Number 3 Farrows!

Number 3 was serviced by Pinky Boar on November 13, 2017. Her expected date of farrowing was March 8 (115 days gestation). She farrowed March 9 (116 days). Number 3 has a history of farrowing on time and not earlier. This is her third parity.

Number 3 in the maternity pen a week before farrowing.

First Few Hours – March 9, 2018

Around 1AM, I heard Number 3 making grunting sounds, not desperately asking for nesting material but since she usually does not grunt at this time of the night, I suspected she will be farrowing soon (12-24 hours).

At 6:10AM, our usual feeding time, a small amount of feed was given. I saw that the dry banana leaves we gave her yesterday had been put in one corner of the pen, indicating she was already exhibiting nesting behaviour in the night, thus the grunting sounds several hours ago.

7:00AM, we gave her more dry banana leaves which she collects and starts nest-building, stopping to rest every now and then, until around 10AM.

12:00 noon, I saw a couple of piglets! Farrowing must have started at least 30 minutes earlier. Number 3 farrowed along the lower right corner of the pen near the wall, her head towards us and her back along the wall, so we couldn’t see the piglets as they come out. The piglets are only partly visible through the gaps along the pigpen wall.

12:36PM, there appears to be 2 black and white piglets and 1 brown piglet, all suckling already.

1:41PM, two hours old, first sign of piglets fighting at the teats, so Number 3 starts grunting which helps stop the piglets fighting. While grunting indicates milk flow, I think it also creates strong vibrations across the teats which calms down piglet fights.

2:05PM, a rather lively piglet has started exploring the pen, then quickly returns to the mother.

2:30PM, a piglet travels even further towards the opposite side of the pen and stays there for a while, probably to urinate or defecate.

3:30PM, about 4 hours from the onset of farrowing, Number 3 gets up to eat the afterbirth, drinks water and eats about 400 grams of feeds. We counted 9 piglets born alive.

4:00PM, Number 3 lies on her right side, instead of her left side (her farrowing side) and this resulted in a lot of piglet fighting. The fighting subsides after a while. I think because Number 3 changed her first nursing position, the piglets need time to find their teats which can result in competition for teats.

Nursing takes place every hour, and Number 3 maintained this regimen for the rest of the nursing period.

Above Video: The light brown piglet climbing over the others is Humphrey. His teat is established at the first row upper left side of the mother, parallel to Panda, but he has trouble finding and attaching to it. He remains a very active piglet, but later he was the last to outgrow his scour. The black and white piglet that is unable to attach to a teat is Blackie. She gives up easily when she is unable to find her teat. She is the weakest in the litter and died due to accidental crushing. Panda is the rightmost piglet suckling. He had developmental problems but he attaches very well to his teat and grew to become one of the biggest piglets. The light brown piglet going to the mother’s head with Humphrey is Ihid and is considered the runt in the litter. He is growing fine.

Above Video: The weakest piglet, Blackie, is the focus in this video. I notice that the weakest piglets don’t engage in play and don’t actively explore the environment. Instead, they dig their snouts into the ground persistently. This is obvious even at only 2 days of age. In my experience with pigs of various ages, this persistent behaviour almost always indicated illness.

Some Observations on Farrowing

I was worried that Number 3 would have difficulty farrowing because she has a small vulva and thus possibly, a small cervix and birth canal. Interval between piglets in previous farrowing were 30-45 minutes.  However, this time, farrowing was much easier and shorter intervals (5-10 minutes) between piglets. I think it might be due to the fact that this is Number 3’s third parity and because of the addition of calcium in her diet. Calcium metabolism is also fairly good since Number 3 gets plenty of sunlight and exercise.

Above Video: Piglets at 5 weeks of age. Number 3 enjoys having her piglets and at the same time knows how to discipline them when they are fighting.

Above Video: Here, Number 3 is squeezing her way into the piglet creep space so she could eat their food. Because of this situation, we have decided to build a fenced area just outside the Piglet Escape Hatch. We call it the Piglet Restaurant where piglets can eat and drink safely, away from their mother. It is fenced to prevent ducks and chickens from eating the piglet’s food.

Some Observations on Lactation, Nursing and Sow-Piglet Interaction

Above Video: At 2-3 days of age, the piglets have discovered the Escape Hatch. They begin by exploring the soil outside. Later, they go further and eat soil and vegetation. It becomes their routine to go out and play after nursing. This gives the mother the chance to rest and relax inside the pen. Later, we built a fence around this area where the piglets can escape and eat, away from the mother.

Number 3 produced a lot of milk at farrowing. By 7 days of age, milk production became insufficient because I continued giving her only gestation feeds and the lactation feeds have not arrived. When piglets fight and ask the mother for more milk that is a sign there isn’t enough milk production. I tried to rectify the problem by giving Number 3 some papaya fruits and leaves, and by giving her lactating feeds once it became available. This solved the problem in 2-3 days.

However, because of the early scarcity in milk production, fighting among litter-mates became somewhat established and piglets also developed the habit of drinking water from the mother’s trough. Piglet behaviour is developed early on and can be difficult to change. So it is important to start with good conditions.

Number 3 tries to adjust her position during nursing so all piglets have access, except when she is too tired or too relaxed to notice there is trouble amongst piglets. Number 3 also gives special attention to weaker piglets, allowing them to access her teats or continue suckling while the others are asleep.

Above Video: 3-day old piglets fighting. This is Puzzles (black and white spots) and Brownie. These piglets are next to each other at the teats and will continue to fight at the teats until weaning. The mother disciplines pigs that fight.

Number 3 disciplines naughty piglets. When there is fighting at the teats and Number 3 gets hurt, she growls, gets up and nips the piglet that is causing trouble. She actually knows who is being naughty.

Video Above: On piglet discipline, relevant behaviour is in the first 15 seconds of this video. Piglets are 17-days old in this video. In the past several days there has been much fighting at the teats because of one or two very aggressive piglets. Notice the third piglet from the left fighting with the second piglet. Number 3 gets hurt, growls and gets up, then looks for the naughty piglet and nips her. This is how Number 3 disciplines her piglets – she actually knows who is at which teat and who is being naughty. Despite much fighting such as this, Number 3 never savaged any piglets and continued to nurse them. We don’t cut any piglets teeth.

On Crushing/Laying Over

One piglet was crushed accidentally on Day 3. This was a weak piglet, perhaps unable to nurse well on the first hour of birth. The accident was partly my fault. I gave Number 3 a small bath near the trough which motivated her to lie near the trough and nurse her piglets there. That area is a dangerous place for piglets, particularly when the mother gets up for feeding time. This was the same area where the weak piglet was crushed.

Above Video: Number 3 lies in the distance, then calls her piglets to suckle. This is a great technique, reducing risk of crushing or laying over. Piglets are 9 days old here and although Humphrey has already established attachment to his teat, he still likes humping over everybody!

