Tuesday, September 8, 2009


The photo is of oncidiums flowers that are in bloom during the monsoon season in the Philippines. These are called, "Dancing Ladies".

A week before I wrote this blog entry, these "Dancing Ladies" started showing buds. A week later, I saw the oncidiums starting to unravel their colorful petals, that look like debutantes in a cotillion swishing their yellow ballgowns to dance with the wind.

These "Dancing Ladies" are like most of the orchids on my farm. I have adapted these to be grown organically at my farm. Organically grown orchids don't need a lot of care, and are able to adjust to the climate in our area. These plants are resistant to disease, and adapt readily to weather in this upland area on the southern part of Luzon.

The weather in June and July were alternating between consistent monsoon rains that last all week long, to breaks of very hot temperatures at random times of the day. The abundant moisture in the air, with the lower temperatures at night are encouraging the orchids to bloom naturally.

The next photos the medium sized lavander catleyas that were featured in my blog a few weeks back. These catleyas bloom without any artificial stimulus. Several of the other catleyas, I have on my farm, are now showing signs of flower buds, and I expect their blooms in the next week or so.

The fertilizers that I use on my orchids come from bird droppings and organic matter that fall naturally into the growing medium these orchids are attached to. Orchids actually will thrive without being pumped with chemicals, or doused in toxic sprays. I take care of my orchids as little as possible because they want to survive with the least attention. Unlike greenhouse orchids that are overly pampered plants, my orchids will exhibit characteristics that are nearest to the wilder varieties found in rainforests.

Greenhouse orchids, on the other hand, are spoiled, spoon fed and will ultimately die without professional care and chemicals.

I used to get plants from reputable stores and orchid shows. I once bought a blue vanda like the one in the photo, and nurtured it with extreme care. But eventually, it died and I was advised by the suppliers I used to get my orchids from, to buy and use a whole array of chemicals to keep them healthy and looking perfect.

I thought of giving up growing and caring for orchids when I met a horticulturalist who told me that organic orchids are a lot tougher than greenhouse raised orchids. Though there are hundreds of hybrids developed for their dramatic beauty, I decided to acquire those varieties that are common in this region.

I brought these types of "Sangumay" that are endemic orchids growing wild in forest areas. These are totally acclimated to this area in the Philippines. Immediately, these Sangumay orchids thrived on my farm. I bought a few wild orchids, and some that were from professional breeders. I had to slowly wean these plants off any dependence on chemicals. A lot of the plants I bought even at the roadside plant stalls withered away without the daily or weekly regime of inducing blooming with hormones, or chemicals. The orchids stopped looking perfect without the chemical sprays and fertilizers. After experiencing several mortalities of various diseases that affect the orchids I bought from commercial growers, I was almost ready to quit.

I did observe that these commercial orchids died, because they had lost their natural ability to ward off diseases and survive climate conditions that occur in the wild.

I was tempted to attend an orchid show to buy a few more hybrids. However, I decided I would either buy a few organically grown mother plants, or get local species that can adapt to the kind of weather in Silang. Now I have developed techniques to maintain several varieties from oncidiums, catleyas, semi -terrets, and the lovely vandas without any chemicals. All my orchids have happily adapted to less care, and have the attributes of wild orchids. These are what I have on my farm, plants that are allowed to evolve and adapt just like wild orchids. My current collection of orchids are those descendants of those original mother plants.

My organic orchids have become resilient to changes in temperature. During summer, I do water them in the dry season, and move the orchid plants into the cool shade.

Once the rains begin to fall, I pot the more sensitive species, and keep their roots moist never soaking wet. I observe the temperatures they grow best in, and will move the pots around to get just the right kind of sun exposure they prefer. Orchids also require fresh, cool air in the summers, and sometime in direct heat during the rainy months. During the typhoon season, I remove sensitive orchids that prefer in the shade in summer, but desire more sun exposure during wet season to be able to keep their leaves dry and prevent rot. I often shift materials for potting orchids. I use everything from moss, to dry charcoal made from burned coconuts, or the husks of our own buko.

Orchids are some of the most resilient of tropical plants. I don't need a large volume of orchids blooms. A few will bloom at least twice a year. Some will only flower when the temperature is just right. The leaves, stems and roots of orchids store nutrients and water and should always feel full and smooth. Wild orchids will be dormant several months during the year, and will often thrive without a single bloom to conserve water. During the rainy months, I often see some leaves rotting away from too much water. The fronds become tender and soggy, and their leaves are dotted with black fungus spots, and insect bites...but this happens naturally in any forest or habitat where orchids come from.

An orchid also must be allowed to "die" and then will be "born again" when little sprouts with threadlike roots emerge from the rotted matter in the pot or medium they are attached to. These little "baby orchids" will take at least 2 years to become adults, and become fertilized by pollinators.

Orchids thrive even in hot climates, provided there is moisture in the air. Very dry climates will require orchids to be moved to a semi shady location, and its best to water them using a mystifier, or fine spray of water during the hottest times of the day.

