Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The parable of the lost sheep

Our cute little newborn sheep that got lost during the strong October storm is now over two months old.

The newborn lamb that got separated from its mother during the storm.

Because he was rejected by his mom, in fragile state, and required constant bottle-feeding, he had to be kept near our house so he could be closely monitored.

The young lamb with other lambs in the pen.

Now he's grown older and no longer require extra attention. He's with his own kind now and is doing well. He's starting to eat what the other sheep eat, but is still bottle-fed from time to time for extra supplement.

While his human 'parents' are inside the pen he would follow them until they leave the enclosure.

What's so endearing about this little guy is that he's bonded well with his foster parents. Whenever any of them goes into the sheep's pen, he immediately leaves the flock, comes running to greet them and follows them around, not leaving their side until they leave the pen.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

"So they [the shepherds] went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger."    (Luke 2 : 16)

Monday, December 20, 2010

The birth of a new garden

A section of the area where the new garden will be developed. This is how it looked like after it was cleared of litter and debris.
Sometime late September of this year, Mom has identified a good spot to develop a new garden on the upper half of the farm. Framed by a row of mahogany trees on the east, a row of mango trees on the west, a portion of the fence on the south and a portion of the dirt road on the north, this space is quite shady and cool even when the sun is at its peak.

Mom started clearing the area of weeds, rocks, dead leaves, twigs, trash and other debris. This task took her several days to complete since she was all alone working on this project. After the arduous task of prepping the area finally it was ready for planting.

Then Mom picked some choice plants in the nursery and moved them to this place.The first areas to be planted are the base of the trees. The plants were positioned in between the exposed roots, which helped frame the plants, added more emphasis and texture.

A portion of the footpath that Mom created, which had to be redone to widen the path.
Next step was to plan where to lay the footpath. We haven't decided yet on what material to use for the footpath, still Mom began to put the border plants which will help demarcate the 'future' footpath within the garden.

Since I'm far away and not able to physically help, all I could do is give suggestions and advice when necessary. Like when I learned that the footpath Mom was working on was only over a foot wide, I suggested that she widen the path to give room for plant growth. Otherwise as the plants grow they'll take up more space, which could mean less space to walk on eventually.

Slowly the garden was taking shape. And then a powerful storm came...

(to be continued)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Springtime in December

Spring is the season of regeneration, of regrowth, of rebirth and renewal.

It has been two months now since the assault of a very strong storm. Our farm and garden is still reeling but signs of life and recovery are manifested all around.

Workers restoring the damaged wall.

Part of the "great" wall that was toppled down by the sheer strength of the storm's wind has now been restored and reinforced too so hopefully it would stand a better chance of surviving nature's next assault.

"Bald" Royal palms.

The row of Royal palms leading to our house are still standing but not so royal-looking at this time. Gone are their grand and stately appearance, reduced to humble submission. It should take some time before new leaves would replace their full crowns of foliage. And after they have shed all their tattered leaves they will stand in majesty again.

A Flattened landscape.

From the picture above, you can certainly guess the direction of the strong wind brought by the October storm. Although the mango trees in this picture are leaning almost parallel to the ground, they were not completely uprooted and are now growing new leaves. Eventually, new branches will sprout upright. Unfortunately majority of our mango trees did not survive.

It is time to demolish the roofless hut made mostly of bamboo. It's old anyway and it was already begging for repairs even before the storm hit. Now it's just saying "take me out of my misery". It will be replaced with a new structure, something better and sturdier.

Some plants show signs of damage while others seem untouched.

Quite puzzling are the plants in the original garden right next to our house. The Norfolk Island Pine lost most of its branches that were facing against the direction of the storm's wind. The picket fences are leaning but the palms trees seemed to be untouched.

Regenerating plants around the pond.

The vegetation around the fishpond shown above are also recovering fast. After the storm has passed the trees in the background were just bare trunks and branches reminiscent of leafless trees in the northern hemisphere during winter time. Now new leaves are quickly filling the gaps.

