By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao
Figs (Ficus carica) are fruits of a tree with the same name. It is indigenous to select areas extending from the Asian part of Turkey to northern India. However, its natural seedlings are prolific in most Mediterranean countries where it’s called “the poor man’s food.” Ironically, it can be expensive in areas where it doesn;t grow naturally.
The fruit can be consumed fresh or dried and contains significant amounts of calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and iron.
Seeing as how figs can be cultivated in warm countries, a nursery and orchard in Western Mindanao decided to grow the fruit-bearing trees in their area.
According to Leslie May Canilao, a proprietor of the WestMin Plant Nursery and Orchard Farm in Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur, one of the fig varieties that they grow is the Black Genoa, which is a fast-growing tree that can grow to a height of three to five meters tall.
During summer, this particular fig variety produces numerous fruits with purple-green skin and dark red colored flesh.
The farm propagates the figs by introducing natural fertilizers such as fermented fruit juice (FFJ), fermented plant juice (FPJ), and organic seaweed foliar to ensure maximum fruit production. They also use this same technique with growing mulberry.
“Figs, like mulberries, are easy plants to grow in containers. Anyone can grow it–even those who have no experience in gardening,” Canilao said.
Mulberries and figs are some of the farm’s best-selling plants. Mulberries are priced from P300 to P500 each, depending on size and variety. As for the figs, these cost from P500 to P2,500, also depending on size and variety.
In a single month, the farm manages to sell an average of 200 to 300 plants from walk-in customers and online communities. Canilao shared that they manage to sell more during the rainy season.
A long-term investment
WestMin Plant Nursery and Orchard Farm is a family-owned farm and nursery established by Canilao and her husband in 2012 when they purchased a 1.3 square meter agricultural plot planted with mangoes.
“Since mangoes are seasonal fruits, we thought of other plants we could grow in the remaining vacant areas. We invested in growing fruit-bearing plants and shrubs that are not native to our soil,” said Canilao, who used to work as a retail counter supervisor for a private company.
Prior to that, the couple have already begun propagating plants for selling with a home-based plant nursery business where they planted different kinds of fruit-bearing plants and herbs.
Eventually, the couple chose to grow exotic fruit-bearing plants because they were inspired by a quote from world-renowned plant breeder Luther Burbank which says: “It would be well if fruit growers in each geographical section would raise and test new seedlings, and introduce and experiment with new varieties produced elsewhere, aiming always to select those best adapted to the requirements of the particular locality.”
It is because of this quote, according to Canilao, that they decided to grow different varieties of plants that aren’t native to the Philippines.
“So we can find the most suitable variety for our climate conditions. Even if some varieties turn out not to be very marketable because of reasons such as poor productions, etc., it may still be good for home use,” she said.
Presently, WestMin Plant Nursery and Orchard Farm grows different varieties of mulberry trees, figs, Acerola cherries, Australian beach cherries, and apple varieties that are accustomed to tropical climates.
They also have blackberries, local raspberries, as well as strawberries.
Aside from growing plants, the farm also has a small number of native chickens and a start-up piggery. The couple also plans to utilize the chickens for organic chicken manure fertilizers which are essential for plant propagation in their nursery.
Managing a nursery
“It is no secret that running a nursery is hard work,” Canilao said. She shared that aside from looking for new varieties to market, she and her husband also have to maintain the right soil moisture and temperature for their plants.
To address most problems in a nursery, she advised that approaching them systematically helps a great deal in coming up with a solution.
For her, running a plant nursery is ideal if one has a lot of spare time and wants to manage a low-tech business. Additionally, Canilao said that it’s not a difficult thing to do.
“All you need is a small growing space and a few hand tools. Of course, you need to have passion, determination, and perseverance to be able to succeed in running a nursery,” said WestMin’s proprietor.
She hopes that she and her husband could inspire more people to start planting by giving them more options on what they could grow while also making sure that these varieties can survive in the Philippine climate.
“It is important for people to start planting or make their own garden because it brings families together, offers a good workout, and provides people with seasonal vegetables and fruits. When you start planting, it spurs curiosity and learning, providing a real-world classroom to study life science in action,” Canilao said.
For more information, visit WestMin Plant Nursery and Orchard Farm on Facebook.
This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s November to December 2020 issue.