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, 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.
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.

DIY Salt Lick / Salt Dispenser for Goats

At night, the goats come home from pasture and stay under the house. Here, they look forward to their salt lick.
At night, the goats come home from pasture and stay under the house. Here, they look forward to their salt lick.

We currently have only 3 goats  – the billy goat Latte and his two kids, now 11 months old, Bulak and Tableya. The kids are OK but not gaining much weight and their coat are dull, rough and fluffed up. The problem may be partly due to their mother – also not in the best condition and rather aged – weaning them too early.  Plus, the possibility of parasitic overload, competing for nutrition. We have been pasturing our goats like everyone else here in the village, but bad weather conditions throughout 2016 have made life more difficult for the animals. A lot of goats in the village have become sick and died, so we have been lucky to manage to keep ours alive.

Not wanting to push our luck, we decided to do something about supplementing our goats’ diet to keep them healthy. We started by deworming them. We use a product called “Valbazen” – a broad spectrum oral suspension dewormer. However, we use dewormers only when needed, since overuse can lead to parasitic resistance. In our case, we have used dewormers only once a year and at times use natural dewormers such as Ipil-Ipil and Caimito leaves.

After deworming, we made a simple salt dispenser as supplement for the goat’s diet. Earlier, we thought of purchasing a salt lick or mineral block. However, instead of added expense and a large block that only 3 goats will be using, we thought it might be better to just start by making our own.

The dispenser is a piece of bamboo, open at one end and closed at the node end. Holes are made at the closed end to allow melted salt to slowly seep through. According to Low Cost Feeds and Feeding Methods for Livestock, “It may also be necessary to scrape the outer skin of the tube to allow the natural exit of liquid through the pores of the bamboo. The tube is then filled with salt, and a small amount of water is added to initiate liquefying of the salt. The tube is then strategically hung inside the shed at a height where the animals can reach and lick it. Water is made available nearby.”

The bamboo as dispenser is inexpensive, safe and non-corrosive. It only allows slow seepage of dissolved salt ensuring that the goats will not have too high of salt intake.

Benefits of Salt in Goats’ Diet

  • Salt is one of minerals essential to goat health along with calcium and phosphorous
  • Salt encourages goats to drink more water; fresh clean water is essential to diluting the urine and preventing the formation of stones or urinary calculi particularly in male breeding goats

In addition to salt, we decided to add a small amount of molasses. The molasses is added on top of the salt in the dispenser. Only a small amount is used, about 10% or less of the salt provided. Although molasses has many advantages, it is also not recommended for goats in high amounts.

Benefits of Low Levels of Molasses in Goats’ Diet

  • Improves palatability of processed feeds
  • Provides Vitamin B6, magnesium and potassium
  • Provides energy

If the goat has little access to forage, high levels of molasses in the diet is not advisable. According to Molasses as Animal Feed: “When molasses accounts for more than 50 percent of the diet, the digestibility of all types of feeds that accompany the molasses is depressed often to the point of only half the value recorded when molasses is not given (Encarnación and Hughes-Jones, 1981). These effects are obviously undesirable if the accompanying feed is composed mainly of cell wall carbohydrate: however, if the feed is rich in protein, starch or lipids-which can be digested by gastric enzymes in the small intestine-then depressing the extent to which these nutrients are fermented in the rumen becomes an advantage to the host animal.”

Goats fed on a high-molasses diet (more than 50% of total diet) are also at risk of developing urinary calculi. Molasses is high in potassium and reduces the absorption of calcium. This deficiency results to an imbalance in the calcium to phosphorous ratio triggering the formation of phosphate salts which block the urinary passages of goats.

So, as a supplement, salt and molasses are advantageous but should only be given in addition to a good diet consisting of ample fibre, protein and water.

 

Boudin Blanc de Bohol

Boudin Blanc fried in butter, served with fried vegetables.

For me, this is a different way of making sausages. It contains quite an amount of milk, the mixture is almost runny and then the sausages are poached after stuffing. To serve, the sausages are grilled or fried. This is my first attempt at making Boudin Blanc – in its simplest most basic form – and I love the result! I will definitely be making this sausage again with variations using locally available spices.

The meat and casings are from our very own backyard raised pig, the runt in a litter which I looked after until 5 months old, totaling a carcass weight of about 75 kilos. The pig was un-castrated and did not possess any “boar taint” at 5 months old.

To get the fine flavour from such a simple Boudin Blanc recipe, it is important to use a good quantity of white onions and the onions must be fried until transparent, not crisp or brown, and must be fried only in good French butter (salted). It is also important to use pork belly in this simple version – not pork shoulder or lean meat.

