Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Munggo (Vigna radiata)

The munggo (pronounced moong-goh, there you have it, I can imagine the awkward attempts at pronunciation otherwise) or mung bean is a fixture in Philippine homes. I would say this is the only bean that remains constant and year-round in the metropolitan savory diet. Wet markets are never without them. They are cheaper and more common than the yellow and red varieties, which are often used for sweets and snacks. Their starch is made into thin noodles called sotanghon. There are documented medicinal properties.

If you have gone through the Philippine school system, you had probably grown some munggo in science class, on a piece of cotton or wet paper. It germinates quickly and demonstrates to children what plants are like and such.

While the mung bean is thought to have been domesticated in India (moong is a Hindi word), where it is commonly used for dhal and other dishes, some research shows that it actually originated from West Asia, or the "Afghanistan-Iran-Iraq area". It may have reached the east via two routes-- the Silk Road (West Asia to India to China to Taiwan) or from India to Southeast Asia.

Our standard munggo stew and our porridge with glutinous rice and coconut milk (f'in yum) seem somewhat common (with variations, of course) throughout Southeast Asian dishes and snacks. The eating of sprouts, (tauge or taugeh in Indonesian and Bahasa Melayu, Hispanized spelling togue for us), seems to have arrived here through East Asia, where its use is much more prevalent.

We grew ours from some market seeds, getting a little more than a dozen green munggo plants beside the okra. These are now bearing flowers and pods. Our companion at home has been extolling the superiority of eating fresh (soft) beans in her province (Bacolod), so we have been harvesting green pods and shelling them. Fresh, soft beans are segregated from the tougher ones from the dried pods which we somehow missed harvesting. When we have enough, we will get a decent dish going. As we are a good number of people at home, this requires patience.

The pods are allowed to dry in commercial production, as it prolongs shelf life, of course, and it is easier to process then. The seeds are extracted by either beating the pods or trampling on them. Here are some dry beans:

Compare the above with the fresh seeds below, which are larger, lighter in color, and tender enough to squeeze and destroy:

Munggo is relatively easy to grow in non-clay soils. The soil needs to be well-drained. They tolerate some amount of drought. A bonus are the little yellow flowers which come in bunches.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Cutsoms in Gardening

Like many people, I talk to my plants. When I pick some leaves from them, I "ask permission" and apologize for the pain. When I am transplanting some, I wish them well out loud, that they will take root properly.

The farmer who gave me the pepper cuttings from the plant in the photo instructed me to do a little ritual while planting. In order for the pepper, which is a vine, to be healthy and begin to crawl on poles or plants, and also for it to send it roots fast into the ground, I had to cling to it with my two hands and say "Kumapit ka! (Cling!)". He demonstrated it very loudly and almost manically, and he looked like he was strangling someone.

Although the cuttings were lost somewhere between there and home, I will surely try to do it next time. These small rituals, if anything, make life more interesting.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Sizzling Time and Lot Notes

Ho ho ho it's summer again, when I sit in the shade and sometimes all the leaves go still. When I eat some aratiles while walking around the garden. When the plants start to have issues and hang their heads low, there is only so much you can do. Well, there is, if you have a lot of time. But if you don't, you take note and make sure you do something more appropriate before the next summer rolls in. My lesson is trees, trees, trees and biomass, biomass, biomass. Often throughout the year I forget how harsh the summer is (I am usually travelling at that season).

(I have supplemented the hard earth with coconut shells in the squash area for moisture and coolth.)

Chickens are still running about free, so this is something to consider along with the heat.

I've started to cover the soil near the compost pile with compost and newspaper, to give me some more plots that are closer to my water source and main area of work. These need to be further covered with palm leaves and large branches to keep the chickens from tearing it apart into a chicken crime scene.

I've already put some chili, coleus, talinum, and corn in. They don't show too properly in the photo, as they are quite small there. Sometimes I hack the coconut leaves off a certain portion of stem to accommodate a plant poking through the newspaper and all. This keeps chickens out and unable to do their dance on the plant.

I'm trying to concentrate on growth around small trees, but I'm not home everyday to water stuff, so...

Just a bit about our soil. I guess I should shed some light on the yet-to-be-cultivated parts of our lots, which are grassy and tough. We have two lots, each approximately 1000 square meters. They are attached to each other but form an S-shape (if you stretch your imagination far enough). Our house is far back, when you walk inwards from the street. There is no back yard.

The original soil close to the house was generally a bit of clayish topsoil mixed with broken shells. This is because our home was a former capiz mini-factory. We thus had lots of grit in the form of smashed capiz, which is pearlescent and can wound you if you're squeezing the soil. More importantly, as I might have mentioned before, the entire two lots we live on had to be raised due to surrounding flooding, and thus we dumped it over with swimming pool excavate. So we have some shelly soil and LOTS of poor, rocky subsoil.

Our "home lot". The constraints are mainly that trees cannot be grown across the very middle and front of our home for security reasons (Good visibility is desired of any trespassers-- yes I know it sounds paranoid.) Stand in the middle of the garden during noon and you will see how intense the heat is-- like being in a soccer field. There are some ways around this that I will get around to soon.

As you can see, for most results we do things by planting along edges (walls, existing trees). I am trying to create more "edges" to give plants shade and increased moisture instead of being left smack in the middle of grass. It takes time. Papaya is good for this, as it grows fast and can be beside a climbing bean.

The open grassy area on the home lot is regularly grass-cuttered, and this biomass is usually not going back into the soil. I think the chickens have been a help here, as they are running and crapping all over the place.

I have been taking inspiration from the okra (above) growing along the right side of the garden. In spite of the heat, and perhaps because they are in a part of the garden that wasn't bothered by the grass cutter so much (with sugarcane debris and legume compost), they are growing quite vigorously. They do well and protect things like tomatoes and flowers from the intense heat. Our tomatoes among the okra are doing fabulous-- the others in somewhat bare contexts have wilted in surrender.

The mung beans have flourished and are now bearing pods. They are in the same area as okra.

What about the other lot? It has a few trees, and you can see nice things happening without much effort. The grass is allowed to thrive moreso there (it is far and costly to cut the grass all the time). Some are taller than myself. Now there are some leguminous trees sprouting, as well as a few leguminous vines overtaking the grass (not visible in the photos).

It seems a good joy to mulch over the front lot and wait until it rains for some massive rottage, but for now I don't have the time, energy, etc. do to this, and we are enjoying the butterflies on the vine flowers.

Along the wall of the other lot there are "angry" bouganvillas.

Next time I will perhaps profile the trees on the other lot and the home lot to give a better sense, as I am posting just low-level shots now. Trees are the best and easiest things to grow (especially if your garden time is erratic), and they deserve more attention here.