Be a farmer for a day (or more): 11 basic things in growing crops

Are you done with all your TikTok vids and looking for other things to do? Why not try to be a farmer during this quarantine period or even after? Some of you are planning to grow plants and others have already started their mini farm. If you are a newbie farmer, here are some points to remember:

1. Have a get-to-know phase

Choosing a crop you want to plant is easy. Seeds are available in the supermarket and also from the veggies you bought yesterday. However, you need to do a little research on the crop you want to cultivate – from seed to harvest.

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2. Do not directly plant every seed

Small-seeded crops like lettuce, pechay and bokchoy may require you to pregerminate their seeds and here’s an easy and effective way on How to pregerminate small seeds? (YT vid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDK7sP3ggeI&t=6s).

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Some plants have little to no seeds because they are cultivated in other form – in cassava for example, stem cuttings are used as planting material.

3. Let there be light!

Photosynthesis is a thing we were taught since grade school. Basically, plants need sunlight to grow. So plant where there is light.

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But, be mindful about your crop. Some crops love extreme sunlight while others are happy with a little ray of light.

4. Do some catching up (visit and talk)

After a successful germination, do not leave them like what your ex did to you. LOLjk. I wasn’t kidding when I said that do not leave them for good. Visit them from time to time and check their condition, and (this may sound weird)talk to them…some say plants grow well when you do this.

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5. Feed them

Fertile soil is good for your plant but when you observe yellowing on the leaves (with no insects or diseases), they may be suffering from lack of nutrient (like nitrogen). When this happens, you can put a little fertiliser like (14-14-14) or urea (46-0-0).

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If you observed low soil fertility prior your planting and you did some composting, add those to your soil (make sure they are fully decomposed) before planting.

6.  They get thirsty

Plants are approximately 95% water so they get thirsty. High temperature these days will easily dry out your soil and will eventually dehydrate your plant leading to death. Quench their thirst by watering your plants early in the morning and late in the afternoon.

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7.  You want to breathe? And so they are!

Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by so many things and we want to breathe for while and I am telling you…your plants want to breathe too. Have you watched the K-dram ‘She Was Pretty’? There was a scene there wherein they grew an onion with smiley face in water…I tried doing it…but sadly the onion died. And this was probably because of hypoxia or lack of oxygen in the root.amigurumi_onion_from_korean_drama_she_was_pretty_1446773149_d02930d0

My point here is to give your plant air. Dig the soil around your plant (make sure not to damage the roots) to release some compaction of soil and allow air to flow.

8. Protect them (from pests)

Pests are those damaging your plants to the point that you are left with little to no harvest. Control the pests. If they are still manageable, you can just pick them with your hands.

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You can also plant some insect repellant plants like marigold. Or concoct your own natural insecticide (available in the internet). If you observed disease in your plants, remove and burn them. During your next cropping season, plant clean materials or try crops that are not the same family as your previous one.

9. Be gentle…they have feelings too

As you progress in your farming activities, these plants will grow in no time. You will apply good cultural practices you found during your search like pruning, weeding or bagging. When you do, be gentle, some plants are sensitive and brittle. Your days of growing them will be put into waste if you are careless.

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10. Understand their maturity

Different plants may have varying maturity. As I mentioned earlier, it is imperative to know your crop before planting. It is also important to know when they will mature. There are crops with dual purpose like sweet potato – you can harvest camote tops as early as 30 days from planting while the roots are harvestable after around 90 days.

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Some crops develop bitter taste when you prolong their harvest time or when the timing of harvesting is not appropriate.

11. Diversify

Plant several crops. There was a study that even a small area can house up to 9 different crops. This technique will give you variety of vegetables with different nutrient components. And since they are different from one another, you can program a daily harvesting of different veggies. Diversified garden may also lower incidence of pests and diseases.

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Farming will be your daily source of sun, healthy food, and exercise. If you do not have land with soil in your place…you can try doing hydroponics…I did a vid on how to do easy DIY hydroponics (below) – it’s kinda crappy but the basics are there.

