Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Have a cow about the goat

There are only a handful of cows in the farm, less than the total number of fingers in one's hands.

When a cow gets pregnant, the period of gestation takes time, more or less as long as it takes for a human baby to develop. And unlike goats giving birth to two or three is common, a mother cow produces only one. Then it takes years before a calf matures. As such, they do not multiply as fast as the sheep and goats do. So it's always a joyful event when a calf is born.

A newly born calf in the farm.

On some other note...

I received a text message from Mom to let me know that the pregnant boer doe has given birth to three healthy female boer kids. I sensed the feeling of joy and excitement from them but I did not respond to Mom's message so (as I expected) I got another one the following day. Still no response. It seems like someone was not showing any interest at all. Can you guess who that is?

I really need to get over the sorry fact that we've been had, that we got the wrong breed of goat and just move on. After all, it's not her fault that she ended up in the farm. It's what we'll do with her that matters now.

By the way, the by-products of these animals are an excellent source of fertilizer for the plants in the garden.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


The flowers of our first Plumeria tree.
This post is not about the glorious event celebrated every Easter Sunday.

On the contrary, the flower of this tree, Frangipani (Plumeria), is associated with death in my country of origin. It is traditionally the primary flower used in arrangements that someone usually brings as an offering to the deceased in wakes and burials.

The stigma it carries makes it an unpopular tree of choice in landscape designs. But my myopic view of this plant broadened as I got older and especially when I lived in another country.

In other regions of the world, particularly those in the Pacific islands (e.g., Hawaii), the flowers are used in making leis to welcome guests into their homes and for other festive events. It is offered to the living and not the dead.

Plumerias they have successfully propagated from cuttings.

As I was flipping pages of books on tropical gardens, looking for foliage to include in the garden we're developing, landscape photos of this plant just keep showing up. Its branch structure, leaf shape and texture, and of course the flowers, in smart combination with other plants, perfectly fits the design I was aiming for.

And so we began with just a single tree. We bought one that was just about 4 feet tall. Not satisfied with one, we bought five more a few months later. And then they politely asked for small cuttings from those who have Plumeria around the area. From the ten (approx. 12 in. long) cuttings, seven survived and are now over 2 feet tall.

In less than a year since we bought our first tree, it is now over 6 feet tall, and along with the five other trees, they are now strategically planted in different areas of the garden.

My impression of the Plumeria has come a long way. From death to life, it's truly a resurrection for this plant.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Garden update #8 - more plants for 2010

It seem like there's no end in sight on the need to purchase plants for our tropical garden in the making. Once again a van carrying a new batch of plants is on its way to the farm.

Because we only have a few "Birds of Paradise", I asked them to get some more. And so this time they bought ten more.

Some of the newly purchased Birds of Paradise.

Below is the list of their new purchases.
  • Cananga odorata - "Ilang-ilang (dwarf)"
  • Erythrina lysistemon - "Red Coral Tree"
  • Iris - "Blue iris"
  • Mucuna bennetti - "Red Jade Vine"
  • Paeonia suffruticosa - "King of Flower Tree"
  • Philodendron selloum? - "Phylodendron"
  • Schefflera actinophylla? - "Schefflera (variegated)"
  • Strelitzia reginae - "Bird of paradise"
  • Zingiber spectabile - "Yellow Beehive Ginger"
  • ??? - "Hyacinth?"
  • ??? - "Wisteria?"
Once more I am left baffled by some of the plants they bought which are not on my list. These are plants that Mom buys on a whim or sometimes due to a seller's persistence and ability to sway the buyer.

I'm not familiar with the Hyacinth that they bought. They said it's a water plant but it does not resemble the Water Hyacinth that I'm familiar with. And Wisteria, really? All I know is Wisterias live in temperate zones, not in hot and humid tropical areas.

Usually the sellers are there merely to sell. Oftentimes they do not know anything about what they are selling. Case in point, the Bird of Paradise, they call it "True Bird of Paradise". This is because they call all other Heliconias as "False Bird of Paradise".

Here's another. Last year, I accompanied Mom and Dad on one of their trips to several garden stores. I asked one lady seller if they have some Thalias (or water canna). She looked at me like I came from another planet and flatly said: "No, we don't have it". Now how can she not have it when I was standing right beside a huge bucket of water and in it was a bunch of gregarious Thalias? Ah, maybe she knows it by another name. So, acting like I didn't know anything about this plant, I asked her: "Miss, what is this plant? It's so beautiful!" Suddenly her demeanor changed and brimming with much knowledge she gladly replied,: "Sir, that is called a water plant".