Since a piglet was crushed, the rest of the litter have become more wary of the mother and they try to be more careful and alert. They actually try to avoid sleeping near the trough. The mother also discipline her piglets to keep them from going between her legs or under her teats while she is about to lie down. It is obvious that the mother is aware of the dangers of crushing/laying over. Interaction between sow and piglets is crucial for them to establish communication.

Caring for a Slow, Under-Developed Piglet

One piglet we call Panda is different from the others. He is of normal size but has a somewhat bulbous head, arched back and very slow in response and perception. Initially, he had a weak suckling reflex although he does attach tenaciously to his teat.  He doesn’t have the same gait as his siblings and has difficulty getting up.

Above Video: Here is Panda at 10 days of age. He has a somewhat bulbous head, a rigid gait, an arched back, and he doesn’t run around as actively as the others.

Above Video: Here, Panda has difficulty getting up while everyone else is already drinking milk!

Above Video: While piglets actively explore the garden, Panda seems to have difficulty. However, the excitement of the outdoors kept his spirits high and was daily motivated to get better. In the next couple of days, Panda progressively became better, catching up fast on his litter-mates.

Panda received Iron Drops like all his litter-mates. We don’t intervene during nursing and leave him to find his teat and develop good suckling reflex. Drinking water is provided for all piglets in an outside creep-space we call the “Piglet Restaurant.” All piglets are allowed to go out into the garden and eat soil, vegetation. Panda was the weakest but he always looked forward to going out into the garden. The outdoor exercise and abundance of soil and vegetation had a strong positive psychological influence on Panda. In fact, despite his ‘disability’, Panda was quite fierce in defending his teat from the other piglets. In 2-3 weeks, Panda is nearly as active as his litter-mates.

Above Video: 20 days old. Humphrey is a very playful piglet since the beginning. He is parallel to Panda at the teats. Early on, he developed the habit of humping Panda (and other litter-mates), thus his name. In this video, he harasses Panda and Panda squeals. The mother hears this and calls. Humphrey hears the mother and stops, to Panda’s relief, and pretends to have not done nothing wrong by rooting the ground.

Above Video: Here, the piglets are 16 days old, enjoying the garden. Panda is doing much better here and being able to go out into the garden and play has given him great psychological motivation to get better.

Some Observations on Post-Weaning

We separated Number 3 from her litter when the piglets were 45  days of age.  All the piglets remained active and playful and eat well. Scour began to set in at Day 2-3 of weaning and remained up to 6 days so I decided to intervene with probiotics. The scour is grey, watery, projectile of various degrees. All piglets remain active and eat well. Piglets were also given green banana leaves. There was some improvement but scour remained. So by Day 10 I decided to give Apralyte treatment, an anti-scour formula, for 5 days.

Day 2 of anti-scour treatment, piglet scours are thicker and not as watery as before and the appetite of the piglets increased immediately.  Day 3 of anti-scour treatment, the piglets began to get bigger as well. By Day 4-5, piglets are all back to normal, except for Humphrey who was the last to get rid of his scour completely.

Next time, I must include probiotics in sow/piglet water at least a week before weaning. Although the pigpen has been sprayed with Lactic Acid Bacteria solution, that didn’t seem sufficient. This batch of piglets also had less green forage because of the early provision of piglet crumble feed. We have had better cases in the past wherein piglets did not develop scouring as bad as this and they did not receive any piglet booster or crumble feed. I think next time I should implement early addition of probiotics in piglet diet before, the abundance of green forage and the late addition of any protein-rich feed (piglet booster, crumble, etc) in their diet.

Although we can look after piglets after they are born, I am getting more interested in how to make the piglets healthier while still inside the mother’s womb. Iron deficiency is one of the biggest hurdles. While I am still studying how adjustments to the mother’s diet may help, it is also possible to provide Iron rich forage and soil that piglets can nibble on as early as the first 3 days of life. The pigpen floor has more sawdust than soil, so while the Piglet Escape Hatch into the garden is crucial, I will need to put some clean soil into the pen for the piglets.

Some Observations on Extended Lactation/Nursing (up to 3 months)

Above Video: This is perhaps somewhat embarrassing but Ihid does not care! Here he is still suckling at nearly 9 weeks of age!

We allowed the runt Ihid to stay with Number 3 until he was 90 days of age. Ihid continued to suckle and the mother allowed him to do so but less frequently. Because Ihid was unable to eat well in competition with his mother he has not put on as much weight as his siblings. He developed no scouring.

However, after weaning, Ihid developed scouring after 3 days, so Apralyte treatment was given by day 5, for 3 days. Improvement is observed quickly. An acidifier, citric acid, is also added to Ihid’s water. This is now also given regularly to the adult pigs, ducks and chickens, to lower their gut ph, improve digestion, and reduce effluent. Less messy effluent also means minimized odor and easier management.

Above Video: Ihid the Runt finally weaned at nearly 3 months of age. He misses his mom. We are deciding to keep 2 piglets next time so the pigs don’t become too lonely.

Piglet Weights at Post-Weaning (55 days): 25-16 kilos. The females weigh less than the males. Panda weighed 22 kilos.

Four piglets were sold to two neighbours  and three piglets were sold to an orphanage in Dauis. We keep Ihid the Runt. Although we have done this many times before, I still miss the piglets every time! I love each and every single one of them! 🙂

Pigs in the Village

Back in 2015, we had a stroll around to visit some of our neighbour’s backyard piggeries.

Backyard Pigs in San Roque

Above and below are two photos of Amboy’s backyard piggery. He has two sows. One sow farrowed the other night and have 12 piglets. He works with a technician from Breeders in Tagbilaran City who administered the Artificial Insemination. They do not not give antibiotics after farrowing unless absolutely necessary. Breeders helps with piglet processing – teeth clipping, tail cutting, castration and iron injections. Amboy has one gestating pen and one farrowing pen. He has an improvised farrowing crate that he built himself. The wooden structure prevent the piglets from being crushed by the sow but Amboy and his mom still need to keep an eye on them for the first couple of days. Since the pens are very near their house (about 5 meters), they are able to constantly monitor the sow and piglets. Because the improvised farrowing crate is put together with screws, it can be dismantled so that the concrete stall can be used as a fattening pen.

I asked Amboy about hernia cases since we had one case of hernia the first time we started pig breeding. Amboy said he has had hernia cases in a previous litter with another sow. All of the 8 piglets had hernia, indicating it may be hereditary. Five piglets outgrew the hernia while the other 3 didn’t. He said he just had to control their food and water intake to prevent a rupture. All the piglets were for fattening.

We bought five of the piglets shown in the photo. We selected all the spotty ones. Three of the spotty ones became our sows (we currently keep two sows). One was a castrated boar which we sold to someone in Laya when it got bigger. The other was a female piglet with umbilical hernia which we fattened for meat.

The above photo is of Jun-Jun’s backyard piggery just about 25 meters away from Amboy. He has two concrete pens with five fattening pigs. The piglets are purchased from a breeder in Corella and other places. These will be sold for fiesta in August.

