By Vina Medenilla

There are important factors that must be taken into account when growing crops. This includes responsible use of fertilizer and resources, prevention of landscape pollution, waste reduction, and protection of wildlife. However, it is the basic requirements that are sometimes overlooked by growers. 

Marissa “Marz” Ebarle Middleton, 42, a Filipina living in Michigan, USA, takes her gardening hobby to another level by learning the basics of gardening. Middleton applied for Michigan State University’s (MSU) Extension Master Gardener Program to expand her knowledge in gardening, to contribute to her community by doing volunteer work, as well as to educate and inspire other gardeners.

Marz with harvested cherry tomatoes from the garden. Behind her are zinnia flowers that help attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

Aside from working as a home therapist, Middleton keeps her own garden every day. Since she was accustomed to seeing her father grow crops in the Philippines, she had to learn and adapt to the new environment when she started a garden in the US several years ago.

Read: US-based Filipina copes with the death of a loved one by growing local veggies

Middleton shares five basic things she has learned so far in cultivating Philippine plants in a non-tropical country:

Good soil. This is the foundation of a successful garden. Having the soil tested will enable gardeners to know about the soil condition and the nutrients it needs. 

Aside from soil, the allocation of spaces must be planned so each crop can grow well in the right spots. As per Middleton, it is important to amend the soil by adding good compost twice a year or every spring and fall.

Start the seeds indoors. This step is necessary to adapt to the temperate climate where the summer or the growing season is shorter. Middleton said, “A lot of Philippine vegetables require a longer maturity period. Starting your seeds indoors ahead of the growing season can get you a headstart.” 

She added, “The goal is to produce seedlings that are mature, but not overgrown when it’s time to transplant into the garden.”

Acclimate the plants. Harden off the young plants properly before moving them outdoors. Whether grown from seeds or bought from the local nursery store, seedlings must be transplanted into the ground after the danger of frost has passed and when the weather warms up.

Gradually expose them to the outdoor setting so they can adjust well to the sunlight, wind, and heat. Middleton explained, “Rapid temperature changes can lead to damage and stress. When they are suddenly exposed to full sun, they may wilt or their leaves may turn brown. Tender seedlings that experience a sudden transition from colder to hotter temperatures may become stunted, and may result in leaf discoloration or even die.” 

Find out the perfect time to sow the crops. Timing is crucial when growing Philippine veggies in a temperate climate. For instance, Middleton usually starts planting by the last week of May, but because she started planting earlier than usual this year, her ampalaya plants suffered from cold snap, or a sudden period of cold weather. To avoid this, Regularly check the weather so you can save the plants from frostbites, among other threats.

An area with a pergola for her ampalaya, and raised beds for onions (left side) and roma tomatoes (right side).

Plant flowers. Middleton plants flowers like zinnia and wildflowers in her garden to attract pollinators. Bees and other pollinators are vital to the garden, helping flowering plants reproduce. 

Gardening isn’t all sunshine and roses. Plants may fail to grow, and the garden could suffer from the attacks of animals, pests, and diseases. With this, “Do not be frustrated and disappointed. Instead, learn from it because there is always next season,” said Middleton.  

Photos courtesy of Marz Ebarle Middleton. 

For more information, visit Marz Kitchen and Garden or join the Global Filipino Gardening Ideas and Kitchen Tips group on Facebook.