A Food Forest Garden

Below are photos of some of the produce collected from the garden on a daily basis. Some days are better than others, depending on the season. There is a lot of variety in our small harvests and our meals are designed around such variety.

We don’t produce crops in the way prescribed by conventional agriculture. You won’t see rows of the same crops grown together in tilled plant beds. Low in cost, labour and maintenance, high in diversity, this has been a way of securing food in tropical areas since prehistoric times. But with the advent of modern agriculture for commercial food production, these edible forest gardens and the old practices and traditions that created them, were lost. Sadly, even in non-commercial settings, food forest gardening is little known, as majority of the population became educated in the ways of conventional agriculture.

Below are three photos depicting most agricultural practices.

Our Food Forest Journey

We are creating our food forest garden on land that has been developed as a coconut plantation in the midst of government-led campaigns for copra production. Synthetic fertilizers given out by government were regularly used. Coconut trees were planted very closely together, many less than a meter apart, such that an area of less than 2,000 square meters had 60 coconut trees. The land was also planted with exotic and invasive mahogany and gmelina trees in a similar campaign for fast-growing sources of timber. The land also had a history of cattle grazing.

Rocky and sloping and such a history of use spanning over 75 years left us with land that is very difficult to manage. The only way, it seemed, to get anything to grow, was through the forest garden.

Our food forest garden includes livestock. We have native chickens and muscovy ducks that free-range. These fowls are problematic because they destroy seedlings and young plants. But this problem also became the opportunity to use companion planting to protect plants during the vulnerable stages of growth. The goats are put in the garden on a leash when some areas need pruning and trimming. The food forest surrounds pigpens with soil flooring regularly filled with coconut leaves, banana leaves and wood chips collected from here and nearby areas. When the pens are cleaned, bedding material are composted and used to amend the soil.

Piglets foraging in the garden.
Ducks in the garden.

Rain water harvested from the roof of our home and the pigpens is used to water the garden. The gardens close to the house are irrigated with greywater from the kitchen and shower. Kitchen and table scraps are composted in sections of the garden that need improvement. Anything trimmed or cut down from the garden returns to the garden.

Plants have grown well irrigated by greywater through a simple wastewater treatment system.
Ornamental plants thriving in an infiltration planter. Water from the kitchen goes through a simple homemade grease-trap, and into this planter.

Rain gardens were dug up to control flooding and soil erosion. Rain gardens also became protected areas for such crops as taro which ducks loved to attack. Pioneer native bushes and trees were allowed to grow, attracting native birds, insects, lizards and other species. They also proved to be resilient trellises for climbing crops such as winged beans, yam beans, lima beans, passionfruit and gourds.

This year, 2019, it will be our 9th year working this land. A lot of improvement have taken place and the land is more productive and diverse than it has ever been. Our yield is growing though still far from the yield of land worked in the manner of conventional agriculture. But our inputs are much less invasive, less expensive, less labour-intensive and more environmentally beneficial.

The north garden plots, trying to protect the soil from erosion and the vulnerable plants from attacks by ducks and chickens.
The south garden plots, located on sloping land, wood borders used to lessen erosion and protect from duck attacks.

We still have more work to do which develops and evolves slowly over time. Invasive trees will need to be removed and replaced with native varieties. The number of coconut trees will have to be reduced so more diverse crops can grow.

If you would like to grow crops and raise livestock for domestic or commercial production, please consider the food forest gardening method. A good introduction to the food forest garden is by way of Masanbu Fukuoka’s natural farming.  However, while food forest systems seem to have its roots in the tropics, a lot of information about food forests on-line are written for temperate and sub-tropical climates. But by understanding the basics, observing your natural environment and working with people who have kept the tradition of forest gardening, you can create your own food forest garden. Good luck!

The Cacao Experiment

Our first, very small cacao harvest of two fruits. The cacao tree is 3 years old, it is a bit of a late bloomer because of the poor conditions here. Since I’ve been dumping pig shit under the tree, the flowers produced many fruits, although many of the fruits rotted away before they could mature. It seems that the flies pollinated the flowers during the season of flies, that season associated with maize (in the hills) and the drying of manta ray meat (along the coast).

So I had a few cacao beans to experiment with. My goal was to learn to ferment, dry and roast the beans so that they possessed that most sought-after dark cacao flavour that seemed always absent in many commercial cacao tablets or powder available. The dutch alkalised cocoa are often the most bland.

This experiment, some 50 cacao beans, yielded less than half cup of cacao powder. With these and the wonderful aroma of the beans after roasting, I can say that my experiment is a success. Most importantly, I can now relate the flavour, and thus the importance, of fermenting the beans, with that intoxicating dark cacao flavour.

