By Sahlie P. Lacson

Dr. Ed Paningbatan Jr. is one fellow who devotes time after his retirement at the University of the Philippines (UP) as a Soil Science professor in order to help people, especially those in urban areas, produce vegetables and other crops, whether for their own personal consumption or for commercial purposes. According to him, this is his way of paying back the people who, through the taxes paid for to the government, enabled him to pursue his studies in UP until he became the only soil physicist in the country.

Dr. Paningbatan Jr. started urban gardening when he experienced a health crisis in 2007. His doctor advised him to eat more fruits and vegetables to regain his health. Thinking about the plight of senior citizens like him who need a healthier source of food to eat, Dr. Paningbatan Jr. used his soil expertise in order to develop a technology that could ensure a plant’s growth; more so, one that could be used for urban gardening. He started by enriching the soil.

With a fund granted to him by the PBSP (Philippine Business for Social Progress), Dr. Paningbatan Jr. developed a technology of growing vegetables the EPP way. EPP stands for Enriched Potting Preparation with nutrient-rich compost soil extract (CSE). This liquid concoction is extracted from various composted natural ingredients that are locally available in our environment. The resulting product is a highly concentrated solution that contains all the essential nutrients (i.e. Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, and other trace elements) and natural organisms needed by plants to grow and produce well. This gardening technology uses watering- and aeration-efficient containers such as used 1-liter soda bottles, which he calls “Super Paso.”

Soil physicist Dr. Ed Paningbatan Jr. among his EPP vegetables growing profusely showcased during a recent Agri Kapihan at the Quezon Memorial Circle in Quezon City.

Sowing the seeds 

1. Cut soda bottles into half. With the use of a nail, soldering iron, or any pointed object that is capable of putting holes into the soda bottle, make holes in uniform distances and layers to facilitate air, water, and enough sunlight into the connected bottles.

2. Put the organic potting medium into the upper EPP vessel composed of coco peat as base layer, compost, and topsoil.

3. Sow two or more seeds of vegetables, herbs, or ornamental plants and cover them with 1 mm of coco fiber as mulch. This will help prevent pests and will protect the seeds from too much sunlight and rain.

Recommended vegetable seeds are lettuce, pechay, mustard, kangkong, camote tops, saluyot, tomato, kintsay, hot and sweet pepper, spring onion, and broccoli. For herbs, basil, oregano, coriander, wansoy, rosemary, dill, parsley, stevia, mint, gynura, and goto kola are recommended. (Dr. Paningbatan Jr. grows gynura and goto kola together in one potting medium. Gynura is said to be an ‘anti-cholesterol plant’, while goto kola enhances memory and blood circulation and is claimed as ‘longevity plant’. Both can be consumed fresh or as an additive to smoothie, as what Dr. Paningbatan Jr. has been doing which aids in his good health condition now.)

4. Dip the upper vessel into a pail of water.

5. Reconnect the vessel by putting the bottom part on top of the soil surface.

6. Place EPP in a shaded area until seeds germinate, then place it where seedlings can receive morning sunshine.

7. If needed, transplant extra seedling to other EPP.

8. Place EPP where plants can receive at least two hours of full sunlight.

Watering the plants 

1. Water the plants three times a week for seedlings, once a day for mature plants.

Lettuce and other leafy greens are ideally planted in “Super Paso” which could give urban farmers a healthier and ready source of vegetables.

2. Alternatively, you may just dip EPP vessel into a pail of water until the soil is fully wet. Or, using a sprinkler, sprinkle water until the soil is fully wet.

Fertilizing using compost soil-extract (CSE)

1. Dilute compost-soil extract (CSE) with tap water – four tablespoons of CSE per 1 liter of water. You may use the cap of the CSE bottle – one cap is equivalent to one tablespoon of CSE.

2. Water the plant with one small glass (about 100 ml) of the dilute solution.
3. Fertilize plants with CSE once a week during seedling stage and twice a week as the plant matures. Be careful to pour the solution into the plant root area and not to the leaves as this may cause leaf burning. If in case, wash or sprinkle the leaves with clean tap water.

Advantages of EPP vegetables

More than being fresh, nutritious, organic-based and pesticide-free, Dr. Paningbatan Jr. says that growing vegetables the EPP way is the most appropriate in urban gardening. He further enumerates its advantages:

1. They are easy to care/tend;

2. There is a continued harvesting of fresh succulent vegetable leaves;

3. Portable, live vegetable can be grown near and be brought to kitchen;

4. Lateral and vertical expansion of planting; and

5. Growing vegetables six cycles a year.

At the age of 74, there is no stopping Dr. Paningbatan Jr. from training and educating people interested in urban gardening. He is always willing to help those people (through transfer of technology) especially in calamity-stricken areas and urban poor communities obtain a viable means of livelihood. “This is my happiness, this is my life now,” says Dr. Paningbatan Jr.

More than helping many agriculturalists and farmers in improving their crops through effective soil management, Dr. Paningbatan Jr. feels that the need to promote a sustainable means of growing food is needed now more than ever. This is partly due to the fact that the availability of arable land had become lesser and lesser due to commercial development. Thus, promoting urban gardening had become more important. (Photos by Regie D. Mason)

Dr. Ed Paningbatan Jr. was one of the speakers during a recent Agri-Kapihan at the Quezon Memorial Circle organized by Agri-Aqua Network, Inc. (AANI). He may be contacted at eppaning@yahoo.com.

This appeared as “A soil concoction that works wonders for urban gardeners” in Agriculture Monthly’s March 2020 issue.