The Red-stemmed Thalias and the White Butterfly gingers (and that plant in between them) look like they were left unharmed. Even that small papaya tree (extreme right) survived, leaves and young fruits intact.

It's not even officially winter where I am right now but in our farm and garden, a spring-like atmosphere is in the air. What a wonderful feeling to witness regrowth and rejuvenation after the fall.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb

December is going to be another quiet month in our farm and garden while the people in charge are busy picking up the bits and pieces to restore it as close as possible to its pre-storm state. This would also mean that there would be not much to write about either. Right!

I guess I spoke too soon.

I received an early Christmas present in the form of a text message from back home. A great news!

Photo from Wikipedia. The St.Croix sheep.

Brief flashback: Several months ago our farm applied for another shot at the government's starter sheep dispersal program. They are giving out a limited set of five ewes and one ram of the St. Croix breed to every qualified applicant. This new batch of sheep were all imported from the U.S.A. After the required inspection, our farm was again selected to receive this grant. But we had to wait for several more months until the the sheep arrive from the U.S.

Fast forward to today: The good news I received from my mother says that the sheep are now in the regional breeding station and are getting acclimatized to our local climate. The target release date is early 2011. We were advised to prepare our farm and the payment for insurance.

Insurance? Well, this is another requirement before we can take the animals out of the breeding station. Just like the case with our previous livestock grants, we need to have them insured just in case something goes wrong. But unlike before where the insurance was relatively cheap because the animals were already bred locally, this time it will cost us a hefty sum since they are coming from another country. I guess its time to tighten my belt even more, which unfortunately is already very tight. Ouch!

And why is it a great news? Considering that the amount required to insure all six sheep costs almost the same as buying a single pure-bred mature St. Croix from a local breeder, then that's quite a bargain. Still, the initial cash I have to come up with for the six sheep would be around PH₱54,000.00 (± US$1,260.00). Some may say that that is cheap, but to an ordinary folk (like me) that is a LOT of money. And it must be paid in full, not installment.

So why is it a great news again? Because not everyone who applies for the grant gets approved. In fact, because of the limited number of livestock the government can give out, very very few applicants are chosen. It would be unwise not to accept a rare privilege such as this.

So while my belt is already too tight due to the recent setbacks (read this and that), I have to tighten it more by one notch. Financially I'm already hurting, so I might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

It never rains but it pours

It's been a month since my last blog entry. There was not much to report for November since the farm and garden is still staggering from the lingering effects of a couple of wicked weather disturbances that visited our area.

After a devastating storm last October, a week-long and non-stop heavy rain poured down during the first few days of November.

The constant rain was not the result of any storm. It was simply due to a weather phenomenon called Inter-tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). It is not an unusual weather occurrence, what's unusual was the amount of rain it brought down this time. It flooded much of the low-lying areas of the northeastern part of the country.

The water in the picture is not a river but a flood submerging large swath of farmlands. This was the view from our farm of the town down below.

The rivers swelled and overflowed their banks due to excessive amount of water coming down from the surrounding mountains. As a result, it drowned farmlands and other low-lying areas. Our farm and garden sits on an elevated section of a valley so we were not directly affected by the huge flood even though we have a major river as a next door neighbor.

Indirectly, the flood affected us too. The carpenters we hired to build a new shelter for the sheep were unable to come because their homes were submerged by the flood and so had to attend to their own needs first. As a result our poor sheep were exposed to the elements the whole time the sky was weeping and wailing.

The young Boer/Kalahari Red buck hybrid (right) bought 4 months ago died of pneumonia along with seven other goats.

The sheep, however, are resilient creatures. They were able to survive nature's direct assault. I wish I could say the same for our goats. Eight goats including the young male Boer I asked my parents to buy died of pneumonia. The continuous wet weather, high temperature, high humidity and cramped living conditions may have contributed to their untimely demise.

It is now early December but the strong rain still keeps coming and going, a very sharp contrast from just a year ago.