The photo above is from Gunding who has over ten years experience pig breeding. She has never experienced a case of hernia. She has six concrete stalls. One stall is empty – this is where she puts piglets in. She used to use artificial insemination from outside but now she has purchased one young boar to service four sows. She had a sow with 12 piglets – two died by crushing, ten survived. Five have already been bought and five remain here, kept in a separate pen with concrete floor and a wood and bamboo fence (photo below). She fattens pigs and butchers them to sell to people in the village.

Gunding does not use farrowing crates. When a sow farrows, she and her helper take turns looking after the piglets. This means keeping the piglets in a separate pen nearby with a warming light. When the sow calls her piglets to nurse, they pick up the piglets one by one and put them in with the sow. When the sow stops nursing and she lies on her teats, they take away the piglets and put them back into the separate pen. Usually, this is done not just every time the sow wants to nurse her piglets which is normally every hour, sometimes even every half hour. Instead, this is done at times set by Gunding, often with 2-3 hour intervals between nursing. This needs to be done for at least a week until the piglets can be left alone with the mother with minimal danger of crushing.

There are two more backyard pig breeders around us but we were unable to visit them.

Backyard  Pigs on Pamilacan Island

We visited Pamilacan Island in 2015. The island is part of our Municipality and is about 15.7 kilometers from the mainland. We went there with a friend visiting from Slovenia and he was the one who took these photos.

There was a pigpen near the beach. It was made of concrete, with concrete flooring. The pigpen had a septic tank. Since the location is quite near the beach (maybe about 50 meters) and near some cottages rented out to tourists, the pigpens were required to comply with sanitation ordinances.

So we went into the interior, to the center of the island. We wanted to see how people kept pigs on the island.

Above is a photo showing a sow tied to a tree with her piglets in the distance. There seem to be 9 or 10 piglets. The sow is tethered to prevent it from going to other people’s backyards and destroying their crops. The sow is not confined in a farrowing crate.

In the photo above, there are 14 piglets freely rooting around. The sow is partly visible on the right. Like in the previous photo, the sow is tethered to prevent her from going to other people’s backyards. The piglets stay closely to the sow. The piglets also don’t cause too much damage as an adult pig would.

Here (above photo), I am touching a black piglet that is about 2 months of age. It is quite small. Many piglets look rather stunted, possibly because of excessive in-breeding on the island.

In the above photo, a pig is tied to a stump and has created a wallowing mud pit. Typically, this pig would be moved to another location as the mud pit becomes deeper.

Piglets are allowed to roam free on the island. They feed together with the native chickens.

Here (above photo) are pigs and goats kept under the house. All these animals are tethered and will be brought out to pasture/forage every morning.

And finally, here (above photo) is what is dubbed as The Oldest Sow on Pamilacan Island. I took this photo in 2007.

Our Piglets in their New Homes

In 2016, we started selling piglets. Here are some photos of how people kept the piglets they bought from us. These are all just from around our village of San Roque.

The three photos above are concrete pens with gates made of welded galvanized iron pipes and corrugated galvanized iron roof. The pens are attached to septic tanks. This design of pigpen is the most conventional in backyard settings.

Here (above) are three of our piglets in another concrete pen built in the same way as the previous pen.

In this photo above, two of our piglets have just been transferred to their new pen at a neighbour’s who lives uphill. There is a larger separate pen where larger pigs are kept. They plan to keep one of the female piglets they got from us as a sow.

In the above photo, the piglets we sold to the same neighbours in the previous photo are now large fatteners. They are in concrete pens that are cleaned with water twice everyday. This is very typical of all conventional concrete pigpens.

Below are photos showing how people have kept our piglets in their backyard without building concrete pens. Usually in such cases, the pig may be tethered or may be placed in a pen with wooden fencing and non-concrete flooring. Building a fully concrete pen with concrete septic tank is too expensive for non-commercial, domestic pig keeping.

We do favour pigpens that allow the pigs to root the ground and have sufficient space to move about and play. In our experience, pigs kept this way are happier, stress free and are healthier and grow better. A lot of the people who come to buy piglets and see our pigpens are often surprised. They often say that they have not thought of such a pigpen design since they have never seen anything like ours. We hope that as awareness spreads, people will begin to consider pigpens that afford more comfort and welfare for their pigs.

More about pigpens in the links below:
http://duckduckbro.com/2017/08/a-better-pig-accommodation/
http://duckduckbro.com/2018/01/sow-and-piglets-in-an-alternative-farrowing-system/

PS. The banner photo above was taken in 2017. It is a photo of the garden with Pinky Boar, then 7 months old, luxuriating under a mahogany tree. Can you find him in the photo? 🙂 He is a brown spotty pig. 🙂

Sprouting Alfalfa Seeds

Here is a simple method I use to sprout seeds for salads and cooking. I use this method to sprout alfalfa seeds and mung beans. Shown here are alfalfa. Raw seed sprouts have good nutritional value but must be prepared appropriately to minimise the risk of bacterial contamination.

Select a clean clear bottle for sprouting. I use a 500ml glass jar with large mouth so that the sprouts can be easily accessed. A clear container is needed so that the sprouts can be monitored easily.

Put 1/2 teaspoon of alfalfa seeds in the jar. This will be enough sprouts for salad, garnish or sandwich for 2-3 persons. Use 1 teaspoon if you require more. 1 teaspoon seeds is the limit for the jar I am using.

Pour cool clean water into the jar just enough to cover the seeds. I use clean tap water.

Place the jar in a dark place. I use a biscuit tin. You can also use a clean box or you can put the jar in a cupboard.

Protect the seeds from flies and insects but don’t seal it. Air circulation is necessary for successful sprouting. I use a clean cheesecloth to cover the top of the biscuit tin. Leave overnight.

The next day, drain the water carefully. Add water and drain again to clean the seeds.

Tip the jar on its side and distribute the seeds evenly along the sides of the jar as in the photo below. The seeds should be wet but not soaking.

Place the jar in a dark place. I use the same biscuit tin, this time, the jar is placed on its side as shown in the photo below.

Protect the seeds from flies and insects. During the day, rinse the seeds with water every 4-6 hours. Leave overnight. Rinse again at 4-6 hour intervals the next day.

Here are the seeds after 2 days. The seeds have started to sprout.

Continue rinsing the seeds everyday. Don’t forget to do this otherwise the seeds will rot or dry out. I use a small sieve to strain the seeds when I rinse them.

After 5 days, the sprouts are nearly ready. The sprouts are yellow and need to be exposed to light so they can turn green.

On day 6, rinse the sprouts as usual then leave the jar by the window to expose to sunlight. Don’t put the sprouts directly under the sun or they will wilt and dry out. After about 6-8 hours of sunlight, the sprouts are green and ready to eat! Here’s the result of a half teaspoon of alfalfa seeds.

Use the sprouts immediately. You can keep them in the refrigerator but must be used within 3-5 days. Prepare sprouts in small batches so you always have them fresh. Enjoy!

