Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Waiting for the Bamboo Orchids to grow

The flower of a Bamboo Orchid. (image source: Wikipedia)
The spaces on both sides of the entrance to the farm is still sparsely planted. And I have not completely forgotten about it. From the very moment the first Triangle palm was installed, I have been thinking of what to put underneath and in between the rows of palms.

My blogger friend Africanaussie suggested that I use Ixora, a plant that doesn't mind aggressive trimming to keep it maintained. I so much appreciate the suggestion and I pondered about using it as well. My only problem with Ixora is that it's a very common plant in the country. Almost every garden, large or small has at least one to a point that almost nobody cares about it anymore.

Young Bamboo Orchids with other young plants in the nursery.
So I thought what else can I use? Then I remembered this one particular plant that happened to be blooming when I visited the farm last February. I was attracted by its unusual looks and the flowers resemble that of an orchid. But I didn't know its name then. It was only after reading Autumn Belle's entry that I got to know that plant.

The Bamboo Orchid (Arundina graminifolia) is not a native to the country. It was an introduced species and although it's quite popular it's not yet widely cultivated.

This ground orchid's reedy stems and grass-like leaves give its bamboo-like structure. It has a clumping habit so growing out of control or invading other spaces is not a big problem. The significant sized flowers develop at the top of the stem. This, I thought would be a good candidate plant to put in between the Triangle palms at the entrance to the farm.

More young Arundinas in the nursery.

Since we're on a very tight budget these days, buying is not a good option. So, I asked Mom if she could try to propagate them from our one and only clump of Bamboo Orchid. And off she went separating some of the offsets from the mother plant, individually putting each on separate black plastic bags. Those with significant roots she planted directly to the ground.

Mom thought these two are old enough to be planted to the ground.

The young plants shown on the three pictures above are either just two or three weeks old. And judging from their appearance they seem to be doing well. However, it might take several months (or years) before they grow to a significant height and volume and produce flowers. But as I have been slowly and painfully learning the hard way, all I can do (again) is wait. And waiting is torture to an impatient person like me.
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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Who owns the farm?

Would you believe that this farm which I've been blogging and developing for several years now is not even ours?

Hacienda ha·ci·en·da (häs-nd, äs-)
1. A large estate or plantation in Spanish-speaking countries.
2. The house of the owner of such an estate.

In the early history of the Philippines, during the long reign of the Spanish conquerors, a few wealthy, well-connected and influential people owned vast tracks of land called "haciendas". Each hacienda is so vast that only a few families owned one (or more) and any non-member of the family living in such places were mere tenants. The tenants and their families toil hard to earn money for their landlord. In return they are permitted to reside in his territory.

One such hacienda still existing today is the infamous Hacienda Luisita owned by the family of the current president of the country, Benigno 'Noynoy' Aquino III.

To improve the plight of the tenants previous governments implemented agrarian reform programs. One by one the haciendas were bought (sometimes forcefully) by the government, subdivided and distributed to the tenants in exchange for a supposedly "fair" price that each recipient are obligated pay to the government's designated bank. Unfortunately these transfers do not usually happen smoothly and usually end up in bloody feuds and/or lengthy court battles.

Satellite view of a portion of the former hacienda where the farm was once a part of. (image source: google maps)

Except for some small areas, our town was once a part of several big haciendas. Eventually, the land was subdivided and distributed to the townsfolk. However, the determination of "fair" compensation dragged on for years and decades until it landed on the lap of the Supreme Court. At long last, just recently the highest court released a final ruling and fixed the price per hectare based on what can grow on it.

Our small farm is situated within this one enormous former hacienda. When we bought it, it's not the actual land that we bought from the previous owners but just the rights to it. Technically the government through its bank still owns the entire farm and much of the other farms in that former hacienda.

We are now in negotiation with the bank to settle our financial obligations. Until we've paid the full amount I'd suppose we're still just tenants.
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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Not a calla nor a lily

Boy, this plant has some serious identity problem.

The Calla lily is not a true calla and neither is a true lily. It is also commonly referred to as 'Arum' and yet is not a true arum either. So what is it?

Calla lilies belong to the genus Zantedeschia with several recognized species including aethiopica, elliottiana and rehmannii, the three most common. This plant is native to the southern region of Africa and was named after the Italian botanist Giovanni Zantedeschi. As beautiful as it is, this plant is poisonous when ingested raw due to the presence of calcium oxalate in all its parts.

Now that's my short introduction to this plant.

When it comes to plants, I've had many "love at first sight" moments. And this is definitely one of them. This is one of those "must haves" in my long list of plants. I just don't know if they will survive in our farm's local climate. I know they do in the cooler regions like Baguio.

