By Vina Medenilla
Small space didn’t hinder Imelda De Jesus, an urban gardener from Caloocan City, from pursuing her love for plants. What sets her garden apart from others is that she grows not only the herbs and veggies that we commonly see in home gardens, but also fruit-bearing trees that she mostly grafted and planted in containers.
She managed to maximize the space in her 67sqm residence, specifically her rooftop, through container gardening. She says in Taglish, “I opted for grafted trees because they grow faster and smaller since they are only planted in containers.”
At a young age, De Jesus has already developed a love for plants. Aside from being a gardener, De Jesus is a housewife and a baker who runs a small pastry business from home.
What gardening means for a gardener
Hard and enjoyable — two words that best represent gardening, as per De Jesus. “It’s difficult at first because you have to know everything about the plant for them to grow healthy. And yet, it’s also fun to see your plants thriving and bearing fruit,” she adds.
De Jesus believes that having a green thumb isn’t necessary for one to be able to grow a plant. Gardening is something that anyone can practice. It all boils down to providing the right care for each plant. With tender loving care, anyone can grow their own food, she explains.
A fruitful rooftop garden
De Jesus began gardening a few years ago and when asked why she loves fruit-bearing trees, she answered: “I love seeing how they grow and start to fruit. They’re my happiness that can’t be bought by money because the way I feel when I see them bear fruit is like winning a lottery.”
Besides fruit trees, she also cultivates blue ternate or butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea), passion fruit (Passiflora edulis), Thai basil, Italian oregano, alugbati, sambong (Blumea balsamifera), balbas pusa (Orthosiphon aristatus), and more. De Jesus also grows mulberry trees in small containers. In order to make a mulberry tree produce fruits, she says that one will need to prune the tree first and wait two weeks for the fruits to develop. She buys most of her seedlings from different provinces like Batangas, Pampanga, Bulacan, and Nueva Ecija.
Her garden routine involves watering the plants and removing the dried leaves. She uses loam soil and vermicast for her potting mix and creates her own natural fertilizers. “Good morning everyone” and “how was your sleep?” are the usual phrases that De Jesus always utters upon seeing her plants in the morning. She makes sure to tell positive things to her plants like recognizing their recent development. She goes on saying, “I also have a radio on the rooftop and I play music for my plants even when I’m not around.” These practices help in stimulating her plants’ growth.
The harvest period occurs in her garden depending on each crops’ growth. The first tree that produced fruits then was her sweet Catimon mango. She was able to harvest the others soon after, including her balimbing, (Averrhoa carambola) aratiles (Muntingia calabura), bayabas, kamias (Averrhoa bilimbi), lemon, calamansi, mulberry (Morus), banana, blue ternatea, Thai Basil, malunggay, and Italian oregano. De Jesus is still waiting for her other crops like pomelo, duhat or java plum (Syzygium cumini), sugar apple or atis (Annona squamosa), lanzones, Indian mango, and avocado to fully ripen.
Unfortunately, due to the onslaught of the recent typhoons, Super Typhoon Ulysses being the strongest, some of De Jesus’ fruit-bearing crops were toppled including her chico, java plum, and banana trees.
At the moment, she doesn’t sell the fruit harvests and only shares them with relatives and friends. From production to post-harvest, gardening is considered a source of happiness for De Jesus. She adds that sharing her harvests makes her feel satisfied with the work and love she is pouring out in tending her garden.
Problems she has encountered and solutions
De Jesus shares that her major problem is the red ants that love to dwell in her crops’ containers. She addresses these pest problems through formulating a natural spray made of vinegar and dishwashing liquid. So far, this works well in her garden.
One of her current favorites is her sweet tamarind tree. Her first sweet tamarind harvest only produced three fruits during its first year. Upon reading and watching informational materials, she learned some things that helped her cultivate her fruit trees better. She applied fertilizer for them to get the nutrients that they need. Now, she gets more fruits from her sweet tamarind plant.
De Jesus naturally feeds her crops with homemade fertilizer like calcium phosphate (CalPhos). She says, “I remove the white inner skin of the eggshells, then I place the eggshells under the sun for three days for them to dry. Afterward, I toast them in a pan until they turn golden brown.” She also turns the eggshells into powder using a blender as this enables the plant to absorb the nutrients better. Based on De Jesus’ observation, unblended eggshells don’t vanish even after a few years of putting them in the soil.
Another concoction that she prepares is banana tea fertilizer where she soaks the banana peels into the water for three days and uses the liquid to supply potassium for the fruit-bearing plants. She utilizes different varieties of bananas including saba and lakatan for this one. De Jesus also makes use of food scraps like leftover fruits and veggies that she places atop the soil to add nutrients to the plants.
De Jesus continues to learn from her garden experiences, by talking with other gardeners, and through studying available materials online.
As she shares her garden experiences in an online group, many co-growers are also amazed by how she can grow fruit-bearing trees in containers.
Photos courtesy of Imelda De Jesus.