I am certain that if the beans are fermented properly, then it would not be necessary to roast the beans for too long. If the beans are roasted too long, the precious cacao butter or oil seeps into the skins of the beans – and the skins are discarded and with it, much of the flavour and healthful benefits of cacao.

Before roasting, drying is also crucial and it needs to be done within 2 days. It was raining when the beans were fermenting, and just when I needed to dry them, the sun generously made sure that the beans dried within 2 days!

To grind the cacao beans, folks normally go to a shop in the city that offers such services for cacao, corn, coffee, meat, etc. It would be ridiculous if I went there with my 50 cacao beans which will simply disappear into the grinder. So I decided I could do it at home, but without the benefit of the heated grinding that cacao really needs. For now, I tried using a Turkish coffee grinder, which proved impossible. So I opted for the osteriser which I bought a couple of years ago primarily for the purpose of grinding coffee beans.

The taste and aroma of these roasted cacao beans is distinctly pure dark chocolate – no off bitterness, no acidic or sour taste. I cannot believe my luck in achieving this on my first attempt. However, since Trevor planted the beans 3 years ago, I have been reading about the process of – perhaps the secret of – producing the perfect cacao, from the tree to the cup. That was all theory, and now if I can only replicate this practical experiment with more cacao beans. We have two fruiting trees now, and about 6 smaller ones. Perhaps in the next season …

Focus on: Passion Flower

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Passion Flower

This is the beautiful enchanting flower of the Passiflora edulis, or the passion flower. The plant is a vine and the fruits ripen from a green to a yellow colour. The fruit is pulpy, containing numerous edible seeds, with a distinct sweet aroma. This is one of few plants that survived the drought from February-June of this year.

The seeds of this plant are now available for Seed Save and Swap!

passionfruits

Open-Pollinated Seeds (OP) from the OPA

We visited the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist (OPA) and availed of these open-pollinated seeds free of charge. Seed dispersal is one of many on-going projects of the Bohol OPA. See more at their website.

These are the seeds we got – so colourful! The colours indicate the seeds have been treated with fungicide to prevent fungi from spoiling stored seeds.

opaseeds

In the meantime, our own Seed Save and Swap Season 1 (2015) is ongoing! Learn more at Backyard Seeds.

From Wikipedia: “Open pollinated” generally refers to seeds that will “breed true.” When the plants of an open-pollinated variety self-pollinate, or are pollinated by another representative of the same variety, the resulting seeds will produce plants roughly identical to their parents. This is in contrast to the seeds produced by plants that are the result of a recent cross (such as, but not confined to, an F1 hybrid), which are likely to show a wide variety of differing characteristics. Open-pollinated varieties are also often referred to as standard varieties or, when the seeds have been saved across generations or across several decades, heirloom varieties. While heirlooms are usually open-pollinated, open-pollinated seeds are not necessarily heirlooms; open-pollinated varieties are still being developed.

One of the challenges in maintaining an open-pollinated variety is avoiding introduction of pollen from other strains. Based on how broadly the pollen for the plant tends to disperse, it can be controlled to varying degrees by greenhouses, tall wall enclosures, field isolation, or other techniques.

Because they breed true, the seeds of open-pollinated plants are often saved by home gardeners and farmers. Popular examples of open-pollinated plants include heirloom tomatoes, beans, peas, and many other garden vegetables.

Seed Swap (Season 1)

We are interested in saving and swapping heirloom and/or open-pollinated seeds with anyone from the Philippines. As of this moment, the following seeds (below) are available for swap. Just bear in mind that in principle all our seeds should be heirloom and open-pollinated as they come from plants growing in our garden, but some might be natural hybrids where seeds have more than one source. We do our best, but we are not a professional seed company and cannot make promises.

If you’d like to join the swap, simply fill up the form at “Backyard Seeds”, just let us know what seeds you can swap and which seeds you’d like to receive. You can find the 2015 Inventory of Seeds at The Home Farm by Trevor.

Let’s do it! ?

TALISAY
TALISAY
TAMBIS
TAMBIS
NARRA, TAPAY-TAPAY, PINK OKRA
NARRA, TAPAY-TAPAY, PINK OKRA
ASUETE
ASUETE
COBRA VINE
COBRA VINE
RED CANNA
RED CANNA
CYPRESS VINE
CYPRESS VINE
SORGHUM
SORGHUM
GUYABANO
GUYABANO
DWARF POINCIANA
DWARF POINCIANA
TIESA/CHESA
TIESA/CHESA
OKRA
OKRA
RED COW PEA
RED COW PEA
SPECKLED LIMA BEAN
SPECKLED LIMA BEAN
WINGED BEAN (SIGARILYAS)
WINGED BEAN (SIGARILYAS)