21 alternative and cheaper source of vitamins to boost your immune system

Viruses and other diseases have taken its toll on societies and economies. Do not let any sickness beat you. Protect yourself and your loved ones by eating healthy-but-won’t-break-the-bank foods. The following are mixed of vegetables and fruits that are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. You might even get surprised that you are ignoring them in front of your house or the roadside going to work.

1. Camote/sweet potato tops (Ipomoea batatas)

Camote tops are good source of protein, niacin, calcium, iron, vitamin A, B6 and C, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and manganese. Camotecue got you for your dessert!

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2. Alugbati (Basela alba)

Have you seen some purple vine creeping on your gate/wall? Take a closer look and if they are indeed Alugbati, well you have a free source of macronutrients, vitamins and minerals.

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3. Saluyot (Corchorus olitorius)

The slimy Saluyot may not be appetising to others but your body will thank you for this very nutritious veggie. The leaves are rich in beta-carotene, phosphorus, iron, calcium and vitamin c.

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4. Banana (Musa acuminata x balbisiana)

This fruit is not just for those who want to lose weight or need additional potassium. Saba bananas are low in fat and protein bu they are good source of vitamins B6 and C, magnesium, copper and manganese.

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5.Guava (Psidium guajava)

In the province, kids climb guava trees to pick and eat some of its fruits. Guava is a traditional remedy that is used for ages and scientifically proven. Get your daily dose of vitamin A and C, potassium and dietary fiber from raw guava fruit.

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6. Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum)

This famous vegetable fruit in our list is rich in antioxidant lycopene that has been linked to reduce risk of heart disease and cancer. Tomatoes are also source of vitamin C and K, potassium, and folate.

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7.Papaya (Carica papaya)

Papaya isn’t the best tasting fruit but it boasts several health benefits. This soft tropical yellowish-orange fruit contains calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, folate, vitamin A, C, E, and K.

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8.Ampalaya/bittergourd (Momordica charantia)

Relative of your zucchini, squash, pumpkin and cucumber, this veggie will be your taste buds’ least favourite but your immune system will thank you . Ampalaya is rich in vitamin C. The fruit also contain vitamin A, folate and antioxidant compounds.

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9.Malunggay (Moringa oleifera)

Malunggay is not only for lactating mom. It has received praises over  years due to its health benefits. The plant is used as ingredients in traditional herbal medicine and an excellent source of  riboflavin, iron, vitamins B6 and C.

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10. Cassava leaves (Manihot esculenta Crantz)

In some areas, young cassava leaves are eaten as vegetables. This plant part contains up to 10x the amount of protein found in the roots, low in calories but rich in fiber, and good amount of vitamins B and C. Process the leaves well to remove toxic compound.

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11.Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus)

Before you ignore the slimy okra, consider that this veggie contains a lot – vitamin K, potassium, sodium, vitamin C, thiamin, magnesium, calcium, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin A, iron niacin, phosphorus and copper. Did you catch your breath?

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12.Calamansi (Citrofortunella microcarpa)

Calamansi is a citrus fruit native to the Philippines. Do not underestimate this cutie because this could protect you from common cough and cold since they are rich in vitamin C. The fruit also contains phosphorus, calcium and vitamin A.

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13.Dayap (Citrus aurantifolia)

Remember how Don Juan squeezed some dayap juice to his wound to fight sleep brought by the singing magical bird Adarna? One dayap or lime can provide 32% of vitamin C needed in a day that will help you fight harmful, disease-causing free radicals cells.

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14.Puso ng saging (Musa sp.)

Banana blossoms are valuable source of vitamins A, C, E, potassium, minerals, fatty acid, flavonoids, saponin, essential and non-essential amino acid and other antioxidant compounds. Well I guess I can’t get tired of the ‘saging lang ang may pusohugot line.

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15. Mustasa (Brassica juncea)

Just like the mustard condiment, its leaves can give peppery and spicy flavour. These fat and cholesterol-free mustard greens are rich source of vitamin K, A and C and important minerals such as calcium and manganese.

