to vegetable and grubs, and be under sunshine.  We have made several comparisons of native v. free-range v. commercial eggs and have seen a big difference in taste, color and consistency.

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Photo from: http://forums.mukamo.com/health-fitness/18523-eggs-cage-free-free-range-pastured.html

Understanding Meat Labels: Grass-fed, Pastured, Organic and Natural

Confused about all the novel terms for meat? There’s “organic” and “grass-fed,” or “pasture raised.” What does it all mean?

Grass-fed Beef

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This really means your cow are raised on pasture and fed grass. The cattle’s diet consists of grass, the natural diet of cows. You are what you eat. Cattle that spend their lives grazing on pasture, compared to those that are fed grain (which is really NOT their natural diet), are always healthier. The meat is richer in Omega 3 (because Omega 3 lives in the green leaves). Meat is rich in Vitamin E and beta carotene, and is a good source of conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, a powerful cancer fighter. Usually, farmers who raise their cows on pasture strive to keep it organic or follow sustainable farming practices. This means no chemical fertilizers, pesticides or antibiotics. This is also because cows are typically healthier and thus do not need hormones or antibiotics.

However, there is (yet) NO standard for Grass-fed. The only requirement is access to grass during its life. There is also no restriction on the use of antibiotics or hormones. In fact, cattle could be kept in feedlots and fed grass, and the beef they produced could still be sold as grass-fed. The cattle can also be raised for part of their lives on grass (pasture) before they are sent to feedlots and can still be described as “grass-fed”. This is sad because the healthy qualities of grass-fed beef come from the constant movement of the animals in the pasture as they graze, not just on their grass-based diet.

Another issue to watch out for is grass fed dairy cows.  According to Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions, “modern day cows are a freak of nature. Holstein cows [cow breeds you usually find in the supermarket, including those from Australia and New Zealand] have been produced by selective breeding to produce cows with abnormally active pituitary glands and by high-protein feeding.  The pituitary gland not only produces hormones that stimulate milk production, it also produces growth hormones.  A superfluous amount of growth hormones can result in grown abnormalities.  Excessive pituitary hormones are also associated with tumor formation and some studies link milk with cancer.  The freak-pituitary cow is prone to many disease and almost always secretes pus in her milk and thus needs frequent doses of antibiotics.” Note that about twenty (20%) percent of the beef in Australia comes from dairy cows and about 40%, in New Zealand.

“Cattle are healthiest when they are eating the food they evolved to eat (grass) under the conditions they evolved to eat it (grazing).” True grass-fed, even pastured, should be fed grass from start to finish, and without antibiotics or hormones. When looking for healthy, quality beef, look for beef that is 100% grass fed and raised only on pasture. These animals are not given any animal bi-products, antibiotics or hormones.

Pasture-raised

This only means that the animals were raised outdoors on the pasture. Again, the term is not regulated. As of now, there is no requirement on how much percentage of pasture is needed to properly label a product pasture-raised. According to Dr. Aaron Grass of Farm Forward, “All cattle are ‘pasture-raised’ for the first few months of their lives before they are sent to feedlots, so even the most confined beef can be described as ‘pasture-raised.’” Thus, most animals will be raised with some pasture but may still be with a lot of access to grain. They can also be raised on pasture but finished on grain. The animals can also be fed antibiotics or injected growth hormones. True pasture-raised should be cows on pasture from birth throughout their entire lives, with no feedlots. 100% Pasture-Raised” (like 100% grass-fed) indicates that the animals were never confined in feedlots, spent their whole lives outside on pasture living cow lives.

Organic Beef

Organic has actually very little to do with the animal’s quality of life and is mostly just about their feed. USDA Organic meat is derived from animals that are fed organic vegetarian feed (no animal by-products) and had “access” to pasture or the outdoors. No hormones, antibiotics or cloned animals can be used. However, USDA Organic animals, for the most part, DO NOT require a grass-only diet. The animal can still be fed an unnatural and unhealthy grain (even GMO corn and soy) and raised in feedlots. So, unless it is labeled grass-fed, organic cattle is fed organic grains. This is again the problem. Cattle raised on grain, even if it is organic, is not as healthy as cattle raised on grass. Therefore, it produces meat that is lower in omega 3s, vitamin E, and CLA than its grass-fed counterpart does. Without Antibiotics & No Antibiotics Added Only means that the animals were raised without any antibiotics or hormones (for growth.) Again, this has little to do with the animals’ living conditions or their diet.

Natural

According to the USDA, a product containing no preservatives, artificial ingredients, colors, and minimal processing can be labeled “natural.” Natural doesn’t tell the consumer anything about an animal’s living conditions, whether antibiotics or hormones were used, or what it ate. The animal can still be fed an unnatural diet of grain.

100% Grass Fed. 100% Pasture-raised. 100% Native breeds.

DowntoEarth cattle are raised the traditional way: grass and grazing. They are raised by small family farms with one or two cows. The cattle have never been on a feedlot nor are they fed antibiotics, grain (GMO corn or soy,) or hormones. They always eat grass and graze all-year round in the green, abundant pastures of Mindanao. More importantly, they are treated humanely and are not castrated or dehorned. DowntoEarth Grass-Fed Beef comes from the the native  Bali or Banteng and Chinese Yellow  Cattle  cross-bred with Nellore or Ongole and American  Brahman  cattle. The cattle is native, hardy and have been bred and raised for use as draft animals in small farms. Because of this, they are entirely raised on pasture, fed grass and without the use of any antibiotics or growth hormones.  DowntoEarth desires to promote local, native and indigenous cattle breeds. By doing so, we are able to ensure not only optimum health benefits in the food we eat. 

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Graphs from http://www.eatwild.com/healthbenefits.htm

Arranging for the home

There’s something divine about having fresh flowers in the house.  I think it should be in everyone’s home, just as one needs a sofa or an expensive décor.  I even think it beats most expensive works of art as it is quite a beauty and costs very little too.   Not only is it lovely to look at, it does wonders for how you feel inside too.

What you need:

A bunch of flowers, some water and a vase!

Our favorite bunches for the house (yes, in this order):

  1. Carnations
  2. Daisies
  3. Roses
  4. Hydrangeas

The simplest bundle can turn into a beautiful feast for the senses.

Some tips:

  1. Use only a single variety or color of flowers in one container. 
  2. Pick a whimsical vase.  You can use pitchers, glasses, goblets, decanters, large bowls, even teacups!

3.  One way to make things easier for you is to use a floral foam.  The foam helps you in arranging the flowers so they stay put in those more difficult wide-mouthed vases (like a large bowl or a very low cup.)

Some arrangements you can try (they are easy!):

Mixed flowers in the same colors palette

Same flowers, mixed colors

Simple blooms in pretty small vases

There you have it.  Simply beautiful. Costs very little too!

Easy Vegetables to grow in the Tropics

We’re sensing a whole lot of passion on farming.  Suddenly, friends, acquaintances, even strangers have come to us, asking for tips on how to grow food.  With an entire summer ahead, slow hours and nothing else to do, you might want to try your hand (and maybe your green thumb) at growing some vegetables.

We recommend you do multiple crops in a few beds and then later practice crop rotation.  Multiple crops give you the advantage of having different plants that have different needs and benefits. For example, some plants may be home to beneficial insects that would kill/eat the pests of another plant.  Inter-cropping will also give you higher yields.  Following biodynamic farming, you should be inter-cropping leafy vegetables with root vegetables and legumes.  As a guide, leaf crops are heavy soil feeders.  Legumes are light feeders and improve the soil because they are nitrogen fixing.  Root crops are also light feeders.

Here are our recommendations on what you can try to jump-start your farming venture.  These are some of the easiest vegetables you can grow and are a good mix of leaf, root and legume (fruit) crops.

String beans

One thing you can do is to put a trellis where the beans can climb. Give them at least ten hours of sun per day and regular watering twice a week.

Leafy Greens

The easiest to grow would be leafy greens like pechay, tatsoi, kangkong, mizuna and mustard leaves.  Arugula is also easy to grow.  These can be grown in beds or even in containers for a small kitchen garden or backyard.  Just make sure you have good soil with plenty of organic matter or compost, regular watering twice a week and full sun.

Lettuce

Lettuce can grow well if your soil is healthy.  Make sure your soil is rich in organic matter.  You also have to water them at least twice a week.  You can place them under full sun although some afternoon shade would also be good.  Best to choose loose leaf varieties and oak leaf lettuce that are hardy and better adapted to our hot climate. Here’s a great resource on growing lettuces (permaculture) in a tropical climate.

 

Herbs

Cilantro, Basil, Italian flat leaf parsley, and rosemary thrive well even under tropical conditions and without needing a high elevation.

Legumes

Mung bean is the easiest to grow and will make a great cover crop.  You will also need the legumes to moderate the soil feeders (leaf crops) and for its Nitrogen fixing properties (with nitrogen fixing bacteria, nitrogen in the air is converted into nitrogen in the soil.)

Pigeon Pea (kadios) is another legume you should plant for its nitrogen fixing properties. The peas can end up as nutritious food for the table, and you can use the plant’s leaves, flowers and pods for animals.  Its flowers attract the bees too.

Sweet Potato

Sweet potato is a good root crop for your multiple crop bed or small garden.  They grow well with the hot sun, have little need for water or fertilizer (don’t over fertilize.)  In fact, you might just have too much as they grow like vines on the ground. (Tip: they also need some space.) They also are resistant to disease.  Not only that, you can use them as ground cover and use it for mulching as well.

Rooms for Rent: Wildlife Welcome

I spent an entire morning chasing after birds, hoping I could take their picture perched on bamboo.  They were so beautiful flying from bamboo to bamboo and yet they were too fast to be captured on my lens. Instead, I was able to take photographs of our farm’s other tenants: the chickens, some cows, a ladybug and earthworms.

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An essential principle of Biodynamic agriculture is biodiversity.  As you treat the entire farm as a living system, you then protect and benefit from every creature in the farm, from the tiniest microbe to even the laziest cow. Every one lives in harmony with the other, and in fact, everyone pays the rent.  Here are some of the creatures we house.

Birds

The flowers and shrubs become willing nests for our birds and insects. While the birds and insects pay their dues by terminating all the pests that would otherwise wreak havoc on our plants.  Our farm enjoys playing host to bluebirds and kingfishers.  These birds happily feast on the grubs and insects in our farm.

Chickens

Then there’s the dependable chicken. They give back by eating pests too, and when they are done, fertilize our farm with chicken poop.  We can even have some free range eggs for breakfast!

Frogs

I have almost stepped on a little brown frog once.  We have some resident frogs in our farm as well.  They are hearty mosquito eaters.  They live close to our paddies.

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Ladybugs, Beetles and Butterflies

Now among our prettiest lady dweller is the ladybug. Dressed with her red polka dot dress, she’s the best at what she does- feeds abundantly in aphids!  Some other tiny creatures we love are the lacewings and beetles.  Read more about Integrated Pest Management and Beneficial Insects.

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Spiders and Worms

On to the icky ones: spiders and worms.  We can’t say no to our spider dwellers.  The webs they meticulously create become traps for pests.  And earthworms!  No one can deny these are the magical workers of the soil.

Cows

Cows are among our most important tenants. We depend heavily on our cows for our compost and for the biodynamic preparations we use. They are among our highest paying tenants: cow dung is like gold to the farmer!  Not only is it essential for a healthy soil, we use it to make preparation 500, which promotes the plants’ root activity and stimulates most microbe life in our soils.  Not to mention milk and cheese!

Our farm is an eclectic mix of creatures.  We have a thriving population of earthworms, birds, insects, chickens and cows. By ensuring healthy soils, cover cropping, and the proper planning of our plant beds, hedges and water reservoirs, we provide a habitat for wildlife and somehow increase biodiversity.  Not only that, we are rewarded with birdsong, with butterflies, with handy workers that cultivate and fertilize our soil, with soldiers, and even with fresh milk and eggs.