Update on Porcine Parvovirus

This is sow Number 3 with her piglets some 2-3 hours after farrowing. She gave birth to 9 piglets, no mummified fetus, no stillborn. This is great news because she was infected with PPV (porcine parvovirus) on her previous farrowing. We have a small herd of pigs and therefore do not follow a vaccination program. Furthermore, natural exposure to PPV is followed by lifelong immunity whereas vaccination wanes over time.

Parity 2: Porcine Parvovirus, August 29, 2017

From 8-9PM last night, Number 3 farrowed to 2 stillborn piglets and 6 mummified fetuses. Our suspicion is Porcine Parvovirus (PPV). The prolonged gestation period of 117 days was a sign that something wasn’t right. Note also that a few weeks into gestation, Number 3 had a slightly bloody discharge for several days. This could’ve been an early sign of  infection.

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The mummified fetuses are of varying lengths indicating that PPV is the infectious agent since the virus attacks one fetus at a time, progressively, and the first fetuses to be infected may be reabsorbed into the sow’s body. However, fetuses infected after 70 days gestation are able to protect itself from the virus. Immuno-competence of  fetuses start at 55-70 days.

Keeping an eye on Number 3 at the moment, hoping that she has expelled all the fetuses and the afterbirth, and that no severe infection will set in. She looks quite well, she is eating and drinking and walks about and rests peacefully. But she is very tired, and infection will surely set in, and her teats will become painful in the absence of suckling piglets. She has had oxytocin and penicillin. We don’t use these (or any) drugs in normal farrowing.

Number 3 appears to grieve the death of her piglets. She looks at them and makes gentle calling sounds. She lies down and grunts to call her piglets to suckle. She snuggles her snout close to the dead piglet while she sleeps.

Although we are no stranger to livestock loses, we are hoping that Number 3 will recover. We will breed her again when she is ready. The good news is that pigs exposed to PPV often remain immune for the rest of their lives.

Where did the PPV come from?

Our first incidence of possible PPV infection was with sow Number 1, her second parity of 11 live piglets, 1 stillborn piglet and 1 mummified fetus. This was on December 30, 2016, just 5 months before Number 3 was serviced by boar Pinky.

Our suspicion is that PPV was transmitted to sow Number 1 via artificial insemination on her second parity. She had no PPV infection on her first parity via our boar Bootleg. Number 1 gave birth to 11 live piglets and 1 stillborn, the stillborn possibly due to prolonged farrowing. There were no obvious signs of PPV infection. Boar Pinky was from this first litter.

However, since boar Pinky stayed in close proximity to his mother he could’ve been infected by PPV and may even be an immuno-tolerant carrier. Boar Pinky may have infected sow Number 3 during service.

As a gilt, Auntie Brownie stayed in close proximity to sow Number 1 and boar Pinky. We are hoping that this has exposed Brownie to PPV and has developed lifelong immunity. Her first parity of 11 live piglets and 1 stillborn on June 24, 2017 showed no obvious signs of PPV infection. We are hoping that her second litter, due January 21, 2018, will be protected from the disastrous effects of PPV infection.

Update (January 19, 2018):

Auntie Brownie farrowed on June 19, 2018 to 10 live piglets. No stillborn piglets and no mummified fetuses.  This means Auntie Brownie is most possibly immune from PPV.

It is becoming more clear that the PPV came from artificial insemination (from a farm in another municipality). Since she was a gilt, Number 3 is housed separately (about 12 meters/40 feet away) from Auntie Brownie and boar Pinky, thus, she was the most susceptible.

Number 3 is about 2 months pregnant and is due on the first week of March. If she was indeed infected with PPV, she should no longer have any problems with the virus. Fingers crossed!

Update (March 9, 2018):

From 12-1:30pm, March 9, 2018, Friday, Number 3 farrowed to 9 live piglets. No stillborn piglets and no mummified fetuses.

West Garden is Getting Greener

It has been nearly 4 months now and here are photos showing progress on the West Garden. From September-October last year we had construction work on the western part of the garden to rebuild the old pigpens. In November, we proceeded with mulching, planting and digging rain gardens in areas prone to flooding. La Niña also meant above average rainfall from October-March, so it was quite a challenge trying to get the garden into good shape. We had some important practical goals: (1) to control flooding in the area when it rains, (2) to improve fertility and texture of the soil, (3) to grow more forage crops for the animals, and (4) to make the garden resilient if or when the drought (El Niño) comes.

Above photo shows the southern end of the west garden. We have moved the sheet roofing left on the ground to a better location under the house. The stumps of gemelina wood lying on the ground have been stood up to serve as support for potted plants. A rain garden was dug up at the end of the canal. Pathways and plant beds were established. Getting seedling to grow in this area is difficult because it is next to large mahogany growth. The mahogany trees shed their leaves and increase tannin seepage into the ground. Mahogany trees also create dappled shade, making it difficult or impossible for sun-loving plants to grow. This area also floods quite considerably when it rains, killing young seedlings.

We have managed to grow plants that thrive in such difficult conditions such as San Franciso plants along the hedge and green and purple gabi (taro). Some pandan have managed to survive as well.

Above photo shows the longest side of the west garden. We have trimmed the young Jackfruit tree and the banana tree on the right side which was trampled to the ground by construction work have regenerated. The path became flooded, muddy and dangerously slippery and this has been amended by paving with sand and gravel. There is a large area mulched with dry coconut leaves on the left – this used to be a goat pen. Now, kangkong and kamote planted there are crawling over the mulch. Soil from dug-up rain gardens and compost from the pigpens were placed around the coconut tree where vegetation has started growing.

We have also planted flowering vines and placed support for them to climb on going over the pathways. This will take some more time! Some climbing plants were also planted along the wall and we are hoping that in time, the wall will be covered with vegetation.

Above photo shows progress in the area that used to be the old boar pen. The vacated area was a mud pit and needed a lot of mulching and treatment with lactic acid bacteria to decompose manure and aerate the soil. Over time, what used to be a barren area is now starting to become green with kangkong, kamote, papaya, gabi and forage crops such as madre de agua (tricanthera). The dry banana leaves on the right are reserved for the sow when she gives birth this month.

Here (above photo) is a closer look at one of the rain gardens. Water goes down slow in this location but the gabi planted here seems to love it. Some pandan, tiger tail plants and kangkong are growing in the vicinity.

This photo (above) shows the other rain garden which drains faster than the previous one. The gabi planted here are doing well. Some kamote are growing along the canal leading to the rain garden. A banana was planted nearby, although not flourishing, it is managing to survive. A lot of grass is growing here as well, much more here than in the other areas.

One side of the old boar pen (above) showing one of the flowering vines and the madre de agua (tricanthera), planted as cuttings and now growing very well.

Along the old goat pen (above), this photo shows the growth of two types of kangkong and an okra seedling.

Another view of the West Garden towards the old boar pen showing more vegetation and an orchid planted on one of the posts used for the pen. We have mounted more orchids in the other posts left from the old goat and pigpens.

