Thursday, December 29, 2011

(Belated) Merry Christmas

In the Catholic faith, the season of Christmas doesn't end until the feast of the Epiphany (January 6, which is celebrated on the first Sunday after the new year). So even if it's four days after Christmas, this post isn't really THAT late :)

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.
Luke 2 : 8 - 11

If only the shepherds knew that the infant they visited in the manger will someday be known as the Good Shepherd...

Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.
Luke 2 : 20

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A corny joke

I haven't been posting much lately about the events in the farm and garden even if there are many to report. I've kinda lost interest lately. The truth is it's my fault.

The flow of resource for "Solitude Rising" has gone down to a trickle so some adjustments have to be made. I asked my dear parents if they could find a way to help make the farm-cum-garden a little bit more productive especially in these lean times. Well, they did find a way to help stretch the budget --- by planting corns in several open spaces. They said the yield, no matter how meager, will help augment the costly commercial feeds for the animals. At first I thought this was a great idea. But when I saw the result, let's just say I fell off my chair. See for yourself.

Had the bamboos been shorter they would have been completely hidden from view.

Some garden plants competing with the corn plants.

It's a jungle of corns up there and the garden plants are somewhere in there too.

A young Cigar plant (center, bottom of the picture) is almost unnoticeable amid the tall stalks of corns.

If this is a joke, I don't find it funny at all.

There are so many open spaces in the farm where they could stick these stalks without destroying the look of the still emerging and struggling garden. It would have been more aesthetically acceptable if they designated a spot exclusively for growing corns. That, I would have gladly acceded to. For now, I'm just taking it in stride.

The eternal struggle between the garden plants and Cogongrass in some areas of the farm has given way to the fight between the garden plants and the corn plants. At least corns have commercial value.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

From the outside looking in

"From the outside looking in, you can never understand it. From the inside looking out, you can never explain it."

If there is one very important feature that our farm lacks, that's privacy. Despite the high wall, neighbors on the other side of the street still have an unobstructed view of the goings-on inside the farm, as you can see from the picture below. This is because the ground on the other side of the street is elevated.

A man looking inside the farm while waiting for a public transportation to pass by.

There are a couple of viable options for this much sought for privacy:
  • Make the concrete wall taller. This would work but may pose danger to life, limb or property especially if the wall is toppled down by a strong storm. The wall is already 8-foot tall.
  • Plant more trees inside the property, parallel to the wall and the road. But it will take many years and maybe even decades before they grow past the height of the existing wall. They could also get knocked down by a powerful storm.
The second option is more feasible but instead of trees I chose bamboos because they are fast growers. My father computed that it would take around 150 clumps of bamboos, spaced 3 meters apart to provide a decent privacy screen.

First, I need a type of clumping bamboo that will grow tall, around 15 meters high. There are several options like the Giant Bamboo (Dendrocalamus asper), Java Black Bamboo (Gigantochloa atroviolacea), Columbian Thorny Bamboo (Guadua angustifolia [technically not a pure clumper]), etc. After studying all the options I chose Oldham Bamboo (Bambusa oldhamii) because of its erect culms and short branches, it looks neat, dignified and beautiful.

Oldham Bamboo seedlings purchased from the bamboo store.

Next, I need to find a reputable plant store that knows what it sells or else I might end up with the wrong plant again. The stores my parents inquired at didn't even know what "Oldham Bamboo" is. Finally I found a store that specializes in bamboos only and they have Oldham! All their plants are labeled to avoid confusion. You can even inspect the mother plants if you go to their farm. I suspect their plants would be expensive since they have a decent website, an office and a nursery in Makati, the country's premier business district.

My mother called their office and talked to the manager. For some reason she was told of the wrong price. Based on this incorrect information I computed the total amount needed for 150 seedlings and then funded this project. With my go-signal, my mother called the store to confirm an order of 150 seedlings of Oldham Bamboo.