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A simple facelift

Good heavens, no not on me! Although not blessed with good looks, I can live with my God-given face. I must admit though, a little snip here and a little tug there would really make a lot of difference. But...

I'm talking about the garden and farm entrance.

You know when something itches and you ignore it? All the more it gets itchy until you scratch it to get relief. That's how I felt about the bare walls surrounding the entrance to the farm (or garden). I just can't take my mind off of it. Although it looks much better now than before, a little more facelift would make it look even better. So I asked Dad to estimate the cost, materials plus labor, to have the walls around the entry way plastered and thus covering those ugly stacks of cinder blocks.

The previous look of the entrance to the farm. The name of the farm painted on the gate is covered for a little privacy.

Now work is in progress to cover and smoothen the rough surface of the walls and planter boxes near the gate and parking areas. And so it goes, another facelift to make the entrance to the garden (or farm) softer and more inviting. Just a thin coat of plaster will do the trick.

The refined look of the wall on the left side of the entrance to the garden after a fresh coat of plaster was applied. The plaster was still wet and they were about to work on the planter box when this picture was taken.

Eventually, my goal is to have a decorative stone veneer (faux or real) installed, that is if there's a budget left.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bird of paradise

In my opinion, no tropical garden should be without the Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae). Although native to South Africa, this plant species has managed to thrive well in humid, tropical conditions.

The foliage alone is enough reason to grow this plant in the garden. But the flowers should be the ultimate goal. They are handsome in stature, uniquely shaped, like the head of a proud crane bird sporting a colorful plumage. No wonder its also called "Crane Flower".

The foliage and blooms of the Bird of Paradise are prized items in the cutflower industry. Floral arrangements which include them do not come cheap. After all, apart from their beauty, they have an exotic appeal as well.

We have several clumps of this plant in the garden nursery. Although already mature when we first bought them and have been in our garden nursery for over a year now, they have never graced us with even a single flower. Nevertheless, the foliage are healthy and they are thriving well where they are planted.

It is just lately that I found out that they should be placed in bright sun for the flowers to develop. And if foliage is what you desire, plant them in the shade. Aha! So that's why ours have great foliage but no flowers.

When the time comes to relocate them to their more permanent location I will have them placed in an area where they will get the most sun exposure. Then we'll see if flowers will develop. For now they will remain in the nursery, safe from the harsh heat and drought brought by 'El Niño'.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Milestone #2 - The dirt road

In the latter part of January, a thick cloud of dust was churning somewhere in the farm. After several days of maneuvering around the irregular terrain, breaking, pushing, and reshaping the dry ground, the bulldozer we rented has done its job. The most important stage of building an access road within the farm is complete.

After this, they built the temporary enclosures for the goats and sheep which were freely roaming before in the open field. When the animals were finally corralled, they started transplanting some of the hardy plants into their new location.

Here's what the dirt road looks like now after the dust has finally settled.

The dirt road begins right after crossing the 'land bridge'...

... then it twists and turns as it goes up to the upper level.

Along the sides of the road, they have started to transfer some of the plants they were propagating in the garden 'nursery'. The plants are now growing directly on the ground, their roots have been liberated from the confines of the black plastic bags.

The rough road then goes straight and curves once again. On the right side, the young black bamboos have been transplanted along this stretch of the road.

They planted a few ornamental plants on both sides of the path. As they mature, they will soften the stark look of the rough road. This path curves to the left...

It has become real obvious now that despite the varied and large number of plants we have been buying and propagating since early last year, they still are not enough to completely landscape the areas along the road.

... and from here it goes to the highest part of the farm. This path branches to the left right after the trees. The straight path continues all the way to the very end where it also veers to the left...

A view of the left branch of the path as mentioned from the caption above.

But they are not done yet with the partial landscaping. There are still a substantial number of plants left in the nursery. They are being kept there for the mean time while the dry and hot summer, aggravated by the drought brought by 'El Nino', has its firm grips over the land.

This path parallels the cliff. From here the river below can be seen. Right below this cliff is the 'ledge'.

There are no irrigation or sprinkler system, not even a single faucet on the upper level of the farm so watering the plants are done manually. The men have to carry on their shoulders large buckets of water that they fetch all the way from the lower level. Then one by one they water the plants. They repeat this process until every plant is watered.

Before, when the plants were still concentrated in the nursery, watering them was already a time-consuming task. Now that the plants are already scattered all over, the task has become even harder.