We are very happy with progress on the West Garden, considering the state it was left in by construction work last year. We are hoping that as more vegetation grows in this area, it will be less prone to flooding and will be protected from drying out during the hot summer months.

What has helped tremendously in this effort are mulching, rain gardens, compost from the pigpens and the application of lactic acid bacteria and a small amount of indigenous microorganisms. We have our fingers crossed hoping the garden will continue to thrive when summer approaches.

Pork Curry Fry

I found this Pork Masala Fry recipe by Alittlebitofspice.com and consider it an excellent way of cooking delicious dry meat curry. I was especially looking for a recipe that used turmeric. The method used in the recipe is “twice-cooked”, that is, the meat is cooked to marinate and become tender, then it is cooked again in the fragrant herbs and spices. The recipe can also be used to make non-meat curry fry dishes. I am imagining this would be excellent with potatoes, lentils or chickpeas, or vegetables such as cauliflower, string beans and carrots instead of pork.

Below is my variation of the recipe. I used ingredients that are available in the kitchen.  Substitutions I made are McCormick curry powder (red) and McCormick curry spice blend (yellow) for garam masala; Lekker Bekkie Mango Chutney, marjoram and cinnamon for coriander powder and curry leaves; and coconut cream for small size coconut pieces / grated coconut. Other good substitute ingredients may be fresh lemongrass, thyme, sage, cumin, Chinese 5-spice Powder, nutmeg, basil and fresh kaffir lime leaves. Key ingredients that cannot be substituted are ginger and turmeric. It is the taste and aroma of these roots that give this pork dish its distinct flavour, reminding of the weeks we have stayed in Kerala many years ago.

I think that key to the success of this type of dish is to make sure that the pork is tender and to sauté the masala and pork very well until nearly dry, thereafter using the coconut milk to deglaze the pan and extract the flavours of the herbs and spices. You must be patient in cooking the pork to tenderness, and you must never hurry in sautéing.

Pork Curry Fry

Ingredients:

1 kg pork (fat and meat) cut into cubes
Marinade: 1/2 inch turmeric root chopped finely
1 tsp Red chili powder
1 tsp Spanish paprika powder
1/2 inch ginger root chopped finely
1 tsp Black peppercorns, crushed
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup green peas in water (if using dry green peas, soak in water overnight)

Combine pork with marinade. Add 2 tbsp water.

Transfer to a heavy-bottom pot and cook over medium heat until done. Add 1 cup green peas and 1 tbsp water, cover and cook until meat and peas are tender. Cooking may take anywhere between 20-40 minutes depending on the pork. Drain excess oil and set aside.

Prepare masala ingredients as follows:

Coconut oil for cooking (or use oil from pork above)
1 cup finely chopped red onions
1/2 inch turmeric root chopped finely
1/2 inch ginger root chopped finely
2 cloves of garlic crushed and chopped finely
1 1/2 tsp Garam masala (or substitute with 1 tsp curry powder (red color) 1/2 tsp curry spice blend (yellow color))
1 tsp chili powder
4 tsp coriander powder (or substitute with Lekker Bekkie Mango Chutney or other herbs and spices such as 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp marjoram or 1/2 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder)
Salt to taste
1/4 cup coconut milk

Heat oil in a pan and fry the red onions until brown.

Add the turmeric, ginger, garlic and sauté until fragrant.

Add garam masala, chili powder and coriander powder (or substitute ingredients) and sauté well.

Add the pork. Add salt to taste. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until nearly dry.

Add coconut milk and cook for 5-10 more minutes.

Serve hot with rice!

How to Make Lactic Acid Bacteria Serum

Lactobacillales or Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB) are fast-growing microorganisms found in decomposing plants, milk, as well as on human mucosal surfaces (oral, vaginal and gastrointestinal) and various food products such as vegetables, meats, sourdough bread, fermented foods, wine and dairy products. LAB produce lactic acid as the major metabolic end-product of carbohydrate fermentation. Because LAB has a high tolerance to acidity, they have the ability to out-compete other bacteria in natural fermentation, inhibiting the growth of spoilage and pathogenic agents.

LAB and Lactic Acid are the main ingredients in some commercially available organic or natural farming products such EM (Effective Microorganisms). If you are interested in making your own Lactic Acid Bacteria Serum or LABS, then read on. You may also find recipes and instructions from the following sources: (1) Natural Farming: Lactic Acid Bacteria (PDF) https://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepubs/pdf/SA-8.pdf / (2) Making Culturing Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB) http://www.cgnfindia.com/lab.html / (3) Lactobacillus Serum http://theunconventionalfarmer.com/recipes/lactobacillus-serum/

How to Make Lactic Acid Bacteria Serum (LABS)

You will need:

Uncooked Rice
Clean Water (Un-chlorinated Water or De-chlorinated Water)
Milk (liquid fresh milk, either raw, pasteurised or UHT)
Cheesecloth (or porous paper) and elastic rubber band
Clear containers (glass or plastic) with wide mouth

Rice water washing will be used as the carbohydrate source for collecting lactic acid bacteria from the air. So this method is best for people who eat rice regularly and can use the rice washing instead of discarding it. If you don’t have rice, you can use other sources such as beans. I have never tried using beans for making LABS before. However, I include the general instructions for using beans below.

To make LABS, I use uncooked white rice – cheap bukid rice is sufficient. I have also used red rice, pink rice and brown rice and a combination of these with white rice. Some people experience problems with long-grain rice or organic brown/red rice, perhaps because the rice is irradiated or contaminated with arsenic (especially rice coming from the US, India and Bangladesh where the soil is contaminated with arsenic due to rising levels of industrial pollution).

Put equal volume water in the rice and massage the rice in the water. This will result to milky white colour in the water. Collect this water which we now call “rice washing”.

Some people use tap water disinfected with high amounts of chlorine. This can kill bacteria and prevent lactic acid bacteria from proliferating. It is best to use de-chlorinated water. You can de-chlorinate water by collecting tap water in a wide mouth container and leaving for 24 hours. Or you can use filtered water. Our tap water is not heavily chlorinated so I have had success using tap water. It really depends on the quality of your water.

Pour the rice washing in a clear container with a wide mouth. I have used glass and plastic with success. It is important that the container has a wide opening to allow air circulation. It is also important that the container is made of clear material so that we can observe the liquid inside. Label the container, especially the date of collection. I sometimes include the expected due date and the average room temperature in the label.

Cover the opening of the container with a clean cheesecloth to prevent flies and other insects from contaminating the rice washing. Use elastic rubber band to keep the cheesecloth in place. Then wrap the container in cloth or paper or other material to prevent light from entering. Keep the container in a dark location.

In temperatures of 25-30 degrees C, the rice washing should be ready in 2-3 days. In cooler temperatures, it may take up to one week or more. Just observe the rice washing daily. What we are looking for is the settling of rice dust in the bottom of the container, the presence of some residue and sometimes kahm yeast on the surface of the rice washing and the mildly sour smell indicating the onset of fermentation with lactic acid bacteria.