A few days before the set pick-up date, we were informed that they gave us the wrong price and that the actual price was actually 60% more. Now this is a possible deal breaker. The total price went up to ₱60,000.00 (US$1,430.00)1, way above the initial total amount. Then another surprise - currently they only have 20 seedlings of the bamboos we ordered. What the heck?!!

Columbian Thorny Bamboo (Guadua angustifolia) seedlings.

Anyway, since we can no longer afford to pay for the 150 seedlings and since they don't have that many either, we took the 20 they have, bought a couple of some other bamboo species and called it a day.

Just another quirky adventure on our quest for a little privacy.

I did not mention the name of the store since it may look like an endorsement. But if you need to know, just send an e-mail and I will gladly share their info.

1 Exchange rate: US$1.00 : PH₱42.00

Monday, October 31, 2011

Black beauty

"Master said, God had given men reason, by which they could find out things for themselves..."
"Black Beauty"
by Anna Sewell

From red stem to black stem.

Admittedly, my knowledge of plants and their behaviors were very limited when we started collecting for the garden project. As I began to research on what to get, that's the only time I learned more about the different types of bamboos including those with black colored culms (stems).

From what I've seen in the internet, there are only a few species of what is called a "black bamboo", namely Phyllostachys nigra, Gigantochloa atroviolacea and Bambusa lako. Please let me know if there are others. Of the three, P. nigra is what I prefer most. But because it's a running type bamboo I thought best not to deal with the hassles and headaches of controlling its runaway shoots.

I don't know what Black Bamboos are available in the market in our corner of the world, so in 2009, when I asked Mom to buy some Black Bamboos I specifically said to look for those with a clumping behavior. When I saw pictures of the young bamboos my mother bought, their culms exhibited a deep black coloration, I thought we had it. But as the bamboos grew and matured, their black color seemed to be fading also. Have we been duped again?

Some of the supposedly "Black Bamboos" with varying culm shades from green to black.

Turning to the internet again I read that the culms of both Gigantochloa atroviolacea and Bambusa lako start out green and as they age they slowly turn to black, or at least dark to almost black. I have no idea what species of bamboos we got because they were bought from a garden store where the retailers are not familiar with the botanical names of the plants they sell.

The row of supposedly "Black Bamboos" greet guests as they approach the upper garden .

I'm a very skeptical person so I've lowered my expectation to the point that I believe these are not true Black Bamboos. Maybe these are hybrids? Black Bamboos or not these living things deserve a place under the sun, so even if I'm a bit disappointed, they are staying in their current location to live their long lives to the fullest.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Red Stem Thalia... revisited

Since my last post was about a new water garden and a few pond plants, here's an update on another pond plant which I've already posted last year, the Red Stem Thalia (Thalia geniculata)

This is why it is called a 'Red Stem' Thalia. That glob attached to the stem are the eggs of an aquatic snail.

I ended my "Red Stemmed Thalia" post on a not so positive note. I wrote about how sickly and pitiful they looked after they have been divided, considering that they came to the farm looking very healthy and very proud.

A distressed bunch of Thalias after they've been divided last year.

The picture above shows how they look just days after they've been separated and relocated. The fishpond's water was so turbid because it was the height of a severe drought back then. Now the Thalias (a.k.a. "Water Cannas") are so robust. Below is a picture that shows how the they have grown one year after they have been "manhandled" and moved to their current location.

Unlike the terrestrial Canna, the Water Canna does not produce beautiful flowers. They are tiny and dangles at the end of a very long leafless stem. When they are all in bloom the bunch look unkempt. And the two plant species have nothing in common but the name "canna."

Thalias are not known for their flowers.

Thalias (both geniculata and dealbata) do not produce stunning flowers but for this particular type of Thalia one can certainly appreciate the foliage and the deep red stems. These are marginal or bog plants, meaning they grow well in wet soil or shallow waters. They are tall and elegant, a great plant for a significantly sized pond or water garden.

The Thalias on one corner of the fishpond...

...and on another.