The results of leaving the orchids alone to enjoy their natural life??? Well, a lot of these "wild" orchids will emit a fragrance to attract pollinators. Greenhouse orchids are a product of artificial means of fertilization, and so saturated with chemicals, they lose their ability to give off a strong scent.

I definately feel so delighted when my orchids give me some of my happiest memories when I see them flourishing, and I can identify some of those organic orchids that I brought all the way from Hawaii by their very strong perfume! Like my other plants , orchids give me a sign they are happy. My plants display their silent laughter and gratitude for allowing them to live normally by expressing their appreciation by their dazzling colorful blooms!

Saturday, September 5, 2009


Today my main event at my farm was planting the Mabolo tree as the
typhoon season comes to an end. The rain continues, but the Philippines will be going into the "cool season". The "ber" months of Septemeber, October, November and December usher in our brief springtime weather ranging from a high of 85F in October, to a cool 69F in late December. The ground is moist, and the soil is easy to till. This is an ideal condition for planting a new bed of lettuce, carrots, celery, cabbages, and starting plots of tomatos before the summer heat sets. The air becomes drier, and the temperatures soar to about 80-100F after Chinese New Year in late January or early February.

This is a photo of me doing what I normally do at my farm...get down and work with my plants. Betty Samson, her friend Fely and I act as the "godmothers" of this baby mabolo tree. Spot, the Dalmatian ,( lying comfortably on the grass beside Fely), and I ( wearing the hat). The Photo is being taken by Betty my friend ( not in this photo). Betty had donated the mabolo tree. I always have a "tree planting" ceremony, to record our contribution to reforestation of the hardwood and fruit trees in our area. The Cavite watershed forests in the uplands are fading fast. I have observed almost 15,000 hectares of forests have been cut down to make room for industrial sites, subdivisions, and golf clubs. The deforestation of the Philippine countryside is alarming!

There are few mabolos left in the forest. This mabolo tree is one of the rare rainforest tropical hardwood tree with edible fruit. Mabolo is locally called "kamagong", or "ebony" in Africa;and it is a rare , native  Philippine teakwood. Furniture made with Kamagong wood is prized by those who collect antiques. In most parts of the country, the older trees of this variety have almost become extinct. I think this is why the name of this tree was changed to "mabolo" for few connect this fruit tree with the hardwood tree that was cut down and sold by the millions of board feet to Chinese merchants in the ancient times to the present. These ancient trees  were brought  back to Taiwan, and to mainland China and make into cabinets, tables, and chairs.

The tree if left to grow wild, may be hard to manage in the future. Proper trimming and care can keep this tree from reaching maximum heights of about 130 feet, with a width of close to 12 feet at the base.  The pony stables at the southwest side of my farm is very hot during summers. The mabolo tree will provide a nice shade.  Betty took her turn at shoveling some soil to plant the mabolo tree, and  as one of the godmothers of this baby tree, we plan to take care to watch and protect the tree, and every year we will take photos of the tree each year to record its growth.

This area we selected, is beside the pony-stables, and goat pen. The manure from the grazing animals will provide constant source of fertilizer  and yearly  pruning will prevent it from becomming a real problem later on.  This tree will take about 7 years to reach maturity and bear fruits that look like velvet skinned apples, but have a thicker skin and very soft, white pulp with tiny seeds. I have never eaten one, but those who have can only compare the taste of the  fruit to that of persimmons.

The yellow ribbons decorated the Mabolo tree  in honor of President Cory Aquino who was associated with the color yellow during her campaign during the famous EDSA peaceful revolution in 1986. This mabolo tree is one of the few that people will see in Metro Manila.

Visitors to the seedling bank on EDSA  can see it near the area near the back where marcot and grafted trees are sold.

The photo of the tree was taken on the same day Betty and I made a visit to the house of former Philippine President Cory Aquino who died on August 1, 2009.

The mabolo fruit tree we saw was mature and had fruit. The fruit  has a round, velvety outer cover which contains the seed in a whitish, cotton-like pulp. The fruit will transition from a light brown color and eventually, turn brown, then to magenta as this fruit berry ages and ripens.

My first impression after seeing the fruit was it  looked like a Christmas ornament. Betty told me that few people like this fruit. The fruit is  sweet however,  when opened , it  has the scent of smelly cheese. The  mobolo fruit is an acquired taste that takes awhile to get used to.  Some say that  peeling the outside cover, and storing it in the refrigerator for several hours, will dissipate the smell . 

One of the signs that a kamagong tree is growing in a forested area, are the presence of very healthy looking monkeys in the forest where the mabolo tree is often sighted.  Monkeys and apes love the fruit of  the rare mabolo tree, and the fruit is  an ideal source of calcium, vitamin B, iron, and even protein needed by growing  baby monkeys. I am hapy to have the mabolo tree as an addition to my  collection  of tropical Philippine fruits on my little farm in Silang.  I suppose us humans  can eat this fruit for those special enzymes that would keep us healthy too!  

Let us all become "godmothers" to a hardwood and or local fruit tree by planting, or joining others in reforesting our countryside. The trees we nuture will reward us with blessings of oxygen, health and peace of mind!