By JAMES TABABA
Here are the recommended crops to plant in the last month of the dry season.
Lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus)
Lemon grass, locally known as tanglad, is a member of the grass family grown for its aroma and oil. It is usually added to rice and as stuffing in roasted dishes. The oil can be extracted from the leaves of the plant to produce aromatic essential oil.
Lemon grass is suitable to grow in the warm and humid conditions of the Philippines. It grows well in loam and sandy loam soils with temperatures ranging from 25 to 30°C.
Lemon grass can be propagated through the seeds, but it can be cut and divided into several individual plants for small production. For commercial production, it is recommended to plant lemongrass 30 cm apart from each other. During the dry season, irrigation must be done every other day after planting.
Apply fertilizer with four bags of complete fertilizer (14-14-14) per hectare at the time of planting. To boost the production, top dress 2.5 bags of urea (46-0-0) in three to four split-doses during the growing season.
Harvesting is done 90 days after planting with an interval of 50 days after harvesting. To harvest, cut the leaves 10 cm above the ground using a sickle or a knife. It is best done on sunny days because wet leaves during rainy weather increase the fermentation process of leaves, making the leaves unfit for oil extraction.
Chayote (Sechium edule)
Chayote or sayote is a vegetable vine that is mainly produced in the Benguet and Cordillera Region. Even though the whole plant is edible, it is primarily grown for its fruits. It is popularly cooked in dishes like tinola, sautéed with meat, or mixed in spring rolls.
Chayote could be planted any time of the year, but it is expected to have a greater harvest during the months of November to June. It requires a temperature of 15 to 30°C and soil of clay loam or loam soil with a pH of 5.5 – 6.5 to have the best yield.
To plant chayote, clear the area and dig a shallow hole about one square foot wide and three meters apart between the hill and rows. Plant the chayote seed, preferably already sprouting, per hill, exposing a third of the seed. Apply compost before or at planting time at the rate of 300 grams on each hill. Repeat the application every two months. Alternatively, the application of 50 grams of complete fertilizer (14-14-14) per hill can be substituted for compost.
Chayote needs a trellis to support its growth, especially during the fruiting season since the fruits are heavy. Bamboo poles or tree stumps can be used as posts where galvanized iron with the size of 14 or 16 should be horizontally installed six feet above the ground.
At about 120 to 150 days after planting, the chayote fruits are ready for harvest when the fruits are still tender and about four to six inches in diameter.
Soybean (Glycine max)
Soybean or soya is locally known as utaw. It is an important crop for processing soymilk, soy sauce, tofu, and desserts. Containing 35 to 40 per cent protein, it is also used as a major ingredient in formulating livestock and poultry feed.
The Philippines is highly dependent on the importation of soybeans for its domestic needs. Current soybean production is only about 1,000 hectares, which is why the government is pushing programs to source soybean locally.
Ideally, soybeans should be planted in well-drained loam to clay loam soil with a pH of 5.8 to 6.5°C.
To plant soybeans, thoroughly plow and harrow the field and set furrows 60 centimeters apart and about four to five centimeters deep. Directly sow 18 to 20 soybeans seeds per linear meter and cover them thinly with soil. Before planting, apply four bags of complete fertilizer (14-14-14).
Soybeans are ready for harvest when 95% of the leaves turn yellow or have fallen. Cut the plants at the base then dry in the sun. Flail the plants or use a sorghum thresher to collect the seeds. Dry the grains until 12-13% of moisture content is achieved before storing.
Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas)
Sweet potato or camote is a root crop primarily consumed as a staple and vegetable. It can be boiled, fried, roasted, and processed into chips, noodles, and alcoholic beverages. Moreover, it is also utilized as animal feed and a thickening agent like cornstarch.
Sweet potato grows well in an ambient temperature of 25 – 30°C, and when the soil is well-drained, clay loam or sandy loam with pH ranging from 5.5-6.5. Plow and harrow the field twice for clay loam soil and once for sandy loam soil.Sweet potatoes are propagated by stem cuttings. To prepare the cuttings, cut the vines from the mother plant 25-35 cm long from the tip. Leaves should be removed, leaving only 2-3 leaves from the tip. Each cutting should have at least six to eight nodes. One cutting is planted in each hill spaced at 25 – 30 cm between hills and 75 – 100 cm between rows. Apply six to eight bags of complete fertilizer (14-14-14) per hectare by drill method during planting. Alternatively, 5 – 10 metric tons of fertilizer per hectare is recommended to be incorporated into the soil before planting if opted to use organic materials instead of chemical fertilizer.
Usually, it takes three to four months for the root crops to be harvested. Harvesting is done with sweet potato harvester or manually with the help of spading fork or bolo.
Taro (Colocasia esculenta)
Taro or gabi is a tropical crop grown for its leaves, stem, and corm. Corm is the botanical term for the fleshy underground specialized stem of the taro that acts as its food storage. Gabi is popularly cooked in local Philippine dishes such as laing, ginataan, and sinigang.
Gabi can be grown in a wide range of soil types either in flooded or non-flooded conditions. For both soil conditions, fertile loam soil is preferred with a pH of 5.6 – 6.5 is ideal. A growing temperature of 27 – 29°C is preferred for better yield.
The field for planting taro should be prepared by plowing and harrowing to remove the weeds and pulverize the soil.
The planting material for taro are offshoots of the mother plants. Division of corm can also be used but it is easily infected by disease-causing organisms. The recommended planting distance for the offshoots is 75 cm between rows and 50 cm between plants. Upon planting, apply two bags of complete fertilizer per hectare, then apply the same rate two months after.
Harvesting is about 7–12 months after planting but varies depending on the variety or when the leaves begin to turn yellow. Taro is harvested by digging the corms using a spade or a garden fork.
Production guides are available for download on the Department of Agriculture Bureau of Plant Industry website here.