Want to Grow Food in Your Home? Here’s How to Start…

I have a confession. I like to drop seeds of local fruits and vegetables in empty plots of lands in my neighborhood. Sometimes, I even do it outside my neighborhood, like when I see a lonely, unused land, I’ll whip out my secret stash of seeds from a pocket and surreptitiously dig a hole in the soil with my foot or umbrella tip and drop a seed into it. I like to imagine the land transformed into a lush forest of fruit trees, flowering shrubs with humming, happy bees, and vegetable plots providing free food for all.

seedlings

These seedlings were grown on an egg tray. They’re about ready to be transplanted to pots.

My home is not so green, too. When my lola was alive our house was surrounded by plants. She seemed to have a green thumb that could make anything grow. I helped her by watering the plants, thinking this will create the same gift in me. When she died, the plants sort of got depressed and many withered. I tried reviving and adding to the plants–but they didn’t respond to me as cheerfully as they did to my grandmother. I guess I don’t have the same knack. I can’t remember anymore how many times I grew tomato seedlings only to discover them uprooted, wilting, or beheaded by some unknown monster terrorizing wannabe gardeners.

I blamed rodents, cats, insect pests, my lack of talent, the sun, the rain, and bad feng shui. Herbs and ornamentals died on me. It was really tough going but I persisted. In the age of climate change, our cities are shriveling in the heat. In the city especially when I walk the streets I feel oppressed and suffocated. I am only reassured when I work with my plants, trying to become an urban gardener.

I would have gone on in my lonely way if not for a social group on Facebook dedicated to helping people grow edibles in the city.

Support Group for Gardening Enthusiasts

Manila Grows Food was primarily created for city folks who grow (or want to start growing) vegetables, fruit, herbs, spices, and mushrooms in containers on patios, roof decks, balconies, and backyards. It aims to make it easy for people with zero to little experience to get into urban gardening.

Members exchange seedlings during meetups. Photo from Manila Grows Food

The group encourages composting, seed-bombing, and guerrilla gardening. It was founded on Facebook early this year that as of writing has over 800 members. It’s an incredibly helpful and passionate community invested in helping you with your gardening projects. It’s a community of geeks whose geekiness is for growing food, plants, and trees.

Are space and cost an issue?

No space in your home for plants? Maybe you live in a condo or small apartment. We in the city share this problem. There is no more land to plant! But this should not deter us from adding green to our homes at all. You’d be surprised at how ingenious some members are at utilizing each tiny space or corner to create a green space in their homes.

Do you have a window, a rooftop, a balcony, a corner, a wall…? Then you can plant.

Is gardening expensive? It doesn’t have to be. You can recycle empty containers for planters and you can grow plants from seeds and leftover vegetable bulbs and peelings. I’m sure the other members can share more tips.

This is the balcony garden of Danes Munõz. Check out his Marigolds, Roses, Lavender, Basil, Sunflower, mint, and parsley. Photo by Danes

Anyone can grow food.

Gardening can be fulfilling, but some people don’t try for fear they can’t grow anything. What else I like about this group is that it’s excellent for crowdsourcing and can serve as your own gardening and home improvement consultant. Newbies uncertain at how to begin only need to post a question in the group to get advice from the more experienced gardeners. But first, group members will ask, “what is your area” “where is the plant located?” “how many hours of sunlight does it receive?” how frequently do you water?” and many other questions specific to the person’s situation.

Basil by Claudine Lopez

Claudine Lopez started gardening as a summer activity with her kids. Now, she has an endless supply of basil and other herbs. Photo by Claudine

What I myself learned is that there is no one-gardening-technique-fits-all. Geography, space conditions, plant location, soil quality, seed quality, sunlight, our habits, and a myriad of other factors create unique ecosystems for our plants.

We learn what works and what doesn’t as we plant along. What works for him may not for work for her.

What’s important is that we realize that what we think are limitations for growing food in the city can be overcome with a little bit of resourcefulness and some advice.

Rooftop-garden-by-Julius-Barcelona

Julius Barcelona has created his own paradise on the rooftop of the building where he works. Photo by Rich Tuason

According to Monique Obligacion, the group’s founder, “We are hoping to eventually get whole communities to get into urban farming. If we can get our barangays to grow vegetables in lawns, parks, and unused spaces, maybe our homeless wouldn’t go hungry. If we can get LGUs to support us, we might make cleaner, fresher, and pesticide-free food accessible to more people.”

A wonderful vision, which I hope will become reality sooner than later.

Laundry-Cage-Garden-by-Monique-Obligacion

Monique transformed her laundry cage into a vegetable garden. She has since had several harvests this year.

To join Manila Grows Food, click here.

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