Sunday, December 28, 2014

Your unfinished work could be your masterpiece!

Guide to a New Year's Resolution 2015
Remember those things you thought were "unfinished" could be your greatest treasures, and who knows - people some day will remember you because of them. 
Dr Abe V Rotor
Photos by Anna Christina R Rotor And Leo Carlo R Rotor
Living with Nature - School on Blog

Lesson: Don't discard your unfinished work, say a painting, novel, sculpture. Try to get back to it. It could be your masterpiece. Maybe you were not able to complete it because you gave way to the priorities of living, or finding new interests, challenges, assignments, or simply you lost steam, so to speak. Or you say you've grown too old to complete it.

Take the case of the mysterious unfinished human figures at the University of the Philippines at Diliman, QC. Do they mean anything but abandonment? To me it's not. So with my daughter Anna and son Leo Carlo who took these photographs.

These unfinished life size human figures occupy the “less trodden” front yard of the UP College of Fine Arts in Diliman, QC. The artists may have in mind the portrayal of man more as a Homo faber - man the worker or maker rather than his attribute as the reasoning man (Homo sapiens) - and much less the playing man - Homo ludens. Here the figures appear to be workers of the land. In fact one resembles the Man with a Hoe by Markham. Another appears to be carrying an imaginary heavy load.

What is puzzling however, is the representation of peaceful death. While the living struggle, the dead lies in true rest, cradled by the earth. Which then changes the scenario if all the figures were to be directed to a solemn and sorrowful occasion of burying a departed member in thin ceremonious atmosphere. It now expresses the highest attribute of man - Homo spiritus - the praying man who places completely his fate to a Higher Being. The viewer now turns his thoughts to grief and compassion, and the scene is no longer the farm but a sacred ground. The imagined heavy load is a  burden of the heart, the figures are bent not by the burden of work but by the loss of a loved one.

Art is like that. It is like poetry, the meaning is hidden "between the lines." Like impressions in Impressionism; points in Pointillism. Or masked symbols in Pablo Picasso's plaza mural - Guernica. Unfinished works of masters often become their masterpieces like the Unfinished Symphony of Beethoven, and Mozart's Requiem, his last composition commissioned by a mysterious person. Mozart died before finishing it, and Requiem became his own. Auguste Renoir repeatedly painted his favorite Nymphaea Waterlilies until darkness took over his failing sight - so with the painting's clarity. Though half finished it is Renoir's final signature.

Venus de Milo is more beautiful with her arms missing. And for this, the best artists in the world gave up their attempt to supply her arms.
The mystery of the human figures of UP Diliman emanates from the anonymity of their theme that stands at the crossroad of human imagination searching for the meaning of life, exacerbated by their unfinished, and apparent abandoned state.

So what have you discovered about yourself by going back to those unfinished works? Share with us your experience. Remember those things you abandoned could be your greatest treasures, and who knows - people some day will remember you because of them. ~

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Don't be a Victim of Heart Disease, the Number One Killer

New Year's Resolution Number 1 
Dr Abe V Rotor

I have known people - a number of them relatives, 
co-workers and former classmates - who died of heart disease. 
If you have positive family history, you are a potential candidate to heart attack and its complications. Like Damocles Sword, you know the rules to live a long and happy life. There are ten factors you should be able to manage.

First,  Don't smoke.  Just don't. 

Second, Exercise.  Be active physically.  Get out of your comfort zone. 

Third, Reduce cholesterol level. Take less of meat and more fruits and vegetables.  

Fourth, Never indulge in drinking.                       
 Healthy heart angiogram (National Geographic)

Fifth, Live on healthy diet. Watch out your glucose level.

Sixth,  Maintain normal blood pressure always. 
Seventh, Don't be overweight.  Reduce. 

Eighth, Have regular medical checkup.

Ninth, Set a goal for your career and family.

Tenth, Have a positive outlook in life always. Reach out for life's meaning.  

Why don't you download this article, print and pin it as a daily reminder?

Live Healthier and Longer with Natural Food

Your New Year's Resolution Number 3
Eat foods grown under natural conditions, rather than those grown and processed with the use of chemicals. And no Frankenfood (GMO), please. Dr Abe V Rotor

 Vegetarian's barbecue - all naturally grown.

