Filipinos have been up in arms lately over the rise in prices of basic food items including rice, garlic, onions, and even vegetables like carrots and okra. Given the fact that overall incomes have been stagnant, this is very bad news indeed.
Government data shows that Filipino families, especially the lower-income groups, spend about two-thirds of their income on food. Rice, bread, and proteins were the main food items bought, leaving little for other needs such as shelter, clothing, education, and health.
There’s not much that ordinary citizens can do to combat the rising prices of goods. That’s the government’s job. But what people can do is to plant their own vegetables so that they can have a regular supply of this very important food group, which all studies have shown can boost the immune system and help prevent disease.
The costs are very small, literally and figuratively—some seeds you can even dry on your own for zero cost. Manual labor and physical exertion are a given, and you can look at gardening time as your regular exercise routine.
But where do I grow them when I don’t have any extra land or space? This is a common question and misconception among would-be planters. You don’t need vast tracts of land in order to grow vegetables. Vegetables, herbs, and other plants grow well in pots and other containers.
If you have a sunny terrace, or a windowsill that gets lots of sun and air, those would be excellent places to get started on container gardening. Ceramic or clay pots, which keep moisture in but also drain well, are the best containers. They are however a bit expensive.
But there are other options that are not so costly, and would even help in saving and protecting the environment. This is to recycle previously used plastic and other containers into plant receptacles.
The following items get a second life as plant holders: plastic water bottles, plastic gallon jugs, tin cans, car tires, wooden boxes or baskets, rice sacks, old sinks, thick bamboo poles, and even used air-conditioning units.
Excellent guidance is provided in this thin volume entitled, Urban Agriculture: A step-by-step guide to successful container farming in the city, published by the Central Luzon State University, in Munoz, Nueva Ecija (available at Power Books, price P295).
While only 55 pages long, the book has detailed information on preparing your soil mixture, how to make compost, as well as advice on sowing, fertilization, watering, and harvesting vegetables. It even threw in a few vegetable-based recipes like Chinese-style fresh lumpia.
I was very much impressed with this little guide because it also had practical how-to illustrations and photographs of vegetables growing in a myriad of containers. There’s even a visual gallery of common pests and diseases of fruits of vegetables detailing symptoms and specific remedies.
Filipino gardeners usually have no choice but to turn to foreign-published books and websites to get information on plants and trees, and then try to translate that into our very different climatic and environmental conditions. A localized publication like this is therefore very welcome and much appreciated and we hope that they have more in the pipeline.
Among the vegetables that the book recommends for direct seeding (that is growing them in the original container they were planted in) are the following: radish, sugar beets, carrots, okra, corn, beans, cucumber, bottle gourd (upo), dishrag gourd (patola), bitter gourd (ampalaya), squash, and fruits such as melon and watermelon. It recommends the transplanting procedure for most leafy greens and fruit vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers.
Seeds to plant are now widely available, even in hardware stores and supermarkets. The Ramgo seed company has “value packs” of five seeds in one pack containing all the vegetable seeds you would need to complete a dish like sinigang (packet contains seeds for okra, pole sitao, radish, tomato, and kangkong).
Also available are value seed packs for pinakbet, garden salad, chop suey, as well as Chinese leafy and herb Italia (P130 for the five-in-one value packs).
Drying your own seeds can take time, but it is certainly doable. The book has instructions on how to this; the main thing to remember is to dry the seeds well before planting them.
Aside from cutting down on your food costs, planting your own vegetables will ensure that you will get fresh and good-tasting food. Vegetables are best when they’re newly harvested. Most of the vegetables that reach Metro Manila come from far-away provinces such as Benguet and other parts of northern Luzon, while some fruits travel across the seas from Cebu or Mindanao.
Eating fresh vegetables also means that you will get the full range of its antioxidants, protecting you from the free radicals that cause cancer and other disease.
For those who like eating raw salads, it is better to grow your own leafy greens so that you can be sure that it is organic and not sprayed with commercial pesticides. Besides, these are among the easiest to grow. Fast growers are loose-leaf lettuce, arugula, Chinese kale, pechay, bok choi, kangkong, and mustasa (mustard greens).
I was especially eager to plant kangkong since I love to cook sinigang and adobong kangkong. But I was always reluctant to buy them in the markets without knowing their provenance (local kangkong grows in ponds, canals, and other waterways). To be safe, I just
buy seeds for the Chinese kangkong variety, which can be planted in the soil.
I’ve had a lot of success growing the local vegetable varieties, and I regularly plant eggplant, corn, okra, string beans, Baguio beans, mustasa (mustard leaves), cucumber, zucchini, kalabasa (squash), sayote (chayote), and many more.
Carrots are bit more difficult. They need a long growing period, and require very loose soil otherwise you will need up with an irregularly shaped vegetable. I usually interplant fast-growing lettuce with the carrots.
Still, even though they may not look perfect, these ones that you plant will be the best carrot you’ll ever taste. This root crop appears to lose its sweetness if it travels far (same with sweet corn) so it’s better to have a supply of this in your garden.
Planting rice appears to be out of the question for us ordinary folks but I think growing vegetables should be a cinch.
Email: ‘Food and Garden’