Sunday, August 31, 2008


The rain has made the trees grow quite vigorously, and they are blocking the sunlight off. I've been taking up broken mirrors that people throw away and using them to reflect light onto small groups of plants outside my room.

They are seedlings in pots, but I don't want to move them out front. The reason is I can keep closer tabs on them here, as I'm in and out of the side door.

When I am feeling especially at-it, I adjust the mirror to follow the sun.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Microorganisms Move The World

They hold us up. These invisible little things do a lot of life's work for us. The soil world, our digestive world-- are run by our smallest (yet biggest) heroes!

Recently been cultivating some indigenous micro-organisms using molasses and some fungus I coaxed onto some rice.

In the first picture you will see that some fruit flies had come in before I covered it with cloth, but no harm done. In a few days I can dilute this powerful party-mixture into water and begin spreading some micro-love onto the plants.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Look To The Sky!

Gumamela, parol-parolan (with insect), sugarcane against the blue expanse.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

And More Eggs! Baby Snails Waiting To Happen

As you might have noticed, I've been focusing on creatures lately. To tell you honestly, it's because I've only recently begun to appreciate all the small animals and insects. I've always been partial to plants, but spending more and more time among them makes me realize that they are all part of something bigger, that involves a myriad of organisms.

I know, it's pretty much a no-brainer, but shrug, shrug, shrug.

Today I spotted some snail eggs! They are really small and look like candy sprinkles. My stepbro shoots pellet guns and I thought they were tiny deformed pellets. Until I took one and squeezed it. It broke. I felt pretty bad about that. But for what it's worth, there seemed to be nothing inside, it was like a hollow little lizard's egg. Here's my hand, for reference:

I'm not sure how long they've been there, but according to Wikipedia, they hatch after 2-4 weeks "of favorable weather". They will live for several years. Doesn't that blow your mind?

After being around so many relatively transient (short-living) insects, the snail seems like a candidate for a crawly you can get really acquainted with. I've considered putting markings on shells so I can track the fellows, but perhaps that will do more damage than it's worth.

More Eggs

Female white chicken (named her Puti, secretly! she is not allowed to have a name as she will be eaten by Papa) is laying eggs all over the place. We have been finding them in different areas and putting them in the main basket.

Yesterday, the rooster-papa was perched on the basket (an old kaing for mangoes) while the ma was inside on the eggs.

He left when I went closer, and I may have stressed Puti out.

Later on, I found an egg in my experimental leaf-dumping area.

I'm not sure how long it's been there or if it's bugok or rotten, but I put it in with the others. This is somewhat a concern, because when they lay on the ground, they roll the bad eggs away. Since this one is up against the wall, I'm not sure how Puti will deal with rotten ones.

I'm trying to figure out why she is laying eggs all over the place and not just in the basket. Sometimes she does her birthing cluck in weird places like on a table full of wires and other scrap things.

Is this something that is like a hen's hedging policy against laying "all her eggs in one basket"? Would she even remember where she was laying the others? Are we right in gathering them all up in one place?

Monday, August 18, 2008


Maggots break large or plentiful dead things down. And fast!

Compost piles that are not "not hot enough" will attract flies and breed maggots. That is because waste breaks down both by microorganisms, as well as insects and small animals. If you want less of them, just add more carbon-y stuff like dried leaves, turn your pile, or bury your food waste under some debris.

I quite like maggots (and worms in general), and the birds and chickens come for them as well. Furthermore, flies can bring good bacteria with them. Just know that a lot of your vinegar comes from a "mother" that was grown using bacteria from the ends of flies' legs!

Maggots are pretty amazing small creatures. Just look at their little bodies go! My brother and I found a snail dead in its shell, being devoured by a lot of small wriggling whities.

They are pretty great at doing what they do (breaking stuff down), and their poop is used further by worms. They excrete a soupy liquid that makes rotting even faster, and their activity actually produces heat. Sometimes you see a few maggots "getting some fresh air" or gravitating towards the periphery of the action to cool off. Then they dive in for more!

People associate maggots with death and bad smells. Of course they do. But maggots don't actually cause those. If they weren't around, we'd be smelling death a bit longer than we do.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Stag Beetle Babies

Before they look all mythical and archetypal, stag beetles are larvae found under the ground. If you dig some you will find them looking this this:

The larvae are soft and tender. It is likely that if I were another mammal I would pop them in my mouth upon impulse. They are harmless, and help make soil out of old wood and solids. They curl up when you put them on your hand-- put them right back, they don't respond well to being moved around!

Hello, Goodbye

Below is a common yellow-spotted Harpaphe haydeniana that I find in the garden wherever there is fungus and debris. It spirals into itself when you pick it up, and has this secretion that is a slight irritant if you rub onto your eyes. Some say that is cyanide. I don't know, but it smells a bit strange sometimes. Just handle them with respect and gentleness and they will not harm you.

So, don't kill them, get acquainted with them. Sometimes they may stroll into your home, give them a ride back out. They eat decomposing matter and turn them into soil. They are your friends!

What we can learn from millipedes: to fall without fear.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Hey, remember being young and sucking the nectar from santan flowers?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Kapok "Processing Plant"

I am glad to say that I have that-time-of-the-month self-sufficiency. I make my own bleeding pads with some washable cotton casings and kapok stuffing. I think it to be an improvement of the olden pasador cloths that were folded up. And of course, a gigantic step beyond the plastic, weird-fake-flower-smelling, poorly designed sanitary napkins. Maybe soon enough I'll write an entry on the kapok tree, but today I've been taking some fiber out, so I'd like to show that.

