Archive for the ‘Flowers’ Category

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!

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.

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.

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.

Of Men and Roses

3RosesI wanted to sleep and wake up on February 18. No one shrinks from Valentine’s Day like I do. It is not because I abhor sentimentality. I have a deep fondness for that which makes you fleet and float and flitty-flee and fly. I can fritter away my time reading Neruda and Rumi, or watching The Love Affair for the nth time. I adore fated meetings that lead to soft wet kisses on a woman’s back. Dark chocolate and scarlet red roses, I am that kind of girl. But if you please, not on Valentine’s Day! It’s February 6 today and I have been cursing the season. For the past four years, I have been loathing every rose, every bear, and every heart balloon bellowing “Happy Valentine’s Day!” Well, not today. Writing this piece, I am illumined by the splendor of what I do. We grow flowers, the lucky kind that gets picked to bear love and heartache, joy and pain, every yearning, and a lot of times, carry tears of regret and hope. There is something magical about what I do. I carry sentiments. I get to see every bold and brazen guy in town and all over the world, get loopy over the Day of Hearts. And oh, if there was one thing I am fond of, it’s watching cool dudes sheepishly choose a flower arrangement to symbolize devotion and then painfully declare love on a piece of paper. No matter how hard and callous our world has become, I have a daily, hourly, by the minute proof of love in all its guises: There’s the husband who writes: “I fall in love with you everyday;” Casanovas who cunningly order identical bouquets of flowers bearing the same love notes to three different girls; doting sons who buy two bouquets every year for their two great loves: mother and wife; a horde of faraway husbands and lovers blowing their kisses in the wind; besotted lovers onto a new romance; smitten couples who are yet to meet; my list is as boundless as the love that overflows. And oh, the prose and poetry that love can inspire. Lest not forget a few brilliant lines. Message for the bejeweled wife of an affluent executive who obliged his driver to buy his wife’s prized flowers: “Happy ValentiMes!” At least, he left out “Ma’am.” Still, and clichéd and soppy as it may read, whether it’s a husband who knows his lines, a Casanova who knows even better, or even when all the grammar falls apart, every man falls in love and tells it so. They touch the very same virtue and vice that launched a thousand ships, wrote “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day,” painted Mona Lisa and played Canon in D. Every human being, whether he’s all muscle and brute, at one time or another, will be captivated by love. And one day I’ll find him at our flower shop. And it’s Valentine’s season again. And how I would want to wake up on February 18 when all their sentiments have already been sent and I can once again be enamored by love.