Above photo shows the rice washing after 24 hours. It does not have a sour smell so I waited another 24 hours.

Above photo shows the rice washing after 2 days. It has a mild sour smell and the presence of some kahm yeast is visible on the top of the rice washing. This is ready for the next stage of making LABS.

For the next stage of making LABS, I use a pitcher, 1 liter of milk and the rice washing. The pitcher is large enough to accommodate the milk and the rice washing. It is also made of clear material so I can easily observe the liquid inside. The milk I prefer to use is “Conaprole” brand from Uruguay. It is cheaper than other milk of similar type and is made only of whole milk. I avoided milk that were made with milk powder or fortified with vitamins. I have not used raw or un-pasteurised milk because it is not easy to get and is very expensive.

Some people have success with powdered milk. I have no success with powdered milk. It probably depends on the quality of powdered milk available in your location. If you use powdered milk, remember to use de-chlorinated water with your milk powder.

I poured the milk into the pitcher. Then I poured the rice washing into the milk through a cheesecloth to filter the residues. The ideal ratio of milk to rice washing is 10:1. Sometimes I add a little more rice washing.

Cover the opening of the container with a cheesecloth to prevent flies and other insects from contaminating the milk-rice washing mixture. I put the cover of the pitcher over the cheesecloth to secure the cloth and at the same time allow air to flow through the cloth.

Wrap the container with cloth or paper to prevent light from entering. Keep the container in a cool and dark place. Allow the milk-rice washing to ferment. It may take 2-3 days in warm environments. It may take 5-7 days in cooler environments (19-24 degrees C). Observe the milk-rice washing mixture every 24 hours.

You will know the LABS is ready when the milk separates into three parts: top layer (curd), middle layer that is clear, yellowish in colour (whey) and bottom layer (lees or other sediment). It is the yellowish liquid that we need to collect, this is the Lactic Acid Bacteria Serum. The liquid should smell mildly sweet sour. If you wait too long, the liquid may smell rotten, in this case, other bacteria have colonised the mixture. Discard or put in the compost.

To separate the curd from the whey, you may cut the curd and scoop it out. Then pour the middle yellowish liquid into a clean container through a cheesecloth to strain it and filter out unwanted residues. Don’t include the bottom layer when you pour – it is best to pour gently and not disturb the bottom layer which could contaminate the serum. Discard or compost the bottom layer.

The top layer (curd) maybe be collected and used as compost or mixed with animal feeds. The curd tastes sour indicating high amounts of lactic acid. Some people eat the curd (it is actually fermented cheese) usually after hanging it and mixing it with salt. However, the high amount of lactic acid may cause teeth to decay (dental caries). Some people may also find the flavour of this cheese too strong and sour.

Keep the yellowish liquid (the serum) in bottles. This is the Lactic Acid Bacteria and should be kept alive by keeping in the refrigerator. You will notice tiny bubbles indicating active fermentation. Do not seal the bottles tightly as this prevents air from escaping and may cause the bottles to explode when air pressure increases. So, just keep the bottles loosely capped.

If you cannot keep the LABS in the refrigerator, you can keep the bacteria alive by mixing the serum with equal amount (by weight) of brown sugar.  The brown sugar acts as a kind of stabilising agent for the bacteria, keeping the bacteria alive in a stable dormant stage while at room temperature. Always keep the bottles loosely capped to release gasses as the LABS continue to ferment.

1 liter of milk makes about 500ml of LABS. When diluted, this would be about 500 liters for spraying.

How to Use LABS

Personally, I use LABS on a regular basis. I dilute the serum in water and use the diluted LABS as soil and leaf spray, spray on wood chip beddings of pigs and add to drinking water of animals. Generally, I use 2tbsp LABS with 1 liter of water. The benefits and uses are:

  1. To aerate the soil and improve the texture of compacted soil, I sprinkled LABS on the soil of the western garden. I apply diluted LABS on the soil at least twice a month.
  2. To facilitate decomposition of organic matter, I spray or sprinkle diluted LABS on compost consisting of dry coconut leaves, wood chips, dry and green twigs and branches, animal manure and kitchen scraps. Since LABS improves air circulation in soil and organic matter, I have observed increased drying of green composting materials and faster decomposition of animal manure and kitchen scraps.
  3. To reduce irritating odors in the pigpen, I spray diluted LABS directly on pig manure and on the pigpen bedding (wood chips on top of soil), and add diluted LABS to the pigs’ drinking water. I have observed that 24-48 hours after spraying diluted LABS to the pigpen, irritating ammonia and urine odors are lessened. There is what seem to be like the odor of decomposing grass.
  4. To encourage leafy vegetables and the leaves of ornamental plants to grow faster and become more green and shiny, I spray diluted LABS under the leaves of the plants. Take care not to use too strong LABS by diluting at a ratio of water to LABS at 1000:1. I have noticed some plants’ leaves burn or curl up when too strong LABS is applied. I use diluted LABS as foliar spray at least once a week.
  5. To repel pests and disease, I spray affected plants with diluted LABS. I prefer to use LABS without the added sugar since I notice that sugar attracts pests.

According to the “Korean Natural Farming Handbook”:

  1. Lactic acid bacteria are very effective in improving air ventilation in soil and are highly effective at promoting the growth of fruit trees and leaf vegetables.
  2. The lactic acid or organic acid produced has a PH of 2 and thus possesses strong sterilization power.
  3. As lactic acid bacteria are conditionally anaerobic being able to survive with or without oxygen and in high temperatures.
  4. Lactic acid decomposes or chelates minerals stuck to soil particles which are not easily dissolved; this making the minerals available in a form plants can absorb.
  5. Furthermore, when plants absorb lactic acid their bodily fluids are adjusted and they become more resistant to disease and can also withstand heavy rain without becoming soft.
  6. LAB is also extremely effective at encouraging plants to produce large fruit and leaves. However care should be taken since if you use too much the sweetness will drop. Thus, in the case of fruiting plants you should use less LAB in the later stages to manage proper sugar levels.
  7. Combine LAB to IMO (Indigenous Microorganisms) and spray onto the fields. Anaerobic organisms are powerful tillers, digging into the soil and making it soft and fluffy.
  8. Feeding LAB and FPJ (Fermented Plant Juice) to your livestock when they are suffering from disease will help to restore their digestive systems.

Making Labs Using Beans (from the “Korean Natural Farming Handbook”):

  1. Steam beans.
  2. Add a little sugar and grind in a mixer.
  3. When the milk is warm pour it into a sterilized bottle.
  4. Seal the bottle and put it in the refrigerator.
  5. As time passes the liquids and solids will separate inside the bottle. The liquid in this bottle is pure natural lactic acid bacteria. This method is advantageous in selectively separating lactic acid bacteria that can withstand high temperatures close to 100 degrees centigrade.