To get a deeper flavour, I cut up the meat and mixed with the fried onions, butter, salt and pepper and allowed to marinate in the fridge overnight before grinding and stuffing.

When stuffing, do not prick the sausage casings. The mixture can be quite runny and the juices will come out of the sausages during poaching (remember, the sausages are poached not boiled) if the casings are pricked. I have opted for a coarser texture so I mixed the milk and ground pork with a spatula. For finer texture, use a whisk. It is not necessary to overly whisk the mixture since this will result to a rubbery textured sausage (unless of course this rubbery gummy texture is what you want).

After poaching, the sausages can be kept in the fridge for a week or kept longer frozen (although this might alter the texture of the sausage) – or preserved in pork fat.

To serve, the sausages are fried or grilled, and they go very very well with Dijon mustard and a dash of cayenne. 🙂

The sausages after they have been poached.
The sausages after they have been poached.

The Recipes

You can find the simplest Boudin Blanc recipe and variations via the links below. The recipes are from the Meats and Sausages website, a truly amazing resource.

There is also a version from Liege, the Boudin Blanc de Liege.

The French Boudin Blanc is not to be confused with the Cajun Boudin.

Making Kalamansi Marmalade

Kalamansi (Calamondin) is cheap and plentiful – lucky me!

I know, kalamansi marmalade recipes abound. Here is my version, Black Kalamansi Marmalade with ginger and cinnamon. This recipe includes a pectin setting test and a secret ingredient to balance the sweet-bitter taste of the marmalade. Enjoy!

Kalamansi Marmalade (Black) by Fats

Ingredients:

400 grams of green kalamansi
3 cups of water
3 cups of granulated brown sugar for black marmalade (or white sugar if you prefer clear marmalade)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Half thumb-size ginger
Pinch of salt (the secret ingredient ahaha!)

You will also need some cheesecloth and string.

This recipe makes about 21 ounces (three 200-gram jars) of marmalade.

Instructions:

  1. Wash kalamansi in water, remove stems, leaves and any damaged fruits.
  2. Cut kalamansi in half, remove seeds (set seeds aside). Squeeze kalamansi and reserve juice in the fridge.
  3. Get about half of the kalamansi peels, remove any seeds still intact then slice the peels thinly (or thicker if you want thick cut marmalade). Set sliced peels aside.
  4. Put the other half of kalamansi peels and all the seeds in a cheesecloth or muslin square and tie into a bundle with string.
  5. Place the sliced peels and 3 cups of water in a pan. Add the bag of seeds and peels into the pan. Bring to a boil, half covered and simmer until soft (about 10-20 minutes). Cool.
  6. Transfer all the contents of the pan (including the bag of seeds and peels) to a container and put in the fridge overnight. The next day, pour everything into a pan. Squeeze all liquid in the cloth bag as much as possible into the pan. Discard the bag of seeds and peels into your compost.
  7. Add the reserved kalamansi juice, cinnamon, salt and sugar to the sliced peel mixture. Scrape the ginger with a spoon to remove the skin. Slice into thin sticks and add to the mixture. Heat gently, stirring until all the sugar has dissolved. Turn the heat to high and bring to a rapid, good rolling boil for 5 minutes, uncovered. Turn off the heat and test for a set (see below). If the marmalade has not set, boil again for another 5 minutes, and test again. Do this if necessary until 20-30 minutes.
  8. When marmalade is ready, set aside until the surface forms a skin and peels float to the top. Stir with a ladle and scoop the marmalade into sterilized jars, leaving 5mm headspace. Cool, label and store in a cool dark place. Marmalade should keep for 12 months.

Testing for Set

Pectin in fruits help jams, jellies and marmalades to set when mixed with sugar and boiled to appropriate setting temperature (105 degrees C) and time. This can be difficult to determine as pectin content in fruits and recipes may vary. To test:

Chill a saucer in the fridge before making the marmalade. Scoop about 1 tsp of the boiling marmalade on the chilled saucer and let it cool. When cool, push the marmalade with your finger to one side. If the marmalade wrinkles and your finger leaves a trail on the saucer, then it is set. Your marmalade is ready.

Help! My marmalade won’t set!

  • You must bring the marmalade to a rapid rolling boil, or at temperature of 105 degrees C if you have a candy thermometer. Otherwise, observe the boil, the marmalade should thicken around the sides of the pan and should boil sluggishly with bubbles popping rather than frothing.
  • There might not be enough pectin in your marmalade. To solve this problem, add the juice of one lemon and boil. Make the test set as described above.

