Photographer captures silver lining in vegetable farming amid pandemic

A flowering Cinnamon Basil. (Lou Dizon)

By Vina Medenilla

When the pandemic brought fear and uncertainty to many, some found hope and security in the shape of an edible garden. Photographer Lou Dizon shares the same sentiment. 

“Harvesting from our backyard meant instant nourishment [for our family]. It also lessened our exposure to the virus since we don’t [always] have to go outside to buy what we need because we just go to our garden instead.”

Dizon feeds her family with veggies she grows herself. She gets to save time and money since she doesn’t have to buy ingredients like chili, pechay, eggplant, basil, dayap, kale, and mangoes. (Lou Dizon)

Dizon previously worked for the government but eventually followed her passion for photography and founded Camera Treat Photography, which specializes in family lifestyle and kiddie party photography.

“My business has been put on hold because of the pandemic,” Dizon said. Little did she know that the interruption of her venture would pave the way for her to pursue another long-held dream: gardening.

At present, she cultivates leafy greens, fruit-bearing vegetables, herbs and spices, and vines in her backyard; all of which are grown naturally, without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

They are planted in a five-square-meter raised bed and pots in a dedicated ten-square-meter space for container gardening. The remainder of land is covered in fruit-bearing trees.

A “refuge” in the midst of a crisis

Around 30 percent of the produce that the Dizon family consumes comes from the garden. While her vegetable patch is not yet self-sufficient, it allows her to reconnect with nature, which is beneficial to her physical and mental health.

“It gave me a sense of purpose. The garden became my sort of refuge.” She adds, “It taught me patience and perseverance. I’ve had a lot of unsuccessful attempts in planting certain crops, but I never gave up.”

Starting from scratch

Dizon may be new to gardening, but this does not discount her efforts to learn on her own and excel in this endeavor.

“ [At first] I only had a basic knowledge of what plants essentially need, so the first month was a process of muddling through. I subscribed to a lot of YouTube channels about home and container gardening.”

She combined her virtual learning with hands-on experience. “Seeing my seeds germinate and grow tall gave a sense of pride and it got me hooked.”

Leaning towards all things natural and homemade

Dizon finds it easier to acquire seeds rather than looking for plant varieties that are seldom available as seedlings.

“I find that growing plants from seed to maturity is one of the most rewarding experiences a gardener can have. Buying seed packs is a bit cheaper, too.” This, however, doesn’t mean she isn’t open to other options. “I also buy seedlings if I like the variety and it is also to save time.”

Aside from common vegetables, Dizon also collects 10 basil varieties (Thai, Genovese, purple, Greek, Cinnamon, lemon, lime, Blue spice, spicy saber, and Everleaf Emerald Towers) and different chili peppers, including her seed-grown Carolina Reapers. 

A ripe Carolina Reaper. (Lou Dizon)

Here are some of her methods in cultivating them: 

Propagation. She propagates basil via cuttings. “I usually place the cuttings (around 4 -6 inches) in a glass of unchlorinated water and I place them in a spot with bright, indirect light. When the roots are already an inch or two, I remove them from the water and plant them into a container or in a garden bed.” 

A flowering Cinnamon Basil. (Lou Dizon)

Indirect sowing. Vegetables, on the other hand, are rarely planted directly in the soil. She sows them in seed trays or recycled containers and then transplants the healthy seedlings to their permanent spot afterward.

Soil. Dizon understands that a good vegetable garden requires well-draining, loose soil that is rich in organic matter. 

She does not purchase potting soil or mix due to uncertainty of quality. Instead, she likes to make everything homemade. 

Her DIY soil mix is “composed of equal parts of sifted ordinary soil (backyard soil), compost, carabao manure, coco peat or rice hull, carbonized rice hull, and vermicast/worm castings.”

Watering. She keeps her plants hydrated with unchlorinated water in the early morning and afternoon. 

Fertilizer. Whenever available, she also mixes water with molasses or brown sugar to make organic fertilizer.

Dizon’s homemade organic fertilizers. (Lou Dizon)

Oftentimes, she uses ipil-ipil and stinging nettle plants from her backyard to create Fermented Plant Juice (FPJ), and Indian mangoes and makopa for Fermented Fruit Juice (FFJ). Household fish waste is also utilized for Fish Amino Acid (FAA) fertilizer.

Composting. Dizon was already using bokashi composting to reduce her household’s kitchen waste even before starting a backyard garden. She used to give the finished product of her bokashi to her mother’s ornamental plants, but this time, she’s utilizing it for her own growing space.

Waking up every day without having to worry about the stability of our food sources is essential to make us feel secure. Self-sufficiency is exactly what many people like Dizon want to achieve, especially given the pandemic’s concerns on food security and safety.

And, with home gardening, this ambition makes it attainable and within grasp.

Photos courtesy of Lou Dizon

For more information, visit What’s Growing On?

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Vina Medenilla
Vina Medenilla is a content producer for Agriculture Monthly magazine. She is a graduate from Miriam College with a bachelor’s degree in Communication. Fashion, photography, and travel are some of the things she loves. For her, connection with nature is essential to one’s life.

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