It is not enough that we produce food. We must produce food that ensure good health, reduce risks to diseases and ailments, and prolong life. We must produce food that also insures the health of our environment and the stability of the ecological system.
While science and technology continue to explore new ways to increase food supply with genetic engineering, people are yearning for organic food – or naturally grown food.
Here are issues raised by the proponents of organic farming.

1. Many ailments and abnormalities are traced to the food we take. Cancer for instance, is often related to carcinogenic substances. High uric acid leads to kidney trouble. High choles¬terol and high sugar levels are associated with high blood pressure and diabetes. Aftatoxin causes cirrhosis of the liver. Ulcers are food-related, as are many allergies.

2. Proper nutrition and balanced diet can be attained by eating the right kind and amount of natural food without fortification with vitamins and minerals, and other forms of altering food value. Thus there is no need to process food unless it is really necessary. Fresh foods – vegetables, fish, and the like – are still the best. And why modify the genetic composition of crops and animals? Leave that to nature. Nature knows best.

3. Taking excess foods rich in animal fat and protein, and foods high in calories foods has predisposed many people to overweight conditions. Gaining unnecessary weight leads obesity now an epidemic sweeping many countries today particularly in cities where there is a proliferation of fast foods and junk foods. Or simply there is too much of the  “good life” – excess in food and pleasure. In the US today one out of five Americans is an obese.

4. There are natural substances that keep our body always alert to fend off stress due to overwork and diseases. They are known as probiotics. We get probiotics from fruits and   vegetables. We also get them from seaweeds, mushrooms, yoghurt, algae such as Chlorella, and cyanobacteria such as Spirulina. And there are many more sources that occur in nature. We are beginning to realize that eating foods rich in probiotics and antibiotics (substances that directly kill germs) makes us healthier and live longer.

These are the rules set by the advocates of natural farming.

1. It is always better to eat foods grown under natural conditions than those developed with the use of chemicals.

This statement can be captured with one term "natural food". All over the world this is a label found in food grown without chemicals. People are afraid of becoming ill because of chemicals introduced into the food. There are banned pesticides still in used such as methyl parathion, endosulfan, DDT, BHC, among others. These are also harmful to all living organisms and to the environment.

2. People are avoiding harmful residues of antibiotics and pesticides.
Poultry, hogs and cattle are given high levels of antibiotics to safeguard the animals from diseases. As a result the antibiotics are passed on to the consumers. Unless we are ill, the body does not need supplemental antibiotics. We have adequate natural sources. Every time we eat commercial eggs, chicken, pork chop, steak, and the like, we are taking in antibiotics which accumulate in our body, shutting off our immune systems, punishing our kidney and liver. To many people, antibiotics cause allergic reactions.

3. People are getting scared of food contaminated by radiation. Nuclear reactors are being built in many countries as a fallback to fossil fuel. After the Chernobyl nuclear plant meltdown in Russia, and that of the Three-Miles Island nuclear plant in the US, people have become wary about the consequences of fallout. A trace of radiation can be absorbed by grass in the pasture, finds its way to milk, then to infants. Radiation can remain active for hundreds of years. People are still dying today in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, more than fifty years since the bombing of the two cities with the first atomic bomb.

4. Be aware of the deleterious effects of toxic metals, such as lead, mercury and cadmium. These find their way through the food chain and ultimately reach humans. They escape to the air and enter our lungs, as in the case of dusts from old paints. Since they are in soluble compounds, they are easily absorbed by plants and animals. Kangkong for example absorbs lead. Tuna has high mercury in its tissues and liver. Cadmium from batteries is absorbed by crops.
 The simpler your food is cooked, the better.

5. People are becoming more conscious of the nutritional value of food rather than its packaging and presentation.
More and more people are shunning away from junk foods, in spite of their attractive packaging. Soft drinks have taken the backseat, courtesy of fruit juices and mineral water. People have even learned that different plant varieties have different levels of food value. Beans grown on naturally fertile soil have higher calorie and protein content than those grown on poor soil, or with chemical fertilizers. This is also true with animals. Animals raised with proper nutrition give meat, milk and eggs with higher protein, minerals notwithstanding.

6. Freshness is the primordial rule in choosing a perishable food.
There is no substitute to freshness. While freshness is a function of efficient handling and marketing, the farmer must enhance farm-to-market freshness. By keeping his standing plants healthy, his produce will stay longer on the shelf life. Products that are free from pest and diseases also stay fresher and longer. Too much water or fertilizer reduces shelf life of the commodity.
 Eat fresh fruits - avoid processed ones.

