Saturday, April 26, 2008

Chickens in High Places

One dusky afternoon, I heard the tsiptsiptsip of the chicks and began following the sound. I couldn't seem to find them. For about five minutes it seemed like I had ghost birds in my midst.

Then I remembered how Diego, the now-missing handsome male, loved roosting on a duhat branch. So I looked up and there I saw the whole bunch of them-- mom and eleven chicks-- balanced skillfully about five feet above my head. WTF! I had never seen the chicks fly even two inches off the ground. Did the mom carry them up there?

I'm used to the idea of chickens as heavy and flightless birds, so things like this totally blow me away.

After doing some research, I discovered that in places with airborne predators like owls and hawks, roosting in trees is considered "dangerous". I figure that in my garden, where snakes, rats, and cats are things to watch out for, being up there is more safe.

There are no little boys either to do some nocturnal chicken-stealing. My dad, growing up in Fort Bonifacio, used to raise a long stick, with a little perch at the end, to tree-roosting chickens. He would then give the sleeping chicken a bit of a nudge, so it "sleep-walked" and shifted its body onto the perch. After slowly lowering the stick, he would clamp the chicken's mouth shut and take it with him to some Hardy Boys-type expedition with his friends.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Dealing With The Schizo Summer

Things to do with weather have been getting really weird. My garden is not excluded.

Not only has this summer been searing hot-- we are supposedly going to have a lot of rain due to La Nina. This means weather extremes and awkward days for the plants.

My garden has highly crappy soil, due to the fact that it is made of dumped earth from swimming pool excavations. We had to adjust the level of our lot because the street was raised, and it was starting to cause flooding during rainy season. Obviously, the existing soil does not have much absorptive qualities, being made of mostly clay and rock. How do we get plants to survive this scourge? And how do we maximize the coming rains? At the same time?

To start, I've been dumping more leaves on the ground than usual. (Stealing bags of leaves is a good preoccupation. I don't understand why people get rid of them in the first place. They sweep their yards up, and, as a consequence, have to water many times over because evaporation is quick on a bare area.)

This is actually perfect, because it keeps the soil from getting parched, and it will also decompose into topsoil when the rains come. Narra leaves smell like tea. That is another plus. I am also heavily mulching trees. Look at this revived banaba:

I've also dug ditches and holes in the ground to gather water. Our gutter flows out into a canal (a little moat, if you may) surrounding our house, and this occasionally floods into our garage. So from this canal, I've dug a trench into a hole, so water may flow in, and eventually sit and seep through.

Lastly, I know it's not a good time to start making plants root, but I'm trying really hard with a few. One is this pandan. I'm using an enema bag for that "gradual release" effect (although the drip rate could be slower, but I guess no one wants to have a day-long enema). Moisture. Through an anal tube. Great stuff!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Beautiful Destruction

One of our avocado trees is harboring some fungus or leaf miner. Whatever it is, it will go away once our soil gets healthier.

Such is life-- poor soil and low amounts of beneficial microorganisms make the present plants die to provide more moisture and nourishment for the next generation.

In the meantime, enjoy the patterns and whirls.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Double Edged Chicken Situation

Having chickens in your garden means to hours of viewing fun. Closer to humans than plants, our feathered friends allow us to constantly interpret their behavior in ways that are probably more engaging (to a self-serving end) than accurate. Anthropocentrism, yay!

The soap opera of chicken life unfurls daily for us.

About last month, our proud brown native couple Diego and Diega went a-missing, but only after laying a second batch of eggs. These eggs were themselves laid in another hen's nest. Thus, our white female chicken is now tottering around with twelve or so chicks, more than half of whom do not look like her at all. I wonder if she knows-- or cares.

One of the chicks (my favorite) had a blind and infected eye. It was, at one point, half the size of his siblings due to malnutrition. As of yesterday, it has gone missing, presumably eaten by a snake or a cat.

Chickens enrich my daily life with stories, and the soil with their droppings. However, since letting them loose, they have scratched every known surface, trampled on all my young plants, and removed mulch from just about everywhere.