Of course, as the gushing forth occurs monthly, I need to make sure that I have a good supply of stuffing, and sometimes it piles up in my room until I have the time to process them-- that is, take them out of the shells, remove the seeds and solid parts, fluff them up, and store them.

It's pretty much a no-brainer, but I hope that this can motivate the readers of this blog (hello) to reconsider producing some of their "commodities". Pads and tampons are so full of chemicals, and require energy to be harvested, produced, packaged, shipped, sold. These are free, and planting quick-growing kapok trees helps provide habitat to bats.

These were harvested from a plant barely two years old. You must first break the fruit apart (if it's not already open, which it sometimes is):

Inside are silky fibers that are amazingly soft. And a lot of seeds that look like black peas. You can munch on them a little bit while you are working.

Scoop the fiber and seeds out. This is my favorite part. It comes off pretty easily.

Don't be disconcerted by the amount of seeds. Here is an easy way to get them all out and fluff the fiber up at the same time. Put a work cloth over your lap. While reading or whatever, rub the fiber between your palms. Just keep doing it, thinking of breaking up the little segments of fiber and making one whole big piece of fluff. Before you know it, on the work cloth will be a lot of little seeds.

Work in small batches.

The seeds you can store first inside the empty pods, that is fun to do.

The fiber, store in a place that is dry, like a glass or wooden jar. The empty pods can be used for so many things-- putting a bit of food or dried fruit in for small trips, storing small pieces of soap, etc.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Lubi-lubi (Ficus pseudopalma)

This plant looks like a palm but is actually part of the ficus or fig family, only with no branches and with saw-like long leaves. Inside, the "fruit" is actually lined with little flowers, which hold in them the seeds. It snaps easily and is good for mulching. You can use it to wrap food, as well.

Grown in metropolitan areas as an ornamental, the young leaves of the Philippine fig (as it is known in other countries) can actually be cooked in coconut milk, sometimes with meat or fish, especially in Bicol. The Department of Science and Technology found this to be one of the most promising wild endemic edibles in the country.

The Bicolano name is lubi-lubi, while Tagalog is niyog-niyogan. Lubi means coconut in Bicol, while niyog means the same in Tagalog. This is probably because the plant looks like a small and comical coconut tree, with its trunk likewise taking shape with indentations left by fallen leaves and fruit. In any case, both names are shared with other, completely unrelated species of plants, so be careful when researching!

Aside from being eaten, the small tree is also used in folk medicine. A decoction of the leaves is useful for diabetes and kidney-related ailments.

I spotted it while walking around and took some young leaves to cook and some fruit to plant. While it is widespread, the lubi-lubi is categorized by conservation experts as a vulnerable species.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sulasi / Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum)

Holy basil is hot. I discovered, while munching on random garden leaves, that savoring its clovey flavor should be limited to brief periods. It literally burns the tongue! However, it cuts wonderfully through the thickness of sweet and creamy desserts, growing it for this alone is recommended.

Taking its English name from its important connection with religious practice in the Indian subcontinent, tulsi (Hindu name) means "the incomparable one". Sprigs of it were sometimes placed on the chest of a resting person to protect him. People chew its leaves before religious ceremonies, and households often grow them and even adorn them.

Migrating towards Southeast Asia, it picked up variations on its name such as sulasi (Philippines, Malaysia) and selaseh (Indonesia, Malaysia). Eastern Philippines calls it kamangi or kamangkau, related to Indonesia's selseh kemangi. Eastern and Tagalog Philippines also calls it loko-loko and koloko-loko, similar to Malay ruku-ruku.

As you can see above, the plant is pretty hairy. Its leaves are toothed. The flowers appear in smaller, neater rows than most basil varieties. Vigorous self-seeders like basil, I find, are really useful in restoring a barren area that you don't quite have enough time yet to attend to. There have been times when a "mini-basil forest" simply pops up somewhere, really bushy thriving, protecting the soil from drying out, attracting butterflies, and decomposing into the soil. They are wonderful to walk through.

There is a dark purple sort of holy basil that I tried to propagate many years ago, but that went to shits. This one grew out of some seeds from India.

Holy basil is one of those that treat an amazingly broad range of imbalances. Even my dog knows it (see him munching on the leaves in the topmost photo).

Folk uses in the Philippines include boiling the leaves for aromatic baths, or for remedies against gonorrhea. A preparation from the seeds (which form a jelly when soaked) is said to soothe inflamed throats. Other countries use the plant as an infusion for stomach and liver problems. The juice from leaves can be used to treat earaches. It is also used to increase milk for breastfeeding.

Modern research shows that the plant actually helps people deal with stress. It reduces the production of stress hormones, apparently allowing people to approach 21st century frustration with more clarity. It also packs significant anti-oxidant properties.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Worm Appreciation

When I lived in a townhouse, I tried vermicomposting. I failed, all the time. Putting too much of the same thing in the bin, fussing over it too much, wetting it through, leaving it when I travel, ants, etc.

A farmer friend who gave me my most recent and first batch of thriving-in-captivity (sounds terrible, doesn't it) worms told me (in Tagalog): "I too made a lot of mistakes. At first I kept dumping only mahogany leaves in. They kept dying. But I realized that you have to think like a worm. You have to be a worm."

So I give them a varied diet (including an old unraveled coconut coir doormat that they love to take refuge in). I stopped stressing about the smallest details and gave them food and shelter with water, air, and energy passing freely through. I even did away with a cover.

So I now have a bin of worms, along with all the piles and pits that naturally draw them from the soil.