Posts Tagged ‘Sustainable’

Ancient Adlai: an answer to Food Security

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We’re running short of rice. But our country also has an alternative grain. This is the tropical and indigenous ADLAI. It is also called “Job’s Tears.” It’s a versatile grain. Our ancestors cultivated this ancient grain as a staple. The aborigines of Mindanao, considered as the first inhabitants of Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur, have been growing adlai as staple food in the highlands, the same way those in the lowland eat rice. The use of adlai as a staple though has diminished over time.

Adlai grows like grass. You can plant it anywhere and it thrives well despite a harsh climate. After harvesting, Adlai continues to bear grains. When you cut its stalk, a panicle appears again. It is also tolerant to pests and diseases. Farmers can harvest 5 to 6 times a year!

 

Adlai2 (1)

Adlai has been included in DA’s food-security blueprint. It is also part of the Slow Food International Ark of Taste. The grits can also be ground into flour. It can also be made into crackers, rice cake and cookies. It also has 3x more calories and 6x more protein than rice and is regarded as a cure for diabetes. We should learn to eat this indigenous grain like we eat rice.

We grow two varieties: halayhay and Nomiarc dwarf.  We’re saving the seeds of this indigenous cereal and growing more in our farm. There could be enough seeds for everyone. Not only is it a food staple, but we use it as a windbreak and fence, in companion cropping, and especially as part of our ecological pest control.

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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.

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.

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.
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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.

Our Story, Our Roots

Our story begun in the mountains of Kibuya, Bukidnon seventeen years ago when Nicolo, then a cattle farmer, needed to find ways to utilize tons of organic matter from his cattle. Using various elements from his farm, cow dung, plants, weeds, matter that would have otherwise been thrown away as waste, Nicolo discovered he had the perfect fertilizer!

Flower Depot_cows

Soon after, cows were grazing in fields filled with vibrant, healthy and beautiful flowers. He was overwhelmed by the ease of growing flowers with organic fertilizer that he then started a floral farm in 1994. In 2003 we launched our online flower company www.myflowerdepot.com.Over the next few years, Nicolo would try various methods for fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides. In time, he realized that although the flowers seemingly responded to conventional chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the quality of the farm soil suffered greatly. The farm soil was dead matter and the flowers that were growing were not as healthy or vibrant. Eventually we realized that for beautiful flowers, living soil was crucial. So we started anew, moving to a new flower farm with healthy, uncultivated, living soil on a property we call Earth Flora, Dahilayan, Bukidnon.

It has been four years since we started growing, tilling and harvesting our flowers through sustainable agriculture. We have the help of our farm managers, Toto and Dadang, both natives from Bukidnon. They have imparted to us the wisdom and heritage of their ancestors on natural methods of flower farming. Alongside their wealth of knowledge on natural methods, we have merged technology and science, to implement agricultural techniques that build our soil fertility, while protecting our air, water and wildlife. We have merged and developed a deeply rooted natural system of crop production, integrated pest management, and weed and fungal control. We have also learned through biodynamic farming, to see the farm as an entire ecosystem, following natural cycles and the phases of the moon in scheduling our sowing, harvesting, pest management and control. We also use biodynamic preparations, follow crop rotation, and practice cover cropping. Aside from sustainable agriculture, our farm encourages careful water use, energy saving initiatives, bamboo greenhouse infrastructure, greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts, waste management and product packaging minimization.

It is 2011 and we promise to continually provide you with vibrant, healthy, beautiful flowers that are sustainably grown. Your flowers are the result of the dedication and diligence of a handful of farmers in Bukidnon, a number of them natives. All our flowers are grown, harvested and packed by hand. Each Flower Depot bouquet is hand selected, carefully arranged, and shipped fresh from our flower farm with a commitment to protect our environment and also enhance the lives of our workers. By practicing sustainable farming, we hope to build a better and more sustainable future, and lighten our footsteps on the planet. We hope to transform the floral industry to growing and harvesting flowers that safeguards the environment, ecology and the well being of farm workers.

At Flower Depot, you will enjoy fresh, vibrant and living flowers at economical prices.  We want everyone to support sustainable farming and enjoy the healthy fruits of our harvest.

Best regards,

Nicolo and Paula