By Vina Medenilla
Whether fast or slow-growing crops, producing your food can help you gain security and satisfaction in the same way that it can save our families from hunger during this COVID-19 crisis.
In a world where almost everything is remote controlled and things can be instantly obtained in a push of a button, the best reward that one can get from gardening is to be able to see things coming into life from a tiny seed. This is what a Qatar-based Filipino urban grower Michael Forcado said on the impact of home gardening.
A certified public accountant (CPA) by profession, Forcado decided to grow vegetables while working abroad not just to save money but also for his family to be able to get proper nutrients from fruits and vegetables that are free from harmful pesticides.
He has been growing fruits and vegetables for seven years now. He created a social media account called ‘Vegetable Gardening And More’ featuring their roof deck garden, planting techniques, and gardening practices.
Forcado said survival crops are those easy-to-grow fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, kangkong, pechay, potatoes, onions, and eggplants. These crops grow easily from seeds and can be harvested quickly, which is very practical, especially during these trying times.
In planting survival crops, the main challenge is finding good soil for them as they need compost-rich soil. To solve this, Forcado uses natural fertilizers readily available in agricultural shops that can easily augment the nutrients naturally found in normal soil.
For the plant fertilizer, Forcado uses coco substrate, potting soil, and lots of compost materials. He provided a big garbage container that serves as the compost bin.
For pots, there are no specific containers that need to be used; as long as there is a proper drainage system at the base of the containers, they’re good for planting. For those who have limited space and resources, it will be practical to grow their vegetables in containers.
According to Forcado, one major advantage of growing survival crops at home is that you are assured that the vegetables are free from harmful pesticides. Plus you can have fresh, naturally grown vegetables on the table all the time.
Ensure that your plants are not deprived of water. Each plant requires a different amount of watering, so research is a must. For Forcado, his watering schedule for growing survival crops is once in the morning and another in the evening.
When it comes to pest management, he avoids using insecticides to keep the garden as natural as possible. In cases of harmful worms or insects, his family diligently picks them off the leaves. If it becomes uncontrollable like in cases of aphids, they use a liquid solution composed of dishwashing liquid soap mixed with water and neem tree oil to control them.
Recommended crops for beginners
A tip from Forcado is that if you are a beginner, the two best fruits and vegetables to grow are cherry tomatoes and pechay.
Cherry tomatoes germinate easily from seeds and they bear more fruit than the regular tomatoes. Their fruits come in yellow, orange, and red. These cherry tomatoes are good to be used as a garnish for your salad.
For pechay seeds, it will germinate and sprout as early as on the third day from sowing. They thrive in a tropical climate and they can be harvested in a period of 25 days. Both of these crops can be grown easily in soil, in containers, and even through hydroponics, Forcado added.
In his roof deck garden, aside from planting in containers, he also does vertical gardening using a hydroponics system. He uses styrofoam boxes used to store fish or grapes delivered to the supermarkets. It is an excellent container, especially for build a vertical garden, as it is lightweight.
DIY hydroponics system:
Styrofoam box, styrofoam lid, garbage bag (55-gallon capacity), scotch tape, scissors, used clean sardine can (425 grams), styrofoam cup (8 oz), coco coir, saplings, and nutrient solution.
1. Seal the styrofoam box.
Cut the edge of the garbage bag to create a wider sheet. Spread the sheet and cover the styrofoam box. Cut off the excess garbage bag for future use. Attach the garbage bag to the box using your tape.
2. Preparing the styrofoam box lid
Gently punch a hole on your styrofoam lid using the tin can and do so until you have no more space into your styrofoam lid. In these holes, make sure that the styrofoam cups will fit as it is where they will be inserted.
3. Prepare the seedlings
Using coco coir is recommended. Get your chosen seeds and plant them in a small pot. Spray water and wait for a few days until small leaves sprout. In transferring your saplings to the styrofoam lid, vertically cut the base of your styrofoam cup. Remove some of the soil with the saplings and put them into the styrofoam cup. Afterward, put the styrofoam cup into the holes you made in the styrofoam lid.
4. Preparing the solution in the styrofoam box
Fill the box with water, reaching about 80% to leave some space for the roots to breathe. Add one tablespoon of nutrients solution mixed with water and put it into the box. You can purchase SNAP (Simple Nutrient Addition Program) nutrient solution via online or at UP Los Baños. Cover the box with its lid and that’s it! You can grow vegetables using your hydroponic system.
The challenge in vertical gardening using the hydroponic system is that it can be quite expensive at first because you will need to buy the required materials for the setup.
With your container, drill holes at the base and on its sides for the water to properly drain. Forcado said that what works best for container gardening is potting soil, coco coir, and perlite. Perlite prevents the soil from being compact and supports in the aeration of the soil for the roots to move and grow freely in the container. As an alternative, garden soil from your backyard can be used.
For the seeds, just make sure that the seeds are not expired. Seeds from the stores indicate the date of sowing so check it prior to buying them.
Once materials are ready, pinch a hole into your soil mix for about one-centimeter-deep, plant your seeds, cover it with soil, and water them. With the estimate of four to six weeks, you will see the planted vegetables or fruits growing which still depends on the crops that you planted. Crops that are good for planting in containers are onions, potatoes, cayenne peppers, carrots, and more.
Tips for Beginners with small spaces
Seeds. The success of propagating seedlings largely depends on the quality of the seeds that you have. It is important to check the expiry date of the seeds that you buy. Forcado prefers buying seeds that are at least one year prior to the expiry date.
Compost. In composting, you can initially buy cocopeat and mix it with potting soil. Gradually include kitchen waste like fruit peelings, vegetable trimmings, and eggshells to increase soil nutrients, Forcado said. Putting dairy products, fish, and meat is not advisable as it will just attract flies and insects to your bin, which will be difficult for you to manage, he added.
Vertical setup. Be creative and make use of all the available materials and spaces that you have. Building a vertical setup will be useful in small spaces. You can utilize your windows, balconies, or terraces. Recycling used containers and jars are also recommended to keep your garden efficient.
Follow their social media account for more gardening tips!
Photos from Michael Forcado.