21 Jul2009


As much as I like the thought of a huge kitchen garden out back, with a constant supply of the freshest organic greens and herbs, it just isn’t going to happen. In our city home, we have about 6 square meters and several large pots devoted to kaffir lime bushes (for leaves), kalamansi (calamondin), dayap (local limes), lemongrass, betel leaves, grape leaves (?!), chillis, rosemary, basil, oregano, galangal, etc. It’s nice to have these straight out of the garden, but other attempts to do tomatoes, bok choy, arugula, lettuces, etc. have all failed miserably and repeatedly. And yes, I have in fact purchased the seeds, planted them myself in everything from soil to soil-less potting mediums and watered them until they sprouted, only to see them DIE like they were hit by the plague again and again. Even our part-time gardener who drops in two times a week has been unsuccessful at the tomatoes and other greens.


However, around our office in Cebu (a city an hour’s flight South from Manila), where I spend some 6-8 days per month, there is some 3,000 square meters (3/4 of an acre) of sloping idle land that I have always thought would make a decent vegetable garden. For the past 30 years this lot was the neighborhood garbage dump, so cleaning up waste materials was a project in and of itself. Then we decided to try and grow several types of vegetables with the hope that all of the crew would be able to enjoy whatever they harvested. We started in earnest in March of this year. And while it isn’t Martha-Stewart-ish at all, it has been amazing to watch seeds sprout, grow and bear fruit. Really amazing. And no, I have very little physical input into this endeavor, as one reader snidely put it, “gentleman farming” indeed. So this is definitely the crew’s garden…


Turns out the soil is pretty horrific (the whole island is a big limestone rock) so we will have to do more composting and perhaps adding in some horse manure or other natural nutrient boosters in the months ahead, but here are some photos of efforts to date… Up top, part of the large crop of corn, the first thing to be planted, as of late May this year, and over 150+ ears of corn were eventually harvested in June while I was away. I didn’t get to taste any, but the crew assures me it was nice and sweet. In the second photo, a robust crop of okra, from seeds I purchased at the Manila Seedling Bank. And above, a squash, struggling to acclimate itself in the hot dry weather in Cebu. I think the squash from a seed packet I bought in the states, maybe that wasn’t such a good idea.


In the photo above, are malunggay or moringa or horseradish trees that were grown from seeds I collected behind the beach house, post here, and I thought it was just really cool how the seeds did so well in Cebu. I have taken to saving seeds from all kinds of fruits and veggies so we can try and grow them in the garden.


Pechay or bok choi looked brilliant sprouting in their little seedling box, but every single one of these plants died or were eaten by bugs. :(


I was AMAZED that these and a few more seedlings grown from seeds taken from limes I brought in from Vietnam sprouted so readily. It’s been two months since I took these photos and they have some pretty wicked thorns on the stems by now. Not sure if these are the kaffir limes or plain limes that I brought. Didn’t label them. Duh.


The bird’s eye chilies are doing really well, and we have several dozen plants that are thriving and hundreds of chilies for the picking. Oddly, I think if they don’t have healthy or enough soil, the chilies don’t seem to turn bright red…


I was in the garden last week and the okra are just starting to bear fruit, so in a month or so there should be a bumper crop of okra!


Little bamboo trellises for ampalaya or bitter gourd seemed a bit flimsy two months ago…


…but have yielded some pretty darned good-looking fruit, if you ask me!


More bamboo trellises for patola or angled loofahs that have yet to bear fruit.


And though we didn’t plant this jackfruit tree, it stands in one area of the garden and it had some 40+ fruit at last count! That is a STUNNING number of fruits and they are enjoyed either unripe and cooked with coconut milk or ripe when they are sweet and pungent. In the past, neighbors would “lift” all of the fruits when the lot was empty and forlorn, but now that the lot and tree is being tended, it has really returned the favor with all of this bounty!


And finally, let’s not forget those goats that I got a year or two ago, as lawn mowers… the randy goats have gone from 3 to 6 in no time, and we even ate a young one in a kalderetang kambing (goat stew) a month or so ago… Lately, I have collected butternut squash seeds, the seeds of the citron I featured weeks ago, and other goodies that we will be attempting to grow in the months ahead. A few free range chickens… some quail… hmmm. But no luck with the tomatoes so far. :(



  1. gtrine says:

    you are living my dream life!! sooo jealous!!! I love the “organic” lawn mowers.