7. Food processing must be efficient and safe.
Food processing, such as drying, milling and manufacturing is key to higher profits. Whenever feasible, food must reach the table fresh. But processing is designed to lengthen the shelf life of perishable commodities. There are products that require processing before they are used. These food items include vanilla, coffee, cacao, wine and vinegar, soya, fish sauce and the like. Profits generated through processing are value-added to production.

8. Food must be free from pest and diseases.
By all means, food must be free from insects and pathogens. There are cases of food poisoning as a result of food deterioration, or contamination. Take salmonella and E. coli. Khapra beetle in grains may even cause death to animals. Weevils hasten the deterioration of the food.

9. Food preservation must ensure quality, and above all, safety.
Be aware of the fish that is stiff, yet looks fresh. It is easy to detect the odor of formalin. Salitre is harmful, so with vetsin or MSG (Monosodium glutamate). Too much salt (sodium) is not good to the body. Some puto makers add lye or sodium hydroxide to aid coagulation of the starch. We wary of sampaloc candies enticingly made red with shoe dye. The same diluted dye is used with ube manufacture to make it look like the real violet-colored tuber.

Watch out. the utensils you are using may contain lead, mercury, plastic compounds, aluminum oxide and other harmful substances.    

10. Beware of Frankenfood - Food derived from GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). Many countries warn of the potential dangers of genetically modified food and food products. This move is not only to safeguard health, but also the environment. Genetically modified plants and animals – as well as bacteria, protists and even viruses – are now a threat to the natural gene pool, giving rise to a new kind of pollution - genetic pollution. Once a gene pool of a certain species is contaminated with a GMO genetic material Genetic pollution cannot be eliminated, even in subsequent generations. Thus, it also disturbs natural evolution.

Next time you go to market, remember these guidelines. Why not convert that idle lot to raise food that is safe to your health and the environment? That little corner could be the start of a new green revolution.~
Caulerpa or lato is now cultivated in fishponds where
conditions can be controlled, unlike in the open sea.

Green mussel or tahong absorbs toxic metals like lead
in polluted water. It is also dangerous to eat tahong
during red tide period. It may cause paralytic poisoning.

From cigarette to pipe smoking – then I stopped. A personal saga

I reeked tobacco. People avoided me, but how did I know, if I couldn’t even smell myself? 
Your New Year's Resolution Number 2
Dr Abe V Rotor

I did not only smoke cigarettes, I graduated to pipe tobacco smoking. When you have tasted Half-and-Half or Captain Black, believe me Marlboro and Philip Morris taste flat. That’s how one gets addicted to more and stronger nicotine. And having a pipe on a Monday, and a dozen more to fit each day or occasion, and dress code, makes you stand out of the crowd, so to speak. Wow! Sikat! And you feel a special person. For in the seventies, up to now, pipe smoking people have either the British or American accent. I even tried Australian but settled poorly with Ilocano, my native tongue. Now compare pipe tobacco with pinadis (hand rolled cigar) tobacco, exaggeratedly foot-long. I almost forgot my origin.

So you see smoking is air, it is high society, it is macho, it is advertising something you do not really have, or have to. I wore coat and tie once in a while with Sherlock Holmes’ “S” pipe, or wore khaki jacket and denim pants and had MacArthur’s corn cob pipe. I also had pipes with the bowl covered with genuine leather from camel, kangaroo and anaconda, and made people believe I have gone all over the world including the Amazon. Which actually I hadn’t except a stopover once in Europe which introduced me to the idea of shifting to pipe smoking.

And I had a friend, Sel, who shared the same idea. So after finishing our doctorate, we started scouting for the best pipe in town. Definitely it should be briar wood because it’s the only wood that does not burn, and its nesting weight on the palm of the hand is assuring. I suspect that it’s being a briar is not the species but the age of the wood, perhaps as old as the Redwood or the Bristle Cone, estimated two to three thousand years old. Imagine holding a piece of time as early as BC. And history! Just like what the great English poet William Blake said, “Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour.” You hold too, time and space. Pipe smoking leads you to hallucination.

I tell you what the substance is – the filler tobacco - that rouses the olfactory more than grandma's pie? It must come from a combination of selected tobacco varieties, cured with the best liqueur, and hermetically sealed to greet the user as fresh as it was blended. In Europe a blend is highly personalized, like wine. This is top secret of connoisseurs. For us here, I for one settled for two brands, American and European pipe tobacco in can, then the only available ones. Believe me the difference between the two is indistinguishable. It’s still Nicotiana tabacum, the same tobacco of Fidel Ramos, Deng Hsiao Ping, Fidel Castro, et al.