Last February I went home with two packets of the yellow Calla lily, each packet contains two tubers. I gave one packet to my Aunt, who's now helping us propagate some plants in her own garden. And I must say she is having more luck than us. Anyway... The other packet is left in the farm for my Mom. Aside from the tubers we also visited the Manila Seedling Bank and bought several Calla plants.

Seven pots of Calla lilies we bought last February the day before I flew back to the U.S.

From what I've read the white Calla lily thrives in the sun and likes having wet feet. The colored species prefer the opposite, part shady and more dry soil. So I told Mom their contrasting behaviors so she can properly take care of them.

A few weeks after I returned to the U.S., I was informed that the colored ones rotted after they were left exposed to several days of continuous rain. Sigh... The white ones survived. Just this month I learned that of the four whites, only two are still alive. Sigh again...

Now these plants aren't in the farm yet. Currently they are in our small house in one suburb of Metro Manila which is several hundreds of kilometers away from the farm. My mother goes there only when she needs to. Since she cannot bring them all to the farm by herself, with a heavy heart she had to leave them there.

If you must know about our house near the capital, most of the time the house sits empty and in a dilapidated state. The plants there rely on mother nature for nourishment or the infrequent visit of a trusted neighbor to check the place. Just recently it has been burglarized three consecutive times. So now it looks more like a prison, with high walls ringed with rows of barbed wires and bars on all the windows.

So what happened to the two packets of Calla lily I gave to Mom and my aunt?

Last month, Mom said one of the two tubers she planted started to sprout. First a leaf came out (above, left) then a flower but it's not pure yellow though (above, right). Then the other tuber sprouted, flower first and this one's yellow. Those I gave to my aunt also sprouted flowers first and both are yellow.

From these four mother plants, I hope Calla lilies will have a continued presence in the farm. Calla lilies can be propagated by dividing the tubers or by letting the flowers produce seeds. There is no guarantee that they will have the same color of flowers as the mother plant if they were grown from seeds.

A day will come when I'll be moving to the farm for good, if not, then more frequent and longer stays. And I will try my luck with the 'must have' plants that did not survive due to mismanagement or neglect. I hope my vision of a garden full of white and colored Calla lilies will come true someday.
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Wednesday, June 1, 2011


"Wow imported!" --- is a common exclamation we hear in the Philippines when we see something that is not locally produced. Somehow there is this deep-seated fixation for anything that comes from abroad. An exception to this would be any kind of pests or diseases :)

Even in gardening, some gardeners easily succumb to the desire of acquiring a newly introduced breed of plant. Having a little of such mentality myself, I thought I'd send some non-native vegetable and other garden seeds back home and see if they would successfully grow in our farm with this crazy idea that maybe we would be the first to produce these vegetables locally. Well not really, I just wanted to experiment and see which of these imported seeds would grow in our farm.

Below are a few of the seed samples I sent home that they tried growing in the farm.

Zucchini squash (Cucurbita pepo). Some sprouted but some didn't. Those that grew rotted after a few days. Maybe they were sown during the wetter days. It's still worth another try although I've read that it's already commercially grown locally.

Packets of Zucchini squash seeds.

Birdhouse gourd (Lagenaria siceraria Birdhouse). I wasn't sure about the success of this plant because from what I read and seen on TV it needs the aid of certain night moths to pollinate the delicate flowers that open only at night and only for one night.

It grew! It climbed the trellis, flowers developed and produced young gourds. So there are night moths in the farm! Alas, the gourds did not mature, the plant rotted. Again I blame it on the rainy weather. But the fact that it produced fruits means that it can grow in our area, so it's also worth another try.

Young Birdhouse gourds hanging on a trellis.

Unlike the local vegetable "Upo" this gourd will produce a thick and hard shell, which can be fashioned into a birdhouse, a vessel to carry water and many other purposes. I was thinking if we succeed on this we could help our local community develop a backyard industry in producing handicrafts made of this gourd's tough shell.

Butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata). I love this squash. It has the same taste and texture as the squash I like back in the Philippines but it doesn't look like any of the locally grown squash.

A young Butternut squash.

And it also grew! They let it crawl on the ground which then produced several baby Butternuts. Most didn't mature though. Another victim of the wet days. Like the song of the late 80's duo Milli Vanili, I blame it on the rain.

But all was not lost. They were able to harvest one squash each from the two seeds they sowed. And the verdict? They like its unique look and most of all they loved the taste. Definitely worth another try!

We had a very short summer this year, around three months. Even in those supposedly 'dry' months rain would intermittently soak the ground. The growing season for these plants is definitely over this year. My eyes are already set for a more normal summer next year. For the mean time, I'm out scouring garden stores for more seeds for next year's garden experiment.
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