A few days ago, I tried putting one group of plants under a cage-- the one we used for them when they were newly hatched-- but someone removed it, and the hen knocked my plants down with the usual vigor.

As co-existence leads to compromise, I'm looking for ways to adapt to this motley crew. Pondering on their nature hopefully will lead me to some win-win design solutions.

Friday, April 11, 2008

All Your Topsoil Are Belong To Me

Collecting loose topsoil from under piles of leaves tides you over well until your compost pile is ready. It's sense that is common. Why on earth did I have to go to India to start doing this?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Ampalayang Ligaw (Momordica charantia)

Look at this cute thing. I've been finding it all over the garden recently. When I first saw the familiar leaves, I decided they were too small to belong to ampalaya. Upon fruiting, we decided they were undoubtedly related to the ones we regularly eat, only they are really small. Ampalayang ligaw or wild ampalaya becomes a gorgeous orange when ripe. It contains bright red seeds, as shown in this photo.

Apparently, its leaves are preferred over the cultivated variety. I'm sure it contains just the same (if not more) medicinal qualities! And... it's just so damn cute. It's just like having tiny pea-sized watermelons or jackfruit.

I'm having this for dinner tonight!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Urban Farming in Parañaque, Part II

Pauli was just a lot away from Romy. We joined him as he sat under the shade of a large aratiles tree.

How great it would have been at this point be to take a dip in a cool pond-- one that would have been filled up by the many little rivers and streams that existed before Parañaque was cemented over. Or maybe I should have tried Pauli's catchment hole, which was already filled with the same sewage water that Romy used. Even sitting on a patch that may have been soaked by it made me anxious.

He was growing only two things. One, kinchay or Chinese celery, is used in many local dishes, including the ubiquitous party pancit. The other was lettuce, of some variety or another (friends will tell you I am not so fond of this salad leaf family).

I was able to buy a kilo each of kinchay and lettuce for only Php45 (less than one dollar). He claims that the lettuce was not yet fertilized. Anyhow, I'll post later on about how I transplanted some of the produce into small pots and tried to wean them off chemicals. And oh, I actually ate some of the stuff I bought, after washing them well. I reasoned out that I have probably been eating dirtier stuff all this time anyway. It was also my silent way of support and solidarity. Hehe.

Anyhow, Pauli is a migrant from Catanduanes, Bicol. An uncle had moved to Manila to escape the stormy ravages of home, and after a failed attempt to get a job, ended up tending a lot in the subdivision I was sitting in now. Pauli was encouraged to come during the 80s, and has since become a squatter near the village church. He grows a variety of crops throughout the year, selling them to the same wholesalers and retailers who frequent these urban farms.

He (almost tearfully) told me about how the homeowners' association has given him until April 20 to leave the place, despite his amicable arrangement with the lot owner. Apparently, the association attributed recent cases of theft to the farmers, without evidence or arrest. This is silly-- the gates are so loosely guarded (with one fronting a busy passage to Ninoy Aquino Avenue), and many other non-residents such as construction workers shuffle in and out.

Now without any alternative livelihood, he was trying to look for another patch to cultivate. With sadness, he recounted how it was here that he had grown into manhood and started his family. His presence, and those of other farmers, is not legitimized by the local government.

The demand for fresh food exists everywhere, but the supply chain is convoluted and messed up. Instead of eliminating these farmers, who represent probably the last remaining agricultural forces of Metro Manila, let's look for ways to incorporate them.

There is room to get creative here: Teach the use of natural stormwater collecting (and supplementary water supply) to eliminate the use of sewage? Start a co-op to provide (organic) farm subscriptions to the community and other surrounding subdivisions? This will eliminate the middlemen and give them a sense of dignity and stability.

Before I left, Pauli and I had a flute exchange. I gave him the cheapo flute from India that I had been playing while walking around, and he gave me a flute he had fashioned of a scrap piece of bamboo from a nearby construction (it was loads better and more sophisticated). He said he used to make his own flutes to keep him amused during rest periods on the Catanduanes bukid. I can't play the thing because I can't do the mouth shape right, but I won't stop trying. And I'll keep it as a reminder of the nearby everyday struggles and services by "under-the-radar" folks like Pauli.