By Vina Medenilla
In Barangay Cruz, Bongabon, Nueva Ecija, a small backyard garden grows different heirloom varieties.
The garden is cared for by Joanne C. De Guzman, a 34-year-old stay-at-home parent to four children, the youngest of whom is only eight months old as of the interview. She runs the household and at the same time, she makes sure that the garden is still well maintained.
Much like other gardeners, working for two to three hours in the garden is part of her daily routine. Her mornings are typically spent on activities like weeding, pruning, fixing vines, and picking up trash. Aside from these morning tasks, she thoroughly shared things that contribute to her garden’s lushness.
Fertilizer. De Guzman feeds her plants with organic fertilizers and concoctions at various times. Fish Amino Acid (FAA) is sprayed on plants twice a week, while fermented plant juice and fermented fruit juice are only applied during their vegetative and flowering stages, respectively.
Vermicast and rabbit manure are other sources of nutrients.
Pest control. Oregano extract from fresh oregano leaves is used to ward off pests in her garden.
Planting. “Ideally, succession planting is the key to self-sufficiency, but sometimes, unforeseen things happen, which can hinder us from doing so. I just sow seeds every now and then to keep the growing cycle going,” said the gardener.
She also uses intercropping or the practice of planting various crops in one spot. This planting type, for her, maximizes the garden space and helps keep pests at bay.
“When you plant in a garden bed of only one plant, say bok choy, it will be easy for the bok choy pests to track it because the smell that the plants emit is strong due to the dense population of the plants.”
She pointed out that unlike when multiple plants are grown in the same area, it conceals the smell of each plant, making it difficult for pests to find their target crops.
Plant herbs and flowers. Herbs are beneficial in the garden because they also help ward off harmful insects. De Guzman typically grows chives, oregano, tarragon, and basil beside her vegetables.
Flowers, on the other hand, attract pollinators that can help increase the garden yield. The gardener added, “It makes gardening more enjoyable. Sometimes, when the harvest isn’t good, having great-looking flowers automatically cheers me up.”
Propagation. De Guzman grows vegetables from the seeds she saves from the crops she produces herself.
Soil medium. She uses a medium composed of soil, carbonized rice hull, compost, vermicast, and rabbit dung.
For seed starting, she prefers a mixture of carbonized rice hull, soil, vermicast, and coco peat since a loose medium allows seeds to sprout quickly and roots to develop freely.
Soil amendment and rest. The quality of soil diminishes over time. For this reason, the soil needs rest and amendments, too, in order to restore its lost nutrients. This normally takes about a month.
Watering. De Guzman manually waters her plants once a day, usually from eight to nine in the morning. Even if she only waters once, she makes sure that garden beds are deeply watered. Deep watering and long watering intervals, according to her, help roots to grow deeper as they reach for moisture.
“At least in my experience, using a bucket and pail also ensures that plants are well watered compared to using a water hose,” she added.
Furthermore, this activity serves as the family’s bonding and exercise. Her son fills the pail with water using a poso or water hand pump.
Gardening for De Guzman has served as a way of life that, in a way, fuels her creativity. Doing this for years has also greatly aided her mental health, allowing her to grow as a parent, as a gardener, and as a person.
Photos from Joanne C. De Guzman