Tuesday, December 30, 2008


A bit too late for an explanation, but I've been on a holiday break from writing here and on Yapak/Yakap. This season in the Philippines stretches out particularly long, and it's always a flurry of parties and trips out of town.

Have a happy new year, you all.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


My friend saw mushroom photos on my laptop and told me that the white, fan-like ones that grow on our logs are edible. Called kurakdot in Bicol, it is cooked in coconut milk (as is everything there).

I was able to gather a fair amount when I got home, as there was a light rainy spell. I got a couple of tenga ng daga (rats' ears), which I discovered, are called monkeys' ears in Negros. Here is how they look on the logs:

So they were altogether sauteed with onions and mixed with olive oil and rice... Mmm.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Pasko Na Naman Muli

(The title means "It's Christmas again", it's a cool Filipino Christmas jovial song.)

I spotted a brown shrike (tarat), seeking refuge in the Philippines from the cold Chinese winters, outside my window this morning (photo was taken through a screen, that's why it's crappy). The migratory tarat, different from our local black ones, usually arrives around September, but I haven't seen one this year until today.

A few days ago in Cambodia, while zooming around the city on a moped, I would often remark loudly, above the wind, "Putangina!! Ang lamig!!!!" and go on about how it never gets that cold in the Philippines. Well, I came back to the garden and realized, that it indeed almost measures up.

The nights are a bit too cold for my tropical constitution, and I can't take a shower without heating water (which I do in a kettle, with added herbs for fragrance and pleasure). The soil is a bit dry, with humidity pretty low overall. There is still morning dew, but I don't think there is as much decomposing happening. The mushrooms on my logs are going away. And, oddly enough, there are mosquitoes everywhere.

Frankly, I haven't understood this weather completely just yet. I was looking forward to putting a bunch of plants in, but it seems to be pretty difficult to do that now, my gut tells me.

I need some more time to figure this whole mood out, and I'll post about it. In the meantime, behold our family Christmas bamboo!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cambodia Sightings

Very interesting plant life in Cambodia, especially because I can easily take some home and they will probably survive. Many common species between us.

Here are pomegranates (seen one near my house, but never gotten around to snatching it up).

Rose moss:

Water flower:

And a beautiful flower on a vine by the royal palace.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Free Bananas!

Walking around and spotting bananas that belong to no one in particular.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Log Appreciation Post: Whale Carcass of The Garden

Logs are a good way to start some life in a flat area. When I think about how life forms around edges (i.e. people inhabit waterways or shady areas, fish seek refuge along root systems, we pee against trees), logs are actually a very reasonable choice for easy injection of life in an otherwise ho-hum area.

You know how they say whales decomposing on the ocean floor provide a home to a myriad of organisms? I think logs are like that. They are easy and decompose without help, albeit slower if there's more sunlight. I see logs as willing outlayers on the fringe, like avant garde artists who can slowly change norms around themselves in a flat area just by plopping themselves down there.

Maybe a month ago, I decided to develop a new area for baby plants. The area I nurse seedlings at, beside my room, has far too many mosquitoes for comfort, and I got sort of tired going out there looking like a beekeeper all the time. Furthermore, the soil there was clayish and hard. So I began to build (first by accident) a colony of logs in a separate area out front.

I don't cut the trees down myself. I take them from villages where people seem to have this habit of not wanting "things in the way" and cutting trees on whims. I began leaving the logs just by the walkway, because after a night out, moving them to a "proper tidy place" can be taxing.

So a pile of logs developed, and the grass around them began growing quite vigorously, and interesting fungus began appearing on the slowly decomposing heavyweights. I know this is common sense, but no, it's not, really. I had earlier tried to start a seed bed out of an old drawer I found in a parking lot, but that was going slow and dry. Here it was a few weeks after I started:

I started to move logs out and use them to build a supporting compost pile near my growing seed starting area. I built the pile just like I built this one out of weaving sticks, but this time I had enough logs to form "walls" with minimal effort.

Around that time, I was transferring the seedlings to little pots, and with the compost pile starting up, chickens were surely all over the place and knocking the babies over. I then used logs to secure the seedlings and press them against the old drawer. Eventually I had rows of them surrounding the drawer, growing outward, and held in place by logs.

It's not very easy to see because I've allowed this "weed" to grow over, it does a good job of protecting the seedlings from too much sun. The logs, I believe, have also contributed to the diversity of little organisms, with pretty mushrooms always coming up and convincing me of the health of the area. This log support system, and the ensuing burst of grass-herby growth surrounding it, allows me to leave seedlings during the hot days (without watering), something I've never been able to do.

You can see the drawer to the left in the above photo. Below is the compost pile, now also obscured by the weed thing, but you notice it because of the papers:

I've also placed seedlings around the compost pile so they benefit from the micro activity happening there. They are more or less hidden under the weeds. For the first time, I am able to grow tomatoes, and without fuss too!

