Nanay Nena was in Baguio City for 20 days in May and my garden benefited from her stored knowledge in agriculture.
When I arrived in late May in time when she had to leave, I could not contain the pleasure with what I saw in my garden. The tomatoes I had sown in black plastic bags grew four to five times more robust when she transplanted these on the ground. She asked my nephew to dig five-inch holes on which she put the tomatoes with the vermi-compost potting materials these originally grew on.
My tomatoes now grow some 15 inches apart and the last time I saw these there were little flowers already showing up.
Nanay said tomatoes would be stunted on the small containers on the terrace. She's quite stern about it.
The space on which Nanay Nena planted the tomatoes already has a patch of sweet potatoes (kamote); taro (galyang); and lemon grass. She said, the tomatoes make good companion because it would drive away insects from the garden.
While the sun is brightest in that area from eight in the morning until noontime, afternoon rains cannot destroy the plants because the area is on the eastern side of the main house.
She even advised me to grow some corn later to provide sturdy posts on which to tie the vining tomatoes.
Squash is also growing very fast on the south-eastern side of the house, where I had earlier put sitting beans, again on black plastic containers. Nanay Nena said I should leave the squash alone, resisting the urge to direct where it should "crawl." Plants also experience trauma and uprooting the little squash roots will cause some sort of a plant paralysis, according to my peasant mother.
Actually, I have been doing companion gardening because I do not have the luxury of space. Little did I realize that companion gardening also gives us more from the little space that we have.
Tall plants like corn provide shade for more sensitive ones. Kamote and squash cover the ground and discourage the growth of weeds. Herbs like onions and lemon grass drive away pests while some plants attract beneficial insects.
Companion gardening also maximizes space. Put tall plants on the side of the hot western sun and afternoon rains. Vines stay on the ground or climb the corn posts, while tomatoes and eggplants enjoy the shade protecting the flowers from the rain.
In the Cordillera, the common combination is corn, squash and Baguio beans. Kamote, taro and spring onions also make perfect combination.
I was trying to plant alugbati, garlic and tomatoes in little container gardens but my Nanay Nena transplanted everything on the ground. Her experience as a peasant can be traced in the pre-war 1940's when as a girl she had to help in the "bangkag." That is quite a historical account when vegetables grew in hectares upon hectares of encomiendas. Obviously, that is another story.
Nanay Nena is right, though, because she thought I had planted the vegetables on very little soil. Actually I was experimenting on container gardening using a little amount of pure vermicompost on the pink plastic fruit liners that side-walk vendors discard. I had two purposes in mind: to use the plastic as garden pots in order to minimize garbage; and to try how to utilize my vermicast from African night-crawler worms in my backyad.
In our time, we have to maximize the very small patches of available land to ensure that we grow our own healthy vegetables for the modern kitchen.
In fact, ours is a the era when we can just sow sitting beans on road-side spaces between the neighbor's fence and the foot path.
We call this guerrilla gardening, which can also give us more organic vegetables on the table. When we do not know who owns the idle land on the corner of a road, we can just throw fast-growing seeds like squash or tang soy (that one on the paper container of our favorite butong pakwan) and harvest it with other passers-by, so much like the sayote, which grows on every nook and cranny. Be ready to harvest the fruits as soon as you see them or do not be sorry if someone else did it earlier at dawn.
With the rains, any seed on the ground is ready to germinate and we shall expect more vegetables in August till October. Happy harvesting! # Lyn V. Ramo