I'm still thinking of a way to remedy this water-shortage problem.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) is one plant species that is very common in tropical gardens because of its very colorful foliage. Its leaves come in colors of either green, pink, yellow, dark purple, maroon, or red, to name a few. The variegated kind typically offers sharp contrast between the colors. Aside from the variety of colors it offers, it's very easy to propagate and also a fast grower.

A bed of coleus in the garden nursery.

Back home, Coleus is locally referred to as "Mayana". I see this a lot in small backyard gardens growing in pots or on the ground, indoors or outdoors. Even though it's a dime a dozen, somehow I failed to notice its aesthetic value. But I was younger then and gardening was never really a part of my future plans.

The same bed of Coleus just a couple of months ago.

Later in my life, I moved to another country where Coleus is treated as an annual plant because it cannot survive in a cold environment. During the summer season, it's usually used in plant arrangements, mostly in botanical gardens. That is when I rediscovered its innate beauty. It's like I just saw this plant for the first time. And when I envisioned 'the' future garden I just knew its time to get reacquainted with Coleus.

Now we are aggressively propagating Coleus in the farm. It will be used as a ground cover in some areas of the garden paths alone or in combination with other plant species, as an accent or a companion plant.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Through the narrow gate

The farm's concrete front wall was completed last December of 2009. Provisions for a few guest parking spaces were made by positioning the the gate and portions of the wall on its left and right sides a few meters deeper inside the farm. But the terrain of the farm slopes downward starting at the boundary of the farm and the public road. So the parking spaces were also on a decline making it a tad difficult to park.

Top pictures: the entrance after the wall was first built. Bottom pictures: the new look of the entrance area.

To solve the problem, the parking areas were backfilled until the surfaces were level with the public road. Some trees were also removed and others were trimmed to allow easy access to the parking spaces. They also made rooms for plants to grow in.

The entrance to the farm with gates closed. I erased the name of the farm painted on the gate for a little privacy. The writings on the wall means "Post no bills".

Now, the entrance to the farm is more defined. With a little more landscaping it would even look better. Eventually (budget permitting) that part of the wall will be plastered and painted, the surface paved and the gates replaced to give the area a refined and finished look.

I've asked Dad to estimate how much it would cost to have the walls around the parking spaces plastered. Depending on the cost, maybe we could have that task done someday soon.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


I knew it! Im so frustrated!

The first time I saw a picture of the "Anglo-Nubian" doe they recently bought, I knew there was something amiss. I told them the goat looks more like a Boer, a different breed. But since they bought it from a so-called 'certified' breeder they were confident they got the right breed.

Then a few days later, representatives from the Department of Agriculture came to the farm to collect two female sheep (ewes). They confirmed that the goat is a Boer.

I'm so furious! I feel like I was robbed, with a receipt to remind me. I need to find someone to blame for this mistake.

That opportunistic seller preyed on my parents' lack of full knowledge about goat breeds. He is lucky there's an ocean of a barrier that separates me from him. I feel the need to shove that pregnant Boer down his throat or up his a&%.

So now we have a Boer doe, another goat breed we didn't intentionally plan on breeding. And yet we are still left without an Anglo-Nubian doe, the one we planned on buying.

And all along I thought we got two for the price of one!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Two for the price of one

A month ago, I had a conversation with Mom and Dad about the lone Anglo-Nubian buck that the farm received through a government grant to upgrade the breed of our native goats. My concern was that if anything happens to the buck, then we might lose our one and only pure-bred.

The first Anglo-Nubian doe in our farm. They named her 'Nubian'. Care to guess the name of the buck?

We thought it would be good if we also have a pure-bred female Anglo-Nubian to keep the breed going. They could try to apply for another government grant but that will take several months, and that is if the application is approved.

A very pregnant goat.
So I thought that we should just buy one instead. And so they inquired with some breeders how much it costs to purchase a pure Anglo-Nubian doe. It's quite pricey but the benefits outweigh the cost in the long run so we went ahead and bought one.

For some reason (maybe so he could gain our business that day and perhaps even in the future), the breeder knowingly sold us a pregnant doe for the same price as that of a non-pregnant one. In a few more weeks we may have a first pure-bred kid grazing in the farm. Hopefully, when the time comes, the doe would give birth without any complications.

We are anxiously anticipating the arrival of the kid.

Monday, March 8, 2010

You've got mail

As I promised on my 'Garden update #7', pictures will follow when they become available.