Weathering the Storm

The recent typhoon that hit Mindanao was unusual. Our farm was built with the assurance that tropical storms do not reach Mindanao. They just never did. Not until December 2011 when the weather went around the bend and caught everyone in Mindanao unaware. And while our farm was spared the brunt of the storm, still, we woke up with the stark reality of extreme weather, and the realization that unpredictable was now normal.

Our Bamboo Greenhouses

The damage to our crops was minimal.  Our bamboo greenhouses rolled with the strong winds. Our robust plants were able to withstand more than usual water in the beds. Although lost a few crops that drowned with too much water (carrots mostly), these were quite negligible. We met with our farmworkers and realized there were quite a few practices we did in the farm that had helped us weather the unusual storm. These were some of the practices that helped us in the farm. We have decided to develop these practices further, as we prepare for more rainfall, stronger winds, and prolonged droughts.

Bamboo Greenhouses

Our greenhouses are made entirely of bamboo, without nails or screws.  Instead we use pegs. These greenhouses were built and positioned to use natural ventilation, with sloping roofs that cascade water down to the canals near our plant beds.  As bamboos are naturally flexible, and because we only had wooden pegs as attachments, our greenhouses did not break with the powerful winds.  The bamboos merely swayed with the wind, protecting our plants inside.  Rainwater also merely flowed on a slope, straight down to canals and ditches.

We are planning to further improve these greenhouses to accommodate stronger winds by redesigning the structure so it could allow more wind to pass through instead of directly impacting the structure.

Mulching and Cover Cropping

Our tiny cannals

Mulchingprotected our beds from too much water.  When rainwater falls on the beds, the mulch acts as a cushion and absorbs the water so that the excess water seeps slowly into the plants without drowning them.  Cover cropping does a similar thing. The cover acts as a barrier, protecting our soil from wind, water and nutrient loss.  Not only that, mulching and cover crops are also fertilizer, and thus improved our soil by helping break down nitrogen and releasing more nutrients.

Canals and DitchesRainwater falls from the rooftops of our greenhouses straight to micro basins or canals, which catch them. These canals are also lined with thick mulch (4 inches at least. Since our greenhouses are constructed on a slope, the rainwater would gently seep towards the plant beds and the beds will only slowly absorbed wat

er.

We are planning to have more canals around the beds to accommodate the impending heavy rain.

Terraces, Contours and Micro Basins

Our farm takes advantage of natural sloping topography to direct precipitation run-off to our plant beds. To prevent soil run-off however, we have planted legumes to act as breaks.

Natural Windbreaks

We have planted leguminous plants in between our greenhouses and trees at the boundary of our farm to act as windbreaks.  These acted as a sort of barrier from what would have otherwise been very powerful winds that might have toppled our structures.  As we are preparing for more unpredictable weather, we are planning to plant more trees along the farm’s periphery.

Sloping roofs

Organic Matter in Soil

Good soil makes bigger and stronger plants. Most of the plant’s nourishment comes from the soil. (Read about Composting.) When they have ample and the right amount of minerals and nutrients from the soil, plants are more robust and resilient.  They also perform better in wet and dry weather.  Most of all, healthy soils with abundant organic content can hold more carbon and more water.  Read more about Good Soil, Healthy Plants, More Water.

As you can see, some of the practices we did for the last few years helped our farm.  I see sustainable agriculture as a mitigation and adaptation approach to unpredictable weather. In our case, biodynamic farming ensures a thriving and unbroken ecosystem.  Treating your farm as an ecosystem will ensure that each and every part works for itself and for the whole.  And following the wisdom of nature, everything works together seamlessly.    We need to find ways of adapting to the changing weather that is already here.  Unpredictable is now the new normal.  But we can ride out the storm if we have prepared for it.

Mulching

Mulch is nothing else but a layer of dried weeds, grass, or leaves placed over plant beds.  We use mulching to retain moisture, prevent weed growth, create an environment for beneficials, and as protection from erosion.  Mulching has been most helpful the past few months with the onslaught of rain. Our beds have been protected from erosion that comes from the splashing of raindrops, which would otherwise remove our topsoil.

Mulching is one the easiest and most practical thing you can do for your vegetable or plant bed, or garden.

Gather the weeds, leaves, twigs you have.  You can

also use rice straw, dried napier grass, wood chips or sunflower leaves.  Dry them under the sun.  Place the “mulch” on top of the soil and around the base of your plants.  And that’s all.

Plant bed with mulch

What mulching does:

Conserves the soil’s moisture:  Water is lost through evaporation because of winds.  A good mulch cover prevents a lot of evaporation.

Prevents weed growth: Mulch placed at a depth of at least 2-3 inches prevents weed growth by smothering the weed seeds so that they don’t germinate.

Improves the soil’s aeration:  Mulching prevents crusting from hard rain.  Thus, your plant roots can have continued access to air.  Earthworms also love mulch.  As they feed on the mulch, they create air tunnels.

Provides a home for beneficial insects: Some beneficial insects are able to live under the shade of mulch. Mulch provides a nice home for insects that can help you with pest management.

Prevents soil erosion: Mulch protects your bed by preventing rain from removing topsoil.

Insulates the soil.

Adds organic matter to your soil: As the mulch decomposes, it adds organic matter to the soil.

Now you have something to do with weeds, leaves, twigs and the bark chips in your garden. Nothing should be put to waste. Everything goes back to the soil.

Peppering as a Method of Pest Control

Another method unique to Biodynamic farming is Peppering.  No, it’s not the use of pepper, but the use of ashes (produced after a method) that is sprinkled over affected areas in the farm like pepper.  Peppering reduces weeds, insects and rodents. Because peppering is quite powerful, we only use it as a last resort.  This is because it completely eradicated something from a treated area, and cannot establish or maintain a healthy balance, especially when what we aim for is a healthy, ecological and interdependent ecosystem.

What is peppering?

Peppering excludes a specific pest from the area you treat by getting the pest, burning it and putting it back to the soil.

How do you make the “pepper?”

Capture the pest and burn it to ash. The ash is then sprinkled like pepper around the perimeter of the affected area. The timing is specific to the type of pest and what planetary influences rule their reproduction:

Ÿ Animals – when the planet Venus is in the constellation of Scorpio.

Ÿ Winged insects – when the Sun is in Gemini, and the Moon is in a water sign.

Ÿ Hard shelled insects – when the Sun is in Taurus and the Moon is in Taurus.

Ÿ Snails and slugs – when the Sun is in Cancer and the Moon is in a water sign.

Ÿ Weed seeds – at full Moon or moon is in Leo.

Some tips:

  1. Collect the pest first.  If you are getting rid of small insects, you might need a lot of small insects.  If you are dealing with weeds, you need the ripe and viable seeds.
  2. Store it in cold temperature (freezer) until the proper burning time.
  3. Put in a tin and burn completely to a grey ash on a very hot fire. Sprinkle the ashes like pepper around the affected area. You can mix the ash with fine sand, wood ash or make into a homeopathic preparation which can be sprayed out.

Some additional tips from other farmers:

  1. Put out on three consecutive days.
  2. Apply at full Moon (associated with fertility).
  3. Avoid times when Mercury is retrograde.
  4. Use all stages of the life cycle of an insect (egg, pupae and adult).
  5. Repeat the application every six months or yearly.

Taken in part from http://backyardbiodynamics.com/

Seed Saving

One critical aspect of biodynamic farming is the practice of saving seeds.  Saving seeds is important for food security.  You save seeds to preserve the varieties that you see cope well with your local climate, are resistant to the pests or diseases in your area, or thrive well in zero-chemical conditions.   You also save seeds because there is a plant you simply love and must have again.

We saved seeds from some of our healthiest plants.  Some of these are: Cilantro, French beans, Arugula, and Basil.  This gives us produce that is grown from very healthy plants that have already adapted to our local climate and environment.  The plants are also less “addicted” to chemicals as they have been grown biodynamically or organically.

Some tips:

  1. The best time to produce seeds is towards December to January when we no longer experience heavy rains.
  2. Avoid hybrids as you cannot produce good seeds from hybrids.  The seeds will be sterile or produce inferior plants.
  3. Choose the best plants, flowers, or vegetables to save seeds from.  Some things you might consider are the variety’s pest resistance, the flavor, the beauty, etc. Some seeds that can be easily produced are lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, pepper and beans. Once you have selected a variety, allow those plants to produce seeds.
  4. Our process includes waiting for the plant to bolt. This means we wait until plant begins to flower. And then we wait for the plants to form seed pods.  Once the seed pods are dried, we get the pods and dry the seeds.  The seeds are then stored in cold storage.
  5. Store seeds that are completely dry.  You can store it in Manila paper or a paper envelope. Label it and then place in an air tight container.  Store it in a cool, dark and dry place.
  6. Stored sees are usually used the following year.

Seed saving, especially from plants that have been grown on healthy soil and without chemicals, is a key towards sustainable agriculture.  It’s also a wonderful way of propagating native, heirloom and indigenous plants.

Green Manuring: Using Legumes for your plant beds

We use green manuring to help with our composting.  Green manures allow us to fertilize and add more organic matter to our soil.  Green manuring is a method of putting back into the soil living plants at the peak of their growth.  We do this by using leguminous plants (like mung bean, kadios, peanut and other wild plants) or we also use wild sunflowers. The plants are harvested at their peak or right before they flower, and then the plants are ploughed back into the soil.  This process brings in more nitrogen, organic matter and living plants into the soil.  Legumes for example take in a lot of nitrogen from the air through the bacteria that live in their roots.  Grasses also create green matter, which breaks down into humus.  So what we are doing here is a method of composting on the bed itself.

The limitation of green manuring though is that you are not able to control the quality of humus in the soil.  It also does not necessarily improve the soil’s structure long term.  In fact, the wrong use of green manuring can decrease the soil’s organic content.

How to Green Manure:

  1. Plant your leguminous seeds.  Water until germination occurs.  Then water constantly.
  2. When the plants begin to flower, it is time to turn your legumes or plants into green manure.
  3. Using a hoe or other material, chop, mow or cut the green manure plants at its base. We allow our cuttings to wilt for a few days.
  4. Incorporate it into the soil by digging or by shallow cultivation.  You can dig a trench 4 inches deep, 6 inches long and as wide as the bed size.
  5. The time it will breakdown will vary from 6-8 weeks.

Green manure can be sown almost anytime but the best would be at the start of or the end of the rainy season. This is because you need a lot of water for the green manure to decay properly.  The middle of the rainy season on the other hand is too wet and tilling the soil at this time might destroy your soil structure. We also do green manuring each time we start a new bed, to prepare an unused or exhausted soil for the next planting.

Biodynamic Composting

Here’s something you should remember. You don’t feed the plants. You feed the soil.  Thus, the key to having vibrant plants would be to have fertile soil.  And feeding the soil means that you enrich it with organic matter or compost.  Our flowers and vegetables derive more than 90% of its nutrition from our compost.

Biodynamic or organic compost can replace any chemical fertilizer. Biodynamic compost especially builds the soil and reduces pest attacks.  Your compost will increase your yield and improve the life of your soil in the long term.

If you would like to start your own composting, here are a few tips:

1.  Gather materials that you already have around you.  You can use any animal manure you can find near your area.  It is best to use   fresh animal manure.  If the manure is dried, moisten it first with water and pulverize before using.  Gather and shred the weeds you have or the grasses that are around you.  You can also use rice straw.  Our farm uses shredded fallen leaves, aged manure, chopped up straw and dead seaweed, plants, compost and sawdust.

2.  Identify your compost site and take some time to build a simple composting shed with a roof made of natural materials, or a compost bin.  To make a bin, enclose an area of about 1 square meter.

