Thursday, December 31, 2009

Year-end review

The year 2009 is almost a memory, and as the year draws to an end it is good to remember the triumphs and failures, the joys and sorrows, the events that gave life its color and meaning all through the days of this fading year.

This chronicle of events transpiring in the farm may only be five months old but the farm has been the scene of a very busy year especially when we decided to begin with our plans to improve its state and condition.

Our triumphs and successes may be summarized into several bullet points:
  • we have begun to collect and propagate plants for future landscaping projects.
  • increased farm size by legally acquiring adjacent lots.
  • the fencing of the sides and rear perimeters.
  • the front has been secured by constructing an 8-foot high concrete wall.
  • initial steps have been made leading to the future construction of the dirt road within the farm.
  • increase in number of some farm animals through acquisitions, births and government grants.
  • some other little triumphs that helped to bolster our spirits.
There were also other problems and difficulties we've met:
  • some plant casualties due to several reasons (nature and man-made alike).
  • work stoppage due to unavoidable reasons like typhoons and other natural causes.
  • work slowdown due to human causes like budget constraints, labor shortage, etc.
  • vehicle problems brought by mechanical age.
  • decrease in number of some farm animals due to several causes.
  • some other head-scratching problems that kept us entertained, amused and confused.
As we look forward towards 2010, we can only hope that we could top our achievements in 2009. Surely there will be more daunting problems yet to be encountered, but with much prayer and fortitude we hope to overcome them all.

There is one dreaded and unavoidable major problem looming in the horizon... dwindling finances.

Happy new year to us all!!!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Garden update #5 --- more plants

A new batch of plants have been delivered. This would be the last batch for the year 2009.

Like the other previous batches, this is another hodgepodge of plant varieties. As much as they can, they would look for the plants that I tell them to look for. When they find the ones I specified, they buy as many as they can fit in the van, or as much as the day's budget permits.

But sometimes they end up buying one or two specimens of other plants that are not on my list. And this is where my headache begins. Usually they get the local names but not the botanical names. And since usually, they are unfamiliar to me I try to research more about them on the internet. When I don't find them on the web, that's where my curiosity gets stirred like a pesky itch that needs scratching.

So here are the new plants about to join the established ones on the farm:
  • Alpinia zerumbet - "Shell ginger"
  • Alternanthera ficoidea - "calico plant" ("kutsarita")
  • Canna indica - "Canna" ("bandera espanola")
  • Coleus blumei - "Coleus" ("mayana")
  • Etlingera elatior - "Torch ginger"
  • Heliconia
  • Iris - "Blue iris"
  • Mentha - "Mint"
  • Ocimum basilicum - "Thai basil"
  • Ocimum tenuiflorum - "Holy basil"
  • Pachystachys lutea - "Golden shrimp"
  • Passiflora caerulea - "Blue passion flower"
  • Passiflora edulis - "Passion fruit"
  • Phyllostachys nigra - "Black bamboo - slim stemmed"
  • Plumeria
  • Tagetes patula - "Marigold"
  • Tapeinochilus ananassae - "Indonesian wax ginger"
  • Tibouchina urvilleana - "Glory flower" ("tibouchina")
  • Zingiber spectabile - "Beehive ginger"
  • ??? - "Begonia tree"
  • ??? - "Kalanjoy cactus"
Some plants get repeated over and over. That is deliberate since we are still in the process of collecting as much plants as we can.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

"In his hand is the soul of every living thing, and the life breath of all mankind."    (Job 12:10)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Video Feature

Several years ago, there was an issue that has somehow stirred the people of our generally sleepy and quiet town into an agitated state. This issue polarized the townfolks not only in our town but in other adjoining towns as well. Coal mine.

The government proposed the establishment of a coal mine in three connecting municipalities, which includes ours. There were those who approved this project because of the financial benefit it would bring to the locals and the local governments. But there were also those who opposed the project for health and environmental reasons.

I for one was opposed to this project. It could have meant the gradual destruction of our town's still pristine environment. Massive opposition and demonstrations from the provincial people and concerned groups defeated the proposed project.

Coal may be the cheapest source of energy, but it is also the dirtiest, most polluting form of fossil fuel. The benefit is not worth the harm it would bring to the local people and the environment.

Watch this video of a coal mine on fire in India and the devastation it has caused through the years to the town where the mine sits.

Video courtesy of Assignment Earth through Mother Nature Network

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Carabao Ferns

On the long list of plants that I wish to collect for the garden is a certain elegant species belonging to the fern family - tree ferns.

So when mom and dad were out in search for tree ferns, I thought that's the only thing they'll get. Then they told me they also bought 'carabao ferns', around 20 of them. Apparently the seller told them that these ferns will also grow big, tall and beautiful like tree ferns.

Carabao ferns with new shoots sprouting.

When they told me about the 'carabao ferns', of course I got curious since I've never seen or heard of this kind of fern before. So I surfed the net in the hope of getting a bit more acquainted with this plant species. After a thorough search, I was stumped. I could not find a single result for 'carabao fern'. So I assumed it might be a vernacular name that only the locals use. But since I could not identify this plant my curiosity turned to frustration. What is a 'carabao fern'?

