by Vina Medenilla
Being stuck at home because of the quarantine can be both a challenge and a blessing for many, especially in a world where we don’t feel safe anymore. Kylie Benjamin, 27, housewife, is one of those people who took advantage of their time at home during the quarantine period to start gardening. She’d been planning to start her garden for a long time but work and time constraints hindered her from establishing one in the past.
She never had any experience in gardening but growing up, she has fond memories of her father’s garden. According to Benjamin, their house was called ‘Bahay Kubo’ by neighbors due to her father’s crops that were present in the song. “It was a way for my father to provide food to the table when he was already old and retired. And since his produce was more than we can consume, I was tasked to sell them to our neighbors. It never fails to warm my heart every time I remember those days,” said Benjamin.
An extension of a gardener’s love
As her husband was transitioning to a plant-based diet, Benjamin had the goal to make her garden a source of their meals. She initially grew mint and tomatoes that she bought from a nearby store. After the plants matured, she realized that she wanted the challenge of growing other crops while spending the least amount of money possible. “I started to research and I found out that a lot of the vegetables that I brought from the grocery can be trimmed and regrown. I experimented with them and now I have many – alugbati, kangkong, spinach, bell pepper, eggplant, and saluyot,” she said.
One time, she roamed around their village to look for plants she could ask for from neighbors and ended up getting aloe vera, oregano, and snake plants without releasing a centavo from her wallet. She now plans to add more crops to her front yard garden, including herbs like basil, parsley, cilantro, chives, and gotu kola (Centella asiatica).
In two months within the quarantine period, she was able to harvest her crops. “I already started harvesting tomatoes, and yung mga alugbati, kangkong, mint, oregano, and spinach. They grow so fast that I have to cut them and start new pots for them. I now find myself researching for different recipes using my harvest as the ingredients,” said Benjamin.
A huge part of her harvest includes leaves of alugbati, kangkong, spinach, and saluyot. She acquires about 20 leaves of each daily and adds them to their meals. The mint leaves that she harvests every day are used for their nightly cup of tea. She’s harvested a couple of eggplants already while her tomato plant gives her four to five fruits per harvest. She also got to pick aloe leaves seven times and has used it for her skin and hair. In two months, Benjamin expects to get yields from her bell peppers.
Tender loving care
Upon waking up, she goes to the garden and monitors how the baby plants react to the sun. At first, some plant growths were unsuccessful due to overexposure to the sun, so she regularly checks the plants’ growth based on sun exposure, soil moisture, and presence of insects. She also trims the dead or dying leaves. She waters her plants in the afternoon and sprays them again at midnight so they would be ready for the morning sun. When applying fertilizers, she only feeds her plants with banana tea. She says, “I usually soak the banana peels for three days to a week and feed the potassium-infused water to my plants.”
Different needs of each plant were the biggest challenge in her planting journey. “Not all of them are treated equally. Some plants need more water than others – like the water-thirsty kangkong versus the succulent aloe vera that usually rots easily when watered daily. Also, each one of them requires varying times of sun exposure,” she added.
Just like other gardeners, it was a trial and error for this housewife. She learns new techniques by researching and joining social media groups with similar interests.
Fresh from the front yard
The produce from her garden is set for their consumption. This helps them save money because they don’t have to buy vegetables at the grocery anymore. She said, “Our weekly grocery plays around 2500. Ever since we went on a purely plant-based diet and harvesting from our garden, it went down to 1000 to maximum of 1250 per week. So we’re saving 1250 to as much as 1500 per week.”
Benjamin also shares some veggies with her neighbors to inspire them to start their own gardens. A statement by urban gardening advocate Ron Finley in his TED talk that goes, ‘growing your own food is like printing your own money’ is a quote that she always mentions to them, which she finds very true, especially that many have lost their income amidst the crisis.
Gardening provides many benefits to her family. Aside from cutting down on food costs and giving them healthy meal options, she said, “It makes good use of our free time and we feel better at the end of the day because we were productive.” This also enhances their creativity and lengthens their patience because according to her, planting entails difficulties you have to face, particularly if growing different varieties of plants. For Benjamin, gardening is like raising a child, you’ll have to exert time and effort.
She suggests others to focus on growing herbs, fruits, and vegetables because aside from beautifying the place, these can also provide you with healthy produce. “One must bear in mind that each plant requires different approaches as they have different needs,” she added. To lessen the trial and error, it best to make research online about each of the following:
- Amount of water that each plant needs;
- the best time to water them;
- amount of sun each plant requires and;
- the kind of pests each plant attracts and how to control it.
Photos from Kylie Benjamin.
This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s September to October 2020 issue.