The new plants in the garden (front-left: Yellow Bananas, front-right: Red-stemmed Thalias, back-left: Heloconia wagnerianas, back-right: Sumatran Bananas). Note the striped leaves of the Yellow and Sumatran bananas.

Well, I just received an e-mail from my brother with attachments of new pictures from the farm and garden. I'll be posting them in the succeeding days. For now, here is a picture of some of our latest plant purchases.

A closer look of the beautiful Yellow Bananas. The Heliconia wagnerianas on the back are looking dreadful. We noticed that heliconias always look tired after a long journey.
I was just a little disappointed that there are no pictures of the other plants we just bought. I was expecting one for the Pink Lotus, because I specifically requested that. I was just curious as to the state of this plant since I was told it only had few leaves when they got it, yet quite expensive at that.

But what can I do? That's what I get for trying to establish a garden from miles away at the same time chronicle the events as they happen. Oh well, maybe someday...

Friday, March 5, 2010

Blurred vision

Don't attempt to adjust your monitor. No you don't need a new pair of eyeglasses either. The pictures of the "Blue passion" flower (Passiflora caerulea) in this entry are blurred.

I really like the framing of the picture above. Aside from the flower in the foreground, the plants in the background help portray an image of a lush garden. Its unfortunate that nothing is in focus.

The picture below would have been nice also if not for the bucket of water in the background, plus if the image is clearer.

This is an example of what I meant in my postscript on my earlier entry. In this case, the framing is excellent, but the focus is way off. On top of that, the images are quite dark too. They have no good camera in the farm so they have to make do with their cellphone's camera.

But with all good intentions, before the blooms fade, Mom took a snapshot of the flowers so they could show me the fruit of their hard work. And the images, no matter how dark or out of focus, are all clear in my mind.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Garden update #7 --- new plants for 2010

As I have stated in my earlier entry, the number of plants we have collected and propagated so far is far from the required number to create a lush tropical look. So I thought it would be better to start planting the areas alongside the access road. This will also help soften the unsightly state of the scarred landscape.

With a new budget in hand, off they went to the garden stores in search of the plants that I asked them to look for. Below is the list of their new purchases.
  • Musa sumatrana - "Sumatran Banana"
  • Musa ??? - "Yellow Banana"
  • Heliconia wagneriana
  • Heliconia musaeca - new?
  • Thalia geniculata - "Red-stemmed Thalia (water canna)"
  • Nelumbo nucifera - "Pink Lotus"
Constrained by a tight budget, we try to buy as much plants as we can. Above you will notice the very short list of plants we bought this time. It's almost not worth mentioning. Six? Well, it turned out that the 'Pink lotus' alone ate up half of the original budget. What a pricey plant! As always, we went over budget again.

In their previous trips to garden stores they only have a list of plants to look for. This time, I was shopping with them, that is, over the phone. I even talked to the sales lady and she didn't have a clue she was talking to someone on the other side of the Pacific.

The thalia and lotus are both aquatic plants. They will join the other water plants (papyrus, et. al.) already in the farm. These are the core plants I'll be using when I (if the Lord wills it) build the water garden. When will that be? Only heaven knows.

Pictures will follow when they become available. That's one of my enduring frustrations, aside from I'm always the last to see, the quality of pictures I get vary depending on the type of camera used, the framing and focus.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A case of mistaken identity

Time and budget permitting, I ask my trusted gardener (a.k.a. Mom) and her assistant (a.k.a. Dad) on a trip to garden stores to look for some plants that I have in mind. To prevent mistakes, I usually mail them a list with their corresponding pictures. After a store by store search they head home and then send me a text message of the plants that they were able to find.

Two clumps of Calathea lutea in the garden.

On one particular trip, one of the plants in the list is called a "Rattlesnake" plant (Calathea crotalifera). From the text message I received later, they were able to find and buy it.

Months later, when I went home to visit, there I was staring at a plant that I'm unfamiliar with. Mom said it's the "Rattlesnake". The leaves look the same, but the bracts (where the little flowers come out) are not, this one is conical while the "Rattlesnake's" is flat.

Calathea lutea in bloom.

It turns out the plant they brought home is a Calathea lutea or "Cigar plant", among its other names. It's easy to mistake this for the other because of the similarity of their leaves. It may have been the wrong plant but still, a great plant specimen. They have successfully propagated it and is growing well in the garden. It's a beautiful mistake.

While I was there, we bought other plants and this time I made sure we got the real "Rattlesnake".