Edible Landscaping 101: Creating abundant food sources in the midst of a pandemic
Sustainability architects and a photographer share hard-earned knowledge and planting strategies to start your own edible landscape
June 2, 2020
Written by Gabrielle de la Cruz
Images courtesy of GRASS and Jar Concengco
What remains as one of the most in-demand services despite the continuous spread of the novel coronavirus is food procurement. Limited and scheduled purchasing in grocery stores, minimal online food orders and deliveries, and the distribution of relief goods are just some of the limited ways Filipinos gain access to much-needed sustenance while on lockdown. The current pandemic has revealed the benefits of self-sufficiency and sustainability when standards means and systems have ground to a halt, making a strong case for the convenience of edible landscaping.
Probably one of the biggest misconceptions about edible landscaping is that it is expensive. Green and Sustainability Architects of Green Restorative Actions and Sustainable Solutions (GRASS) and photographer Jar Concengco disprove this idea, saying that certain materials needed in starting one’s edible garden can come from one’s kitchen, in the form of vegetable and fruit scraps, which can be planted. Concengo, who grows his own fruits and vegetables at home, shares that “the tops of carrots, the bottoms of onions, a part of ginger, can all grow with a little water and sun—costing almost nothing.” GRASS and Green Architecture Advocacy Philippines (GreenAP) chairperson ASEAN architect Lui Daya-Garcia says that edible landscaping is usually simple and “there are actually certain vegetables that are very easy and fast to grow,” citing lettuce, romaine, and radish, which take about 25 days; spinach and alugbati, which usually take 25-30 days; green onions, which grow within 45 days; and carrots which usually take 50 days.
Irrigation and soil preparation
“If you are planning an edible garden and you have a very small space, I recommend the manual irrigation system since personally, I find watering plants relaxing,” says GRASS Architect Vic Dul-Loog. The process of applying a controlled amount of water to plants has had several innovations: sprinklers, solar irrigation, underground drainage systems, and many others. Daya-Garcia states that a systematic irrigation process also includes the conversion of wastewater into reusable water. “The water you used from washing your kitchen vegetables can be reused. Collect this water; fill another pale with rocks, sand, and clay; and you get to perform natural filtration. Even wastewater from the shower can be filtered and used for both automatic and manual irrigation.” The architect emphasized the importance of finding sustainable solutions that are beneficial to both people and the environment. “It’s not enough that we have the natural environment to help us live, it also needs us to help it survive.”
Soil preparation is one of the major factors in successful edible landscaping. “When we were in the beginning stages of building our home back in 2014, we were required to perform a soil test. Our soil tested as Adobe, which is a clay soil suitable for construction but not ideal for gardening,” Concengco recalls. “For gardening, you’re looking for loamy soil, which is a combination of clay and sand. This creates a loose and rich soil,” he adds. A soil test is highly recommended for new gardens which are starting from scratch because it prepares the entire area for production. For excess garden spaces and empty lot areas, probably one of the best concepts is composting. Combining various decaying organic substances such as dead leaves or grass clippings is the most common way of composting. The process is also beneficial to the environment as it allows less waste to get to landfills. Daya-Garcia shares how she practices bokashi composting, which is an anaerobic process that mixes kitchen scraps with inoculated bran in an air-free environment. “The bran acts as the food for the microorganisms and once the mixture is left in a place out of direct sunlight, within 10 days, it can be dug into the soil to finish its decomposition.” She underscored that this process is more of fermentation and demands a bucket with an air-tight lid and a spigot that will act as drainage at the bottom. The architect also mentions coconut husks and eggshells that contribute to achieving fluffy and healthy soil.
Production and aesthetic
“What are their preferences? Do they like greens for a salad? Do they want high-value crops like bell pepper, herbs? How much time are they willing to spend in tending their gardens?” Dul-Loog says that these are the essential questions because the main consideration in edible landscaping is the user. Daya-Garcia shares the same belief saying that “the best plants to grow are the plants that you need, want, and can maintain.” She specifies medicinal plants such as miracle berries, which usually thrive from December-February. To enable cross-pollination, Dul-Loog recommends growing tropical trees. “Most tropical fruit trees are self-pollinating so you can have one tree for each type. However, there are trees like papaya that needs a male and female plant to bear fruit.” Along with this, he states that one must refrain from planting vegetables or fruit trees that can only be found in temperate regions. “They might germinate and survive but there is no guarantee for them to bear fruits. Unless you have a controlled nursery, the season also dictates which edibles can be grown at a certain time. Schedule your edibles appropriately.”
Edible landscaping also has an aesthetic benefit. Flowering plants, such as marigold and sunflowers, according to Daya-Garcia, will not only bring color to the garden, but will also keep pests away from the area. She also cited bamboos, which can assist with acoustics and establish a sense of privacy. Green walls are also prominent alternatives to neighborhood boundaries. “Vines that can fill up a vertical trellis can definitely create a sense of privacy,” Concengco shares. “These can be alugbati, blue butterfly pea, and sayote.” Dul-Loog adds malunggay, alukon, and katuray that can be cut to a desired height. There are also fruit trees which have dwarf varieties such as atis, chico, and mango. These can be maintained around six to seven feet high.
Aside from all these edible landscaping benefits, planting has also been one of their stress relievers. According to the respondents, growing a garden increases their sense of balance and relaxation, emphasizing that when starting a garden, size and supply does not matter the most. GRASS architect Rola Vizmonte says that “you don’t have to own a big plot of land to start. A pot, a can, or a wall, combined with conviction and creativity is all you need!”