By Vina Medenilla
Owing to the cost, distance, and impracticality of buying herbs in the market, poet and novelist Jinque R. Dolojan, 32, decided to establish an herb nursery.
To purchase vegetables and other food supplies, Jinque and her husband Cristristan D. Dolojan has to travel for two hours to get to the market. This has fueled the interest of the couple to start growing leafy greens in their backyard instead. Jinque, who is also a graphic artist, shared that aside from their love for plants, they are also into products that promote health and wellness. Before the pandemic, the Dolojans even had a small store that offered vegan and other healthy goods.
The ease of obtaining food from the backyard
Jinque or JinQue RD (a nickname she uses for her written works) grew up with her grandfather who was an avid gardener. Her childhood that was filled with precious memories of nature ushered her into the path of herb farming.
Viewing them as ‘sacred’ life forms, Jinque decided to grow herbs in 2015. When she began to produce excessive amounts of basil, she decided to put them up for sale. Through Jinque and her husband’s teamwork, they’ve been successful in providing herbs not just for their family, but also to their cooking buddies and clients like chefs and herb enthusiasts in their province.
At present, they have separate growing locations for the crops. In Iba, Zambales, they grow rice and other vegetables in a 1100sqm farm owned by Cristristan’s parents who migrated to the US. The other one is a small backyard nursery measuring 12 by 25 feet located in Palauig, Zambales where the Dolojans reside. Most of the time, Jinque looks after the backyard nursery, while Cristristan is the one tending to the farm.
The husband and wife grow various crops including rice, cassava, basil, arugula, kale, Mexican tarragon (Tagetes lucida), Jamaican oregano (Lippia micromera), variegated oregano, thyme, rosemary, lavender, mint, citronella grass, citronella plant, betel (Piper betle), celery, parsley, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), and pepper.
In Jinque’s herb nursery, the main crop is Genovese basil, a variety that originated from Italy. For her, the garden serves as their “backyard pharmacy.” This is why she doesn’t use any chemicals that might cause harm to the health of their family and consumers. Jinque only uses a mix of compost, garden soil, and carbonized rice hull for the plants’ fertilizer.
Most of her clients are restaurants, herb enthusiasts, and gardeners in Zambales. The majority of the herbs sell for P50 each. Selling produce augments their family income, helping them pay bills and cut their spending on groceries. “Say, if we haven’t had grown food in the backyard, we will be spending P9,000 a month (computed in P100 per meal, three times a day) just for the greens that we consume. Thus, if we maximize our garden yield, we can save more,” she explained.
Troubles along the way
“Most herbs do not usually suffer from problems that other crops experience.” Jinque adds, “It is rare for healthy herbs to be attacked by pests except for coriander and basils who are aphids and grasshoppers’ favorite.” She uses neem oil to control pests. The major issue when it comes to herbs is water requirement and soil nutrient deficiency. Jinque expounded, “Some herbs require a generous amount of water (like celery) and some don’t (like rosemary and lavender).” To address this, she studies their individual needs and takes note of them to avoid implementing the wrong care.
Jinque emphasized that one must know that herbs are sun-loving plants and watering them must be carried out with caution. To have successful herb production, growers must watch for indications of overwatering from time to time. Herbs also love well-draining and compost-rich soil. Since they are fast-growing, regularly trim the herbs for their optimal growth, she added.
Jinque hopes to own a 200-hectare land area that will foster holistic living, food production, and animal raising. Now that they grow food, they do not have to depend on the market for most of the food that they consume anymore.
Photos from Jinque R. Dolojan.