Aquatic plants provide a beneficial function in balancing a pond ecosystem. They absorb nutrients in the water which may be harmful to the fishes. Also, they provide habitat for other creatures. In our fishpond, snails climb up their stems and deposit their eggs there. Except for the unsightly clusters of eggs, the snails do no other harm to the plants.

The Thalias are due for another division. This means they have to suffer stress once again. I know they will survive, still whenever I see any of our beloved plants looking distressed I can't help but worry. But they're in the capable hands of my mother so I know they will be okay.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Our first water garden

Our tubs, buckets and pails of Lotus plants are getting to be like cry babies, always looking for attention. Not that they make shrieking noises when they need something, they just look sad and limp when they need more water.

Since their roots are confined to small and shallow containers, their water requirements need to be checked often especially during hot and sunny days. This situation was brought to my attention months ago and we had to come up with a quick solution if our Lotuses are to survive in the garden.

Ideally I would have opted for a ground level pond complete with water features and landscaping for a more  natural look. Eventually this is what I'll shoot for, but for now the well-being of the Lotus plants must be addressed as soon as possible.

Thus, we decided to build a bigger container in the form of an above ground pond. This is cheaper, easier to build and easier to maintain than an elaborate, natural-looking pond. So, Dad and his crew went to work and built the pond adjacent to the "mother" garden.

The Lotuses are now happily residing in the pond. Since there are room for more aquatic plants, a Horsetail (Equisetum hyemale) and another yet unidentified plant were added. There are also Duckweeds (Lemna minor) which hitchhiked with Lotuses and began to float only after the Lotus containers were submerged in the pond.

We have Umbrella Papyrus (Cyperus involucratus) growing in a place where they don't get any attention so I asked Mom to put some in the pond too, but that's after they've been quarantined to make sure they don't harbor snail eggs. Currently they're in isolation at the back porch. It will be a disaster if aquatic snails get into the pond as I mentioned in my older post "What lies beneath..."

To solve the potential problem of the pond becoming a breeding ground for blood-sucking, virus-carrying mosquitoes, we added some fishes as well. There are a few Tilapias, young Kois and Comets contently living in the pond.

To keep the color of the pond from turning completely green due to algal bloom and the water healthy for the fishes, fresh water is added daily delivered by a hose connected to a spring-fed source.

A pond can be classified as a fishpond, koi pond, wildlife pond or a water garden. So, is this structure a fishpond or a water garden? Definitely a water garden. Although fishes can be added in a water garden they are not the main attraction of the pond but rather the various species of aquatic plants. The plants take the center stage while the fishes are just extras.

Someday, if the forces from above are willing, there will be more ponds and water gardens in different parts of the farm.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I am the Good Shepherd...

The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures he makes me lie down;
to still waters he leads me; he restores my soul.
He guides me along right paths for the sake of his name.
Psalm 23 : 1 - 3
The New American Bible

(continuation of A 7-foot tall statue of me?)

Years ago my parents floated an idea of building a small private chapel in the future and I nodded in agreement since unbeknownst to them I have that plan in mind too. I am not a very spiritual/religious person (a big time sinner here) but, I do believe that blessings come from "Above" and I think it is proper to give thanks for even the tiniest blessing. And this, I thought, is my way of giving thanks, by building a small chapel sometime in the (distant) future.

That "distant" future is getting closer and closer. But the planned chapel evolved into something else. The walls disappeared and the ceiling --- well, the sky's the limit --- literally. The planned chapel will now be an open-air meditation garden dedicated to the Good Shepherd, surrounded by plants and most probably a band of grazing sheep too.

A sample picture of where the statue will be installed to help visualize how it will look.

The picture above is just an approximation of how and where the Good Shepherd image will be located. Once it's installed the surrounding area will be landscaped and recycled tree trunks will serve as stools to sit on. In the future (the Lord willing) it will be completed with a recirculating stream with mini waterfalls. Somehow the sound of flowing water has a calming effect.

A lump of clay meticulously transformed into a rough image of the Good Shepherd. The artist's face is blurred for privacy.