    Jul 21, 2009 | 1:35 pm


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  3. Artisan Chocolatier says:

    Perhaps Gil Carandang and RT Gonzalez can visit your office when they come to Cebu next month.

    Jul 21, 2009 | 1:55 pm

  4. farida says:

    artisan.. that is what came to my mind too. MM, kalami sa mga tanom. I tried my best to grow the kaffir lime my sis handcarried to the great Northwest but alas it died. Those nangka.. can’t believe that many in one tree. Great garden.

    Jul 21, 2009 | 2:18 pm

  5. Cris Jose says:

    Hi, MM! You or they (whoever is in charge of the garden) could try limiting the number of nangka fruits on the tree so that the fruits left could have a chance to grow bigger…

    Funny, we (in our backyard) never had a problem with tomatoes… when we planted them a few years ago… di ko lang alam if I still have a green thumb. Baka there’s something in the garden or in the area which causes the tomatoes to die kaya all efforts to grow the plant seem fruitless.

    Jul 21, 2009 | 2:41 pm

  6. betty q. says:

    Nice looking vegetable garden there, MM! Bok choy, arugula, lettuces are cool weather crops, though MM! If too hot, they will start to bolt! Here, I plant them in teh spring as soon as I can work the soil and again in late summer for a fall harvest.

    Squahes, really heavy feeders. They will do best with just manure and compost practically. You know how you can save space? Your corn field there, next time, plant POLE BEANS like sitao. The beans will climb up the corn so you don’t need to stake them. The corn can use the nitrogen supplied by beans root syatem esp. if you use an inoculant before planting them. Then the squashes, (even just 1 or 2 plants ) which would crawl around the base of the corn acting as a mulch.

    To protect your seedlings from slugs and flea beetles or other nasty bugs, try covering them with REMAY acting sort of like a KULAMBO!

    Here is home made organic stuff to spray on your plants guaranteed to give the bugs a nasty case of diarrhea so they will leave your plants alone! It is from Jerry Baker’s gardening book!

    In a 1 qt. spray bottle, add a few drops of liquid dishwashing soap. If you really want further p.o. the bugs, add a fewtsp. only of steeped tobacco tea!…take two pinches of chewing tobacco and wrap in pantyhose and suspend it in a pot of boiling water about 1 qt. Let it steep there and when cool, add a few tsp. to the dishwashing spray bottle.

    It really works, MM and doesn’t cost much to make it!

    Oh, instead of horse manure, try steer manure. You are near the coastline, right? I am talking…SEAWEED that washes ashore. Also, CRUSHED SEA SHELLS (zinc and magnesuim), dried fish bones (calcium). Add them to the soil. These are just for starters to amend your soil for next year. If you can do this every year, so much the better!

    For your butternut squash, here is a suggestion. I do this every year and I am rewarded with the most humongous squashes ever. Sometimes I am too lazy to weed in the spring. So, I cover the whole row I plan on planting squashes that year with newspaper or brown cardboard boxes. Then I ask the other gardeners to dump their weeds on that row which they are more than happy to do so. I add steer manure, dried leaves, compost, sea weed and cover them with black landscape fabric and wait a few weeks befoer putting the transplants I have started indoors in that mound. In no time at all, they grow and grow and grow like they were on steroids! This year, other gardeners are envious now of my squashes for it is only July and they are really getting big (the fruits!). I am the only one in the community garden so far with basketball size squashes and they are only babies!

    Jul 21, 2009 | 2:47 pm

  7. Dee says:

    oooh, langka!!! It’s my absolute favorite, i want your tree!

    Jul 21, 2009 | 2:56 pm

  8. GayeN says:

    Nice garden you have there MM! Reminds me of my mom’s backyard vegetable garden in Pangasinan, although not purely organic. I’m still convincing her to go 100% organic. She has tomatoes, eggplants, patola, kamote, okra, ampalaya, etc. almost anything needed for pinakbet or dinengdeng. =)

    Jul 21, 2009 | 3:41 pm

  9. sanojmd says:

    wow. betty q you’re not just a good cook but a gifted gardener.. i rather buy produce than do gardening ‘coz i don’t have a green thumb.. even the weeds won’t survive near me.. heehe

    Jul 21, 2009 | 3:58 pm

  10. betty q. says:

    Sanojmd: I used to kill cactus in my apt. before I got married. So, I thought I was a hopeless case. Even hubby thought so! Then I met this nice old lady who was into gardening. I learned so much from her. Advantage of not knowing anything initially…there were so many old timers esp. the Italian gardeners wo were so eager to share with me their SECRETS and made me promise not to divulge them which I have kept. Everyone one of them has their own “secret weapon” but of all the advice given to me…Carmine’s very own NATURAL concoction of “miracle gro” tops the list in my book!

