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.