3. If you can, it would be great to add earthworms.  If you already have some earthworms, just put them in the bed.  If not, just have the compost piles and the earthworms will come once the piles are composted.  See Vermicomposting.

4.  Place a layer of plant materials like leaves, grasses and weeds about 15cm thick.  If your material is courser, make the layer thicker.  If you have materials that tend to compact make the layers thinner.  Next layer is 7cm of animal manure. Then layer with 7 cm of lime or ash (you can do away with this layer.)  Lastly, add a thin layer of topsoil, enough to cover the surface of plant materials.  This is one complete later.

Repeat the layers (plant, ashes, soil) until your pile is 1.5 meters tall.

5.  Biodynamic compost is different from other composts because of the biodynamic preparations or specially prepared weed and herbal materials.   There are 6 preparations used: 502 (yarrow), 503 (chamomile), 503 (stinging nettle), 505 (oak bark), 506 (dandelion), and 507* (valerian.)  The preparations do not add bacteria or fungi but instead stimulate the life energies of pile so indigenous bacteria and fungi will be attracted to the pile and break it down.  These 6 preparations have been included in one preparation called the Prepared 500.  We get ours from Greg Kitma of PhilBio.  Our process is just to sprinkle or spray the prepared 500 over the compost pile.

6.  Keep the compost bed moist all the time. You can do so by watering the area at least twice a day, one in the morning and another before night falls. To retain moisture, you can put shredded cardboard or newspaper on top of the area or heaps of dried leaves.

7.  If you followed the layers, you should have no problem and your compost would be ready after 6-7 weeks. You will know it if your compost pile begins to heat up after 3 days.  Just allow it to continue decomposing until the temperature falls.  There is no need to turn the biodynamic compost or to place air channels.

8.  How do you know it is ready for use?  Your pile would have shrunk to ½ or 1/3 its original size.  You will also not see the original materials and it will have a sweet woody smell.  It would appear like normal soil when it is ready to be used. Just put it around your plants, the way you apply fertilizers. The compost produce should serve as a significant and wise replacement or substitution for chemicals and commercially available fertilizers. In no time, plants will be more productive and healthier than ever.

*You may want to plant some compost plants.  Corn, sorghum, napier and wild sunflower are good compost plants.

Starting your own Kitchen Garden

Food is healthier, tastier and more satisfying when picked from your own farm or grown in your own garden.  You get to eat food at freshest and choose the ones you exactly like too.  Imagine growing some of your vegetables and sharing these with family or friends.  The best reward is the pleasure of knowing they were grown in rich soil without chemicals or pesticides. But since not everyone can have the luxury of having their own little farm, here are some tips on starting your own Edible Garden.

1.  Decide where you want to grow your vegetables. Whether you live in the lowlands or highlands will determine the kind of vegetables you can grow.

2.  Ideally, a kitchen garden would be the best.  It should be close to your kitchen door so it’s easy to just get what you need when you need it.  If you don’t have enough space, you can grow your vegetables or herbs in between gaps in your flower beds or plant them in containers and grow them in bags.  You can even use hanging baskets.

3.  You need a plot that is not a slope so you won’t have a problem of soil erosion.  Find a sunny spot that gets enough sun (8-10 hours of sun a day.)  While it is in open spaces, you also need to make sure it is sheltered enough so it is protected from wind drafts.  You might also want to make sure it’s close to a water source.
4.  Start small and aim to grow more as you get more confidence.   What will your family eat?  How much time do you have to spend in it?  A bed that is 60-90 cm wide with paths of 30 cm is a good size.
5,  Your soil should be fertile, healthy soil.  If you already have healthy plants growing on your soil, it should be good enough.  Dig the soil, get rid of weeds and enrich it with compost before you start planting.  Your soil should have rich organic matter (compost.)  Our best tip is that before you plant, build your soil fertility by applying  Biodynamic Preparation 500 to your soil.  (We make our own but we can help you source them as well, just let us know.)  The preparations bring back balance to the soil and make the soil a rich place for micro organisms.
6.  Make your beds square or rectangular. This allows for easier planting and weeding.   Make sure you can reach the center from either side.  Also make sure your taller plants will not shade your smaller plants.
We suggest you use raised beds. Raised beds are filled with clean topsoil and then compost, and then mulched. The only disadvantage is they drain fast so you would have to water your plants often.
6.  Mulch the vegetable bed. This will improve your soil carbon, soil structure, help you conserve water and reduce the amount of weeding you need.  You do this by placing dried plant material like leaves, clippings, twigs, or barks on top of the soil and around the base of the vegetable plants.

Mulching Materials like Dry Leaves, Bark, Cuttings and Twigs

7.  You can get seeds from a garden store or from friends who have seeds. The seed packets would usually have a description.  Take note of what plants are good for small spaces, disease resistant, have good yields, are tolerant.  But your best resource will always be yourself after you have started planting, and gardening.

8. In the beginning, it would be good to plant several varieties of vegetables. Keep a journal and plan what seeds/plants go where.  Note down what plants were resistant to pests, grew well with minimum organic fertilizer, or other aspects like taste, and storage. Take note of what worked so you know what varieties are best for you.

Lowland Vegetables you can plant (easy to take care of): Malunggay, squash, pechay, papaya, string beans, kangkong, camote tops, okra and leaf type lettuce,

Highland Vegetables you can plant (easy to take care of): cauliflower, mustard, brocolli, salad greens, chinese cabbage, radish, carrot, peas, beans, tomatoes, cucumber, pepper and the like.

9. Some vegetables can be bought from a garden center, already started.  For example, you can buy herbs in pots.

10. Practice multiple cropping so you do not exhaust your soil.  Multiple cropping allows for different plants with different needs to use the soil.  Some plants may house beneficial insects, which the other plant needs to control pest.  Multiple cropping also produces higher yields than monoculture.

Some combinations:

Beans grow well with cucumber, early potato, lettuce and carrots.

Carrot grows well with peas, leaf lettuce, and chives. Sage, rosemary, onion and wormwood repel carrot fly.

Cucumbers grow well with corn, lettuce and celery. Radish and tansy repel cucumber beetle.

Lettuce grows well with carrots.

Peas grow well with radish, carrots, cucumbers, spinach, turnips and lettuce.

Potatoes grow well with beans and peas.  You can repel potato bugs by putting a border of malunggay.  Garlic and marigold also helps prevent blight in potatoes.

Tomatoes like basil and parsley. Garlic can combat tomato blight. Fava beans repel tomato wilt causing organisms.

11. Practice crop rotation.  This means that you do not plant the same crop in the same area between two planting cycles. For example, you can start with Chinese Cabbage, Carrots and Baguio Beans. The next planting, rotate where you planted them.  Note that leaf vegetables usually do well after a legume crop.  Fruit vegetables often perform well after a leafy crop. Root vegetables grow well after a fruit crop.

12. Water when the top inch of soil is dry. For in ground crops you might have to water once or twice a week. Raised beds are faster and may require watering every day. Just make sure you don’t water too much so that the soil is lumpy when you hold it.

13. Remove weeds when you have them with a hoe or a fork to lightly stir the top inch of soil.  Mulching is also good.

14. Fertilizing your crops through composting is best. (See How to Make Biodynamic Compost.)  You do this every cropping cycle.  We also hasten the decomposition of our compost by applying Biodynamic Preparation to the compost pit.

Compost Pit

14. Harvest your produce when they are ready.  Leaf lettuce can be picked as young as you like; snip some leaves and it will continue to grow and produce. The general rule: if it looks good enough to eat, it probably is. Give it a try. With some vegetables, the more you pick, the more the plant will produce.

15.  Now, EAT.

The Real Meat of the Matter

I haven’t been eating a lot of red meat for years (well, except for an occasional big fat juicy steak.) With all the articles on fat and heart disease, the inhumane treatment of livestock, and the mammoth carbon footprint of animal feedlots, a supposedly conscious consumer (who wants to keep the fats off) shouldn’t dream of eating so much red meat, right? I mean, red meat=saturated fat=clogged arteries=heart disease right? Still, I had to indulge a few times, especially since I ironically married into a family of farmers and cattle ranchers.

However, early last year, we started hearing about grass-fed beef.  I didn’t think much about it. In fact, I even asked my husband, “Why the need? Don’t all cows eat grass? Surprisingly, he said, “most don’t” and he began his treatise on beef.

Where’s the Beef or Where does your meat really come from

Here’s the rundown:  I will just discuss three of the most common kinds of beef in the Philippines: (1) Local grain-fed; (2) Imported Beef; and (3) Local grass-fed.

The kind of meat we have in the market, the meat we grew up with and have grown to love, and what ends up on our table, has a lot to do with economics or the business of meat.

Local Grain-Fed

Almost all cattle operations in Luzon (except for some dairy and breeding operations) raise cattle for the supermarket trade.  Supermarkets pay a premium for beef and thus farmers who sell to these markets are able to get more money for their meat.

However, supermarkets will only get meat that measures up to a certain weight.  This is so that the supermarkets are able to maximize meat to bone ratio. And, since the supermarkets will only accept this bulky weight, farmers have to make sure that their cows weigh at least 420-500 kilos when they bring them to the market. Now, to get to this weight that supermarkets will buy, the cattle farmers will have to fatten their cows.  If they left the cows on its natural diet of grass and allow them to leisurely graze, they won’t get the required weight in time and so they lose on the sale.

How do farmers make sure they have fat cows in a short time?  They fatten it up with grain and grain by-products.  Cows are kept in feedlots and fattened up with grain.  Since grain is quite expensive in the Philippines, they substitute also with grain by-products such as factory food rejects, brewers’ grain by-products, sweepings, and the like.  How much grass does the cow actually eat?  It varies from farm to farm. The bigger the farm, the more capital it has to supplement with grain.  Smaller farms cannot afford a lot of grain or by-products. On the average, local fattening operations use about 60% food concentrate and 40% grass.  Economics dictate: the bigger and faster, the better chances at the supermarket. Farmers are often forced to implant growth-inducing hormones to make sure the cows are fattened in record time.

Imported

The steak we grew up with and love to eat, that fat juicy one with the white marbling, those come from imported breeds like Angus and Hereford. These are the breeds that are able to put on more fat. The cows are raised in large farms with highly mechanized farming operations.  These cattle operations have a farmer to cattle ratio of 1:100 up to 1:1000 heads.  That means having only one farmer to 1000 cows! The U.S. also heavily subsidizes grain and thus cattle farms are able to get very cheap grain to feed livestock. (They also have to feed during the winter or a drought using grain.) They feed cattle more than 90% grain. Now, since the cows don’t feed based on their natural constitution and on the pace that they should, they easily get sick.  Farmers then have to give them antibiotics.  They are also implanted growth-producing hormones. Not only that (this is exactly where the vegans bellow: animal cruelty!”) they are dehorned so they can be easily handled, and castrated so they gain weight much faster. Also, the calves do not stay in the farms for long.  Farmers send the calves off to feedlots when they are only 6-8 months of age.  They do this so they keep their pasture free for producing more cows.  Note that a large percentage of imported beef comes from dairy operations and dairy operations generally use more supplements like milk replacers and medications for young calves.

Local Grass Fed

Local grass fed beef used to be the beef no one wanted to sell or buy. For the large-scale farmers, it was simply not economical.  For the consumers, there was not enough fat!  But with the increasing consciousness on the benefits of grass fed beef (good fat, high in Omega 3 and CLA, and leaner than skinless chicken), it has since climbed up the ranks and has now won a niche market.