    Jul 21, 2009 | 4:42 pm

  11. corrine says:

    haaay! If only I can grow a garden like yours in Cebu, I will be very happy. Kudos to the crew. Nothing like the freshest veggies.

    Jul 21, 2009 | 5:12 pm

  12. Connie C says:

    Hi betty q. Aren’t you glad we are no longer living in the age of witches? or your neighboring gardeners with the spindly plants will think you have some witch brewing secrets you won’t give away. Oh, now I know what to do with my panty hoses.

    What a shame you can’t share the concoctions. In Puerto Princesa, where the good earth are only in spotty places, a community trained in organic farming ( a project of Mayor Hagedorn’s) have settled and are practicing what they learned. The result….bumper crops of vegetables that supply the public market and is livelihood for the community.

    Thanks for your other gardening tips. I can plant lettuce again towards the fall season.

    Jul 21, 2009 | 6:51 pm

  13. Connie C says:

    Hi MM. the website below might be helpful for the crew on crop rotation to keep building the soil:


    Jul 21, 2009 | 7:11 pm

  14. silly lolo says:

    Panty hose?!? I thought those went out with petticoats! The women I know are all about “thongs”!
    Get with it BettyQ and ConnieC, thongs is what it is!

    Jul 21, 2009 | 9:02 pm

  15. Connie C says:

    Sorry silly lolo. Don’t know about betty q but I’m afraid I’m with the petticoat and pantyhose crowd tho I must say I haven’t gotten out of style yet. “Thongs”?Hmmmm, maybe in my next life.

    Jul 21, 2009 | 9:24 pm

  16. tipat says:

    That Langka tree is amazing!!! We have one in our backyard but it’s never produced that much fruit! That also dispells what someone told my mom that you need to get rid of the other fruits so that the select few would grow bigger… amazing!

    Jul 21, 2009 | 9:30 pm

  17. Gener says:

    I can see a vast area of land that can be cultivated for more plants!!But what i hate most are those “GOATs”, they can ruin your garden at anytime once they were forgotten! these animals will eat anything on their path…

    Jul 21, 2009 | 9:53 pm

  18. Lou says:

    Oh am so jealous of your vegetable garden and that jackfruit! I think this is the start of a lifetime of gardening for you MM. Once the gardening bug hits you, it’s hard to get away from it.

    Jul 21, 2009 | 10:20 pm

  19. betty q. says:

    Haha! Silly Lolo…I was up till 3 am thinking of ways to make you come out of your cubby hole and make a comment. I knew the PANTYOSE will get you!!!…hahahaha

    Sorry…Silly Lolo: I can`t help but have this picture in my head of Homer Simpson in thongs on the beaches of Rio…have you seen that episode…

    Gener is right, MM…I can also see a spot where you can plant your cool weather stuff like your bok choy, broccoli raab, maybe gai lan or spinach and your lettuces. …right underneath the trellis where you have your ampalaya climbing up….it will be shaded and rather cool.

    Connie C: not only can you plant lettuces in the fall, you can also plant again peas, snow peas (for pea shoots harvest too….masarap just stir fried with garlic) rapini, fennel bulb (start in late summer for a late fall harvest), GAI LAN, baby bokchoy just to name a few.

    Connie C..it will be difficult to cultivate a vast area of land unless you have the machinery like plow, etc. By hand,. it will painstaking but if it is a community effort, it can be done. What to do with the spent plants when season is over…tell them to DIG it under the soil, it will turn to compost and be a good soil amendment, improving draingae esp. if the soil esp. if it is sort of clay-ish.

    Jul 21, 2009 | 10:58 pm

  20. ariel says:

    Now that’s what I call a “green” office, just need some solar panels. Al Gore will be proud of you since he constantly preaches about global warming. You may need to take out some of the limestone, then add some top soil mixed with compost to make the soil better for planting.