Why is my marmalade so bitter?

Marmalade is a bitter-sweet preserve but kalamansi seeds can make your marmalade overly bitter. Make sure you remove all seeds before you slice the peels and don’t let any seeds get into the marmalade. Keep the seeds in the cloth bag and discard after use.

Try thin cut marmalade instead of thick cut marmalade. Thick cut peels creates a tangy bitter flavour while thin cut has softer flavour.

Learn more about the marvelous marmalade through these resources:

If you want to get to know the kalamansi better, I recommend this very good resource:

Sausage Recipes

Currently practising making sausages again, getting ready for Christmas! Here are three sausage recipes that I’ve tried and tested and would like to share with you. These sausages use either natural hog casing or collagen casings. These are fresh sausages that don’t use artificial preservatives, nitrites (prague powder) or phosphates (accord powder). Instead, the sausages are mildly preserved using coconut vinegar or anisado wine (such as Green Perico available here in Bohol) or bread (which ferments with the meat). In all cases, the sausages are considered fresh and therefore hung to let the casing strengthen a bit only for a short period of time (2 hours in ambient tropical temperatures of 25 to 32 decrees Celsius; sausages containing salitre, saltpeter or prague powder may be hung to dry for 2-3 days). Then the sausages are stored in the freezer where they can keep for longer: 3 months frozen uncooked, 4-5 days in the refrigerator uncooked.

 

sausages1

SWEET LONGGANISA (Mildly Sweet Sausages)

1 kilo ground pork with fat about 30%
2 tbsp Soy Sauce
2 tbsp vinegar
2 tbsp Anisado wine
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp coarse sea salt
1/2 cup garlic, minced
2 tsp freshly crushed black peppercorns
2 tsp Spanish paprika or smoked paprika powder
Hog casing or collagen casing and butcher’s twine/string for tying

newsausages1

LUCBAN LONGGANISA (Oregano Spiced Sausages)

1 kilo ground pork with 30% fat
1 tbsp coarse sea salt
1 1/2 tbsp dry oregano leaves, ground
1 1/2 tbsp dry basil leaves, ground
1 tsp dry laurel leaves, ground
1 1/2 tbsp Spanish paprika powder or smoked paprika powder
1 tbsp freshly crushed black peppercorns
1 tbsp vinegar
Hog casing or collagen casing and butcher’s twine/string for tying

newsausages2

ENGLISH SPICED SAUSAGES

1/2 kg ground pork with 30% fat
50 grams breadcrumbs
1 onion, grated or finely chopped
1/2 lemon rind, grated
1/2 nutmeg, grated or 1 tsp nutmeg powder
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp thyme
1 tbsp sage
1 tbsp fennel seed or dry coriander seeds
1/2 tbsp coarse sea salt
1/2 tbsp ground white pepper
2 eggs, beaten
Hog casing or collagen casing and butcher’s twine/string for tying

GENERAL INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Combine all ingredients together in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly with your hands.
  2. Cover and put in the refrigerator to allow the meat and spices to marry and to firm up for 2-4 hours or overnight.
  3. Before stuffing sausages, you may wish to test the taste of the sausage mixture. Get a small amount and shape into a patty and fry in oil. Adjust seasoning as needed.
  4. Prepare and clean fresh hog casings, soak in a bowl of cold water. If using collagen casings, read the instructions on use. Generally, collagen casings are used dry and should not be soaked in water.
  5. Keep a bowl or pitcher of cold water nearby for rinsing sticky hands. Start stuffing the casings with the cold meat mixture. It is easier to stuff sausages when the mixture is cold. Use sausage stuffing machine or sausage stuffer (funnel).
  6. If not using casing, you can also roll the meat mixture into balls or shape them into patties or for making “skinless sausages”. Use wax paper or plastic food wrap to prevent patties or skinless sausages from sticking to each other. Keep cold or frozen or cook immediately.
  7. Carefully but firmly tie sausages in desired intervals. Prick sausages with a clean pin or cocktail stick to remove air bubbles. Hang up to dry and strengthen the casing for 2 hours. Sausages may be cooked immediately. Keep in the refrigerator uncooked for 4-5 days or frozen for up to 3 months.

