Archive for the ‘Natural’ Category

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

 

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.