How to survive… (II): Setting up an urban kitchen garden

How to survive… (II): Setting up an urban kitchen garden

CAGAYAN DE ORO—After doing what we could to adapt to the higher temperatures of our new environment in an Earth-friendly way by widening our windows for ventilation and by creating a micro climate zone with plants and a clay wall, we put food security next on the agenda. (Related: How to survive till the rest of the world sorts itself out (I))

Fortunately, Mindanao has the perfect soil and climate for an agri-type activity—even if we were in the middle of the Class 1 Highly Urbanized City that is Cagayan de Oro, in a part of the world where development still equates to building concrete structures on everything in sight.

My friend Lin Razo-Valenzuela once told me that in every house that she moves to, the first thing she does outdoors is to plant ginger and malunggay. What wise words.

The first thing I did for our kitchen garden, however, was to segregate the kitchen compost. The rich black soil from the organic matter is then used as fertilizer. Fruit and vegetable peelings and such go into our compost. Seeds thrown into the compost that are hardy enough to grow shoots are then planted in the garden. That was how we had our second batch of tomatoes, papaya, and veggies.

Related: How To Survive…(III) Recipes to fortify us for the coming days

How to survive
The raised bed was roughly constructed from scrap wood and twigs. Here, the plot is accessible from the kitchen. It is separate from the main garden that has the flowering plants and my mom’s selection for her ikebana materials. This family house is a shared space and we have agreed to plan it this way, but still, I wish to sneak in a couple of ornamental-looking vegetables on the other side of the garden someday. —PHOTOS BY KELLY RAMOS
How to survive
Here, you can see the clay soil and the darker planting soil. We have just started to segregate our garbage to make kitchen compost. Soon enough this clay soil will become healthier planting soil.
How to survive
Alugbati or malabar spinach is easy to grow. It’s good with sardines, or munggo. Also salad. My sister Jedi Ramos-Lasmarias put some sprigs of dill to shield against the intense reflection of white heat from this bare wall.
How to survive
The clay wall is keeping the indoor temperature at a more comfortable level. The plants are growing nicely. We are on the way to a sustainable lifestyle in Cagayan de Oro.
 In the foreground is an herb spiral with basil, tomato, and onion leaves.  The dill is taller now. The kangkong is growing well. The kalabasa leaves are not as wild yet.
Ampalaya and tomato are a great combination in the garden and on the table. The clay wall provides a good backdrop.

We put plant cuttings on the window sill by the kitchen sink where they can get their sun and grow a little bit more. Then we use them for the next recipe, or we plant them in the ground.  They’re also nice to look at when you’re washing your dishes.

A bunch of kangkong cuttings from the sinigang recipe are placed in a Spam can.
Alugbati grows really well on kitchen windows. They are beautifully ornamental when they sprout.
My neighbor Bob from Australia used to put his market-bought onion leaves in a bottle filled with water that he then puts in his refrigerator. He said they keep for a long time that way. Sometimes I just put mine on the window sill and use as needed.
This is lemongrass. I have a lot of lemongrass because it’s so hardy and grows so well. I use it for tea, for my kombucha, to flavor soups, and sometimes for a lemongrass bath. – How to survive …

Growing mushrooms

I miss the wild mushrooms in the mountains. You know you’ll find them in the market come rainy season. The bu-o can be picked wild on the mountain trail under the pine trees. There are many other kinds growing after a thunderstorm. Here in the lowlands, I get my mushrooms from a can or dried in plastic bags. In the urban jungle my foraging days are over. I have no access to parks and forest trails.

Then in my first year here, an aunt, Celine Ongpin-Menes, invited me to a mushroom-growing seminar. I got oyster mushroom fruiting bags out of that as well as the knowledge to grow my own mushrooms at home. 

Here are six mushroom fruiting bags. I made a few during the workshop and the others were given to me by Gladys the Mushroom Trainer. It takes a while for the white mycelium to spread throughout the sawdust. – How to survive …
This oyster mushroom is bursting out of the fruiting bag! It needs a bit of time to expand. – How to survive …
How to survive
Grab and twist out to harvest. Then wait a few days for more mushrooms to grow. – How to survive …
How to survive
Sometimes they surprise you. Beautiful. – How to survive …
How to survive
This one got made into soup. Some harvests were for pasta sauce, others for omelet. – How to survive …
How to survive
I miss the wild taste of foraged mushrooms, but the civilized taste of homemade organic oyster mushrooms is just as good. This will do. This will do. – How to survive …

NEXT: Recipes to fortify us for the coming days

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