The farm is still healing from the deep wounds inflicted by the October cyclone. With so many things to do and so few workers (no budget to hire more), the farm is just barely crawling towards normalcy. It's been over a month now since the storm and yet there is still no electricity. They're relying on a 4 Hp. generator which we had to buy because of this long and continuous power outage. It is only used a few hours in the evening and switched off before bedtime to conserve on fuel.

On the brighter side, Mom said it's like spring in the farm, the surviving leafless trees are sprouting new leaves.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Wax on, wax off

The flower of our Indonesian Wax Ginger.
This is one of the entries that was scheduled to be posted around the time the strong typhoon drastically rearranged the plants in our farm and garden. Although this plant survived, I'm quite certain it doesn't look pretty today.

The Indonesian Wax Ginger (Tapeinochilus ananassae) is another of those exotic tropical plants that for me is a "must have" in our garden.

Another ginger in the Costus family, its native locale ranges from Southeast Asia to north-eastern part of Australia.

Typical of a Costus, its smooth and lance-shaped leaves grow in spiral arrangement around a bamboo-like stem. The showy and red "flower", which is actually a collection of bracts, sprouts directly from the ground. The small and yellow flowers emerge in between the bracts.

Because the waxy and stiff bracts are beautiful and long-lasting, the Indonesian Wax ginger is an excellent cutflower. It is suitable for floral arrangements with a tropical flair.

The pictures above are of our Indonesian Wax Gingers growing in the nursery area. There are also other clumps of this plant scattered in the upper garden which are still young and are yet to bloom.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Out of difficulties grow miracles

"Out of difficulties grow miracles."
- Jean de la Bruyere (French essayist and moralist, 1645-1696)

A few hours before typhoon Juan dumped all its fury, one of our pregnant sheep gave birth to a cute little lamb. During the wrath of the storm, the shelter for the sheep collapsed. Probably sensing the impending disaster, the sheep abandoned their shelter so when it came tumbling down no one was hurt. And so we thought.

The newborn lamb that got separated from its mother during the storm.

After the deluge has passed, all sheep were accounted for except for the newborn lamb. They thought it might have been carried away by the fierce wind and was counted as one more casualty.

Three days after, as they were sifting through the debris they found the little lamb crouched under a pile of wood covered in mud, silent but alive. Separated from its mother for several days, it was visibly weak from lack of nourishment. Quickly they took the young animal and cleaned it to get rid of the thick and heavy mud.

The collapsed shelter for our small herd of sheep.

They tried to reunite the young sheep with its mother but the natural bond between the ewe and her lamb has been severed. The mother no longer recognizes her own young and refused to suckle her baby. Now the lamb has a new family. Its human foster family take turns in bottle-feeding her.

Miracles do come out of difficulties. And sometimes they come in little packages too.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

When nature strikes...

...there is nothing one can do but hunker down and pray and let nature take its course.

Sometimes the damage is minimal but sometimes too the devastation is extensive. Such is the devastation suffered by our farm and garden.

And when the storm is gone, no matter how painful and difficult, it is time to pick up the pieces and begin again.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


It took years before our mango trees grew to their current size. It only took several hours to wipe them out.

Our little mango orchard is gone. 80% of the trees have been completely uprooted. Those few that are left are either precariously leaning, leafless or limbless. Even they will not bear fruit for the next several years. And even if they do fruit, its not even worth harvesting, it will just be too few.

Some of our former mango trees.

We don't have a huge mango plantation, but our small mango orchard does help augment our farm's meager income. Now there is no harvest to look forward to anymore. Even if we start over and plant new seedlings it will take years and years before they could bear fruits.

Thank you super typhoon Megi. Goodbye mango trees.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Solitude stumbles

October 17, 2010, a day to be remembered for however long it takes to forget it.

