Monday, February 15, 2010

Would You Want These Wild Plants In Your Garden?

We are currently doing an inventory of the indigenous fauna and flora in the area with special focus on those found in the forest sorrounding the farm. The result should help us map out the necessary conservation strategies that we need to put in place to ensure the local ecosytem's continuing survival. We have already identified a few plant species which used to abound in the forest but are no longer found - the edible fern (known as "pako" in the local dialect) among them. The wild cats have also vanished and the wild chickens have been reduced to just a few number. Local hunting was unregulated at the time we abandoned the area but now that we have banned hunting altogether, we are looking forward to seeing the population of the wild chicken stabilize. As for the wild cat and other missing flora and fauna, we are exploring the possibility of bringing them back.

We have also identified plants in the forest which we could possibly grow to generate additional income for the farm. We are confident there is a good market among ornamental plant enthusiasts and landscape companies for plants like the wild bananas and other plants you see in the above photos (What do you think?). If we can  get good results from this venture, we would introduce it among the local farmers. Again this is part of our effort of exploring possibilities to help the subsistence farmers in the area improve their income.

Wish us the best!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Composting With Worms

Let worms eat your organic waste! They will happily turn it into some of the best fertilizer on earth – worm compost, otherwise known as “worm castings” or “vermicompost.” A fascinating, fun and easy way to recycle your organic kitchen wastes, vermiculture:
  • Requires very little work
  • Produces no offensive odors
  • Helps plants thrive

Only a few things are needed to make good worm compost: a bin, bedding, worms and worm food. By following the steps listed below, you will learn to make, maintain and use your own worm compost. Only a few things are needed to make goodworm compost: a bin, bedding, worms and worm food.

Worm Bins

Your bin needs to be only 8 to 16 inches deep, since compost worms are surface feeders. You can build your own bin by using a washtub, dish pan, used shipping crate or a commercially available worm bin. Just be sure your bin has a lid to keep out flies and rodents. It also needs holes in the bottom (a quarter inch or smaller), for ventilation and drainage.

The rule of thumb for bin size is two square feet of surface area per person, or one square foot of surface area per pound of food waste per week. Because worms like moderate temperatures, place your bin in a shady location where it will not freeze or overheat.

Bedding Materials

Black and white newspaper is the most readily available and easy-to-use bedding material. Tear it into strips about one inch wide and moisten so it is as damp as a wrung-out sponge. Cow or horse manure can also be used to lighten bedding and absorb excess moisture.

A handful or two of soil, ground limestone or well-crushed eggshells every few months are good for providing grit and calcium. Fill your bin with moistened bedding, toss in a few handfuls of soil, and you are ready to add the worms and food. Over time, the bedding and food are eaten by the worms and turned into dark worm compost.


The best kind of worms for composting are “red worms” or “red wigglers.” They are often found in old compost piles, but are different from the earthworms you would normally find in the ground. These worms have a big appetite, reproduce quickly and thrive in confinement. They can eat more than their own weight in food every day! When purchasing red worms, one pound is all you need to get started.

Feeding Your Worms

Worms like to eat many of the same things we eat, only they aren’t so picky. Some of their favorites include:

  • Stale bread
  • Apple cores
  • Orange peels
  • Lettuce trimmings
  • Coffee grounds
  • Non-greasy leftovers
  • Vegetable scraps

Begin feeding your worms only a little at a time. As they multiply, you can add larger quantities of food waste. Bury the waste into the bedding regularly, rotating around the bin as you go. When you return to the first spot, most of the food you buried there should have been eaten. If not, don’t worry. Just feed the worms less for a while.

After you have been feeding your worms for three to six months, you may notice the bedding has been eaten, and you can begin harvesting the brown, crumbly worm compost. Harvesting the compost and adding fresh bedding at least twice a year is necessary to keep your worms healthy. There are several ways of collecting your finished worm compost.

Method 1: Move the contents of your worm bin to one side, place fresh bedding in the empty space and bury your food waste there for a moth or so. Harvest the other side after the worms have migrated to the new food and bedding.