More about the art of pipe smoking. I lit my pipe with a special lighter whose flame goes downward into the bowl, and witnessed in the process of huff-and puff a Krakatau in the making. I peered into the glowing crater. Then I would savor the maiden smoke as fresh as morning air, blowing it in a series of “O’s” which takes skill to perfect it. You don’t inhale, unlike cigarette. The smoke runs through the oral to the nasal cavity and out through the nostril, gently fuming a cloud of smoke that surrounds the face, with your eyes half close in dreamy relaxation. It was really thrilling, exhilarating. What on a Sunday morning with brewed black coffee and newspaper and elevated feet?. Ah, and ahs….

Some high-chin and easy-chair years passed. I was in my middle thirties, still a bachelor. I wondered if pipe smoking attracted women of my liking. Or did I drive them to safe distance? On the mirror I didn’t change, not a bit American or European. Not even with sparse moustache which I jokingly tell my barber it is insured like that of Clark Gable. My lips were a little deformed now, and being right handed the pipe tended to settle rightward, with some teeth bearing the weight giving up. My lips lost their natural curve and color, and my teeth permanently stained no toothpaste would dare clean it in advertisement. My fingers could be mistaken for pellagra. If only they had the Midas touch!

I reeked tobacco. People avoided me, but how did I know, if I couldn’t even smell myself? It’s true. Smokers are immune to the smell of tobacco, and it is stale odor – breath, sweat, clothes, books, bed, and the like - so whom would they trust to tell them so? And my skin became dull and dry, and episodes of feeling down became frequent – so with refilling and caressing my pipe. In short I was already addicted to the nicotine and the pipe is now only secondary to it.

Nicotine is a poison, a very strong one. The extract of one stick of cigarette when directly injected into the blood stream will immediately kill the person. So why don’t we die with packs and packs of cigarette or can after can of mixed tobacco?

Doctors tell us that it’s not the nicotine per se that kills, it’s tar its carrier and medium of a dozen other poisonous substances. The tar deposits into the alveoli, the countless air sacs in the lungs, constricts blood vessels, and stains teeth and clothes. The alkaloids pile up in the kidneys and liver, and restrict natural elimination of other toxins. Elevated heart and pulse rate is our body’s coping mechanism, but like a car running uphill it loses steam fast and soon and conks out. Eyesight blurs, sense of taste deadens, so with sensation to touch, pain and pleasure. Alertness slows down, sex urge decreases and staying power shortens.

And it is not the tobacco plant itself that's the enemy; it is how it is grown. The plant picks up the arsenic dusted or sprayed, the lead and mercury in contaminated soil, so with cadmium from batteries today. Systemic pesticides that kill insects, nematodes and mites ensconced in the plant body, unreached by ordinary spraying, persist as residue of high dosage.

By the way, there’s something in the tobacco that changed biology on the concept of what realy makes athing living?. It is the tobacco mosaic virus, Marmor tabaci. The rod shaped virus infects tobacco on the field just by rubbing or mere touch of a diseased to healthy plants. And it infects as well all members of the tobacco family - Solanaceae , to which Irish potato, pepper, eggplant, tomato belong. The virus remains domant in as long as twenty years in the cigarette or filler.  And when you touch any of the host plants, it resurrects into virulence. Luckily, scientists assures us the virus has no effect on humans.

But with millions all over the world dying from smoking and its many complications, I believe the virus has mutated - even if biologically it is not considered a true organism. Mutation is still governed by error in DNA replication. And the virus basically has the DNA structure like all other things considered as living.

Really there’s nothing good about smoking, contrary to advertisements. I wonder how one can go a mile for a Camel when he is already exhausted at the start. Didn’t the cowboy in Marlboro retire too soon? Salem doesn’t make a beautiful landscape. Fortune isn’t something one expects. Fighter did not make us in our time as brave as Buccaneer.

Take the economic side. Our DOH says the government spends every year some P235 billion a year to treat illnesses caused or related to smoking like heart diseases, stroke, emphysema and lung cancer. And what does the government get in return from the tobacco industry? Only P23 billion, a measly 10 percent of the cost. PDI’s editorial The Puff that Kills, June 1, 2011, reported smoking kills 10 Filipinos every hour, or 243 a day. That’s 87,600 a year – and that’s a conservative estimate. Here is a case of an “old” goose laying the golden eggs, not worth it.