Super typhoon Megi (local name "Juan"), an equivalent of Category 5 hurricane in the USA, makes a landfall in our province and plowed through the land. With wind strength of over 250kph (156mph), it moved at a very slow speed of 10kph. Our town was very near the eye of the storm.

For several hours the howling wind battered the farm taking with it whatever is not securely fastened to the ground. The initial survey of the damage was just unbelievable. As of this writing it is late evening there and although the wind has subsided a little, the rain is now pouring hard. I wish I could say it's raining cats and dogs, but that is an understatement. It's also raining cows and goats and sheep and ... you know what I mean.

Initial survey of the damage include:
  • A huge part of the "great wall" collapsed.
  • The picket fence around the nursery is gone.
  • A significant part of the ostrich fence is damaged.
  • The plants on the ground are either uprooted or humbled and bowed down.
  • The plants on plastic containers are strewn around.
  • The mango trees are either limbless, leaning or fallen.
  • The mahogany trees are bare of leaves.
  • The tall Royal palms are leafless.
  • The trellises for the climbing vines (Red Jades, etc.) are down.
  • The shelter for the sheep is gone.
  • The hut at the top of the hill is nowhere to be found.
  • The kitchen door of our house broke in two.

Despite the damage to properties, I'm just relieved that my loved ones are unharmed. And that is more important than anything else.

Solitude stumbled and fell. But in time it will rise again. It will rise again.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Gimme Shelter

Oh, a storm is threatening my very life today;
If I don't get some shelter, oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away...
("Gimme Shelter" by The Rolling Stones)

Directly opposite our humble house, on the other side of the pond, there used to stand a roomy gazebo tucked in a space between some towering trees. Its floor was made of concrete, the low walls were made of bamboo and the roof was of grass.

This gazebo was a very functional structure. It was used to entertain visitors because it was spacious, cozy and airy there. It provided shelter from the rain or the sun. On a lazy afternoon it was a common sight to see someone taking a nap inside, it was a place to relax and rest.

The little gazebo as it used to be.

For some reason I could not understand, the gazebo suffered neglect. Eventually the bamboo walls and wooden posts rotted and the roof collapsed. Still it was not repaired. After a while the concrete floor cracked. How I wish they kept this gazebo well maintained. What's left now is not even a shadow of its former self.

Last year, we bought another Red Jade Vine. I asked Dad to construct a bamboo trellis above whatever is left of the old gazebo. I asked Mom to plant the new vine close to the trellis and train it to climb the bamboo structure.

A young Red Jade vine climbing up a trellis above the cracked floor of what used to be the gazebo.

I'm planning to resurrect the gazebo but with a different look and function. I'll put tiles on the floor, replace the bamboo trellis with a latticework made of stronger material, put some outdoor furnitures under the arbor and  some lighting for the evening use. A little more landscaping around the structure will complete the transformation.

With this new design plan, it can no longer be a shelter from the rain. But on a clear day it will be a welcome respite from the heat, partly sheltered from the sun by the intertwined stems of the Red Jade Vine. Come blooming time there'll be an abundance of hanging flowers underneath a canopy of leaves to grace the presence of someone seeking cover from the sun.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The name game

Any idea what the name (common and botanical) of this plant is? I believe it belongs to the genus Curcuma, but I have no idea what species nor what its common name is. If I were to guess, I'd say it's definitely not Curcuma alismatifolia.

This plant arrived in our garden due to another case of mistaken identity. As it's always the case, I'm left with the tedious task of identifying this "alien" plant which Mom brought home.

It  happened when I asked Mom to buy some Siam Tulips (Curcuma alismatifolia) for our garden. After an exhaustive search she could not find a single store that sells one, but she was very happy to tell me that she found some growing in my Aunt's garden. I, of course, was glad to know that because of the possibility of getting some starter plants from my Aunt --- at no cost!

Some of the "mystery plant" being propagated in our nursery.

