Archive for the ‘Natural’ Category

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

 

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.

Summer and Worms

It’s summer and the kids get to visit the flower farm a lot again.

Ainara and Domeka

They got to say hello to their three rabbits, Cottontail, Quincy and Sarah. Ainara wanted to make sure I knew that the Brown one was Sarah and that she was female.  We said hello to the cows too. We call them our Mulchers. Our farm manager calls them Piolo and Rustom. How that got by me without me making a big fuss, I still don’t know.  But Piolo, Rustom and a couple other actor-bulls have an essential role to play in our farm. They do our composting and mulching just by being there, eating and sleeping in their grass beds. Talk about luck.

Piolo the Mulcher

Cottontail

I got to see the farm bloom before my eyes again.There’s a lot of life going on in the farm.  I kept seeing those little white wisps from puff balls I used to call fairy dust.  Ainara again kept saying, with great conviction, and as it it were the most ordinary thing in the world, that the fairies were always sprinkling their happy dust in the farm.

Fairy Dust

My girls are quite lucky to have an entire flower farm to run around in. I had a small yard with daisies and gumamela. They have thousands of every color!  So there I was and while trudging along my girls, I discovered our earthworms. We have tons of them.  And they had a lot to do too, more than the cows and the rabbits (along with the birds that take care of our pests.) So I asked my husband and Toto, our native farm manager about the creepy crawlies.

Our flowers they said derives more than 90% of its nutrition from our compost and from the vermicast produced by earthworms.  And would you believe, our earthworms are quite special. They are BLUE! In 1991, an American scientist Lawrence Heaney discovered 18 new species of earthworms in the Kitanglad ranges including the “blue earthworm ” that can only be found in the Philippines. They have played an essential role in maintaining the ecosystem of the Kitanglad ranges for ages. Among their many benefits, these earthworms help cultivate the soil and also serve as food for local mammals living around Mt. Kitanglad. 

Earthworms on their Bed

Our earthworms are carefully bred and multiplied on flower beds. The bed is made of flower waste, shredded leaves, aged manure, chopped up stems and dead seaweed, plants, compost and sawdust. These materials found as waste around the farm provides nutrients and nourishment needed by worms. We always use organic or biodegradable materials, as all things in the system must naturally and easily decompose. This in turn, encourages and promotes the growth and multiplication of earthworms. Do note that earthworms are very sensitive and any harmful chemical can easily harm and kill them. The earthworm’s body is covered with Chemoreceptors (Chemoreceptors are tiny sense organs which detect chemicals in the soil.  These organs are responsible for how the earthworms taste their surroundings.) Because of this symbiotic relationship, the farm ensures that the soil is substantially chemical free, which in turn, ensures that we have beneficial earthworms that provide nutrients. Eventually, what we have is rich compost, a very healthy soil and happy creepy crawlies that can’t help but multiply.

If you want to do your own outdoor vermicomposting, here are some tips:

1.  Prepare the bedding appropriately. Just put shredded fallen leaves, aged manure, chopped up straw and dead seaweed, plants, compost and sawdust.
2.  Add the 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.
3.  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.

4.  You compost would be ready after a few weeks. How do you use it? 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.

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.

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

Real Food for Real Farmers

Our flower farmers are going back to doing what they should be doing- growing their own food. The wisdom of their ancestors have been lost throughout the years to cup noodles and fastfood. They go on for days laboring and toiling, so they can buy food for their tables. They forgot that they were farmers- and as farmers, the soil would give them their bounty. Work done tilling the soil was not only for money to buy food, it was going to grow them the food itself.  In the same way, we were living in the city, buying produce at exorbitant prices, when we could easily grow the same vegetables from our farm. Not only do we save on costs, we would know exactly what it was that went to our food.  It took us awhile to change everyone’s mindsets. Most of them were quite happy eating cup noodles filled with no nutrition except salt and MSG. Their children were growing up with rice and noodle soup as their staple. We were lazy to go through the entire process of waiting for the vegetables, growing them, harvesting, and then only having the kind that was in season. Yet, the soil was rich and teeming with life, plants were growing in abundance, and the sun was shining. Imagine how much good nutrition they wasted, by mere forgetfulness (and of course, consumerism and media brainwashing.) Since then, we have slowly reintroduced backyard farming to our farmers. There are now vegetable patches for employees to work on during their breaks. They could take the fresh produce home, put food on the table.  The same patch will provide vegetables for the Steiner-inspired daycare we are building in the farm.  Slowly, we are now growing some of the vegetables we eat.  Our farm manager, a Bukidnon native, started gathering local and indigenous seeds growing in the area. He was able to discover Tahore, a local lentil,  local sweet potatoes, native squash, native cherry tomatoes, edible flowers and native corn. We added a few more vegetables- carrots, 3 kinds of lettuce, okra, string beans, greenbeans, onions, edible flowers (ie. nasturtiums) and different kinds of herbs. Our flower farm has now a small vegetable patch, devoted to plants that do not only adorn our tables but we can eat as well! 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, benefitting all plants. Herbs and flowers serve as homes for beneficial insects and also repel the harmful ones.

Aglay (local sorghum), Tauri (native lentil), native corn, alugbati and native tomatoes

As we wait for our vegetable and flower harvest, we look forward to real food, with all its vibrancy and nutrition.  Our farmers will see the life forces of the food they eat, discovering new ways of providing for their needs and even experimenting with new cuisine.  In time, they will not look for fast food or food that come in cans, plastic or boxes. As we harvest more and more vegetable, herbs and flowers from our patches, we look forward to little squash with green beans in a lentil soup.