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16.Garlic (Allium sativum)

Research supports the age-old spice and cooking staple bulb’s potential antibacterial properties and its ability to control cholesterol-causing lipids in the blood. It is also rich in antioxidants which may reduce the risk of chronic illnesses.

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17. Katuray (Sesbania gradiflora)

Katuray flowers can be white, pink and red in color. Its leaves, flowers, seeds and pods are edible but flowers are the most commonly consumed plant part. The flowers contain vitamin C, vitamin B9, iron, selenium, vitamin B1 and vitamin B2.

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18. Guyabano/soursop (Anona muricata)

Typically eaten raw. This fruit is an excellent source of vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, thiamin and small amount of niacin, riboflavin, folate and iron. Leaves, fruits and stems are used medicinally.

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19. Luyang dilaw (Curcuma longa)

You won’t mind staining your clothes as turmerics are packed with health benefits. It has been used in traditional medicine due to its anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. Turmerics are also good source of vitamins and antioxidants.

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20. Sampaloc/tamarind (Tamarindus indica)

Unripe and ripe sampaloc/tamarind can both be utilised. The former gives sour flavour to sinigan while the latter is consumed as dessert. This low-glycemic fruit offers beneficial nutrients such as vitamins B and C, potassium, magnesium, thiamine and iron.

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21. Kolitis (Amaranthus viridis)

Amaranths are highly nutritious. There is also another variant of this – the one with thorns (Amaranthus spinosus). Manganese in amaranths exceed daily needs with just one serving. The plant also contains magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, copper and iron.

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These foods may supplement your body’s required vitamins and nutrients but it is important to take note that it is best to take a balanced diet. Also, drink plenty of water, exercise and get enough rest. Stay healthy, everyone!

**photo credits to the owners

How to pollinate cassava?

Cassava is one of the most important crops for tropical countries. It has a wide range of use such as feed, food and industry purposes. The demand of the growing population encourages increasing crop production. Some of the objectives in breeding for this crop is to produce cassava with high yield, starch and harvest index, low hydrocyanic content, wide adaptation, resistance to pests and diseases and others.

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Cassava is a monoecious crop – male and female flowers are separate from each other. Female flowers open first followed by male flowers (1-2 weeks after). Naturally, self- and cross-pollination occur in cassava.

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Before doing pollination, check if the condition is favorable. It’s better if the sky is clear and there is low chance of rain for the whole day.

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Prepare materials (i.e. glassine bag, uncoated paper clip, marker).

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(L-R) glassine bag, paper clip and marker.

The first step is to determine female flowers that will open that day in the morning. One sure way to know that the female flower will open in the afternoon of the same day is to open one petal of an unopened female flower in the morning and check a drop of nectar on the basal part of the pistil. After selecting the female flower that is about to open in the afternoon, cover it with glassine bag and secure with a clip.

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In the afternoon, go back to your cassava plants. Opening of both male and female flowers usually begin from 12:00-2:00pm and remain open for a day. Gather male flowers available or those that you intend to cross in a small bottle/container/glassine bag.

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Get one male flower and rub the pollen to the pistil of the female flower. Put label on the glassine bag – include the cross combination and date of crossing. Immediately cover the newly crossed male and female flowers with the labeled glassine bag and secure it with a clip. Male and female flowers are highly receptive between 1:00-5:00pm and therefore pollination is best done during these hours. A male flower can be crossed to three female flowers.

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After 1-2 weeks of pollination, cover the crossed flowers with small net bag that will protect the fruit from fruit fly and catch the seeds that naturally fall off at maturity (3 months after pollination.

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Cassava fruit.

Small space for gardening? Do (SNAP) hydroponics!

Have you considered planting vegetables but you don’t have enough space? Conversion of farm lands to residential space is quite alarming since the increasing population will require more food. Learning to farm with limited space is an advantage because you will know how to produce food with your available area (whether small or large).

Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil by using nutrient solution in water. Simple Nutrient Addition Program (SNAP) hydroponics is a low-cost hydroponics system developed by researchers from IPB, UPLB. This system is ideal for growing vegetables in small areas.

To do SNAP hydroponics, you need to establish your seedlings. I previously wrote how to do it here. Now that you have your seedlings, you need to prepare styrofoam/plastic cups (or used coffee cups), knife/blade, coir dust, plastic bag, packaging tape and growing boxes (fruit boxes).

Get your cups and create 4-6 (~1-2 inch long) small slits on the sides near the bottom and dig a hole on the center bottom of the cup. Fill the cups with about 1-inch thick coir dust. Carefully transplant one seedling in the cup with coir dust and lightly press the media around the base of the transplanted seedling. Water the cups with care.

Create holes fitted for your cups – you can either trace the cups and cut it with a blade or use heated tin cans.  Depending on the size of your cup, you can create 6-8 holes on the lid. Line the bottom of the box with plastic (make sure that the plastic entirely covers the bottom to hold the solution). (Note: you can close all openings on the box using packaging tape to prevent entry of mosquitoes).

Put the cups into the holes of the lid on the box created earlier. Prepare your SNAP solution by mixing 25mL of SNAP A to 10 liters of tap water and then stir well followed by an equal amount of SNAP B (with stirring).

Fill the bottom of the growing box with the SNAP solution to a level where the bottom of the cups is touching 1/2 inch of the nutrient solution. Close the bottom box with the lid of the box containing the cups with seedling. Examine the box for any leaks and make necessary repair.

Place the growing boxes to areas with roof (to prevent the rain from getting into the system) but will best receive morning sunlight. Closely monitor the set-up.

Replenish the box with SNAP solution whenever needed.

(source: PJA Santos and ETM Ocampo, UPLB)

How to pregerminate small seeds?

Vegetables like lettuce, pechay, tomato and pakchoi have small seeds. Directly planting the seeds can cause lower survival rate of your plant and to avoid this, pregermination is a must.

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Seeds of (L-R) pakchoi, tomato and lettuce.

To pregerminate your small seeds you will need the following: seeds, sterilised media, shallow container, and water.

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Check the label.

When buying any seeds in the market, make sure to check the percent germination and sowing date to ensure high germinability of the seed. Choose seeds with higher percent germination and earlier sowing date or testing date (should be 6mos. to 1yr prior to your planting date).

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Sterilised choir dust.

For the sterilised media, you can either choose choir dust, garden soil or sand. It is important that your media is sterilised to remove potential harmful living things (e.g. insects, weeds, bacteria, fungi)  that might destroy your seeds. You can sterilised the media by cooking it in a pan or steaming it for around 30mins to 1hr and then let it cool before use.

It is necessary to have a short/shallow container. Here, I used the coffee lid and sample cups from SB.

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You can now fill-in your containers with media. I also tried the coffee grounds (from Starbucks) as media but you will see later on if the seeds survived using it.

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Before putting your seeds make sure to label your containers. With this, you can track the age of your plant and if you choose to pregerminate more than 1 variety you will not be confused (since some small seeded vegetable seeds may look similar at young seedling stage).

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Get your seeds now and start putting it on the media. Spread the seeds evenly and thinly for easier transplanting.

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Water your seeds/seedlings occasionally. Avoid overwatering or drying the media. The first step in seed germination is imbibition wherein water goes inside the seeds to soften the hard and dry tissues inside. Water uptake will cause the seeds to swell up splitting the seed coat and allowing water to enter faster and the embryo to go out of the seed. Water also activates biochemistry of the embryo.

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Put it in a safe place or under dark or light conditions if it is a photodormant seed (seeds requiring light or dark conditions to germinate).

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Pakchoi seedlings ready for transplanting.

Expect the appearance of your seedlings 1-2 weeks from sowing. These seedlings are ready for transplanting.

Note: As you can see, seedlings were not observed on the coffee ground media – probably because the texture was so compact that the embryo had a hard time going out of the seed or due to high acidity of coffee inhibiting the germination process of pakchoi seeds.