By Rica Anne D. Victoriano

When we speak of someone’s inclination towards gardening, it is most of the time rooted in an initial interest or previous experience in farming. But other factors such as environment, influence, and curiosity also play huge roles in persuading people to grow their own produce.

In the case of this millenial from Las Piñas, she got into growing her own food after being inspired by a social media post of a friend about urban hydroponics. Little did she know that it would lead to the unleashing of the inner hardinera in her.

Bea Macalino-Buñi, 27, a freelance graphic designer based in Las Piñas, started gardening two years ago. Although she had no prior knowledge and experience, she was motivated to give it a try and was firm in her decision to engage in it.

Blue ternatea plant blooming flowers and trailing the entirety of the gate.

Curiosity to progress 

She initially tried growing various herbs like sweet genovese basil through hydroponics, but eventually lost interest in it as she found the method costly.

Even after months of trying out hydroponics and not getting the results she wanted, she did not run out of steam. She diverted her curiosity towards organic soil gardening and from there, she turned this curiosity into progress.

She started researching about gardening on the internet and joined various gardening groups and forums on social media to gain more knowledge. She remains active in these groups to this day.

After some time, her growing interest in organic soil gardening made her feel like having book knowledge was not enough, and that she wanted hands-on experience.

She joined a 12-week Urban Organic Gardening workshop and has since became more interested in organic gardening because she is able to apply what she learned to her garden.

The said workshop is run by Villar Sipag Farm School in Bacoor, Cavite that takes place every Wednesday. It is mostly attended by people from the Metro who have an interest in organic gardening.

According to Macalino-Buñi, the workshop is a must-attend, especially for people who are into growing their own food. It has taught her almost everything about urban organic gardening from seedlings, organic insecticides, and fertilizers to lessons about handling common plant diseases and turning food scraps into organic fertilizers.

Maintaining an edible garden

Macalino-Buñi has her own backyard garden where she grows different kinds of vegetables. She has leafy greens like arugula, mustasa, kangkong, pechay, and chives and herbs like basil, thyme, and oregano.

Sprouting wansoy seeds in a recycled plastic cup.

She also grows sili, tomatoes, ampalaya, okra, calamansi, sitaw, cucumber, and sigarilyas. And recently, she started adding some flowers to attract pollinators like bees and butterflies.

She said gardening has worked wonders for her. Aside from having food free from chemicals on her table, it serves as her avenue to exercise and meditate, especially when she feels the need to clear her mind.

The good things she gains from gardening is something that she wants to share to the public.

Challenges in maintaining and edible garden

Just like any newbie, Macalino-Buñi admitted that she encountered difficulties, especially at first. Her venture into edible landscaping was not easy; she especially struggled when it came to controlling the pests like leaf miners and aphids.

However, these difficulties also serve as her turning point to learn new things each day. Because of the constant problem with pests, she did her research and discovered about some organic concoctions like the fertilizer OHN (Oriental Herbal Nutrient), which does not kill pests but keeps the plant from infestation.

She added that gardening in the city is challenging due to lack of space. But this also allows her to think of more ways on how she can maximize her garden. She has come up with the idea of putting up a trellis on the walls for her vines like ampalaya.

Another thing is the weather: sometimes it gets so hot that most of her seedlings and young plants wilt. Her quick fix for this is a garden net to control the sunlight.

Last is the lack of access to quality supplies for her garden like soil and vermicast, aka worm poop. The solution she found for this is by being active in her community, both online and offline, to gain connections and access to resources.

She shared that she has recently found a nearby vermicast and soil supplier just within her village, and since then, they have been “plant friends,” too.

“(It’s) proof that you’ll never know who’s in your community unless you go out there and be active,” she added.

From curiosity to advocacy

She recently created the “Bea Hardinera” blog where she shares various tips, know-how, and brief stories about her experiences and experiments in her edible garden.

A mini nursery where various organic herbs and spices are planted.

She has also established a social media group called “Be a Hardinera,” a platform for people, especially those who are in the same age bracket as hers, to exchange ideas, queries, and tips about edible landscaping.

“When I successfully grew my own food, I started getting questions by people who are interested in starting (an edible garden) too, so I decided to continue working on my blog and establish a group to help other people online to begin and maintain their urban organic garden journey,” Macalino-Buñi said.

One post that caught the attention of many of her followers is the story about how she found a way to play a part in reducing their community food waste by collecting saba peels every week from the local turon vendor to turn into an organic fertilizer for her plants.

The idea of upcycling these saba peels into organic fertilizer occurred to her while buying her favorite merienda, and because of her gained knowledge from the urban gardening workshops she attends, she knows that there is still so much use for these peels, especially for her fruiting plants. Hence, she wanted to make the most out of it instead of just letting it end up clogging the landfill.

She processes these banana peels that she collects from the local turon vendor and turns them into organic fertilizer that can be sprinkled on her fruiting plants, as well as fermented plant juice that can be used to spray to her plants, and compost that can be used to mix with the soil.

Best for treating cold symptoms, organic Cuban oregano also grows in Macalino-Buñi’s garden.

Through her little ways of sharing her knowledge and experience, she aspires to continue her advocacy of reducing waste and growing one’s own food within the community level.

Other than advocating online, she also hopes to start a community-shared garden in their area and as an initial step, she has reached out to their City Agriculture Office and has had a conversation with them about hosting a one day urban gardening workshop in their village.

She shared that since she started edible landscaping, she wanted to begin an urban community garden where people in their community can reap produce. And right now, she goes the extra mile to get any help she can get to start this.

Although there is a rapid emergence of technology and innovation today, nature continues to amaze us. According to Macalino-Buñi, even through her littlest ways, she hopes to encourage people, especially young ones, to start and enjoy growing their own food. She wants everyone to appreciate urban gardening not just as a hobby, but a measure to address food security.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s February 2020 issue.