Method 2: Remove one-third to one-half of the contents of your bin, worms and all, and add the worm compost to your garden soil. Add fresh bedding and food to your bin.

Method 3: Spread a sheet of plastic out under a bright light or in the sun. Dump the contents of the worm box into a number of piles on the sheet. The worms will crawl away from the light into the center of each pile and you can brush away the worm compost on the outside by hand. Soon you will have wriggling piles of worms surrounded by doughnut-shaped piles of worm compost.

Using Your Worm Compost

Worm compost is more concentrated than most other composts because worms are excellent at digesting food wastes and breaking them down into simple plant nutrients. Use it sparingly for best results.

Mulching and Amending Soild

To mulch with worm compost, apply a one-inch layer to the soil around plants. Be sure the worm compost is not piled against plant stems. To amend soil, worm compost can be spread one-half to two inches thick over garden soil and mixed in before planting, or mixed into the bottom of seeding trenches or transplanting holes. You can also mulch your worm compost into:

  1. Houseplants: Sprinkle worm compost around the base of plants to fertilize. Each time you water, plant nutrients will seep into the soil.
  2. Potting Mixes: For healthy seedlings, mix one part worm compost with three parts potting mix or three parts sand and soil combined. Peat moss, pearlite and worm castings are also good ingredients to add.

Warning Signs

Some symptoms that your worm composting is not going as well as it could are:

  • If your worms are dying
  • If your bin smells rotten and/or attracts flies

Worms Dying

If your worms are dying there could be several causes:

  1. It may be that they are not getting enough food, which means you should bury more food into the bedding.
  2. They may be too dry, in which case you should moisten the box until it is slightly damp.
  3. They may be too wet, in which case you should add bedding.
  4. The worms may be too hot, in which case you should put the bin in the shade.
Bin Smells
  1. First, it may be that there is not enough air circulation. In this case, add dry bedding under and over the worms, and do not feed them for two weeks.
  2. Second, there may be non-compostables present such as meat, pet feces or greasy food. These should be removed.
  3. Third, there may be exposed food in the bin. In this case, secure the lid, cover food scraps with bedding, and cover worms and bedding with a sheet of plastic.
by Earth911

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Organic Farming

Organic farming would be a recurrent theme on this blog so we thought we would devote some  discussions on the subject. We hope to kick off said discussions through this video on organic farming. Take some time to watch it and then share us your thoughts. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Spiritual Scientific Approach To Farming: Does It Make Sense?

We continue to explore ways of tilling the land without doing any harm to the ecosystem. One of the farming system we are interested to try and maybe later on showcase to other farmers in the area is the Biodynamic system. It is not something new. Our indigenous forefathers talked about it. Still, I  had my eyebrows raised when I first heard it is gaining more and more advocates in the farming world.  But the more I thought about it,  the more it made sense. Read on and tell me what you think.

The system was first introduced in 1924 by Austrian spiritual scientist Rudolf Steiner to the industrialized world. But like I have said, the indigenous peoples have always practiced it until the western agriculture systems obliterated the practice. The system not only embraces the living ecology of the soil, but goes further, into the interaction of elements of the cosmos on the plant community.

You could say that to the degree “organic” food rises above mainstream food, so does biodynamic rise above organic - meaning it’s produce is even more vital and nutritious. Soil and plants are not only physically enriched, but are enhanced on the etheric level - in effect, aided to evolve to a higher state.

Homeopathic preparations are one of the devices used to accomplish this enhancement. Sometimes they are implanted in the soil, other times applied as a spray.

A quote from the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association:

“Rudolf Steiner presents a notion of science that says we can know things that go beyond what we can weigh, measure, and calculate. Science is the practice of observing phenomena and relating them in a way that correctly represents the phenomena's reality. Agricultural judgments about health, what to do where, and when to do what, best succeed when we begin to rely on a certain wisdom gained through observation and experience and when we perceive consciously and concretely the phenomena that induce life itself. 

Biodynamic farming and gardening combines common-sense agriculture, an understanding of ecology, and the specific environment of a given place with a new spiritual scientific approach to the concepts, principles, and practices of agriculture.” 