COOKING SAUSAGES

  1. To cook English Spiced Sausages, dip in beaten egg white then dust with small amount of flour. Cook in small amount of oil, 5-6 minutes on each side for 24mm sausages; cook longer for thicker sausages. Serve immediately.
  2. To cook longganisa, hang the sausage to allow to warm up to room temperature. On very low heat, put 2 tbsp water in a frying pan and the sausages. Keep on LOW HEAT so the sausages will not burst and you will not need to prick the sausages. Depending on the thickness of the sausages, for 24mm sausages, cook for 5 minutes on one side, turn over and cook for 5 minutes on the other side. Add 1 tbsp oil and cook on each side for 3-5 minutes more until brown. Serve immediately.
  3. Alternatively, you can poach the sausages before frying. Prepare a saucepan with water and on medium heat. When water is HOT BUT NOT BOILING, put the sausages in. Cook for 5-8 minutes. DO NOT BOIL or the sausages will burst. Bring out the sausages and finish off by frying in a small amount of oil over medium heat on each side until lightly brown. Serve immediately.

The Predator

I finally caught one of our bigger predators in action! I heard a screech outside which I thought was a bird, so I took my camera and here’s the result!

There is a growing population of frogs and toads in the ponds and I have worried about them going out of control. This young monitor lizard takes care of that for me!

Frogs in the Garden Pond

Having ponds for rainwater harvesting, lots of frogs and toads are attracted to the garden. This is good because frogs are a sign of good ecology and they keep pesty insects under control. Here is a video of frogs spawning, one female and two males! The white foam is a nest in which the eggs are deposited. The foam nest protects the eggs from microbes and predators, to some extent – I have seen the turtle in the duck pond eating the frog eggs!

Rainwater Harvesting

If you look around the village you will still see old water cisterns built many decades ago before running water became available in households. Some of these have been abandoned, broken but a few are still in good use. Rainwater harvesting is particularly crucial if you have livestock, crops and drought seasons, as well as failures by the municipal waterworks to provide continuous running water.

Currently, we have three ponds that harvest rainwater. The first (photo above) is home to some 30-40 tilapia and floating water plants. It is located next to the house on the south side catching a good amount of rainwater flowing off the edge of the roof. It’s about 146 cubic feet (or about 4 cubic meters). I keep two buckets under the overflow pipe to collect more rainwater during an overflow.

The second (photo above) is located on the north side of the house and has a volume of about 70 cubic feet (or 2 cubic meters). This is home to water hyacinth, water lettuce and frogs. We didn’t put fish in this pond because the fish kills the water hyacinth and water lettuce. The presence of frogs and tadpoles make sure there are no mosquito larvae in this pond. The water in this pond is used as drinking water for sow Number 3 who also loves eating the water lettuce.

The third water reservoir is this (photo above), the duck pond. Some water lettuce thrive here but not the water hyacinths which the ducks eat immediately. This pond becomes dirty (build up of mud, organic material, algal blooms) when the duck population is high – that is, over a dozen ducks. This pond is not large enough for that many ducks. At the moment, I have only 8 ducks and it is the rainy season so the pond stays reasonably clean. The water plants also keep the water clean, preventing algal blooms. There are also 2 turtles in this pond, plus an impressive chorus of frogs and toads. These and the ducks ensure that mosquitoes do not thrive in this pond.

Rainwater from the first two ponds have been crucial during the Bohol (2013) and Leyte (2017) earthquakes which knocked down power supply to the island for several weeks. Without power, municipal water pumps are non-operational and cannot pump water to many households. We were able to use water harvested in these ponds for cleaning, for the animals to drink and for flushing.

Now we are seriously considering building another pond to harvest rainwater run-off from the roof of the new pigpens. This pond would be closer to the pigpens and would ease use. A rain garden nearby, where the ground slopes, might also be an excellent feature to catch water that overflows from the pond.

Cicada

At last, captured a cicada performing its famous ear-breaking song. 😉 This would most probably be a male cicada singing to attract a female. Most cicadas go through a life cycle lasting 2-5 years; there are others that have 13-17-year life cycles. Enjoy! 🙂

Wildlife @home

I couldn’t sleep, it was nearly 2am, I got up to visit the loo and lo and behold, the reason why there isn’t a single rat running up on the roof!

Update: A week later, one of our neighbours captured a python and placed it inside a plastic screen cage. They wanted to sell it to a zoo in Loay. As far as I know, this is illegal. The zoo refused to buy it and instead instructed them to return it to the wild. However, the people who captured it were too scared to set it free, so they left the python in the cage on an empty lot near our home. I found this very upsetting – they left that snake to die. I emailed the DENR and asked them to come immediately to get the python and release it into its appropriate habitat. The next day, they arrived!