And so Mom brought home some offshoots from my Aunt's garden. She took care of them until they flowered and multiplied. Then came the pictures which arrived by e-mail. I was excited (as always) to look at the pictures of our new plant. And there it was, another breed of plant so similar but not quite the plant I was looking for. Still it's beautiful and I'm glad it's growing quite well in our garden. If only I know its name...

Another of the "mystery plant" with offshoots growing somewhere in the upper garden.

I know it's not Siam Tulip because the Siam Tulip has narrower leaves, while this one is broad. I still would like to have the Siam Tulip someday, in addition to its relative that we have now in the garden. But for now, I'm contented with this plant and would love to see it multiply and occupy a bigger space in our garden.

Friday, October 8, 2010

I see red...


I've already featured the Red Jade Vine (Mucuna bennetti) twice (see Red is green and Red is green again). I just cant help but feature it again as it's just so beautiful with its pendulous clusters of flowers.

Last August, it produced several clumps of red flowers which was the same as last year's. Mom was just happy that it graced the garden with its beautiful flowers once again. But come mid September it surprised us with a profusion of those cascading clusters of red flowers. I just hope that the bamboo trellis can hold the combined weight of this plant and its plentiful flowers.

Considering that it receives no special treatment, its performance is just spectacular. And based on this I think it's very much at home in our garden, unlike the real Jade Vine which is having a hard time growing somewhere else in the nursery.

Our Red Jade vine flowering last August...

... and one month later.

We bought another Red Jade vine last year. It was still very young then so we don't expect it to bloom this year. Hopefully next year it will also grace us with its own beautiful bright red flowers.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What lies beneath...

There's a ghost in my house. I saw her in the water...
(from the movie "What Lies Beneath")

One of the fishponds in the farm, the biggest and lowest in the series of ponds that divides the farm into what I call "lower" and "upper" gardens.

Beneath that still and murky water, life is teeming. There are several species of fish: catfish, carp (koi) and tilapia. Even an unwanted (but tasty) mudfish (snakehead) finds its way into the ponds from time to time. The water buffalos too would sometimes wade in to ward off pesky insects or to cool down.

Our dog Tintin enjoying a morning swim in one of the fishponds.

But other creatures too are lurking under that calm and turbid water. They have been there all along, silently growing and multiplying out of sight, stealthily moving about. They announce their presence only when the ponds are drained of water. Although they can be harvested as a food source, they are not completely welcome guests. While their presence was thought to be benign, their voracious appetite became apparent when I told Mom to put the young Lotus plants in one of the ponds so they could start to grow bigger.

Young Lotus plats growing in separate containers.

It's a good thing that Mom submerged just one container of young Lotus plants into the shallow side of the pond. After a few days, all the leaves of the young plants were gone and the remaining stalks were covered with eggs of these rapacious culprits.

There are snails in the fishponds! Mom said their eggs also cover the stalks of the now gregariously growing Red-stemmed Thalias. The Thalias however, are unharmed. The snails have not ravaged them. Maybe they find the Thalias not appetizing or too tough for them to nibble so they just deposit their eggs on their stalks.

Up until Mom broke the news to me, I didn't know about the existence of these pests in the ponds. Now I have a problem. How can I put water-loving plants into and around the ponds if there are creatures that are more than willing to devour them. My options will be limited now to those that can withstand attack from these snails.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Beast of burden

One of our mother water buffalo suckling her young. From the looks of it she seems to be saying "A little privacy please?"
The domesticated water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) is a common but precious livestock in the Philippines and parts of South and Southeast Asia. Like the cow, it is also a source of meat and milk. Although its meat (called "carabeef") is not as prized as that of the cow, its milk is considered superior in taste than that of the cow's.

In rural Asia, the carabao (another name for the water buffalo) is employed to plough fields prior to planting rice, corn and other crops. Known for its inherent strength, it is also used to carry or pull heavy loads. While the West have completely shifted to machines for farm-related tasks, rural Asia continues to stick to its trusted ally, even though it's much slower than its mechanical counterpart. Plus, it is much cheaper to buy and take care of this animal than to purchase and maintain mechanical farm implements.