    Jul 21, 2009 | 11:13 pm

  21. kayenne says:

    most tomatoes grown here are likely hybrids or grown with some magic happening. we once planted seeds from a baguio salad tomato and we got something the size of a cherry tomato with skin so thick, you could peel it like an orange in return. and that’s saying my dad can grow almost anything – from pots off a tiny condo balcony.

    Jul 21, 2009 | 11:23 pm

  22. midwestfella says:

    Nothing beats fresh from the garden.
    Gardening will be my obsssession when I retire.
    Betty Q, if you ever host a garden party, I’ll come.
    Just tell me what to bring.

    Jul 22, 2009 | 1:40 am

  23. Maria Clara says:

    Awesome variety of veggies and the langka is a head turner with its trunk covered with fruits. You can get bigger fruits by cutting some of the fruits during their infancy to make more room for the fruit growth. Only a thought. It works for me with my fruiting guava trees. I have to cut infant fruits and I am rewarded with bigger fruits harvest. Tending to my vegetables patch for daily consumption and share the rest with the neighborhood folks and herding cats to keep my mobility and muscle tone is my ideal retirement life. If I reach retirement age with all the everyday life extrinsic factors associated with hubbub daily living not to mention high calorie eating habits. If only I can get my mouth wired!!!!

    Jul 22, 2009 | 2:26 am

  24. betty q. says:

    Midwestfella: In a few years, I told hubby I would like to move out of the city and buy an acreage…Oh, I forgot, HE will buy the acreage for me. Then, we’ll have garden parties galore esp. in the summer!

    Or we you’re more than welcome to come visit our Community Garden here if you are in the Tri-Cities. Then we could have merienda at the gazebo with other gardeners.

    Jul 22, 2009 | 2:40 am

  25. kurzhaar says:

    bettyq…caution on the tobacco extract–it is quite toxic to mammals and other vertebrates as well. Also, bolted lettuces and such are still edible, you can treat just like rapini, saute and serve with pasta, yum! Yes, I’m a big greens fan, I eat dandelion leaves and wild purslane as well. :)

    Marketman, great start on turning an eyesore into a healthy and productive space!!! Limestone is not a bad thing…you’ll at least have calcium! A good way of enriching soil…plant a fast-growing cover crop or green manure. I have used vetch, clovers, and rye with good results. Not sure what would work in your specific location, maybe a soybean…legumes are great for adding nitrogen and you could get a crop as well. If you have access to a small rototiller that really makes the work almost trivial. Otherwise it would take a few hours with a team.

    On 3/4 acres you could grow a TON of food once the soil is healthy. Compost all the garden “waste” and keep adding to your soil. HAPPY SOIL grows HAPPY plants. :) And don’t forget to rotate crops.

    For your home, marketman, consider a raised bed which will allow you to amend the soil and keep it well drained. If you can grow plants in pots, you should be able to grow plants out of pots! Don’t overwater!

    Tomatoes are originally tropical, you should try varieties known to do well in tropical climates–some of the Mexican heirlooms might do well.

    Last thought, Marketman, you are involved with schoolchildren, have you thought of establishing a school garden? Teaches biology, chemistry, etc. not to mention teaching kids to appreciate our enviroment and healthful eating.

    Jul 22, 2009 | 4:23 am

  26. Marketman says:

    kurzhaar, funny you should raise that last thought. At the school we are helping in Cebu, they took it upon themselves to raise their own vegetables that they sometimes add to the feeding program that we sponsor. It’s amazing what they can grow in recycled old tins, containers, etc. Will do a post on that too sometime soon.

    Jul 22, 2009 | 6:45 am

  27. kurzhaar says:

    Fantastic! Hopefully the kids are learning about sustainability as well as enjoying what they produce. Is it easy to get good seeds (hybrid or heirloom)?

    Jul 22, 2009 | 7:34 am

  28. Marnie says:

    Try companion planting. Plant marigolds near tomatoes to kill root nematodes. There are websites that have information on companion planting, what plants should and should not be planted near to each other.
    My husband planted marigolds with the strawberries in a pot and so far the strawberries are healthy and flowering.

    Jul 22, 2009 | 9:57 am

  29. natie says:

    good post on gardening, MM…Home Ec and Shop should be emphasized in schools again.. i still remember the boys proudly bringing their harvest of pechay, cabbage, kamote,to our Home Ec class to be cooked and enjoyed by all.

    after all the higher learning, it is what i learned in home ec that has carried me through homemaking…calculus and trig were no help at all in grocery shopping and the kitchen..