Local grass fed meat comes from very small farms, mostly family farms.  The breeds are of the Indian breed, which are hardy, suited to our tropical climate, and leaner than the temperate breeds.  The farmer to cow ratio is usually 1:1 or 1:2.  Small farms with a few cows don’t need extensive land, fertilizer, pesticides, or heavy equipment. The cows do the work. They are tamed almost like a family pet. This is again, the most practical thing to do.  Tamed animals are easier to handle. The family farms will also not feed it anything but grass.  Feeding it grain is overly impractical, almost absurd.  With the amount of rainfall we get, green grass is readily available all year round. So the cow feeds on grass and lives outdoors, in the pasture. The cow is not dehorned or castrated. There is simply no point in doing so.  Also, they feed on their natural diet of local grass, building up their immune system so there is no need for antibiotics at all. Eighty percent of local grass fed cattle at their market age, will only weigh between 320 to 350 kilos live weight, way down the mark of supermarkets.  The smaller animals get slaughtered in the local wet markets because the cost of transporting them to major markets is too expensive (Cost of shipping a 320 kilo cow is the same as the 500 kilo cow.) The remaining 10% (those with better weight) are sent to a fattening operation in Batangas to be finished on a ration of grass and grain by products.

The healthier, more humane, ethical, and sustainable choice is really local, grass fed beef.  The cows were fed grass as nature intended them to, without medications, and have lived stress-free, happier lives. What you have then is food that is low in fat, and a great source of Omega 3 and the cancer fighting CLA.  http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/07/18/why-do-exvegetarians-outnumber-current-vegetarians-three-to-one.aspx

The challenge however, is in sourcing the meat.  Clearly, you won’t readily find these in the local supermarkets. A wholesaler or butcher might claim he has grass fed beef, but it is difficult to really ascertain where it comes from and how it was raised.  Yellow fat does not always mean the cow was fed 100% grass.  You can feed up to 80% of dry feed and still get yellow fat.  What you need is someone you trust and who knows where to find these small farmers and could buy directly from them. (Now it’s very hard to pretend I’m not boasting or hard-selling here but really, 99% of our grass fed meats come from these small farmers, the other 1% we raise ourselves.)

Meat Comparison

So there you have it, my article about how they beef up your steaks, and where the real beef is.

Indoor Plants as Air Filters

PLANTS as NATURAL AIR FILTERS

Our farm has been growing flowers for more than 15 years now.  And we often forget the foliage that grows around our greenhouses.  The pretty flowers jut out and call a lot of attention but really, equally important are the greenery that surrounds us as well.  Nicolo loves ornamental plants as much as he does flowers, and farming.  He can actually tell you the name, genus and species of every plant and tree you see and can go on for hours.

Areca Palm

A lot of people count us lucky to always have flowers in the house.  And we are.  But today, we would like to highlight plants as well. There’s something delightful about going inside a home filled with plants. The air’s a little bouncier, and you can actually breathe easy. And since you spend most of your time indoors, it helps to have a breath of fresh air especially when you live right smack in the middle of smoke city. In fact, indoor plants not only produce oxygen, they also absorb benzene, formaldehyde,  xylene, toluene and trichlor.

Mother In Law's Tongue

NASA made a study on the best indoor plant filters. I have come up with my own list, adapting it to the availability of plants here and our tropical climate.  These are VERY easy to have.  Indoor plants originate from dense shades in tropical forests. The reason why they make good air filters is that they have a very high rate of photosynthesis (that’s why they don’t need as much sun.) Below are some of my comments based on growing them indoors in our home.

Plant Benefits (according to NASA) My comments
Benzene Formaldehyde Tricho
Peace Lily

X

X

X

These are the easiest to take care of. They don’t need much sun and in fact thrive beautifully indoors.  You also get a pretty white flower thatreminds you to om your way to peace.
Chinese Evergreens X X These plants you can actually see everywhere as they are the office and mall favorite.  They are sturdy and also do well indoors. I am not too fond of the plant though. They don’t look pretty J but you can buy small ones to keep on a desk.
Bamboo Palm X This ornamental I really love. They have nice pretty stalks that look like red bamboo and you can keep them for months. They also grow tall. I have had Bamboo palms inside my house growing for more than a year.
Mother in Law’s Tongue X For wives who would like their mother in law always in the house, this is the plant for you. Kidding.  The name says it all, this plant just won’t wilt! It could go on forever. Though I have relegated these plants to the bathrooms (no meaningful reason, really) as they don’t need so much sun and could stay up and erect for months even if you forget to water them. (This plant is also known as Espada in the vernacular.)
Draceana (Fortune Plant) X X Some people love this because it supposedly brings good fortune.  I tried my luck and have these plants at our shop all the time.We bring this plant outdoors once a week. I try to water it twice a week.  But I’ve seen this plant thrive so long without sun exposure.
Ficus X Quite elegant and can grow quite tall. I haven’t been very successful at keeping it for so long. I think it needs some sun. It is also sensitive to drafts. After a few months the top branches wilt.  The little leaves always fall off too so you need to always sweep.
Rubber Plant  X A strong indoor plant that tolerates drought.  It has shiny leaves that almost look like plastic.
Boston Fern X I like how this plant looks but it is not as strong as the other plants. I think it’s because this plant likes humidity and you should be misting it when it gets too dry or hot. Could last a few months without a lot of sun.
Areca Palm No one pays much attention to this palm as it is quite very common. But I love this plant and have had the palm for more than a year.  It looks pretty indoors as they grow to a good size. I usually buy 2 or 3 (P100 each) and have them put in one big pot.
Spider Plant This is the easiest to keep. You can neglect it and still it will thrive.  These are those common plants you see with the long thin leaves that have a white stripe in the middle.

You supposedly need 1 plant for every 1 square meter of floor space.

Rubber Plant

You need not keep these plants near the window all the time nor do they need direct sun.  Bi-weekly by the window with some filtered sun does the trick.  I also water only once or twice a week.

I buy my plants from the Bulacan Gardens, Guiguinto, Bulacan.  It’s quite easy to find. Just take the exit that says Guiguinto and you’re apt to see gardens on one side of the road. It takes me about 1 1/2 hours (from Makati) but it’s definitely worth the time and the gas.   The prices are 1/3 what you would pay for them in other markets/gardens. You can get small plants for about P50-75 a piece and large palms at P100-150.  The more special ones (like an enormous Peace Lily or Areca Palm) could go only as high as P550. Go with P2000 and you’ll have enough plants to fill a small home.   Another option is the Manila Seedling Bank.

There’s also a wonderful book How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 House Plants that Purify Your Home or Office.  The book tells you about contaminants and toxins in your indoor environment and how plants remove these from the air.  It also tells you what plants to buy and how to take care of them.

Tut tut, looks like rain

With the deluge of rain, we thought we could write about some fun practices we have in the farm connected to rain.

Our farm just has too much water. There’s a nearby spring. Not only that, we get more than 100 inches of rain every year.  Much as we appreciate what the rains do to our plants and our soil, she just showers us too much sometimes. And being that farming is dependent on good weather, we often have to know whether the day is a day for watering the plants, or staying put in our huts. Since our weather station has not been so accurate, oftentimes wrong (!) we have come to rely on our very own homemade farming predictors for rain.

  • Our most accurate Weatherman is the busy bee.  When they come buzzing and visit our farm early in the morning, we can expect the entire day to be sunny.  When they decide to stay snug in their hives, the rains will come. Really, this method has been proven right countless times.
  • The cows have their share in announcing the rains too. They lie down in the fields a little before the rains come.
  • Birds are said to fly low when the rains are coming for a visit.
  • Another way we can tell is when the humidity in the farm is unusually high.  When our farm manager’s curly hair gets unusually frizzy, we expect the rain. SERIOUSLY! Well that, and a barometer registering a low atmospheric pressure.
  • The leaves on nearby trees react to the increase in humidity as well by curling up or turning their undersides to the sky.

Well, these are some of our techniques. Other people rely on the moon (ring around predicts rain the next day) the sky (red in the morning) and the clouds to foretell rain. I’m sure you have yours too. As for me, I like wetting my finger and holding it up to see if lightning will strike.

Sunflowers: Friend or foe?

Sunflowers: Friend or Foe?

Sure, wild sunflowers are pretty to look at, but these pretty yellows that look up to the sun are often regarded as weeds or as a menace.  They grow everywhere, in hedges, at your backyard, along roadsides. Some farmers slash and burn them!  Well, at least some farmers. But let us tell you our little secret. Sunflowers can be your farm’s best friend.

As fertilizer

 

Our farm uses wild sunflowers as a major source of nutrients for our compost heap.  The stems, leaves and pollen of these flowers are said to contain phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium.  These nutrients can go a long way, especially when your soil has become depleted.

We usually harvest the young stems of sunflowers (which easily decompose) and include it in our compost. One hectare of wild sunflowers can easily produce up to 50-60 tons of mulch for our compost, every 60 days.

 

For Mulching

Wild sunflowers are not only used as compost but as mulch for our flower beds as well. We incorporate the sunflowers and its foliage in our flower beds during cultivation stage. Aside from these, you can cut the plants, soak it in water and make tea fertilizer for your crops.

 

To attract beneficial insects

Also, these dainty flowers attract bees!  And if there was one thing our garden needs, it’s the bees, which come and pollinate our other crops.   The sunflowers also attract lady beetles and wasps, beneficial insects that help us get rid of pests around the farm. The bugs and wasps make their homes in the sunflowers, sort of like a free bed and breakfast for our little helpers. Wild sunflowers can be a huge help in pest control.

 

To prevent soil erosion and give wind breaks

We never run out of uses for our sunflowers, they are also used as hedges, to control erosion and at the same time serve as a wind break for our crops.

Sunflowers are easy to grow. They can be easily propagated, and can grow faster than any other weed.  You have a wealth of sunflowers everywhere.  And they are quite a pretty sight! Once thought of as an eyesore, a pest, and as a menace, we have since then recognized the many uses of wild sunflowers. Since we begun using these flowers, we have seen our soil’s nutrition and structure improve (well, also because of the other practices we have on the farm.)  We also have seen reduction in soil erosion and in pests.

I would have to say, wild sunflowers are another one of life’s paradoxes.  Often, a foe, is really a friend, you just have to find the alchemy of it all.

Biodynamic Gardening: Applying biodynamic agriculture to a home, backyard garden, or a small farm

(Article based on: Getting Started with Biodynamic Gardening by by Tom Petherick)

First step: The clarity of your Intention is often the most important and a necessary first step. It will be at the core of your gardening/farming. So make a conscious intention to follow the biodynamic route.

Some basics:  Most people who are drawn to biodynamic farming, already have a passion for organic agriculture.  You see the need for plants to grow and thrive without chemical sprays or fertilizers.  However, more than organic soil, biodynamics also pays attention to subtle, unseen forces.  One would be the lunar phases. We know the effect of the moon on tides and in the cycles of female mammals.  This can help us recognize and understand that in the same way, the gravitational pull of the moon is also moving the water in plants, in the soil and in the air. As the moon waxes and wanes it influences the plants. Aside from the moon, biodynamics recognizes the forces at work from the cosmos, so other planets as well, the sun and astrology.

How do you start? What you have to do is to see your garden or farm with new lenses.  See it as an entire organism, with all its parts working individually and together. “Rudolf Steiner saw the ‘farm organism’ as a self-contained and self-supporting unit with all the different components of the farm acting as microcosms of a greater whole.”  So, see the soil as a crucial part, just like you would see your heart as the center of your body organism.  Look at the plants just as you would your respiratory organs.  See the farmers as the limbs. Look at your farming methods as the brain.  And always see the subtle forces in the same way as you would the life force that surges through you and keeps you alive.

