Urban gardener grows food in plastic drums amid the quarantine for their family’s food security

This is the green and productive facade of their house, which Cu decided to transform into a vegetable space. She used blue plastic drums as a planter for her vegetables.

By Vina Medenilla

In Quezon City,­ Daisy Cu, 46, began growing vegetables in their residence as an attempt at food security and self-sufficiency. Cu has been tending ornamental plants and fruit-bearing trees for years now. Her free time during the quarantine allowed her not only to focus on cultivating her existing plants, but also to produce vegetables at home using plastic drums. Cu’s goal to provide food for their family is what urged her to establish a decorative, yet an edible garden incorporating ornamental and food crops. “With the use of the blue drums, I was able to achieve my intention of creating an edible but decorative garden plus I was able to repurpose the drums as well,” Cu explained.

At 46, Daisy Cu, a home gardener, opted to grow vegetables in the urban area with the goal to grow and secure their source of food amid the crisis.

Vegetable garden as a product of quarantine

The Quezon City-based gardener turned three parts of their household into thriving green spaces. First is their 20sqm roof deck, which she converted into a container garden with vegetables and fruits planted on it. The front of their house was made productive by raising vegetables and other ornamental plants in blue plastic drums. Lastly is their lanai and side garden where she sowed veggies beside her cacti, succulents, bonsai, and other ornamental plants like philodendrons and fiddle fig trees.

Cu’s interest and affinity in gardening were mainly rooted in the influence of her paternal grandmother, whom she grew up with. “When I was in nursery school learning how to read and write, I was already watering plants at home,” says Cu. She has been collecting ornamental plants since 1990. Her first plants were roses and she also tended other plants that her grandmother gave at that time.

Aside from food security, she also wanted to show others that gardening can be practiced by anyone, even without a green thumb. 

Obtaining food from the comfort of her home

Presently, Cu grows okra, eggplant, malabar spinach or alugbati, kamote, bitter gourd, pechay, patola, patani, saluyot, winter melon, squash, cucumber, zucchini, radish, kangkong, mustasa, sili, tomatoes, blue ternate, grape, chico, rambutan, macopa, mulberry, and herbs like oregano, rosemary, pandan, lemongrass, basil, and tarragon. 

She grows eggplants, which she started to plant around April to May and was able to harvest around September.

Cu decided to add some veggies to her garden to know which vegetables are easy to grow and which ones are not. She started sowing vegetable seeds between April to May. And after two months, her okras were already producing fruits on a daily basis, while her eggplants took four months before she was able to harvest them for about three to four times a week. In terms of harvest, she gathers okra, camote tops, and saluyot every day and she also reaps malabar spinach three to four times a week. “Occasionally, I get to harvest ampalaya, (that consists of the long variety, the native variety, and the white variety), tomatoes, radish, and cucumbers,” said Cu. At present, she’s waiting for her winter melon, squash, and patola to produce fruits as well.

Okra is one of the fast-growing vegetables that Cu was able to harvest two months after sowing.

Although all of the grown crops are devoted to their personal consumption, she shares any surplus produce with their neighbors since their daily harvests are more than what their family consumes. Cu shares that because of the vegetables that she produces in containers, she saves so much money from not having to buy okra, saluyot, camote tops, and eggplants, which she now conveniently obtains from her garden. 

Garden Maintenance

Every morning, she checks on the plants’ soil, leaves, and for any development of flowers and fruits. “When I started six months back, it was summertime, watering was the main event of my daily routine in the morning and in the afternoon. It was easy growing vegetables during the summer as long as you keep them hydrated.” At first, she was worried about keeping the plants hydrated without escalating their water bills, but it turns out that their water consumption last summer, as per Cu, was reasonable. 

The real challenge arrived during the rainy season because most vegetables cannot tolerate too much water. “The drainage holes of the containers were enough during the summer, but when the rainy season came, additional holes were needed to drain excess water,” Cu explains that the rainy period also comes with the garden pests like snails and frogs. To address this, she uses neem spray once to twice a month and places sticky and fruit fly traps around her garden as well. She recently started burning sandalwood incense sticks to repel insects and other pests, too. For fertilizer, she alternately uses vermicast, fermented aloe vera juice, and compost tea that she collects from her compost bucket. 

Aside from the big blue plastic drums, she plants on sacks, buckets, and other containers that she repurposed like biscuit packaging.

For Cu, aside from regularly checking on the plants, it is very crucial that one’s soil mix is great as it will determine the plants’ growth. She purchases loam soil with vermicast to ensure that her crops and plants are healthy. In her experience, composting kitchen waste is also very useful because one gets free, natural fertilizer, which also helps in reducing garbage. 

As per Cu, aspiring growers must be willing to exert effort, to be patient, and to trust God to make their gardens flourish. In those years of gardening, Cu has learned and realized that the thumb or the temperature of your hands does not measure the success of your garden, but hard work does. 

Photos courtesy of Daisy Cu.

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Vina Medenilla
Vina Medenilla is a content producer for Agriculture Monthly magazine. She is a graduate from Miriam College with a bachelor’s degree in Communication. Fashion, photography, and travel are some of the things she loves. For her, connection with nature is essential to one’s life.

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