One day I was diagnosed of ulcer in the mouth, a wound that doesn’t heal. If you can’t eat, imagine the rapid decline in body weight and the various ailments you fall to. My clothes became oversized. I likened myself to a POW in a concentration camp in WWII.

“If you don’t stop smoking, you will die,” my doctor warned. “And soon!” he admonished.

Period. My pipes became museum pieces. A beautiful girl came. We got married, and have three children. We are now living happily.

Smoking changed my life – when I stopped it completely. ~ 

Harvesting Rainwater: The Art and Practice

Dr Abe V Rotor 

A bountiful harvest of rainwater cuts down water bill; it is environment-friendly and 
a source of enjoyment.  At home, Lagro QC.
  1. Join downspouts together to maximize harvest of rainwater in one place.
  2. Keep roof, gutter and downspout regularly cleaned and declogged of any debris.   
  3. Avoid using red lead paint, use epoxy paint instead, to avoid lead contaminant.  
  4. Filter rainwater with fine screen or cloth before transferring to container.
  5. Plastic containers are convenient but they serve only as temporary storage.
  6. Wide mouth containers may cause accident. They are not designed as bath tubs.
  7. Use water within five days, otherwise it breeds mosquitoes and other vermin. 
  8. Clean and expose containers under the sun for an hour or two to disinfect. 
  9. Invert and be ready for the next rain to come. Store only clean rainwater.      
  10. Final storage is ideally a garden pond. It is multipurpose: fish culture, water for cleaning, watering and for use in case of fire. 

  11. A garden pond adds aesthetic beauty to the place, adds coolness and tranquility, cum a gentle sound of a fountain and running stream.Garden Pond at home in Lagro, QC. Take Nature Home mural painting by the author.
Catfish and pako fish raised in a garden pond.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Mysterious World of the Pagoda Bagworm Cryptothelea heckmeyeri Hubn.

Dr Abe V Rotor


Pagoda bagworm, Crypothelea hekmeyeri Heyl., in pseudo colony 
on duhat leaf; below, enlarged side view of the pagoda-shaped insect. 

Sheepishly she peeps from under a pagoda she built;
Like the turtle she hides, creeps ‘til finally ceases to eat.
A Venus de Milo she emerges, sans wings she must wait,
Love scent in the air she urges a winged groom her mate.

She lays her eggs in the tent, broods them ‘til they hatch,
With heart’s content; leaves and dies after the dispatch.
To the Great Maker, life’s full of sacrifice and obligation;
Mother keeps young and home, the species’ bastion.

- AV Rotor, Bagworm
Light in the Woods, 1995

My pastime reading under a spreading duhat tree standing at the backyard of our old house was disturbed one summer. This favorite shady spot almost disappeared as the tree my father planted before I was born completely shed its leaves. Our yard turned into a litter of leaves. Our tree appeared lifeless.

Summer is when this tree is a deep green canopy, loaded with flowers and luscious, sweet fruits, and laughing children, their tongues and hands bearing the stain of its black berries.

The culprit cannot be the drought spurred by El Nino, I thought. Duhat is highly tolerant to prolonged dry spell, because its tap roots can reach deep seated ground water.

Even before I discovered the culprit - a shy insect protected by a pagoda-like bag - my children had already set up a field laboratory in their a tent, complete with basic research tools, and books of Karganilla, Doyle and Attenborough. For days our backyard became a workshop with the touch of Scotland Yard, Mt Makiling and Jules Verne.

My children called the insect living pagoda because of the semblance of its house with the Chinese temple, and because of its turtle-like habit of retreating into its bag. Leo, our youngest fondly called it Ipi, contracted from “insect na parang pagong at pagodang intsik”.

Ipi belongs to the least known family of insects, Psychidae, which in French means mysterious. Yet its relatives, the moth and the butterfly, are perhaps the most popular and expressive members of the insect world.