Like the tree ferns, they were delivered bare, all limbs chopped off. Eventually, they sent pictures of the mystery plant. And based on those images, I think I know where it got the name 'carabao fern' from. The base, where the stipules and stems develop resembles a heap of fresh carabao (water buffalo) dung. Hopefully that's not how it got its name.

A whole row of carabao ferns under the row of Mast ('Indian') trees.
So what is a 'carabao fern'? Armed with pictures to compare with, once more I searched the net for anything that could help me identify this plant. And I think I found the answer. I believe 'carabao ferns' and 'giant ferns' (Angiopteris evecta) are one and the same. If not then I'm pretty sure they are closely related.

The seller was right, this is a beautiful, big and tall fern. But the base will not grow tall like tree ferns do, only the fronds grow tall and wide.

Even though now I know that they will never look like tree ferns, I am still satisfied with the purchase of these plants. If they survive, they will grow big and bulky, a great focal point and a unique specimen in a tropical garden landscape.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Construction update #7 --- the access road

Our next project is the construction of an access road within the farm. The road will not be a real "road" per se, but rather just a narrow dirt road enough for one vehicle to pass through as needed.

It would be unwise to build an elaborate road system on a small property such as ours, when space is at a premium. But since our plan is to open the farm to the public someday, provisions must be made to allow a way to transport people within the compound; particular in mind are those who may need assistance like the elderly and the disabled.

Unlike the building of the fence, other sub-projects need to be completed first before they could even begin the initial laying out of the road.
  • One sub-project is a concrete box culvert over a portion of the ditch which runs across the farm. It should be strong enough to support the weight of heavy equipments. This project has been completed just before they began building the fence.

    Ditch water flowing under the concrete box culvert.

  • In some areas where the road will be built are steep slopes that must be leveled to a gradual incline. This also was finished before they began building the fence.

  • Another mini-project is the strengthening and widening of the embankment that runs between two fishponds. Work is now in progress to reinforce the sides of the two fishponds bordering the embankment, which is an essential part of the road network.
So far these are the only mini-projects (that I know of) that had to be addressed first before they could bring in the grader to break the ground where the road will lie someday.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tree Ferns

I love the looks of a tree fern (genus: Cyathea); the slender trunk, the leaves, the curled up crozier-like stems that slowly unfurl to reveal curled up baby fronds. Apart from their exotic beauty, they lend a certain unique look to a tropical garden, something that I want to achieve in ours.

Some tree ferns have already sprouted several fronds and croziers.

Aside from the ones we bought last September, we've had two batches of tree ferns delivered last November. The first batch came during the first week of the month and the next one came over a week later.
A misplaced tree fern.
They all arrived bare, with all their fronds and stems chopped off, no roots either. They were literally just trunks.

We were wondering whether they will survive, no roots, no leaves at that. But the store owner who came along with the delivery assured us that they will survive and that's how they usually deliver the ferns to most of their customers.

Maybe he's right. The few tree ferns we bought last September have already sprouted new fronds and some of the ones which came early November have began to grow new shoots. Still, others remain as is, bare trunks sorely sticking out of the ground. We are still hoping that these stragglers will also show signs of life soon.

Other tree ferns have just put out croziers in still furled and unfurling states.

One other concern I have is that I don't know yet whether they will survive the climate in our region. I know tree ferns thrive in humid and cool weather. Humidity is not a problem, its the temperature that's in question, when during summertime it gets really hot.

Others are still bare trunks. Hopefully they're still alive

Since we're currently in the cool season of the year, the ferns are safe. But I don't know what will happen come April, when the sun begins to bear down its simmering heat. I am hoping for the best.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Milestone #1 - The farm wall

A milestone has been reached!

One major project is finally complete. The farm is now fully enclosed on all sides, concrete blocks were used in front and cyclone wires (chain links) were used on the rest of the perimeter. This will give the premises a little more of privacy and security it needs, a far cry from its previous state of unrestricted access.

Construction of the concrete wall began late October. When facing the farm, the wall was built from left to right. Below are a few pictures of the wall in its final stage of construction.

The leftmost edge of the farm. In the picture above, there is a vacant lot which is not part of the farm so the wall was built around it. There is another area (not seen) wherein they had to build around another neighbor's property.

The area where some people are gathered (far right) is the main entrance to the farm.

The gaps between the walls will be filled with concrete posts for additional support. The wall on the left side of the main gate was pushed in to make room for guest parking spaces.

The wall on the right side of the main gate was also pushed in for more parking spaces. The mound of rice husks on the right are used for soil amendments for the plants.

A worker continues to build the wall up to the desired height of eight feet.

The wall goes all the way to the rightmost edge of the farm.

For additional privacy the wall was also extended a little further down on the right side.

Installation of the cyclone wire on the left, back and right sides of the farm began in the middle of August and ran until late October. A few problems were encountered but none too serious to derail the task.

Part of the fence on the left side.

Part of the fence at the back, facing the river.

Part of the fence on the right side.