What is important to know: These are the basics of biodynamics:

  1. Biodynamic farming makes use of two field sprays BD 500 (horn manure) and BD 501 (horn silica). We have started making our own sprays but for those who would like to begin by just buying prepared sprays, please let us know and we will give where to get it from.)
  2. You also use five compost preparations that are healing herbs added to the compost heap.
  3. You follow a planting calendar that gives clear indications when to carry out tasks in the garden. (There are sowing calendars prepared by Bios Dynamis in Kidapawan. We also follow a calendar from the Rudolf Steiner store in Sydney but customized the calendar to make it more suitable to the Philippine climate and seasons.)

These three methods are not hard to do. Anyone can do it.  And there is a wealth of information already available. We learned the basics from a Biodynamic Farming seminar by Greg Kitma.  There is also a local version for Biodynamics written by Nicanor Perlas (let us know if you want a copy of the book.)

Some techniques:

For the biodynamic calendar: Using the biodynamic calendar, you will see a correlation between the various different parts of the plant and the signs of the zodiac. One way of using the calendar is by looking at the four elements: earth, air, fire and water. Then match each element to a part of a given plant – earth to root, air to flower, fire to fruit and seed and water to leaf. Next, match each of those parts of the plant along with their element to the twelve signs of the zodiac. You will see that as the moon moves through each of the twelve on its 27 and a bit day journey around the earth every month it will influence those parts of the plant relating to the zodiacal sign e.g. Pisces=water/leaf, Capricorn=earth/root.

Building Soil Fertility: Soil fertility is crucial and helps in breaking the life cycle of pests and disease.  One important way is to practice crop rotation. This means that you rotate annual crops around the garden.  The method allows you to plant a healthy mix of plants.  For example, planting legumes (fruit) will add nitrogen to your soil. After a cycle, plant flower crops.  A crucial part of biodynamics is the need to allow nature to follow its own pace and not force growth or impede it.  Do not try to force the soil to produce as much as it can just because it can.

Composting: Recycle the nutrients round the garden. We use an open compost heap with soil as the base, and the heap measures about 1 ½ meter. We do not turn the heap as much as normal composting techniques require.  It takes about four months to cook.  We then get the compost that we can and insert biodynamic compost preparations (yarrow, chamomile, nettle, dandelion and oak bark).

Field Sprays:  Once you have tried the field sprays, you won’t turn back and will never go back to your other sprays.  The sprays work like magic!  It is difficult to prove the effectiveness of the biodynamic sprays and all we have to show for it is the quality of our soil.  The sprays seem to change the energy in the garden, lifting it a few notches up. And you see it not only in the soil and the plants, but in the energy of the farmers as well.  BD 500 works in the root zone and BD 501 is active in the area of light and growth.

Seeds:  It should come naturally for gardeners to save their own seed. It happens in nature and it is easy to save the seeds such as heirloom tomatoes and brocollinis. If you are not able to you’re your seeds, try and use biodynamic seeds that have been produced in an environment where the biodynamic measures are in use.

Biodynamic Farming Workshops

We’re getting a lot of queries on where to learn about Biodynamic farming.  I have friends who offer short courses and workshops on Biodynamic Farming:

Greg Kitma of Philippine Bio-Dynamic Agriculture Research Foundation  – offers it usually as a lecture or a 2-day workshop in Baguio or at the ISIP Center in Makati (Palma corner Manalac Sts.)

Prado Farms, Lubao Pampanga- A working biodynamic farm that offers a 2 day workshop with a biodynamic feast!  Ask ISIP when the next Practical Abundance Training will be.

The Institute for Steiner’s Ideas in Practice (ISIP) Philippines
6241 Palma cor Mañalac Sts., Poblacion, Makati City, Philippines
+632 899 4677
+63920 983 1329
ISIP.philippines@yahoo.com
 

If you live in Visayas, there are also other workshops in Iloilo (by Nicanor Perlas, pioneer of Biodynamic Farming in the Philippines.)  There is an upcoming workshop on biodynamic farming in August, tentatively titled: Healing the Planet, Transforming Philippine Agriculture: Biodynamic Farming Workshop with Nicanor Perlas. August 17-21, 2011.  You can contact:

MISSION Iloilo
James Sharman
0927-9711460
Brgy. Libongcogon
Zarraga, Iloilo

If you are in Mindanao, Bios Dynamis in Kidapawan also offers sustainable farming workshops.  You can contact:

Bios Dynamis (Ms. Helenita Gamela)

Don Bosco Foundation for Sustainable Development

Contact No.: 064-288-5586

Micro Greens, our newest Baby

We’ve had several bountiful harvests of micro greens. What are micro greens?  These are edible greens, lettuces and herbs that are harvested as young plants.  They are about a tiny 1 to 2 inches long, leaves, stems and all.  The greens have an intense flavor and are used for garnishes or to enhance the flavors of dishes just like your herbs.  Micro greens have been making the rounds of fine dining restaurants and bistros, as they are beautiful and distinct. The more common varieties are: Arugula, Beets, Basil, Cabbage, Celery, Chard, Cilantro, Fennel, Kale, Mizuna, Mustard, Parsley, Radish and Tatsoi.

Micro greens are not sprouts.  Sprouts are germinated seeds and are produced entirely in water or in soaked cloth bags.  The seeds of sprouts are in fact not actually planted!  Micro greens are planted and grown in soil, just like your regular greens.  They are grown outside, in high light, low humidity and good air. We fertilize them with organic fertilizer.  Most micro greens are ready to harvest in 2 weeks while some take 4-6 weeks. These are when the greens have developed their first set of true leaves. We cut them above the soil surface and pack these without the roots. One reason why micro greens are often dubbed as pricey is because we cannot get additional harvests of the planting of micro greens.  We always have to plant another crop after each harvest.

Micro Radish

Micro Arugula

 

Among our micro greens are: Micro Amaranth, Micro Cilantro, Micro Onions, Micro Tatsoi, Micro Radish, and Micro Arugula. These are those tiny leaves you see in upscale restaurants.  Micros add beauty and flavor to dishes.

Micro Greens

Micro Greens

 

Edible Flowers

We have ventured into growing flowers that you can eat.  Imagine having a salad of bright violet, yellow and fuchsia blossoms. Or having a cake strewn with flowers you can actually eat. Flowers are just too pretty not to eat right?  And since our flowers have been grown without pesticides, they are quite the safest to eat.

Pansies

There are a number of edible flowers. You can even grow them yourselves.  Just make sure that the flowers have not been sprayed or grown with chemicals. What are some of the edible flowers that we grow:

Let’s start with the most common culinary herbs flowers: You can actually eat the flowers of culinary herbs like thyme, sage, basil, rosemary, chives, cilantro, dill, and arugula. Their flowers are as tasty as the herb, even more attractive.

Nasturtiums

Next are the real flowers! Among our most popular edible flowers are the Butterfly Blue Pea.  The flower has been used in traditional Ayuverdic medicine for memory and its antistress, anxiolytic, antidepressant, anticonvulsant, tranquilizing and sedative qualities.  In Southeast Asia the flowers are used to color food or rice.. In Thailand, they use the flowers for a syrupy blue drink.  The flowers are also used in Burmese and Thai cuisine, dipped in batter and fried.

We also grow those bright and pretty nasturtiums. These are quite beautiful on the plate and the palate too.  They taste peppery and a bit like watercress. You can add these to salads, vegetable dishes and to make your herb butter, infuse your vinegar or even vodka. Then there’s the pansy flower, with its mild and minty flavor.  The rose petals are edible too!  There are different flavors, depending on the kind of rose variety, some a very mild whole others are quite lush you can use them for flavoring sweets and sorbets.  Chrysanthemums have been heavily used in Chinese cuisine and have a pungent, slightly bitter flavor. They can be used for garnishes.  Lastly, we grow snapdragons, which have a bitter taste but is used as a garnish.

If you want to grow edible flowers yourself, they are easily grown from seed (except for the roses and rosemary).  Just buy the seed packets and grow them in your garden or in pots.  Make sure you examine the blossoms well as you pick them, remove any insects or dirt and don’t go overboard. Use them in moderation in your salads and soups and lavishly for garnishing.

The most important thing to remember about edible flowers is to be fully familiar with them. Don’t go around the garden nibbling at everything- some flowers are poisonous and make sure they are organically grown. – David Hirsch

Taken in part: Old Farmer’s Almanac, Flower Gardening Secrets

Visiting the Farm

It seems like everyone’s heading to the South this summer. We’ve been getting a number of emails asking if they could visit our flower farm this summer.  If you find yourself in Cagayan de Oro, and heading out to Bukidnon to do the Zipline, then you’re surely welcome to come over and get dirty!

The way to our farm

How to get here

Our flower farm is blessed with a backdrop of the Kitanglad mountain ranges, past the vast pineapple plantations of Del Monte and Camp Philips, onto picturesque little barangays (towns) strewn with simple pretty houses with small patches of flower gardens.  You won’t be driving on paved roads but it’s a nice bumpy ride of dirt roads but strewn here and there with a picturesque landscape of Mt. Kitanglad.  We’re on the foothills of the majestic volcano and mountain, the fourth highest in the Philippines.

 

Earth Flora (that’s the name of our farm) is in Dahilayan, Manolo Fortich, nestled between Malaybalay and Sumilao.  You get here by driving up to Malaybalay, 40km from Cagayan de Oro (about an hour’s drive.)  Once you get to the Alae Quarantine Station, take the roundabout, and go straight up to Camp Philips.  You know you’re headed up the right direction when you see an imposing landscape of never-ending pineapples and the purple majestic mountain right at the end of the seemingly endless road. Head for the mountain, we’re right at its foothills. The next landmark would be signs pointing to Mountain Pines and the Zipzone Adventure Park. Follow the signs and it will bring you directly to our flower farm.  You’ll see us right before you get to the Zipzone. You’ll see bamboo poles sticking out, our rose gardens and chrysanthemums on your side of the road.

Our Disclaimers

We’re really not a farm resort but a working farm.  So please expect to see nature at its most basic, unadorned (but we have flowers everywhere!), crude and unfussy.  We don’t have paved paths or walkways so bring boots (or shoes you can get mud on.) You will have to walk on soil, over stones and rocks, sometimes muddy. Sometimes, you’ll have to scrunch up your noses, as we compost and use fermented fish scraps for our fertilizers.  To the sophisticated nose, the smell can sometimes be a wee bit nasty.  The sun can be especially strong in the summer and we’re in the uplands.  Use a sunblock and bring a hat.  We do have some working boots and straw hats you can borrow if you’re not squeamish. And oh the bathroom: our toilets are waterless.  If you’re brave enough to try doing your necessities in a handmade wooden urinal with just sawdust to catch it, then do try using our toilets.  We do try to manage the smells by treating the sawdust with bacteria, and the bathroom is clean and kept clean, opens up to the sky and is airy.  But I’m making a disclaimer, just in case!

What you should see 

Instead, you’ll see a garden adorned with the wonders of nature.  See the vibrancy of colors and be amazed at the wonder of seeds and plants sprouting into buds, and then blossoms.  You’ll be hearing an endless cacophony of bird song. You’ll like the cool weather that brings spring to the air.  Do say hello to our farm creatures big and small: the teeny ones that are our pest busters and the burly cows that help our composting.  Watch our farmers chattering as they sow, plant, harvest the flowers, and bundle them up. Talk to Toto and Dadang (though Toto is the most talkative), they have a whole lot of stories to share.  Sometimes, Nicolo is there too and you’ll know him by his bulky dirty boots.

You can even go up the bamboo house, rest a bit.  It’s quite a view.  If you’re lucky, they might serve you tea or coffee. Maybe you’d like to see how our greenhouses have been built with bamboo, see how composting looks like, get a whiff of our fish emulsion, get dirty with the earthworms and see how everything in the farm makes a seamless whole.  It’s always a treat for me, going to the farm. I go home with new eyes.  I remember how to be a child again and everything is just filled with awe and wonder.  And sometimes, I actually do hear the earth laugh in the flowers.

Biodynamic Farming

What is Biodynamic Agriculture?

