Home gardening has benefits beyond the purpose of serving as a diversion from the pandemic. In this B-Side episode, multimedia producer Patricia Mirasol speaks with Ma. Elena P. van Tooren, executive director of East-West Seed Foundation, about home gardening, the types of vegetables to grow in tropical countries, and tips for budding urban gardeners.
East-West Seed Foundation is the corporate social responsibility arm of East-West Seed Philippines, which breeds tropical vegetable seed varieties.
Food security is one of the benefits of growing one’s own vegetables.
Availability, accessibility, and affordability are some of the benefits of growing your own vegetables, said Ms. van Tooren.
Around 10%, or an estimated 2.6 million Filipino families, experienced involuntary hunger in the past three months “before the survey period,” according to a Sept. 30 to Oct. 4 survey by OCTA.
“If grown naturally, you’re also assuring your family of quality, healthy food,” Ms. van Tooren said. “Gardening is [likewise] a healthy exercise – both physically and mentally.”
“So many plantitos [plant dads] and plantitas [plantitas] started during the pandemic, and I believe that once you get started, you will continue…because you will have enjoyed it so much,” she added.
The non-negotiables for growing vegetables are sun, soil, and water.
The three non-negotiables for vegetable growing are sun, soil, and water.
For sunlight, it’s at least four hours’ exposure for leafy vegetables and 6-8 hours for fruiting ones, Ms. van Tooren said. Don’t water later than 4 p.m., she also told BusinessWorld.
“If you water later than 4 p.m., the soil will be very moist overnight, and that will encourage diseases – especially fungus,” she said.
The soil quality in the Philippines, meanwhile, is “mostly clay.”
“Soil has to be loose but firm, so it’s best if you add amendments to it to loosen it up,” Ms. van Tooren said, noting popular amendments such as river sand and compost (or decayed organic material used as plant fertilizer).
There are workarounds for urban gardeners with small spaces.
Vegetables can be grown in small containers, Ms. van Tooren said, although “fruiting vegetables need larger containers – around five gallons, like ones used in water dispensers.”
Container gardening, like balcony gardening, is a form of urban agriculture, which refers to the “growing, processing and distribution of food crops and animal products, by and for the local community, within an urban environment.”
Ms. van Tooren, who resides in a condominium, said that she has been able to successfully plant arugula from her unit’s balcony.
“Herbs are very good if you live in a condominium and have a window that gets sunlight,” she added, “because herbs need less sunlight.”
Figure out a garden tending routine that works for you.
Parents with growing children may opt to nurture green leafy vegetables such as pechay (Chinese cabbage) and kangkong (water spinach).
“These are very nutritious vis-a-vis the space they need,” according to Ms. Van Tooren. “I would go for what the children like to eat,” she said, as she also noted the benefit of having children observe how vegetables grow.
The National Nutrition Council moreover suggests vegetables such as sitaw (string beans), malunggay (moringa), and tomatoes as sustainable produce for backyard gardens.
“I really want to encourage everyone to plant even one pot,” Ms. Van Tooren said. The Internet, including East-West Foundation’s social media pages, is rife with helpful information, she added.
Caring for a small garden plot is doable, Ms. van Tooren told BusinessWorld.
“You can do the watering in the morning before you start work…the extra care can be done on weekends. You have to find what’s workable for you.”