As I've mentioned in my "A 7-foot tall statue of me?" post, with the help of a friend, I've found a sculptor to design a 7-foot tall image of the Good Shepherd. Above are pictures of the current state of the clay model which will be used as a basis in the making of the actual statue. It is a custom-made piece based on a composite of two different images.

At first I was very much concerned that the details of the clay image are not as sharp as those on the pictures I provided. I was assured that all the fine details and my specifications will be incorporated into the actual image once it is produced.

A closer look of the clay image still lacking fine details.

As explained by the artist: "The clay art only represents the concept of the final sculpture that's why it's rough. This is the comprehensive stage, a clay and reduced in size so it is generally rough. Definitely all the details will be on the bigger piece including all your inputs. Reduced clay studies are rough representations of the final piece. What it shows here is the general look of the image especially the resulting pose based on the combined posing of the two picture references you provided."


to be continued... (click here for the continuation)
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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Big bird

A real bird.

An imaginary bird (image from Wikipedia).
I knew Big Bird (right) since I was a small boy. Initially, I didn't know that his feathers were yellow, thanks to our first TV, a black and white Motorola (yes, Motorola used to make TVs).

And I have Sesame Street to thank for since that's where I learned my A,B,Cs and 1,2,3s. It's also the reason why I pronounce the letter Z as 'zee' and not 'zey' like 'hey' which was the way they taught in school back then, and I think they still do today. Sesame Street was a part of my life perhaps until college. And then one day I "grew up" and became a part of the working class.

Then there's another big bird that I thought would not do well in our country because of the year-round high humidity and a long wet season. That's what I thought until my father proposed that we try raising ostriches. This idea came about when he saw a booming ostrich farm in a neighboring province which led to his lofty idea of being the first in our province to have an ostrich farm. Since I could sense that he was dead serious, I reluctantly consented.

The remaining trio, the male is in the middle.

My father suggested that we start with seven chicks. But when I learned that one young chick costs almost US$200.00 I wanted to back out. That does not include the cost of feeds and supplements. Not to disappoint my father I just closed my eyes and prayed that these chicks better not go to ostrich heaven or else I'm gonna be a very, very unhappy man. It was a gamble.

How I wish this female was sitting on some eggs.

As the chicks grew and the years go by, the seven ostriches became six, then five, then four, then three --- their current number today. The six became five because, as it turned out, there was only one male in the flock. Like any other birds it is hard to determine ostrich sex while they are still young. The ostrich farm agreed to exchange one of their male ostriches for two of our females. Hmmm... sounds like an unfair deal.

As expected in animal husbandry, there will be mortality. The other ostriches succumbed to various ailments. Thank goodness there's still one male alive. But I'm beginning to think he's either sterile, gay or impotent. Eventually, one of the females managed to lay two eggs. We thought we'll be hearing the sound of chirping baby ostriches soon but both eggs were unfertilized. Since then they've never produced a single egg.

Near the shed which serves as their shelter at night and during bad weathers.

Even though my father's dream of an ostrich farm did not materialize I'm thinking of keeping at least 2 or 3 ostriches so that the presence of these big birds will not be missed. Sometimes visitors would come just to look at them and marvel at the sight of these oversized but graceful birds.

BTW, if you did not see the post on how to show/hide contents of a blog please click here.
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Vanishing contents --- tutorial

My blogger friend Autumn Belle was also curious as to how I displayed and hid the tutorial in my Two in one post.

Here's how it's done and I assure you it's very easy. Click here to show or hide the code.

I hope this tutorial was able to help you.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Going bananas ... also

I was in the middle of composing this entry when I read Angel's Going bananas post. Since I've already titled mine "Going bananas", I just added "... also."

Angel's bananas are different from mine. Her's are edible, mine are not (no double entendre intended). Anyway...

It all started when I asked Mom to look for a particular ornamental bananas. As always, mistakes were made and a different type of banana was bought. We've identified it later as the Blood banana (Musa acuminata 'Zebrina'). On the next trip to the garden store, another type ornamental banana was bought, the name of which I still do not know until now. As for the one I am looking for, well it's still out there waiting to be found.

