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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.