The panorama on the sunrise side: an awesome view of Malarayat

The quiet panorama on the sunrise side of the farm: an awesome view of Mount Malaráyat and the river below the gap.

26 February 2012

Sunday Barbecue

Sunday is barbecue day! Dining alfresco in the gardens with the grill nearby is one of our simple joys living in the farm. We grill practically anything: meats, fish, veggies, bananas even! To enjoy this lifestyle though, you need a steady supply of charcoal. So... we make our own!

Admittedly, this is one that I really had no clue we could be able to do in our place. I don't need to share any longer where I first thought they came from, but it turns out the locals use plain firewood (the most common in our area being Mádre de Cacáo [Gliricidia sepium]) to be self-sufficient.

But it is no easy task. It is laborious, yes; but it is also imprecise and calls for much experience to flawlessly and efficiently turn your firewood to charcoal. 

So Mang Dimô, one of the better mag-uúlings in our bárrio, works in our place and makes it for us. He makes a pit in the ground for an on-the-spot, built-in earthen oven to put the chopped firewood and cover it with coconut palápas (fronds) topped with soil (or something like that, that's how I understand it). Then he lights a fire on one end and leaves it for some days until he sees a signal that it is already done.

Eventually, he'll block all the air by dumping dirt around the pit until the embers die and let the charcoal cool off. In the end, he shovels them out and sacks them for storage.

Home-made, chemical-free charcoal briquettes to grill our free-range chicken with veggies grown by us, for Sunday lunch in the garden, under the mango tree: priceless...

24 February 2012

The Riverscape

The river below is lined with what looks like untouched tropical jungle filled with wild plants, massive boulders, mosses, and even a sandy bank, yet everything looks in perfect order and symmetry. It is a natural garden that has evolved through time and only the most appropriate plants suited to the climate and conditions have remained.

My trusted aide, May and our German Shepherd, Vitra.
Native fig trees lord it over the riverscape, hosting birds' nests and tropical vines. On the ground are an array of ferns and jurassic-looking alocasias, and of course, the river's cool, clean water (above) help contribute in making this a lush hideaway. And to think it was not until many months after I purchased the farm that I ever hiked down here!

The river meanders through rockscapes that seasonally creates small, clear pools surrounded by wild greenery (left), with occasional neon-colored dragonflies animatedly captivating us. And of course,  the running water dampens the air and creates a humid atmosphere perfect for ferns to flourish (below), including the edible fiddlehead fern that we pick to make pakô salad.

Someday, we will clear a path going down and perhaps make a small hut near the water. in the meantime, we will just go on having our summer picnics on the sandy bank.

21 February 2012

More Terra-Cotta Pots

It's flattering that some people note we have practical yet attractive and unique plant pots; last December I've featured a collection of artisanal terra-cotta pottery and now, we have new pieces and want to share them with you.

The designs are forward-looking yet traditional, rustic in nature but impressively urban and sophisticated in lines and shapes. Moreover, they are never mass-produced and are always limited in stocks. It's not a problem to re-order previous designs but it also doesn't mean it's always readily available. Besides, it's more interesting to see how the craftsmen always come up with attractive finished products.

We have the pieces in the farm, come anytime to choose what would suit you.

18 February 2012

Puppy Exercise

We don't just keep the puppies in their playpen/gym, but they freely run around too at some times of the day. This is incredibly good exercise for dogs, especially large breeds like working line German Shepherds. One reason why Vitra leads a fairly balanced life is because she is close to nature and has plenty of space to roam around and just be herself.

We take turns supervising the puppies' free time, in this case my staff May enjoys running around being followed by her sprightly wards. It's a great time to bond with them and make an imprint; their senses and memory are at its most impressionable during these months.

We're not naming those that we are not keeping; all the more it would be difficult for us to be separated from them when the time comes :c

16 February 2012

The Puppy Gym

Bukíng constructed an amazing playpen for the puppies, using mostly available materials like bamboo and found objects that we use around the farm. When I arrived for the weekend, I was so delighted to see not only the playpen but even more importantly, that Buking has undoubtedly displayed an immense fondness for the pups.

He's made ramps and steps for the pups to exercise in, and he says that in the last weeks he's watched over them, they have bonded and developed a relationship already. He easily distinguishes one from the rest, and not just by physical marks but by traits and habits that are apparent this early.

15 February 2012

Coffee Picking

The coffee trees are HEAVY with cherries and they are red ripe for picking! The baráko (Liberica, above) ones look especially daunting since their beans are way larger than Robustas and Excelsas. Those too will soon be ready for harvesting, and even though the fruits are smaller, they are just as tedious to pick as they have to be manually done (or at least, we do) and the picking requires some arbitrary, split-second decisions.

Not all cherries ripen at the same time (right), you want to pick them only when they are fully mature, with a vivid red hue or just about the time they start drying up. It is a waste to comb through a branch to short-cut collecting them since some are younger than the others, like the yellow or green fruits. When I first did this some years ago, I picked one tree just like how everyone does it but after some minutes, I started wondering just how I should be able to do this faster: maybe do a swift, piano-like glissando 

through the cherries and put a basket on the end to catch my loot. Quite predictably, my harvest had multi-colored produce (read: mixed-up ripe and wasted unripe cherries).