Some of the Blood bananas in the upper garden. The one on the right have plenty of suckers, baby plants ready for transplant.

After these ornamental bananas have been transplanted to the upper garden they've adjusted and  practically felt at home, growing and multiplying faster than their edible counterparts. Since they have plenty of room to grow, might as well let them grow in number for now.

The still unidentified ornamental banana in bloom and with pups and fruits.

From a couple of mother plants there are now several clumps of Blood bananas found in different parts of the upper garden. As for the other "unnamed" ornamental banana, it's just doing what bananas are suppose to do, silently multiplying. In no time it too will be scattered in the garden just like its "blood" relative.


Thanks to Angel and Autumn Belle for identifying the other "unnamed" ornamental banana. It is called Musa velutina. Its common names include "Pink Fruting Banana", "Purple Banana" and "Pink Velvet Banana" among others.
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Monday, August 29, 2011

A 7-foot tall statue of me?

friend: Are you serious, you really want a 7-foot statue of you?

me: I'm dead serious, standing with my right arm extended upward and my hand pointing to the sky and my left arm folded on my chest with a clenched fist, like a dictator in the middle of a pompous and lengthy speech.

friend: And where do you intend to put it?

me: At the highest point in the farm so everyone passing by can see it.

One day, while flipping through the pages of a magazine I received from the Columban Fathers I saw a picture of a statue of Christ the Good Shepherd. I was so enamored by the serenity and kindness of his face. From this encounter I had another aha moment --- since we have a small flock of grazing sheep why not build an open air chapel dedicated to the Good Shepherd near where they graze.

I thought a 7-foot tall cement statue standing on a 2-foot tall base would be tall enough. I mentioned this idea to my parents and they could not agree more. Without my knowledge, they erected a 9-foot wooden board where I said I plan to put the statue. They covered it with white sacks just to see how it will look from afar. Although thousands of miles away, I think I could feel their muted excitement.

The wooden plank around the area where a religious statue will stand as seen from afar.

And so the hunt was on to find a good sculptor who can create a custom-made image of the Good Shepherd based on a magazine picture. I asked some friends if they could recommend one. Then I enlisted the help of a good friend to do the legwork for me. He even went all the way to Paete, Laguna (known for its locals' great carving craftsmanship) in search of an artist to take on this project. But the project stalled for several months because my friend had to concentrate full time to some important family matters.

I thought maybe the time is not yet ripe for this project to commence.

The wooden plank still visible from the driveway near the entrance to the farm.

While this project was floating in limbo, another good friend was under the impression that my search for a sculptor was just a joke because when I was asking around, I jokingly said I would like to have a 7-foot statue of me. Eventually, when he learned of my true (and noble?) purpose he mentioned his colleague, a fellow art instructor at the University of Santo Tomas, College of Fine Arts and Design. He came highly recommended by my friend who is also a talented painter. Since I trust my friend, I commissioned his colleague to create an image of the Good Shepherd based on the picture that I saw in a magazine.

The scaled down clay model of the Good Shepherd in its early stage of carving.

After a brief chat with the artist over the phone, he accepted the project. The steps to take in making the concrete statue are as follows:
  • Create a scaled down model made of clay.
  • Upon my approval of the scaled down model, a 7-foot tall model will be created based on the smaller model.
  • The 7-foot tall model will be used to create a mold.
  • From the mold, a cast will take shape using wet cement reinforced with iron rods and chicken wires where needed.
From the steps I mentioned above, we're still in the first step, create a scaled model. I was told it will take a month to finish the project once I give my approval to the scaled model and pay the 50% down payment. Upon completion, the remainder of the balance must then be settled. The finished product will then be delivered to the farm, a travel by land of about 200+ miles.

A 7-foot tall statue of me? Nah, I'm much too insignificant to be glorified with a statue plus nowadays only martyrs deserve a statue and I don't intend to be one.

to be continued... (click here for the continuation)
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