Most people know what organic farming is, but only a few know what Biodynamic agriculture is. Biodynamics was introduced in the 1920’s by an Austrian scientist and philosopher, Rudolf Steiner. This manner of farming takes a unified approach to agriculture by considering the interconnectedness of the soil, the plants, animals, the earth and even the entire cosmos as a living system.  It is considered as one the most sustainable forms of agriculture. The focus of Biodynamic Agriculture is developing and maintaining a healthy soil organism through the use of manure, crop-rotation, cover-cropping and special preparations.  The farm is considered as an entire living organism, with the farmer and his practices as playing a vital role to the farm ecosystem. 

 

What makes it different from organic farming?  

As in organic farming, there is no use of chemicals, pesticides or fungicides.  However, biodynamics goes beyond organic farming.  It treats the soil as a living organism and ensures the health of the soil at all times.  Thus, biodynamic farming looks at the farm in terms of forces that affect the soil and the farm, processes that go into farming, rather than just the substances that are put into the soil or plants. Biodynamic agriculture makes use of compost (manure from animals already in the farm), cover cropping, ecological pest management, and special preparations that revitalize life forces, stimulate the roots and help in the production of soil microorganisms and humus. These preparations are homeopathic substances made from herbs, minerals, plant and animal, at very minuscule portions. Aside from the special preparations, Biodynamic agriculture follows daily, monthly and seasonal patterns of nature, such as the phases of the moon for sowing, fertilizing and harvesting.

Our farm

Our farm practices biodynamic farming in growing flowers (and vegetables too!)  We see our farm as an entire ecosystem.  Our farm follows a biodynamic calendar for optimum times for sowing, harvesting and transplanting. This is because Biodynamic Agriculture follows daily, monthly and seasonal patterns of nature, such as the phases of the moon, the movement of the planets and the stars.  We also use biodynamic preparations for our soil and leaves. These preparations are homeopathic substances made from herbs, minerals, plant and animal, at very minuscule portions. We have learned to follow the cycles and phases of the moon in scheduling our pest management and control, taking into account that the life cycles of these creatures that coincide with the moon’s phases.  We also follow crop rotation, and practice cover cropping.

Aside from flowers, our flower farm has now a vegetable patch, devoted to plants that do not only adorn our tables but we can eat as well!   The farm grows lettuces, arugula, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, peppers, celery, alfalfa sprouts, spinach and several kinds of herbs. More than this, we have planted the vegetables to create patches of ecosystems for all nature in our farm. We do so by growing in all our vegetable beds, a mix of legumes, leaf plants, root crops, annual and perennial plants in one bed. Thus, legumes will provide nitrogen (fertilizer) through their roots.  Root crops, taking nutrients from the soil, help aerate the beds, benefiting all plants. Herbs and flowers serve as homes for beneficial insects and also repel the harmful ones.

Rethinking Water Use in Agriculture

DAM, I wish you had more water.

No one seems to be thinking about a rain dance yet, but our taps are about to run dry. They are rationing water in Metro Manila. Now who would have thought we would have a shortage of water? Fresh water always seemed like a waterfall- infinitely gushing out of rocks. It is July 2010 and our dams are dehydrated, experiencing a historical record low. In the meantime, there will be 12 million people in Metro Manila, drinking, bathing and washing from Angat Dam’s reservoir. They have tightened our taps to give us 30% less and the problem seems negligible. Don’t run the taps while I brush my teeth. No more soaks in the tub. Change showerheads. Schedule laundry. Reuse gray water. But the seemingly slight problem of having less water to bathe, drink and wash with, dwarfs the bigger problem of Climate Change and food security, which has a lot to do with water.

Agriculture accounts for drawing 70% of the world’s fresh waters. Fresh water irrigates our lands and provides food for the world’s exploding population. As our population grows, so will our food requirements, and so will our demand for water. And as more water is drawn than is given, we will have to do with less for growing our food. Our farm tries to be a conscientious consumer. We try to draw just enough water to quench the thirst of our greedy plants. With a few water conservation and harvesting methods that rely more on Green Water rather than Blue, we would like to think our water does not just go down the drain.

SOIL FERTILITY

Good soils can capture, hold and store water better. The secret to needing less water is having rich living soil. This we do by having more organic matter in our soil.

TRICKLE IRRIGATION

 

Farms traditionally used elaborate irrigation systems, which were designed when water supply was plentiful. Trickle irrigation is an innovative and efficient method of irrigation. It is called “trickle” because water drips slowly directly to the roots of plants through pipes (with small holes.) You save water because water drips directly where it’s needed. There is no runoff or wasted water. You also reduce evaporation, soil erosion and deep drainage. This method helps us get rid of many foliar or root diseases that spread through the water. Trickle irrigation also uses a lower pressure than other methods of irrigation, thus reducing energy costs as well. Some people find the “trickle irrigation” installation costs expensive. However, the initial investment is easily paid off with savings in water, energy, and the priceless value of saving the environment too.

IRRIGATION SCHEDULING

We schedule our work in the farm so we take advantage of the natural cycles. Evaporation depends on the climate, temperature and humidity. As there is less evaporation at night, we irrigate our plants closer to the evening so we decrease the loss of water through evaporation. A full moon means there is an increase in the water element. We sow our seeds two days before a full moon to take advantage of the water. A new moon means more water in the soil. Two days before a new moon, we do our transplanting to take advantage of the soil’s increased water content.

MULCHING

Mulch on the beds

 

Our mulch consists of weeds, flower trimmings, legumes, rice hulls, and wild sunflowers. We apply the mulch to our flowerbeds in layers of 2-4 inches. Mulching saves our water by helping our soils retain much of the water they get. I have read that a layer of mulch can reduce water evaporation by as much as seventy (70%) percent! Not only that, mulching is also fertilizer, and thus improves our soil by helping break down nitrogen and releasing more nutrients.

RAIN HARVESTING, GROUNDWATER RECHARGING AND CANAL LININGS

Raised beds for less tilling; Contour farming and Canals

 

Rainwater falls from the rooftops of our greenhouses straight to micro basins or canals, which catch them. We also ensure that we line the canals with thick mulch (4 inches at least) to ensure less evaporation. Since our greenhouses are constructed on a slope, the rainwater gently seeps towards and is absorbed by our flowerbeds.

TERRACING, CONTOURING and MICRO BASINS

We take advantage of the natural sloping topography of our farm to direct precipitation run-off to our flowerbeds. To prevent soil run-off however, we have planted legumes to act as breaks.

NATURAL WINDBREAKS

We have planted legumes in between our greenhouses and at the boundary of our farm to act as windbreaks. The windbreaks again reduce evaporation.

CONSERVATION TILLAGE

We have raised beds our flower beds so our flowers get more aeration in its roots. By doing so, we do not need to till as often, and we protect our topsoil. A good topsoil won’t be washed out by rain.

WATER-FREE TOILETS

Why waste perfectly clean water and flush dirt down the drain? Our toilets are water free. Waste is caught by sawdust treated with beneficial microbes to hasten decomposition. And because the waste matter and sawdust has been treated with microbes, there is no smell. People use about 6 liters of water per flush. Since we opted to use a no-flush, water-free toilet, we save approximately more than 8,000 liters of water per year.

WATER AS NEEDED

I believe there is enough water for everyone. There should be. But just like money, just like oil, and just like any other precious resource, we do not know how to handle it, splurging and exploiting it to excess, while denying it’s wealth to the rest of the world. Our farm’s method hopes to improve on the way we use water, drawing only as much as we need, and putting the water we get to efficient and productive use. Take only what you need and pay it forward.

OUR FRIENDLY NEIGHBORS: Beneficial Insects and Integrated Pest Management

Our farm enjoys an eclectic mix of neighbors. A handful of ladies wearing red with black polka-dots; nosy busybodies buzzing around, burly enough that our farmers would sometimes stay out of our greenhouses for fear of their stings; chirpy visitors, some of them laying pretty blue eggs in our leaves-turned-nest; fairy-like creatures with golden eyes; and teeny-weeny ones, among the smallest in the world. The unique bunch do a lot of work for the farm: they rid us of aphids, mites, caterpillars, white flies and other nasty insects. Some say they are part of the farm’s Integrated Pest Management. Others like to call them Beneficial Insects. We would rather call them our FRIENDLY NEIGHBORS. We highlight three of the most fascinating ones here:

LADYBUGS

Ladybug at Work

Don’t mess with adorable ladies in red and black polka dresses.  They are quite fearless. In our farm, they have taken on the heroic task of battling aphid colonies, which feed on our young leaves, new shoots and baby buds. Don’t let their tiny bodies deceive you because lady beetles are ravenous! They eat up to 1000 aphids a day. Even as larvae they can eat 500 aphids! And mind you, they do it by stabbing the nasty aphids with their mandibles and sucking out the juices. It is no wonder why the ladybug in ancient times, symbolized good fortune and a bountiful harvest.  One fun trivia about lady beetles: In times of danger, ladybugs are able to roll over and play dead.

LACE WINGS

Lacewings, Commander in Chief

Another friendly neighbor is the Lace Wing. In an Insect-Eating Contest, lacewings would be adjudged the champions.  In a battle, lacewings would definitely be commander. Lacewings are beautiful creatures with delicate netted wings and golden eyes. They look ethereal and you wonder where they get their voracious appetites. As larvae, they feed on aphids, whitefly, mealy bugs, thrips, spider mites and caterpillars. The lacewings can eat 200 or more pest eggs a week during their 2-3 week growth period! They are also our gutsy crusaders against the whitefly. White flies are small insects that cluster under our leaves and stems, and are especially bad for our roses. Not only these, lacewings feed on other insect pests such as mealy bugs (that cause black sooty mold on our plants), thrips (that make our leaves distorted or spreads diseases) and caterpillars too (otherwise we have chewed leaves.)
Stingless Wasps  (Trichogramma)

Recently moved in are the stingless wasps (Trichogramma). These are tiny insects of about 1 millimeter and they control at least 28 species of insect pests. These wasps are one of the smallest insects on the planet. We released 10,000 wasps and they are now roaming about our farm, parasitizing pest eggs. Our wasps are busy “sowing their seeds” into the harmful eggs of caterpillars and moth (the leafeaters,) among others. When the wasps hatch, the larvae will devour the pest egg contents. During their 9-11 day lives, the wasps will seek out and destroy about 50 pest eggs by laying their eggs into the pest eggs. I know it reads like a horror movie but these are naturally occurring in nature. A trivia about wasps: The adult females use their antennae to measure the size of the host egg in order to determine how many eggs to lay in it.

These are just some of the biological controls we use in the farm, as part of Integrated Pest Management. Biological controls eliminate the overuse of chemicals, increasing biodiversity. Our farm is blessed with ladybugs, lacewings, and most recently, are now the happy hosts of stingless wasps. Our friendly neighbors are beneficial insects who pay their rent by ridding our farms with pests while compensated with an abundance of good pests to eat.

http://www.myflowerdepot.com

Our flowers drink milk

Ainara watching the Cow giving us milk

There’s never an end to the wonderful discoveries we make everyday. Got fungus? Or powdery mildew? Get milk. We’ve just recently discovered that milk is a Fungicide! It’s as effective (maybe even more effective) as standard chemical brands. How to do it? Get milk, mix with water (our solution is 1 part milk: 10 parts water) and spray twice a week.  You can do trial and error and see how milky you want your solution to be and how often you need to spray. We use fresh milk as we have milking cows in the farm. You can use skim or whole milk though, even reconstituted powdered milk. They say it is the phosphate in milk that boosts a plant’s immune system and fights the fungi. The first scientist to discover this was Wagner Bettiol, a Brazilian. Milk was found to be effective at controlling fungus and also acted as a foliar fertilizer, boosting the plant’s immune system.  We have saved thousands this year by just spraying our crops with milk instead of using synthetic chemicals and fungicides. Who would have thought we would find the solution to our fungicide problems right in our backyard? Or in your fridge?

