By Vina Medenilla
Having a garden at home is one way to improve a family’s food security and strengthen bonds within the household.
The Carreon family, which includes Jennylin, a professor at Nueva Vizcaya State University (NVSU), and her parents, both retired government employees, can attest to this.
In Purok 5, Bonfal West, Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, this family’s food forest lies.
They have 440 sqm of land that they have been tilling since 2014, and 200 sqm of land owned by a relative, which they have been developing since the pandemic began.
“This is the dream of my parents, to have a place where we can plant anything, a backyard garden, where my parents are free to roam around and free to do anything with the piece of land that we invested in. Because growing up, we didn’t really have a place to grow trees and vegetables,” Jennylin said.
Their food forest is diversely planted with a variety of fruit trees, vegetables, root crops, herbs, edible flowers, and fodder plants.
Their main crop is banana and currently, they have cavendish, dippig or saba, and lakatan varieties.
Jennylin calls the garden “a beautiful mess.” She explains, “There is no organized and systematized way of planning, planting, watering, and composting. Sometimes, we just plant whatever we like and whatever the season is.”
Although they let nature run its course, the family is aware of the plants’ needs, such as when trees need to be pruned or tomatoes need to be moved to a different container.
To ensure that their food forest is all-natural and chemical-free, the Carreons implement organic methods.
For instance, they give banana peels a weeklong soak in water and the resulting liquid is used to water the plants. Alternatively, they dry and add banana peels to the plants to give them potassium and boost the production of flowers and fruits.
How they keep a low-maintenance food forest
The Carreons claimed that there is no special formula or “cookbook recipe” that they follow when it comes to cultivating crops. But one thing is for sure: synthetic fertilizers are a no-no in the garden.
The family grows directly in the ground, and sometimes in containers and raised beds. They water the plants with a hose or manually use the water obtained from the hand water pump. Saving rainwater is also carried out for future irrigation.
They use garden soil mixed with rice hull as a growing medium. They improve it by composting kitchen and garden scraps. When it comes to propagation, they grow plants from seeds, cuttings, or food scraps like kangkong, onion, and mustasa.
“Sometimes, we grow through the rooting technique, especially for herbs like basil, rosemary, spearmint, and other herbs. There are also fruit trees [grown from the grafted seedlings we bought].”
Raising crops naturally is not without difficulties. The common one, which the Carreons also experience, is the presence of pests like snails and earthworms.
They deal with snails by hand-picking or putting salt on them. They additionally put crushed eggshells around the seedlings to keep snails away from them.
Whenever they spot earthworms in containers, they replace the soil and start planting again. To ward off aphids, they use a neem leaf decoction or water infused with chili or soap/detergent.
Domesticated sheep and goats of their neighbors sometimes cause inconvenience to the food forest, too, as they graze on the plants. The family plans to erect a wall around the property. Notifying the owners about the incident is also considered.
At the height of the pandemic, their food forest kept the family’s stomachs and hearts full.
Jennylin said, “These are my favorite highlights of the garden: eating and drinking what we grow, cooking what we grow, and sharing what we grow. Plus, I have my own flowers in my vase. I don’t have others to give me flowers because I can grow them in the garden.”
Jennylin makes her own wine and vinegar from the harvest. Gardening also allows her to make new friends and engage in genuine interactions, at the same time leading her to the discovery of unfamiliar crops.
Read more about Jennylin’s “seedling for a cause” initiative here: No learners left behind: Nueva Vizcaya teacher sold seedlings to support her students’ load allowance
The Carreons’ story is a gentle reminder of how important home-grown food is. It also speaks about how plants, or gardening, can be a conduit of hope, especially during a pandemic.
Photos from Jennylin B. Carreon’s Instagram account