My original plan was to have the entire wall (front and back) plastered simply for aesthetic reasons. But I was told it will cost a hefty sum of money to accomplish this finished look. So for now I have decided to let go of this desire (at least for the time being) and instead pour my meager financial resource into more important and essential projects.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thumbs up!

I am all stoked today!

When I checked my e-mail account this morning I found six new messages waiting in my inbox. They were all from my brother. And they all contain new pictures of our farm project.

Whenever I call home to get an update on our mini project, I always wish I could see the changes happening over there. Adjectives and verbs are not enough to describe what's going on. If only they could take pictures and e-mail them to me. The problem is they don't have a digital camera, and even if they have one, they don't have a PC either.

So whenever my brother (who has a camera and a PC) goes there to visit, I always remind them... take a picture... take plenty of pictures!

Thumbnail of images attached to one e-mail.

I haven't even checked each of the images yet because there are so many, and already I'm all giddy on my seat. I randomly selected pictures to look at from the thumbnails list. And what can I say? Even though a few were either over- or under-exposed, all I can say is they are all good... all good!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A house is not a home

"...a house is not a home when there's no one there to hold you tight
and no one there you can kiss goodnight..."

("A House Is Not a Home" by Dionne Warwick)

In my "Signed, sealed and delivered" entry, there is an image of some piles of sand with a decrepit house directly behind it.

You may be wondering whether that is our house. The answer is yes and no.

Several years back, the parcel of lot where this house sits belongs to a good neighbor and that was their house. Before they moved away, they sold the entire property to us. That's how this house became ours. But we already have a house somewhere within the farm, a humble house that is being lived at and lovingly taken cared of. Since there was no need to maintain two houses, this house got neglected and left in its current sorry state.

An unoccupied house behind mounds of sand.

I once visited it and curiously wandered inside. Though functional, it was modest and unfinished. The wooden beams and bricks were left exposed. And so were the corrugated galvanized iron roofing. There was no ceiling. I wondered how hot it would have been inside in the middle of summer. There was no wood nor tiled floors, only dry, hard and caked soil. In the provinces, this is a typical house for a typical farmer. But for a lowly soul, surrounded by his loving and caring family, this is home. It might as well be his castle.

I'm still thinking of how we could use this relic, a memento of its previous owner. Perhaps we could repair and resurrect it as a guesthouse. A future office maybe? Somehow a viable idea eludes me. So for now, it's just as it is, an empty shell, waiting to crumble as time passes by and nature takes its course.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Construction update #6 --- front fence (the wall)

The building of the front fence is almost complete. They should be wrapping up work by the end of this week. All in all it took more than a month to finish this wall, the entire 560+ meters of it.

In my 5th construction update, I mentioned that the next project will be the permanent enclosures for the different farm animals. Well, this will be pushed back to a much later date.

Bumped up on top of the list is the widening and reinforcement of the embankment in between two ponds. It has been an unusually dry December so far and we want to take advantage of this good weather.

When the embankment fortification is done it should be able to allow a grader to pass through with ease. The grader will be used to build a dirt road within the farm. So I guess the building of the dirt road will be next.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Signed, sealed and delivered

In my "A penny for your thoughts" entry, I mentioned that it's cheaper for us to make our own hollow blocks instead of buying from the store. Well a short time later, we found out that this is not exactly true. Add the cost of raw materials and the cost of labor and the savings is not worth the effort.

Mounds of sand (in front of an abandoned house) for the fence.

Also there were other aggravating factors that made us re-evaluate this [project within a] project.
  • The churn out was not fast enough to meet the demand. Because they could only make so much in a day, it was dragging down the pace of construction.

  • The weather was also slowing down production. After forming a block, it needs a few good days to cure. But because of the unpredictable weather (on a rainy season), there were days when they needed to halt production.

  • The fact that there were only two or three workers in a day was also a problem. Unless they can master the art of multitasking (or grow extra pair of arms), it's impossible to make a block and build a wall at the same time. So switching to one task means they had to stop the other. Now that was really slowing them down.
After these realizations, there was no doubt. A few days later, deliveries of ready-made hollow blocks began to arrive.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Like a fish out of water

In my first construction update, I mentioned about the draining of two fishponds to strengthen the embankment that runs between them so that it will be able to support the weight of heavy equipments needed when construction on the back side of the farm begins.

Before the ponds were drained, the fishes were transferred to the adjoining ponds including the vigorously growing water lily.

Left and right fishponds before they were drained of water.

The ponds are still dry (but muddy after a heavy rainfall) since no work has been done yet. While dry, they're using the exposed soil as a source of nutrient-rich medium for the plants in the 'nursery'.

Right fishpond with no water.

Left untouched for over a month now, grasses have begun to grow rapidly on the left pond. How quickly did they cover the exposed earth. A few more months and you would never know there used to be a pond there. But that is not the plan. After reinforcing the earthen mound, the ponds will be excavated to make them deeper, then water and fishes will be reintroduced.

Left fishpond overgrown with wild grass.

For now, work is on hold since they are concentrating their efforts to finish the wall on the front part of the farm. There are just too many things to do but too few laborers. Alas, this is the negative consequence of having a limited budget to begin with. In such a case, we have to prioritize the projects and work on those that need to be done first.