Why is Rice Washing and Milk Preferred in Making LABS in Natural Farming?

According to natural farming documentations, rice washing is used at the moment of harvesting LABS in the air because rice washing is a nutrient-poor medium for lactic acid bacteria. This ensures that only the stronger bacteria are collected. After the initial harvesting of lactic acid bacteria, milk is used. Milk is nutrient-rich and is used in order to allow the harvested bacteria to grow vigorously.

Can I Use Other Medium for Collecting and Growing Lactic Acid Bacteria?

Yes. In some experiments, lactic acid bacteria from saurkraut was used in bioremediation of human excrement in septic tanks. Results may differ, however, since different mediums mean different types and collections of lactic acid bacteria and other microorganisms and yeasts. Natural farming favours strong microorganisms that are native to the environment and can withstand local conditions. Some medium are also easier to filter than others making the serum easier to use with sprayers and sprinklers. Microbial diversity is also favoured in many instances, ensuring balance in the environment.

Is it Possible to Culture Lactic Acid Bacteria On-Site?

Yes. This seems to be what happened to our pigpens long before we started using the natural farming method of making LABS described above. The addition of naturally fermenting windfalls of bananas and coconuts in the diet and beddings (mix of green and brown organic matter over soil floor) of the pigs resulted in a disease-free and relatively odor-free pigpen.

Help! I forgot to strain the rice washing when adding to milk! Will my LABS be OK?

It won’t be the strong pure LABS culture we’re looking for. The milk will still curdle and you’ll get the LABS but after some time (especially after diluting with water), the solution will ferment like vinegar. This is probably because the un-filtered fermented rice washing contains a lot of yeasts and other microorganisms.

Cranberry Nut Cake

After successfully making a coffee cake that requires no baking and the ingredients do not include eggs or dairy, I made an experiment this time using cranberries and peanuts instead of coffee. Here is my version of The Cranberry Nut Cake. 🙂

Cranberry Nut Cake by Fats
(No bake, no eggs, no milk, no butter)

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tbsp vanilla
1 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar
1/4 cup coconut oil or olive oil
1 cup water
1/2 cup chopped roasted greaseless peanuts (or cashew nuts)
1 cup chopped dried cranberries (or 1/2 cup chopped dried  cranberries and 1/2 cup chopped raisins)

Recipe makes two 6″ loaf pan-size cakes.

Directions:

  1. In a bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  2. In another bowl, combine vanilla, lemon juice or vinegar, coconut oil or olive oil and water. Add brown sugar and mix well until thoroughly dissolved.
  3. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix, but do not mix too much or the cake will be stodgy and will not rise well. Fold in peanuts and cranberries.
  4. Pour in non-stick loaf pan, filling only half to allow room for expansion. Cover with aluminum foil.
  5. Steam for 30 minutes. To test if done, prick with fork in the center of the cake – prick all the way through. If the fork comes out clean your cake is ready. Otherwise, steam for 5 more minutes.
  6. Remove cake from steamer, uncover foil to allow cake to “breathe” and cool down a bit before removing from loaf pan. Cake also tastes great when chilled. Enjoy! 🙂

Coffee Cake Recipe

Just when I’ve decided I won’t be drinking anymore coffee, I decide to make some coffee cake. So now I don’t have to drink coffee I can just eat it. 😉

Freshly steamed coffee cake with orange-coconut milk glaze. I need to learn how to make a better glaze without the air bubbles.

This Coffee Cake uses no eggs, no milk, no butter, and it doesn’t require an oven because it’s steamed. There are two versions of this cake. One has a coconut milk-orange glaze and the other has the orange rind and coarse-ground coffee mixed together. This recipe makes for two 6″ loaf pans or one 8″ loaf pan. Enjoy!

COFFEE CAKE (No Bake, No Eggs, No Milk, No Butter)

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 + 1 tbsp instant coffee granules
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tbsp vanilla
1 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar
1/4 cup oil (olive oil or coconut oil)
1 cup water

Orange Glaze:

3 tbsp coconut milk
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp orange zest
1/2 tsp cornstarch
2 tbsp orange juice

Instructions:

Wet and dry ingredients.
  1. Sift together in a bowl flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  2. In another bowl, combine vanilla, lemon juice or vinegar (the acid will activate the baking soda), oil and water. Add sugar and mix to dissolve thoroughly.

    Taste the mixture and add more coffee granules as desired.
  3. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients. Mix together but do not over-mix or the cake will become stodgy and will not rise well.
  4. Add 1 tbsp instant coffee granules. Mix then taste for flavour (since coffee of various brands may differ in flavour and concentration, it might be a good idea to taste first before adding more coffee). Add the rest of the coffee or adjust amount as desired.
  5. Pour mixture in non-stick loaf pan, filling only half full to allow room for expansion. Cover with aluminum foil.
  6. Steam for 30 minutes. Prick with fork to test if done – prick in the center of the cake and all the way down. When fork comes out clean, your cake is ready. Otherwise, steam for 5 minutes more.
  7. Prepare orange glaze as follows: Combine all ingredients in a small pan over low heat. Mix gently, stirring in a single direction so as to avoid incorporating air bubbles into the glaze (I didn’t do very well with this one!). Simmer until thick and creamy. Spoon over cake. Decorate with whole coffee beans or sprinkle with instant coffee powder or ground coffee.

Remove cake from steamer and partially remove foil cover to allow to breathe. Cool and it’s ready to serve. The cake is also great chilled. Enjoy! 🙂

ORANGE-COFFEE CAKE (No Bake, No Eggs, No Milk, No Butter)

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp instant coffee granules
1 tbsp coarsely ground coffee beans
Zest of one whole orange
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tbsp vanilla
1 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar
1/4 cup oil (olive oil or coconut oil)
1 cup water

Instructions:

  1. Sift together in a bowl flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  2. In another bowl, combine vanilla, lemon juice or vinegar, oil and water. Add sugar and mix to dissolve thoroughly.
  3. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients. Mix well but not too much otherwise the cake will become stodgy and will not rise well.
  4. Add instant coffee granules. Mix well. Add coarsely ground coffee beans and orange zest. Taste and add more coffee and/or orange if desired.
  5. Pour mixture in non-stick loaf pan, filling only half full to allow room for expansion. Cover with aluminum foil.
  6. Steam for 30 minutes. Prick with fork to test if done – prick in the center of the cake and all the way down. When fork comes out clean, your cake is ready. Otherwise, steam for 5 minutes more.

Remove cake from steamer and partially remove foil cover to allow to breathe. Cool and it’s ready to serve. The cake is also great chilled. Enjoy! 🙂

La Niña and Outlook for Philippine Forage Crops

We are currently experiencing the extended effects of La Niña. La Niña is defined as the positive phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) associated with cooler-than-average sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. La Niña is said to impact global climate, disrupting normal weather patterns and can lead to intense storms in some places and droughts in others.