    Jul 22, 2009 | 12:13 pm

  30. bagito says:

    This is awesome! Siyempre, organic lahat to no? :)

    betty q: Nice to know there’s hope yet for this fellow cactus killer. Hehe.

    Jul 22, 2009 | 12:30 pm

  31. Joni says:

    Very nice marketman. My mom will like this post. She’s also trying to turn the empty lot beside their house into a veritable vegetable garden.

    We live in a condominium but we bought some pots of basil and mint. We use it for salads and everything else we can think of. I love telling people that we “harvested” the basil/mint off our balcony. Hahaha! :) And they’d go, look and smell the plants.

    Jul 22, 2009 | 8:30 pm

  32. thelma says:

    what a beautiful vegetable garden! do you have a wooden garden set under the langka tree where you can have a little picnic or gather your harvest? it reminds me of the simple life in the province…

    i may be able to harvest some long beans from my garden in a few weeks. gardening is indeed therapeutic, and at the same time, the satisfaction of eating vegetables straight from your garden is priceless…

    Jul 23, 2009 | 2:36 am

  33. QueenB says:

    Here in Australia, in the school where my daughter goes to, they have a Kitchen Garden (donated by Stephanie Alexander foundation) Students from Grade 3 tend it, and once a week they harvest what they have there and cook it in the Kitchen. 3 chickens were recently donated so soon they’ll have eggs too! I think this is great and it teaches the kids good nutrition, composting and sustainability.

    Jul 24, 2009 | 11:17 am

  34. Bea says:

    Very very happy to see this entry! Fantastic setup. You should look up Joel Lee who is running a permaculture setup in Cebu..

    Aside from Yapak/Yakap I also have a garden blog which I’ve linked. It’s so damn easy to grow stuff in the tropics that everyone who likes food should at least attempt to farm/forage. If the temperate people can coax stuff out with all that labor, we really have no excuse :)

    Jul 25, 2009 | 9:53 pm

  35. wakay says:

    nice idea marketman :). i am a farmer and grow some or almost all vegies and to name a few, they are, pechay, cabbage, lettuce,broccoli,eggplant,pepper, hot chilli , tomatoes, yellow corn, white corn, pop corn and the like. sweet potato leaves are edible too for goats.

    one good thing that i used to do is to chew a fresh lettuce as i harvest some of it and other vegies. dont mind toxic chemicals coz we have vermiculture too.

    Mar 16, 2010 | 8:08 pm

  36. wakay says:

    natie, you are right :) only four fundamentals of mathematics are used in gardening. i just dont know how to apply analytic geometry , differential equation in my garden LOL.

    Mar 16, 2010 | 8:19 pm

  37. ana says:

    really nice veg garden! im also starting my own veggie garden, its really satisfying to eat organic veggies grown from your own hands isnt it?

    im also an herb enthusiast. does anyone know where can i buy herb seeds online in the philippines only? or other nearest asian countries? and other gardening needs/tools/pots, online purchasing?

    May 5, 2010 | 3:56 pm

  38. airrah lei says:

    im just asking what is the name of the vegetable garden of the philippines????please tell me what it is??? THANK YOU!!!

    Jul 4, 2010 | 5:00 pm

  39. Clarice says:

    growing vegetables is awesome. we get to share them too! sweet, this article is inspiring. keep it up!

    Sep 29, 2010 | 3:17 am

  40. Anne says:

    Hi, MM.

    I’m a newbie here and I’ve become addicted to reading about interesting finds on your blog. Your survey on groceries in Manila which sell the most inexpensive items was most helpful.

    My husband is based in Singapore and has long been wanting to cook dishes with malunggay leaves, but he can’t seem to find them anywhere in the Lion City. Where does one find fresh malunggay leaves over there?

    Your help will be highly appreciated. :-)

    Jan 29, 2011 | 11:38 pm

  41. Marketman says:

    Anne, unfortunately, I am not familiar with Singaporean markets enough to say if they even sell malunggay there… perhaps under its english name “horseradish tree leaves?”

    Jan 30, 2011 | 7:56 am

  42. Anne says:

    Thanks for your immediate reply, MM. :-)

    A friend of mine suggested trying ‘tong ho’ or edible chrysanthemum.

    What’s your take on this vegetable?

    Jan 30, 2011 | 3:41 pm


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