Organic Flowers: Why Should you Care

Conventional agriculture uses chemical inputs and machinery.

Chemical fertilizers and pesticides are energy-intensive.

That is the rough equivalent of the emissions of 88 million passenger cars each year.

That is more than the total number of cars in India, China, Australia, Canada and Mexico.

=If everyone converted 10% of their diet to organic, we could capture an additional 6.5 billion pounds of carbon in soil.

=That is equivalent to taking 2 million cars off the road each year.

In a Nutshell

DO THE MATH.

Better Soil, Better Earth

It is alarming how in a few weeks, Metro Manila and most of our Northern provinces were inundated. The storms have struck us in places that matter: our homes, our loved ones, and our means of livelihood. Farms everywhere are taking a brunt of the disaster. And people are only realizing now how essential agriculture is to our way of life. When roads to Baguio became impassable, our vegetables and fruits could not get to us. Restaurants, groceries and markets were at a loss, they had too little supply, and thus could not feed everyone’s need. Green beans soared to 300% more its normal price. And that’s just a small bean! A few days more of the city being cut off from us and we would have suffered an onslaught of high prices in basic commodities. It was the same scenario in our flower shop, where I saw florists, restaurants and wholesalers, panic buying, because flowers from Baguio did not come.

We rarely give our food sources a thought. Farming is not given its due honor, as really, the source of what is basic to us: food. We are assured that food will be at the markets and grocery stores, and prices will stay the same because food is not scarce, and vegetables and fruits will always be grown, harvested, and delivered to us. Except now we have a direct experience of how it is when we are cut off from our food sources. We are to experience more and more of it as a great number of farms were damaged by the storms and lost their food production for the next few months.
And now, climate change and its devastating effects are looming on the horizon. What happens if we keep having extreme rain, prolonged droughts, unusually strong winds, and our farms are unable to keep up with our food needs?

Climate Change and Organic Farming
bamboo
Our way of life has made it quite impossible for keeping climate change at bay. “Three hundred fifty parts per million (350 ppm) is the recommended safe threshold for carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Today, at 386 ppm, we’re over the limit.” That is why we saw the flooding in Metro Manila, a city that we never thought would be submerged. And that is why, storm after storm came, ravishing our farms and mountains too. “To avoid further expensive climate chaos we must deploy the most creative and innovative technology in the world to rapidly pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. And [sustainable, organic, biodynamic,] regenerative farming is it.”

There is hope in climate-friendly farming. We need agriculture to pull off more carbon out of our atmosphere. “Organic farming could pull forty percent of global greenhouse emissions our of the atmosphere each year.” Picture that. And that’s a whole chunk of help. “Farmers who are building soil organic carbon can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at rates of 2 tons of CO2 per acre.” When we practice sustainable, organic or biodynamic agriculture, we nurture our soils with creative techniques such as crop rotations, cover cropping, organic fertilizers, and mimic nature’s innovative but gentle methods. Compare this to conventional farming where chemical companies burn fossil fuels to produce synthetic fertilizers, which are flown all over.

Real farmers build real soils. Real soils hold more carbon and hold more water. Real soils perform better in very dry or very wet weather. With good soil, we build a better earth, resilient to the very uncertain climate that awaits us. And that means more healthy food for our growing world.

Inspired and taken in part from Organic Farming Could Stop Global Climate Change

If only there were trees, plants and good soil

Despite years and years of study, I realized I am as ignorant about nature as a seven year old.    Years spent memorizing mathematical precision and the science of the heavens, and yet I know very little about what causes a flood.  Why they never taught me about nature’s wondrous cycles and interconnection, I still do not know. Thirty years and a post graduate degree, and finally, I learned what it takes for a city to be submerged in water and mud.

Picture this image:  When it rains, the water that pours is drank by the soil, trees and plants.  The excess water, called a runoff, runs away to water channels like rivers and streams.  A flood occurs when two things happen: (1) our soil, trees, and plants cannot drink all the water; (2) and this excess water that runs off, cannot be carried by our water channels (or in modern times, also held by our water reservoirs.) The water then runs to our lands.

The Great Flood in Metro Manila was thus the result of intense rains that poured a huge chunk of water, which (1) cannot be drank in one big gulp by our teeny weeny trees, puny little plants, and inexistent soil; and (2) the excess water had no river or stream to carry them.  In fact, our rivers and coasts had overflowed, and our dams had to run off its excess water too.

I wish I could keep writing about the city’s lack of trees and plants, but this is our Flower Farm blog and so I will write about an equal champion against floods, the soil.    Throughout history, we have created floods as a direct result of soil erosion.  Soil erosion is a natural occurrence.  As long as there are rains and winds, the soil will be carried off in pieces.  But, nature is wise and never wasteful.  What the soil losses through erosion is always balanced by new soil.  If you look at virgin land masses, you will always see how nature forms a mantle of vegetation to protect the soil.  When rain falls on this protective mantle of grass or fallen leaves, some of the water’s moisture can still evaporate before it reaches the ground.  Nature also has a troop of trees, grasses and roots that help to hold the soil in place even amidst the slaughter of rain and wind.

Calla Lily Buffers!

Calla Lily Buffers!

How do we learn from nature’s subtle but nurturing ways?  I see now that when we engage in commercial farming without regard to the soil’s natural processes, we partially or wholly destroy nature’s protective canopy.  Intense cultivation digs up vegetative covers of the soil, removing the soil’s umbrella from too much rain.  When we dig up trees, grasses and roots that surround our farm, to give way to our crops, we shoo away nature’s defenses.  Our farm has a lot to learn but we have started some methods that simulate the marvelous processes of nature.  One way to hold back flood is to restore the vegetation in our soil.  We do this through crop rotation, cover cropping, and using bulky organic manure. We cover our crop beds with the leaves of legumes. To prevent the water from running off, we plant nitrogen-fixing legumes and calla lilies beside the water canals in between our greenhouses.  These legumes and lilies act like buffer zones to slow down run off and trap the soil, so that these are not washed out by the rain. Our canals are dug at critical places on a slope so excess water falls into the canals,  and through the natural contours of the land, the excess water irrigates the plants in the beds.  These are some of the methods we use and everyday nature readily gives us a clue.  I admit I am quite a beginner in understanding the mind-boggling ways of nature.  But I am a willing learner.  Because who else would teach me about something so simple, and yet so grand?

Get your Hands Dirty

The soil is teeming with life. In a handful of dirt, you will find earthworms, centipedes, beetles, millions of fungi and bacteria, air and water. We truly know that good soil makes bigger and stronger plants. Most of the plant’s nourishment comes from the soil. When they have ample and the right amount of minerals and nutrients from the soil, plants are able to defend themselves from pests and diseases. This is because organic matter feeds the bacteria and fungi in the soil. The bacteria and fungi, in turn, break down the compost into compounds, and minerals, to small portions so the plants can absorb them. Thus, the more minerals and nutrients in the soil, the more the plant can take up. 

However, improper farming practices have taken a toll on our planet’s soil. We only have thirty percent (30%) of farmable soil left in our planet. Thirty! Our soil is rapidly being depleted. Not only this, nature takes approximately five hundred (500) years to build one inch of top soil and a good crop yield takes an average of six inches of good top soil. How do we destroy our important resource? We lose or contaminate the soil by erosion, pollution, and through the voluminous use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. For example, in conventional farming, pests and disease are controlled with pesticides and herbicides. These chemicals kill the bacteria and fungi, which reduces the mineral content of the soil dramatically. To counteract this, they use a chemical fertilizer that contains only nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium – NPK. Plants can grow with these limited available minerals but they are less nutritious and far more susceptible to disease. It becomes a vicious cycle of more pesticides and more chemical fertilizers to sustain life. This method is especially absurd when you realize that the same effect can occur naturally on its own and provide us with a healthier outcome.

We need to recognize the fundamental role of soil in life and know that it is crucial that we maintain and develop our soil’s fertility. How do we respect the soil? Natural farming methods such as organic farming and biodynamic, when practiced sustainably, nourishes the soil more than it destroys it. Some of the methods we use at the farm for soil fertility are: (1) adding more nutrients to the soil through manure, compost and green waste; (2) suppressing the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides; (3) composting through organic material; (4) using seaweed and fermented fish waste as foliar spray; (5) using legumes as cover crops. Cover crops protect the soil from wind, water and nutrient loss; and (5) crop rotation because different crops put in or take out different nutrients.

Something Fishy Lurking in our Soil

Our farm uses a lot of fish emulsion as natural fertilizer. Fish emulsion has high organic nitrogen. It’s a great soil conditioner and provides bacterial food to feed the soil’s microherd. You read it right, the soil eats. We always see the soil as living. (Sometimes I feel sad thinking about how advanced we are in science, knowing a lot about outer space, worlds outside our own, but we know very little about our own soil. There are so many microorganisms in the soil, thousands of them, still unnamed by science.) Fish oils also give a substantial supply of beneficial soil fungi. The fish bones also supply extra calcium.

How do we make the Fish Emulsion?We use fresh fish scraps from the nearby market, using the juices, sauces or oils that come with these. The liquid is used to breed beneficial microbes and supply extra proteins to the emulsion. We also use fresh seaweed, which has a lot of nitrogen. These parts are composted in a bucket with other brown matter such as sawdust and leaves. We also add molasses to the mixture build up microbes, and speed up decomposition. The brown matter molasses controls the odor and absorbs organic nitrogen from the fish. The bucket is stirred daily to get air into the mixture. Remember air allows for better decomposition and better aerobic microbial growth. The bucket of fish is then made to rot for at least one week.

When all this is over, we dilute our fish emulsion at a 1:1 to 1:5 ratio. The fish emulsion is then used to spray on leaves and drench the soil. Whenever we spray the leaves, we let in small portions of nutrients into the plant through its leaves. Whenever we drench the soil with fish, we build up the soil’s microbial activities, supplying lots of nitrogen to the roots and topsoil. What more, using fish emulsion as our foliar spray helps us get rid of pests too. They hate the fishy smell, no matter how miniscule. We poke holes in the soil to get more oxygen in the soil too, and further increase organic matter decomposition, while increasing the activities of microbes in the soil. Our soils love their daily dose of fish meal. The earthworms too!

Don’t forget that you can actually make your own homemade version of our fish emulsion for your house plants or garden. The resulting mix is as unique as every flower farm or every garden.

Pesky Potions: Getting Rid of Pests the Natural Way

I recently wrote about the voluminous use of pesticides in plants and flowers. We also loathe pests and insects. Through the years, we have learned a few tricks to get rid of pests the natural way.

Healthy plants and healthy soil: One of the easiest ways to control pests in the farm is to prevent them from coming in! We have learned that healthy plants have healthy defenses. Just like us, when we are weak, we are more prone to sickness. Weak plants are either already infected, or will attract even more predators. What we do in the farm is pull out or dispose of weak plants. Do note that your most important defense is to have a healthy soil. Healthy soils grow strong and vibrant plants. We keep our soils in tip-top shape by natural composting methods such as mulching and using compost or natural fertilizer to the soil.

Healthy vibrant chrysanthemums

In fact, a new study from Washington State University suggests organic growing techniques offer better pest control and larger plants (published in the respected journal Nature.)

“Organic agriculture promotes more balanced communities of predators,” says David Crowder, author of the new study. [...]“Our study does not tell farmers they should shift to organic agriculture. What our study suggests is that organic agriculture is promoting these more balanced natural enemy communities and they may have better, organic pest control.”

According to Nature: it is “the relative abundance of different species” rather than the number of species present on a farm that may determine success.  The study found that the increased evenness of organic farms compared with that of conventional farms led to 18% lower pest densities and 35% larger plants.