In the Philippines, La Niña often means heavy rains and as a consequence, flooding. According to the “Climate Outlook (January-June 2018)” by the Climate Monitoring and Prediction Section of PAGASA-DOST, “Weak La Niña is present in the Tropical Pacific; may not last beyond March 2018, but varying impacts occur.”

Rainfall Forecast:

  • January 2018 – below normal rainfall over western Luzon while generally near to above normal over Eastern Luzon and most parts of Visayas and Mindanao;
  • February 2018 – generally near to above normal rainfall with some patches of below normal rainfall over Ilocos area; Visayas and Mindanao, generally above normal rainfall;
  • March 2018 – below normal rainfall over western Luzon while generally near to above normal over Eastern Luzon and most parts of Visayas and Mindanao;
  • April 2018 – generally below normal over most parts of Luzon (except western Luzon); the rest of the country will likely experience near normal rainfall conditions.
  • May 2018 – generally near to above normal rainfall;
  • June 2018 – near normal rainfall over major parts of the country, while below normal rainfall conditions will be likely over northern Luzon.
  • Generally, near average to slightly warmer than average surface temperature is expected over the coming months over most parts; slightly cooler than average over the mountainous areas in Luzon in January-March 2018; cold surges may occur in December to February 2018.
  • 2 to 5 tropical cyclones may develop or enter the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) from January – June 2018.

Weekly ENSO monitoring is available at: http://www.pagasa.dost.gov.ph/index.php/climate/climate-prediction/el-ninosouthern-oscillation-enso-status

Outlook for the West Garden:

Construction work took place around the western side of the garden in October-November 2017. We started mulching and building rain gardens, paths and plant beds in the effort to get as many crops growing as quickly as possible and to control flooding from storm water run-off in the area.

Forage is one of the most important crops we planted. We don’t have enough forage for the animals and would like 2018 to be the year when we would grow and double our production. Some of our current forage crops are: desmodium rensonii, indigofera zollingeriana, trichantera gigantea (madre de agua), and mini water cabbage.

Indigofera for forage.
Indigofera has 27─31% crude protein, which is relatively higher than any of the locally available leguminous forages. Leaves and twigs are harvested every 30 days to maintain their succulence. Indigofera is not to be confused with Creeping Indigo (indigofera spicata) which may be toxic to some livestock.
Desmodium cinereum (Rensonii) is a leguminous plant tagged as “alfalfa of the tropics” because of its high crude protein content at 20-23% of dry weight. Regular cutting stimulates multiple stems and increases yields of leaf. If seed production is required, defoliation must be timed to avoid destroying the developing seed crop. Not well suited for grazing or browsing.
Trichanthera gigantea is generally propagated from cuttings selected at the basal part of young stems. These cuttings can either be planted directly or put in plastic bags for transplanting later. Harvest begins 8 to 10 months after establishment and the first yields are about 15 t/ha of fresh matter. Trichanthera gigantea can be harvested for foliage every 3 months and yields 17 t/ha of fresh matter at a cutting height of about 1 m. Under hotter and drier conditions, cutting heights can be higher (1.3-1.5 m).

Growing but not thriving well are: ipil-ipil, madrecacao, mani-manian, malunggay and water hyacinth.

Failed to survive are: stylo.

We are looking for seeds/cuttings/seedlings of the following: napier grass, mulberry, mara mais, stylo, azolla.

Papaya planted in the west garden two months ago.

Forage and roughage for pigs and goats also come from the following: various fruit trees such as papaya, langka, banana, coconut, gmelina, mahogany, tiesa, tambis, balimbing; various green leafy vegetables such as amaranth, camote (leaves), kangkong, saluyot, alugbati, casava (leaves), talinum; and various grasses such as carabao grass, paragis, mimosa, busikad, etc.

Sow eating various common grass pulled out from the garden.

Ornamental plants that are trimmed also provide some forage but only in small quantities since some are considered mildly toxic: San Francisco plant (croton), various cultivars of canna, Fortune plant (dracaena), ornamental palms, ferns, wandering jew, lantana, duranta etc.

Piglet foraging in the garden.

La Niña does not deter us from developing the west garden. We have planted forage crops in and around the area. Normally, the rainy/wet season is also good vegetable planting season in the Philippines because this eliminates the need for artificial irrigation. However, tropical vegetable production experts note that the rainy season also means high humidity amidst high temperatures conducive to the proliferation of pests and disease. This is where disease and pest-resistant crops are valuable and topping the list of recommended plants are those with edible foliage and shoots.

Recommended Vegetables for the Rainy/Wet Season:

Rooted taro, kangkong (water spinach) and camote (sweet potato) are easier to grow in wet and flood prone areas. The red and green varieties of taro we planted in the newly dug up rain gardens are doing well.

Okra, eggplant, beans, chili, corn/maize, squash and some gourds are known to thrive in wet conditions. However, they need to be planted in raised beds so they are protected from flooding. When seedlings have established at about 1-2 weeks, mulching needs to be done all around the seedlings in order to protect them from the battering downpour of rain. We have lost many young sprouts to heavy pouring rain, unfortunately, so we are also planting seeds in the beds where mulch have already been applied. The surrounding mulch protect some of the seedlings. Planting under a tree or bush also helps, as long as the area does not get flooded.

Taro thrives well in the rain garden.

 

Toxic Plants and Weeds

Although many plants are toxic in various ways, we try not to allow those with high toxicity to colonise the garden, particularly the weeds. While animals avoid eating plants that are toxic, we also try to identify which plants may be toxic and avoid giving those to the animals. Toxic plants we currently have are Estrella, Sinkamas (seeds are toxic), Sagilala (San Francisco/Croton), Red Ginger, Lantana, Katakataka (linked to some cattle poisoning), Buddha Belly Plant (ginseng in Tagalog), Cat’s Whiskers (Balbas Pusa), Castor Oil Plant (Tangantangan), Bangkok Kalachuchi (leaves and flowers are toxic to goats and cattle), Plumeria.

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Estrella (above) contains a toxic alkaloid, isotomine that can cause muscle paralysis and affect cardio-respiratory functions.

Protecting Plants from Chickens and Ducks

Chickens and ducks love foraging after a downpour. The earth is soft and is easy to dig up as chickens and ducks search for bugs, earthworms, seeds and seedlings. Even if the fowls are sufficiently fed, they still want to go around and forage, especially the chickens. Below are some of the methods we are implementing, hoping to duck and chicken-proof the garden. Admittedly, we are not always very successful but some plants do manage to grow this way.

Seeds are planted between coconut husks – another attempt at chicken-proof gardening.
Portable plastic netting frames are placed over seeds, seedling for protection.
Seeds are planted between stakes for chicken-proofing.
Other methods at chicken-proofing include fencing out raised garden beds and putting pots on wood stumps away from sight of chickens and ducks.

It has been two months since we started work in the west garden amidst the effects of La Niña. Work continues to minimise the effects of flooding and hopefully, get plants to grow and get established before what might be a long season of drought in the near future.