More or less it's a system of logs-plants-logs. In some areas, where I've planted herbs into the ground, logs retain moisture as well as mulch. More on that later in this post.

In a past post I also showed how I was making above-ground mini-compost piles to be directly planted in. Well, this picture, which I posted last month--

--gives a pretty good idea of the starting point. Logs arranged on hard earth, leaves dumped inside. Continuous leaf dumping, as well as an occasional bag of coffee grounds from Starbucks (at least we are getting something good out of them!), and it was ready to grow an atsuete or annatto plant in. Here it is today:

I put the plant in and cover the root area with the bark of some palm tree that falls apart in straight pieces. Beside the annatto plant, to the left, is some holy basil. To its right are some chives I separated from a five-year-old bunch!

Above is another one of the log triangles, this time planted with the native dayap lime, with roots covered again by fronds of a palm tree.

In some cases, I actually "mulch" by placing logs around a plant. It helps especially when the plant is sensitive to getting stepped on by chickens. The plant is also provided with considerable "coolth" and moisture from the mass of the logs. After the baby is established, you can also transfer the logs to different places (until they get progressively smaller and just sort of fall apart).

Now just to drive the utter convenience of that home, I end this with a picture of a chicken tearing up a mountain of mulch I just left around the rosal plant.

Microorganisms Again

Before I left, I decided to "bait" some microorganisms again out of the air and soil. I was feeling pretty encouraged that the avocado tree near my room, previously sickly and wilted all the time, is now doing fabulous, with healthy shiny leaves. (However, now that the trees are super established, distance is something of an issue, as they are planted a bit densely.)

What you do with microorganisms is this. Choose a good tree, take a tupperware or a lunchbox, and put a handful of rice, or a piece of bread, in. I use coconut shells, because we have obscene amounts of them from our coconut milk consumption. I secure them with a rubber band. Just make sure (if you do this) that the cover hangs over the bottom, as you don't want rain getting in.

You bury this at the foot of your chosen tree. Well, not really bury, but cover with debris. I need to secure mine well, because otherwise the chickens will eat all the rice. I suspect they did this to the other one I left by the mango tree.

After three to five days, take the rice. It should have colorful mold, not black mold. This means there is good life in it. This one had orange and green and yellow and pink. Very beautiful. Evon thought I was playing with a dead chick when I was poking this around. That is because it gets a nice fuzz going on.

You take this and put it in a glass container.

Pour molasses or mascobado sugar on it. Raw sugar is very good for this. Some people try white sugar, but I don't believe it would be as effective. You can buy panocha at the market and crush it, mix it with some water, and pour it in. I have a bottle of molasses that is expired as of last week-- I bought it to make cookies a few years ago. It tasted fine, and I don't mind if it started fermenting or something.

Pour it over the colorful rice or bread, enough to cover. They say the ratio of colorful rice to sugar should be 1:1, but I am not so strict about it.

After a week or so it should start smelling sweetish sour, kind of like your health fermented drinks. It is sure fascinating to see the change it goes throuh, as well as how well plants respond to it! When you get this mixture, take a tablespoon to one liter of water. I like to leave the water to rest for a couple of hours before applying it to the plants, just to get the little ones swimming and properly dispersed.

There ya go, it's really simple, and it is a happy procedure.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Various Growing Things

The commotion in Thailand airport messed my plans up a bit and allowed me to stay a few more days back home. So before I left town last week, I set out some rice to "bait" microorganisms, but more on that in a next post. Yesterday saw me dumping a whole lot of matter for decomposition while I am in Cambodia, a more intensive absentee garden routine than I described here. More on that in the next post, as well.

It rained some while I was gone, and some trees have gone to fruit again. I was walking around and seeing evidence of chickens having a good meal, and mainly me missing a pickling and bottling opportunity. Here is a kamias that I wanted to make into spicy pickles. It was flowering when I left, but now the fruit is probably all gone.

I've been telling myself I am going to grow some okra again, but never have the chance to spot some seeds around in the villages. Usually I nick some dried okras from residential areas and grow them, but recently people have been extra adamant about being tidy with their dried okra. But now, hey hey, a surprise one is growing by the atis tree. A couple of years ago, when we just moved in, we had lots of okra in that spot. Can't say if one seed lasted that long, but in any case, yes!

This papyrus sedge is finally having flowers again. We made an Egypt-inspired soap using its flowers from the whole expanse of the garden, and then we realized (after everyone started loved it) that the blooms only come once a year. So we had to put poppy seeds in instead.

I took this pandanus spiny plant from the beach before. I was convinced it would not grow, as it was growing on sand and rock, but here it is making its presence felt among other plants in the shade:

It is the broad kind (not the small fragrant culinary sort) that they use to weave handicrafts. Its leaves have edges that are quite a hassle to handle, but I think it is beautiful and might be planted along areas for security.