Here are some of the ways we get rid of our pests through organic farming, and get larger plants because of it:

Minimize insect habitats: Make sure that you do not have breeding places in your area for insects. In our farm, we regularly clean our greenhouses, making sure they are free from debris and weeds, which are breeding places for insects.

Keep the leaves dry: Insects and fungus thrive on wet leaves. Wet leaves also spread disease. In our farm, we use drip irrigation methods to water our plants. Drip irrigation delivers the water to the plant’s roots without wetting the leaves. How is this done? Tiny holes are inserted at various points in a hose, allowing small quantities of water to trickle slowly into the soil over long periods of time. Another advantage of this method is saving water. Unlike sprinkler systems, we use 30-50% less water, applying these directly to the area where the plants need it the most. Drip irrigation also prevents soil erosion and nutrient run-off.

Take advantage of beneficial insects: There are actually some insects or pests that are good for the farm or your garden. For example, LADYBUGS eat aphids, mites, whiteflies and scale (the worst pests for flowers.) That is why we just love ladybugs and take care of these insects in the farm.

Ladybugs are Welcome!

Make your own homemade pesticide barriers or sprays:

Flypaper: Do you know that ANY heavy paper or cardboard, painted with yellow and coated with anything sticky can be an effective flypaper? In our farm, we use recycled hard plastic containers, paint these yellow and then put sticky substances on them. We just hang these in our greenhouses and catch pesky aphids and whiteflies!

Do-it-yourself Sticky Traps

Neem Extract: We use a lot of Neem in the farm. Neem has remarkable powers for controlling insects. Its extract is used as a safe and natural pesticide. It is so unique because Neem does not immediately kill the insect. Instead, it alters an insect’s behavior or life processes in ways that can be extremely subtle. Eventually, however, the insect can no longer feed or breed or metamorphose, and cannot cause damage. Because of this subtle method, our crops, people, and animals are protected.

Fish Emulsion: We have replaced chemical pesticides with mixes of our fish emulsion. What is it? Fish waste, yes you read it right, foul and messy fish entrails! We gather all fish scraps from the markets, grind them, and mix them with an enzyme. We screen out the bones and decant the oil, and what remains is fish silage. Also, enzymes already in the ground fish continued to digest and break down to amino acids. More than a pesticide, it doubles as a great fertilizer. Fish emulsions are wonderful sources of nutrients!

So there. You can actually rid yourself of those pesky flies and insects without spraying yourself and your pretty flowers with chemical concoctions! All it takes is some creativity while you harness the wisdom of nature.

Truly GREENhouses!

We have taken a step farther and have consciously built our greenhouses to be as green as they could be. All our greenhouses are constructed in bamboo. Yes, bamboo! Not those tall, rigid, imposing steel structures, not even concrete, not even hard wood. We do not cut trees!

Bamboo Greenhouses with a View

WHY BAMBOO?

Prevents global warming: Our greenhouses made entirely out of bamboo captures carbon dioxide and stores it. This is because planted bamboo gets CO2 from the atmosphere. When a plant breathes in CO2 and exhales O2, the plant takes the C-carbon atom and converts it into plant matter through photosynthesis, storing the carbon in the plant. When the plant dies and decays, the carbon is eaten by bacteria or insects. The greenhouses could then be seen as a carbon sink, storing the carbon in the bamboo poles.

Grows 3-7 times faster than trees: Bamboo is not a tree. It is a grass. The fastest growing bamboo can grow up to 4 feet a day!

Extremely strong: Bamboo has twice the compression strength of concrete and roughly the same strength-to-weight ratio of steel. Imagine that! Our bamboo poles are able to withstand strong winds and earthquakes.

Weather, termite and mold resistant: Our bamboo greenhouses are naturally designed and treated with natural elements to be weather, termite and mold resistant. Our bamboo poles are treated with non-toxic borates to prevent termite and powder post beetle infestations as well as decaying fungi. Borates have been used internationally for the past 60 years as a safe and effective treatment to stop insects and decay.

One of our Greenhouses

Our walkpaths: Stones, sand and bamboo!

Our walkpaths: Stones, sand and bamboo!

No nails!  Just bamboo pegs!

No nails! Just bamboo pegs!

HOW DO WE DO IT? Our bamboo greenhouses are made entirely of bamboo. The variety we use is the local thorny bambusa variety.   We cut from the bottom of the trunk since this is the hardest part and very good for posts. We cut at the right age , this is when the bamboo will start to have like a white powdery substance around the lower portion of the trunk.  These poles are usually at least 2 years old. To secure the bamboo poles, we scorch it and then bore it into the soil.  We bury it to a height of 1-1.5 meters.  To finally secure it, we put a minimal amount of concrete into the hole.  To put the poles together, we do not even use nails or screws. The bamboo poles are held together by bamboo pegs. Aside from sustainability, the pegs allow the bamboos to sway with the wind.  The greenhouses are then roofed with greenhouse UV plastic film. To attach the plastic to the poles, we need to use nuts and bolts. An important component is that the bamboo poles must be treated.  We use borax and/or boric acid to treat our bamboo poles.  This is quite labor intensive but you can do it with patience.  (There are a number of Youtube videos you can check to guide you.)

We have designed and positioned our greenhouses to ensure that we use the least amount of energy for our crops. Our bamboo buildings use natural ventilation, and rely on the direction, strength or gentleness of winds.  The greenhouses are 8 to 10 feet tall, have open sides and vents in the center, and face the wind. With this, we eliminated the need for energy-powered fans. Not only these, the bamboo poles are designed in a way that we can harvest our rainwater, which we in turn, use to irrigate our plants.  The rainwater we get from the greenhouses are channeled to a water impounding pond or to plant beds that are covered with thick mulch.

We are the proud pioneers of these creative innovation in the Philippines. We only have to thank nature and the creativity of our farmers for our brilliant yet delightful bamboo houses.

How Much Do I Love Thee? Let me Count the Ways…

You adore nature.  You intensely care about the environment. And that is why you love flowers, those pretty buds that look up to you and tell you the world is enraptured in love. That is why your heart flip-flops when you receive flowers, or you go about giving everyone bundles of these wondrous gifts of nature.  But, did you know that cut flowers could have about the worst effects on the environment and farmers?  Definitely not sweet.
3RosesFB
Pesticide use in cut flowers are common although not given so much attention.   There is a secret world you do not see, the act of dousing those pretty little bundles with chemicals, poisoning the soil, and getting farmers sick in the process. As an example:

In a 1995 report, Bittersweet Harvests for Global Supermarkets, the World Resources Institute found that a number of rose and carnation producers use an average of six fungicides, four insecticides, and several herbicides. The situation is worse in certain other parts of the world, where flower-plantation workers are exposed to 127 types of pesticides. Nearly two-thirds of flower farm workers suffer from headaches, nausea, rashes, asthma, and other symptoms of pesticide-related illnesses.

A study which monitors the use of pesticides in flowers have found that:

…[F]lower growers apply almost 800,000 pounds of pesticides each year. About half is the fumigant methyl bromide, which was banned in the Netherlands ten years ago because of concerns about air and groundwater pollution. (The rest is primarily two other fumigants, metam sodium and chloropicrin, and several carcinogenic fungicides.)…

Worse is the harmful effects these pesticides have on the farmers. Farmers are said to suffer impaired vision, asthma, neurological problems, miscarriage and the like.  Pesticides on flowers can also be a problem for anyone who handles the flowers—including consumers—since many pesticides are easily absorbed through the skin.

The Philippines is yet to determine the amount of pesticide and fungicide use for flowers grown in our highlands.  It should be quite high, considering that almost all of our cut-flowers are not local flowers or endemic.  Farmers import a lot of the seeds of our cut-flowers from temperate countries. This means that they do not grow well under our tropical conditions.  Farmers would have to use a lot of pesticides to make sure they thrive in our environments, and look big and robust too.

Sustainably Grown Roses

So what should one do?  Of course, what would be perfect is to have your own flower garden and make sure you grow your flowers organically or naturally. Local tropical flowers and plants would need little to no chemicals. Then pick from your garden and bundle up your flowers!  Your other best bet is to buy flowers that have been grown with a conscious commitment to the environment and its farmers.  Flower Depot Inc. is proud and happy to be growing, tilling and harvesting its flowers with the least harm to the environment.  We have committed to grow our flowers sustainably, through practices that take care of our soil, keep our flowers vibrant and our farm workers healthy. For example: (1) Our farm has learned to rely on natural controls for soil-borne diseases and to ward off pests. Among these, we use natural insect traps, neem tree extract and beneficial bacteria and fungi to treat our soil; (2) We also practice natural methods on cover cropping, composting, and crop rotation; (3) The flower farm’s main source of soil fertility is legume cover crops, which provide nitrogen, micro nutrients and organic matter. These are plants that modern farming would have otherwise deemed as weeds. The natives have taught us to use these plants as a viable source of fertilizer. Also, the cover crops provide habitat for beneficial insects, keeping pests very low; and (4) We have learned to follow the cycles and phases of the moon in scheduling our pest management and control, taking into account that the life cycles of these creatures that coincide with the moon’s phases.  Aside from sustainable agriculture, our farm encourages careful water use, energy saving initiatives, greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts, waste management and product packaging minimization.

Birds building their nests on our roses!

Birds building their nests on our roses!

Our farm is a happy and vibrant ecosystem. In fact, our farm is home to birds (who build their nests on the roses!), toads, earthworms, snakes, bees (who have built beehives inside our greenhouses!) and and many many more. Our ultimate goal is to protect our environment and also enhance the lives of our workers, as they are free from unhealthy and toxic pesticides. We hope to transform the floral industry to growing and harvesting flowers that safeguards the environment, ecology and the well being of farm workers.

So, if you really love giving or receiving flowers, make sure your bouquets are vibrant and living, AND grown with the least harm to Mother Nature and flower farmers.

Backyard Farming Workshop this August

BackyardFarm1stWeek2

BackyardSeriesSchedule

VENUE
The workshop will be held at the beautifully rustic Pavilion located beside a family farm at Fun Farm Pavilion, Sta. Elena Golf and Country Estate, Barrio Malitlit, Sta. Rosa, Laguna

FROM SLEX / SOUTHBOUND: Exit Cabuyao / Sta Elena. After tollgate, make a right. About 500 meters is the Sta. Elena Village Gate. Enter there and follow the sign to the Fun Farm.

FROM TAGAYTAY/STA ROSA ROAD: Make a left into Sta. Elena City (it is before Nuvali). You will pass Fontamara homes, Mesa Homes, Augusta, then you will reach Georgia Club Rotonda. Make right at the Rotonda. It is a long road. You will see walled communities such as Belle Reve on the right. At the end of the road is another Rotonda, make a left. Follow the long road until you see the Sta. Elena gate on your right. Enter and follow the sign to the Fun Farm.

PUBLIC TRANSPORT: Take the bus to Balibago, then take a tricycle ride from Sta. Rosa exit (tricycle terminal) to Sta. Elena City.

MEALS: All meals are included in the workshop fee. Healthy yet scrumptious meals made of local, organic or sustainable ingredients will be served by Pizza Morena by Jenny Burns. Please bring your own water bottles, plates and utensils. If you have any food allergies or preferences, please inform us so that we can discuss how your food needs can be met.

PAYMENT OPTIONS
Workshop Fees
Daily Basis: P2400 per day
P1800 Students/Seniors
Complete Entire Series (3 days)
Discounted Rate P7,000
Students/Seniors P5600

*Scholarships are available.  We have installment options too.

Fee includes
• Professional lecturers and experts in their field
• All course materials
• Healthy and delicious lunch, tea, coffee and water

Backyard Farming Workshop Series

Backyard Farming Series

Backyard Farming Series

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