Some of our carabaos grazing on the grass in the lower garden.

They are also used for transportation. In typical countryside scenes, it is very common to see adults or children (or both) seated at the back of the carabao for a leisurely ride. Normally, it has a gentle and very slow stride but a little whip near its buttocks and it will move faster, a hard whip and be prepared to literally hold on for dear life.

Reproduction is very slow. Gestation takes 9 to 11 months and after giving birth it takes almost two years before the adult female is ready to reproduce again.

Other water buffalos grazing in an open space in the upper garden.

Feeding is easy. All it needs is a fresh supply of green grass. A lick of salt will endear it to its master. I remember on my last visit to the farm, I was astonished why our carabaos would come close to my Dad whenever they see him and start licking his hands. Dad explained that sometimes he would handfeed them a little salt and they just love it.

The water buffalo, another livestock species that still roams with relative freedom in our small farm.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cute little Pineapple

An Ornamental Pineapple with fruit and pups.
As we all know, Pineapples (Ananas comosus) are members of the Bromeliad family but unlike all other Bromeliads, they are the only ones that produce edible fruits. This particular Pineapple though (left picture) is not grown for human consumption. Its main purpose is to delight the eyes with its cute and tiny Pineapple fruit.

A row of Ornamental Pineapples sandwiched between rows of baby Desert Roses in the nursery.
Whether this Pineapple evolved or de-evolved on its own or a product of human intervention through genetic manipulation, it has irrevocably lost its commercial value. Its been relegated to the role of an ornamental garden plant, a curiosity, something to look at and admired for its pineapple-like fruit. Today there are several varieties of Ornamental Pineapples available in the market, there's even a dwarf one.

These plants are good seasonal focal points for a small garden. It's 'seasonal' because this species is short-lived. Once it produces fruit the plant dies and then you have to plant a new one to keep it going.

We have several of these Ornamental Pineapples currently growing in our nursery. And I think they are best suited in the garden being developed just below the patio where they can be easily seen and admired for their 'cuteness'.

In the Philippines, the fibers extracted from Pineapple leaves are used in the production of an expensive textile called 'PiƱa'..

Monday, September 27, 2010

The snake in the garden of Eden

I think there is no question why the Calathea crotalifera is called  the "Rattlesnake plant". Just look at how the bracts are arranged and it will remind you of a certain snake that rattles its tail when agitated or disturbed. No need to worry though, this Rattlesnake won't slither and bite, and carries no deadly venom either.

In my older entry "A case of mistaken identity" I narrated how we got the Cigar plants (Calathea lutea) in our garden. Mom thought it was the Rattlesnake I wanted. So when I went home to visit last May of 2009, I felt a slight disappointment when I saw that it was not the Rattlesnake (Calathea crotalifera) plant I was looking for.

Not to be completely disheartened, we set out on a quest to look for this plant. It was not the easiest plant to find. Most of the garden stores we went to do not sell it. We were able to locate it in one of those specialty garden stores, where plant prices are much higher than in the common garden stores.

Despite the hefty price, we purchased a couple knowing that it's all worth it. I knew that with Mom's tender touch and loving care she will be able to propagate and multiply the mother plants. And I was not wrong at all.

Propagating this plant was not as easy as the other Calathea. The Cigar plant just grew like its native to the place. It must have loved the garden so much that it almost dominated the other plants in the small garden space. The Rattlesnake was not as quick to acclimatize though. It was alive but not growing fast enough. It did not put out any bloom for so many months.

I'm happy to report though that now our Rattlesnakes are doing well. Mom was able to divide the mother plants and they are once again blooming, showing off their distinctive characteristics that earned them the name "Rattlesnakes".

Just like that of its relative, the flowers of the Rattlesnake is not significant. It's the way the bracts are arranged that makes this plant unique and a good specimen to have in the garden. Propagation is through subdivision of the mother plant.

Now this is a "snake" that you will certainly not avoid or run away from.