On the left photo is one of our staff, Diko who is picking a barako tree the proper way, just how everyone else does it: by hand, one by one. He even has on a takúyan, a hip-strung basket that is the most convenient and practical to contain the picked cherries.

From one tree alone, Diko picked practically three-fourths of a sack! And there are still some fruits left on that tree. Awesome...

13 February 2012

The Life Outdoors

We are featured on this month's issue of Metro Home & Entertaining; the sub-headline on the cover "A garden to live in" refers to us. It's fellow blogger Patrick Gozon, accomplished architect, professor and local tree advocate, who expertly wrote us up, the plants, and the garden design.

It's available in local book and magazine stores now at only P200.00 (around US$4.75).

10 February 2012

More Huts

Apart from the anáhaw cabaña, we have so far three other huts that we have and use. One is a simple concrete hut (above & below) with Mádre de Cacáo (Gliricidia sepium) posts that we cut from the start when we were still clearing the land. The roof is made of cogón (blade grass) which we just ordered from a neighbor. The louvered closet doors are just hand-me-downs from someone renovating in Manila; I felt it can still be re-used and I have yet to re-finish them.

The bamboo sofa is cut from our own grove and made by my staff. I wish we have access to wild rattan but I have to admit that the mat is something I bought on a trip to Paláwan while the round pandán pillows are apparently from Quézon Province.

I would jokingly tell people that one of the reasons why we still have not built a proper house is because we are still growing the needed parts! It may sound a bit radical but it actually makes a lot of sense (and savings). Meantime, from the nearby beach town of San Juan, I ordered palápas with sturdy muláwin posts, saság (split-bamboo) platforms and roofs made of nipà (mangrove palm) leaves. These are almost three years old now and of all the thatch roofs we have, it's the nipa that's beginning to wear off. I guess it really is not suited for inland and humid areas.

And did you know that the word "palápa" is of Malay origin but is now adopted by English to mean "an open-sided hut?" In the era of the Galleon Trade, Filipinos (then called Indios) would make the trip to Acapulco and were responsible for introducing to the Mexicans the use of palm leaves (palápa) for casual or temporary roofing. I guess this style of roofing fluorished along the coast where it made a lot of sense to have open-sided, casual-looking huts and so the name (of the roof, which is essentially what it all is) was eventually used to mean the hut itself.

09 February 2012


No garden will be complete without insects, small reptiles, and a whole lot of frogs! They are part of the natural ecosystem and their existence is better managed and recognized than denied or worse, obliterated.

I'm fairly sure that most people know lizards and frogs help control insects but it's different just knowing it than actually experiencing it. Skinks, what locals call bubúlî are among the more elegant-looking small reptiles (think skinny and pale house lizards or the large and creepy monitor lizards).

06 February 2012

February Bird of the Month

A pair of Spotted Buttonquails, one male and one female, locally called Púgong-Gúbat. Out on the fields, you will easily spot these low-flying ground dwellers flying off when they hear you walking up to where they are. This pair was injured so we nursed them back to health before releasing them back in the open field.

05 February 2012

Beyond Lipa: Mataas Na Kahoy

Many people are not aware that Lipâ is elevated more than a thousand feet; the highways leading to the city have gentle ascents on wide open spaces that when one gets there, it hardly occurs to anyone it's actually in an elevated valley between the Malarayat range and Mount Maculot.

But the elevation is most obvious if you drive to the next town of Mataás na Káhoy, southward from the city center past Fernando Air Base. Once past the town center of Mataas na Kahoy, the road makes abrupt descents and will slowly reveal a panoramic, bird's-eye view of Taal Lake and Volcano Island down below. The waters of Lake Taal are actually still not sea level, but anyway the town clearly gives us perspective on how high Lipa is in the first place.

In the last couple of years, Mataas na Kahoy has become a new venue for stunning weekend homes; a more private, less congested alternative to Tagaytáy across the lake (below).

The roads are lined with beautifully-designed gates, with some affording peeks to the equally-interesting houses inside.

02 February 2012


A vine I have been taking care of for some time now is the Swiss Cheese Plant (Monstera obliqua). From cuttings I asked from a friend's neighbor, it has taken root and finally crawled up a post after around two years of patient waiting. Rooting it was not that hard (but it did take long); it was the climbing up that seemed like forever.

It grew in length but it wouldn't cling. We tied the length of the vine on the post but it looked like it just had a plan of its own. Training vines on posts and tree trunks turns out to be not as simple as I thought it to be. 

Anyway, it eventually started to have branches at the base which started to cling on its own. It was just a matter of time.

Now, I also finally managed to source a reasonably-priced rooted cutting of the other Monstera vine, M. deliciosa. I'll feature it climbing up a tree maybe around late 2014...