By Antonio L. Colina IV

DAVAO CITY – Weeks of being put on quarantine can take a heavy toll on most people who are restricted from leaving their homes, but some crafty professionals have found ways to get both their minds and hands busy by tending to their urban gardens while working from home amid the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis.

Environmentalist Chinkie P. Golle, executive director of Interface Development Interventions, said she got more pots for her vegetable seedlings and ornamental plants to while away her time during community quarantine as a way to de-stress, grow their own food, and marvel at the sight of their beautiful garden.

“I love them all because of the positive energy they give. Our garden is my main stress reliever. I love to look at every plant, appreciate their colors and feel the oxygen they produce. When we sit in our garden, we can feel the coolness of the air. It really feels good to be surrounded by plants,” she said.

Environmentalist Chinkie Golle, executive director of Interface Development Interventions (IDIS), enjoys more time tending to her family’s urban garden during enhanced community quarantine. (Photo courtesy of Chinkie Golle)

Golle said the lockdown allows her more time to tend to her 56-square meter garden where she maintains a variety of ornamental plants, and grows crops, vegetables, and herbs such as herba buena, mayana, oregano, mint, tarragon, chives, aloe vera, ginger, chili peppers, and turmeric.

She said she got most of her plants from friends, colleagues, schools, and winners of Lunhaw Awards, a recognition given to groups and individuals in areas of sustainable environmental and agricultural initiatives.

Her interest in urban gardening sparked after she and her husband moved to their home more than a decade ago. They tried out urban gardening in their small backyard, starting from the throwaway vegetables and native chili pepper seeds.

“I have to make sure we have native chili pepper because hubby likes spicy food,” she said.

As an environment advocate, Golle wanted to show people that she walks the talk, putting her environmental advocacies into practice at home to make them see “we have a beautiful green space.”

“We are not yet self-sufficient but because we have planted vegetables, we can always get or harvest from our garden and cook it. We have alternative sources of food – vegetables and chicken – organically grown and healthy,” she said.

Golle’s backyard garden, where she grows plants that make it to her family’s dinner table. (Photo courtesy of Chinkie Golle)

She said newbie gardeners could plant what they like, be they ornamental or edible plants.

“Plant what you like or love and what you need in your garden. If you love ornamentals, plant it. I have seen a lot of people making their backyard beautiful and they also feel beautiful and they earn a lot from their ornamental plants,” she said.

Gardening can be rewarding and can also earn them extra income, she added.

“I also know and have seen a lot who love to plant vegetables and I think they are great because they are producing their own food and even increase their income from it,” she said.

She encouraged those who are starting their own urban garden to produce their own organic fertilizers and pesticides through composting to make their harvest safer for consumption and minimize biodegradable wastes.

“For people with small spaces like us, we can maximize our area by planting both at the ground and also in pots. In our garden we use both, recycled plastics as our pots and also the pots that are sold,” she said.

Davao journalist Rob Gumba said he could now tend to his crops, watering them and keeping the weeds out, aside from doing his regular household chores and beating his daily deadlines.

“I am still working from home. What I can only do is more on watering and weeding — things that are not time-consuming,” he said.

Gumba poses with a seedling tray made from an old egg tray. (Photo courtesy of Rob Gumba)

Gumba said he developed the interest from his mother as he grew up seeing her plant vegetables such as okra, eggplants, malunggay, mung beans, and fruit trees such as atis and guyabano.

“Meanwhile, I plant mung beans in another corner and used empty sardine can. Also, my Lolo maintained a larger vegetable garden. He had kamatis, pechay, eggplant, okra, kangkong (water spinach), malunggay, and many others,” he added.

His interest for urban gardening grew stronger when he moved to Davao to study and later landed his job as journalist, assigned to cover agriculture and agribusiness stories.

“Here in Davao, we really do not have a soil to plant with vegetables. So I asked my Papa to make me a small planting box, which is currently planted with blue ternate and mint. In another corner, there are empty milk cans being planted mostly with ornamentals,” he added.

Gumba said he personally likes blue ternate since it is it is easy to maintain.

“Based on a planting instruction, the seeds should be soaked in water for a few minutes before it is buried in soil. But my Papa directly put them in the soil. It still survived,” he added.

He plans to expand the variety of plants in his urban garden to include eggplants and tomatoes because “I find it pretty resilient and I can cook different dishes with it.”

“I like grilled tomato, so having more tomato in front of our house means more grilled tomato for me. Basically, I based my preference on what I can eat without rice,” he added.

Gumba said he follows no strict rules in planting crops.

Rob Gumba developed his interest in urban gardening when he landed his job as a journalist in Davao, covering agriculture and agribusiness stories. (Photo courtesy of Rob Gumba)

“It is better to grow seeds in a separate planting medium and allow it to grow a little taller before transferring it on a bigger patch of soil to increase its survival rate. I also learned, as far as my Blue Ternate is concerned, use soil that is not clay soil. Choose the type soil that can allow plant roots to move as it grows. Garden soil or maybe mix with some sand. Then, I think the most important part is not to miss watering it especially vegetables,” he added.

Gumba said he finds growing food saves time and money because he could just pick from their garden, not to mention the joy of seeing the new buds as they slowly turn into fruits or vegetables.

He said urban gardening could be rewarding since resources to start it are within easy reach such as containers, soil, food scraps for fertilizers, internet to learn more ways of planting, and the vegetable seeds.

“You just need the interest, resourcefulness, and diligence to actually do it and maintain it. And sometimes, interest springs and grows when they start doing it,” he added.

Marie Lo, a mother of two, said she ventured into urban gardening to grow their own food because it can help them save up and it can give her assurance that what she feeds her family is organic.

Marie Lo, a mother of two, grows a variety of vegetables and herbs in her urban garden. Lo and her two daughters (shown here) are enjoying more time at her sustainable garden. (Photo courtesy of Marie Lo)

She said she goes to her garden to de-stress, especially during harvest time.

“Since I am into DIYs and some recycling and upcycling projects, I have considered reusing some containers for our garden. I want to grow vegetables. We have converted the side of our house into a mini vegetable garden,” she said.

She said her family also used their front yard for some vegetables and herbs.

She said she grows tomatoes, lettuce, pechay, ampalaya, blue ternate, okra, sweet basil, rosemary, aloe vera, calamansi, malunggay, kangkong, alugbati, kailaan, scotch bonnet chili, kutchay, mint, eggplant, and bell peppers.

“I gathered materials like seeds, some used containers, gardening tools, and garden soil. I also bought some seedlings in SM parking lot,” she said.

Some of the vegetables harvested from Lo’s garden. (Photo courtesy of Marie Lo)

She said she had her vegetable seedlings planted in smaller containers first before re-planting the healthy sprouts in bigger containers.

“I love our ampalaya plant because we have harvested a lot from it already. We have shared to many already. I also like our Scotch bonnet chili plants, which are not so common here in the Philippines,” she said.

She said she makes sure to water her plants regularly and that they get the right amount of sunlight.

“We also water them monthly with epsom salt diluted in water to help them maintain their health and make them grow more flowers,” she said.