For further resources, visit the insight21 website.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Do Tell Me What They Are

My friends called me crazy for leaving what they call a "very good job". They can't imagine how an urban yuppie can take a drastic turn in his lifestyle and chose to be a farmer. But they know that once I make a decision, it is always final. I have been trained in my work to take a critical appraisal of every decision I take. It is not like I plunge myself on things out of fancy. So when my friends realized I wasn't kidding about turning myself into a farmer, they have been all out with their support.

The support may not often be the kind of support I want but hey! you can't be choosy with the support you want to get when it comes to friends. You would not believe how many packets of seeds I receive each week from the mail sent me by seed companies courtesy of well intentioned friends. I have misgivings about commercial seeds as I believe they are intended to be grown with inorganic inputs. We want to turn the farm into a showcase of sustainable farming technologies so going inorganic is out of the question.

We can't just throw the seeds away so what we did was grow them organically. Much to my surprise, the seeds responded favorably. But this post is not really about commercial seeds and organic farming technology, that could be the subject of much later post.

This post is about one plant that turned out to be a surprise. Look at the photos! People who visit the farm could not believe it's real. They think its plastic and had to dig their nails into it to make sure its real. Even the globe hopping me (it was part of my old work) have not seen them in the countries I have been into, at least not in the shops of Sainsbury or Tesco which I frequent when in London. I know they are of the squash family but what they are really I do not know. Our mistake, we did not tag them when we had them planted.

Are they edible? Are they simply ornamental? They do look good for Ikebana. Does any of our readers know?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Forest Food Adventure

Part of the fun of living in the farm was the adventure of scouring the forest which sorrounded the farm of wild edibles. The green leaves above which is referred to in the local dialect as "pongpong" has a tangy sour taste which taste real good when eaten with a dash of salt. The beautiful pink flower is that of what locals call "betbetak". The fruit is really sweet. Sadly, the curent generation of kids who have been raised into the "junk food culture" do not go into such wild food adventure anymore.

Part of the objective of the farm is to make sure this edible wild plants don't go extinct and have their own place in the wild.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Dad's Dead Dream Comes Alive (Sticky Post)

The dream was left for dead for more than twenty years. I believe it was because, we never put claim to that dream. It was dad's dream not ours. The farm was his obsession. He wanted to develop this acres of land into one farm that people would look with awe and wish it was theirs. Even when he was already able to hire people to work out the land, the little boy who grew up tilling the soil for survival never left him. The call to go back to the land that nurtured him and get it nurtured in return was just too difficult to resist.

The farm took much time from the best years of his life. His projects for the farm seemed unending. We have come to know the farm workers pretty much. They were almost family.

It was different for us his children. Farm life was not for us. We heed another call - the call to have a life as far away from the farm as possible. Dad supported us all the way in the pursuit of our own dreams. He never did mention about wanting us to one day go back to the farm and carry on with all the work he has invested all his blood, sweat and tears.

His life was cut short without getting to see his dreams to an end. Perhaps, the only nice thing about him getting Dementia in his late fifties was the fact that it spared him of seeing his dreams for the farm go down. When he died, the dream died with him.

The farm was left to deteriorate. For more than a score, we have not spoken much about the farm among ourselves. We were all so busy with our own lives and families, the farm was the least of our concern.

I once tried to get it back to life after years of neglect but I soon gave up. It was only recently, that one of our sisters, Lina, decided to revisit dad's dream and decided to make it her own too.

The farm is now only a shell of what it used to be. What was once a place where people love to come and visit and bring their loved ones for a picnic has lost its attraction. Everything that my dad has invested on is now all gone. The farm houses my dad built are no longer there. The farm has totally been taken over by nature.

Today, the farm is slowly being restored to its former glory. A cottage has just been built. The construction of a chapel would follow. Soon other cottages would be constructed. The plan is to make the farm a refuge for tired souls, a place where people are welcome to recharge their sagging spirits.

Thanks to one spirited soul that wants to go back to the farm, the dream of a determined dad has come alive and surely will continue to live. It is not just dad's dream now. It is now a dream we share.

by Tex