Curious about the unique bag and how it was built by such a lowly insect, Matt and Chris Ann worked as research partners. They entered their data in a field notebook as follows:

1. Base diameter - 2 cm
2. Height of bag - 2 cm
3. No. of shingles on the bag - 20
4. Size ratio of shingles from base to tip – 10:1
5. Basic design – Overlap-spiral

We examined the specimen in detail with a hand lens and found that the bag has several outstanding features. My children continued their data entry, as follows:

1. Water-resistant (shingle roof principle)
2. Stress-resistant (pyramid principle)
3. Good ventilation (radiator principle)
4. Light yet strong (fibrous structure)
5. Camouflage efficient (mimicry and color blending)
6. Structural foundation - None

The pagoda bag has no structural foundation, I explained. It is carried from place to place by a sturdy insect which is a caterpillar, larva of a moth. Beneath its pagoda tent, it gnaws the leaf on the fleshy portion, prying off the epidermal layer to become circular shingles. Using its saliva, it cements the new shingles to enlarge its bag, then moves to a fresh leaf and repeats the whole operation. As
the larva grows, the shingle it cuts gets bigger,

This is a very rare case where construction starts at the tip and culminates at the base, noted my wife. Remember that the structure is supposed to be upside down because Ipi feeds from the underside of the leaf, I said. “An upside pagoda,” our children chorused.

As Ipi grows, the shingles progressively increase in size and number, thus the bag assumes the shape of a storied pagoda. Thus there are small
Pagodas and larger ones, and varied intermediate sizes, depending on the age of the caterpillar which continuously feeds for almost the whole summer during which it molts five times.

If there are no longer new shingles added to the bag it is presumed that the insect had stopped growing. It then prepares to pupate and permanently attaches its bag on a branch or twig, and there inside it goes into slumber. The attached bag appears like thorn as if it were a part of the tree, and indeed a clever camouflage on the part of the insect. Here suddenly is a parasite becoming a symbiont, arming the host tree with false thorns!

My children's curiosity seemed endless. I explained that like all living things, bagworms have self-preserving mechanisms. They must move away from the food leaf before it falls off. They must secure themselves properly as they tide up with their pupal stage. After a week later they metamorphose into adults. Here on the twigs and branches they escape potential predators. Here too, the next generation of newly hatched larvae will wait for new shoots on which they feed.

Matt picked one bag after another to find out what stage the insect is undergoing. I recalled my research on Cryptothelea fuscescens Heyl, a relative of C. heckmeyeri, the pagoda species. Chris Ann took down notes

1. Specimen 1 - Bag is less than 1 cm in diameter, caterpillar in third instar (molting), voracious feeder.

2. Specimen 2 - Bag large, construction complete, insect in fifth or sixth instar, morphological parts highly distinct, head and thorax thick, three pairs of powerful legs.

3. Specimen 3 - Insect in pupal stage, expected to emerge in one week, chrysalis (skin) full, dark and shiny. Feeding had completely stopped.

4. Specimen 4 - flag empty, opening clear, chrysalis empty.

5. Specimen 5 - Bag contains eggs laid on cottony mass, chrysalis empty.

The last specimen is intriguing. Where is the insect? Why did it abandon its lifelong home? A puzzle was painted on the face of our young Leo. So I explained.

Let us trace the life history of Ipi and its kind. Both male and female bagworms mature into moths. The winged male upon emerging from his bag is soon attracted by love scent emitted by a waiting female moth still ensconced in her bag. The scent is an attractant scientists call pheromone. Then in the stillness of summer night, her Romeo comes knocking. Without leaving her bag she receives him at an opening at the tip of the pagoda bag. A long honeymoon follows, but signaling an ephemeral life of the couple.

The fertilized female lay her eggs inside the bag, seals it with her saliva, then wiggles out to the outside world but only to fall to the ground - and die, because Nature did not provide her wings!

“Poor little thing,” muttered Cecille apparently in defense of the female species. “Nature did it for a reason,” I countered, “otherwise we would not have bagworms today.” The wingless condition of the female bagworm is the key to the survival of the species.

The sun had set, the litter of leaves had been cleaned up. And the silhouette of our leafless duhat tree against the reddening sky painted gloom on our subject. As dusk set in, I noticed nocturnal insects circling the veranda lamp. A moth paused, then passed over our heads and disappeared into a tree. “Bye, bye,", cried Leo Carlo.

Summer was short, the rains came early and our duhat tree developed robust foliage. Cicadas chirped at the upper branches and an early May beetle hang peacefully gnawing on young a leaf. I was reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring when a gust of wind brought down a dozen tiny bagworms hanging on their own invisible spinnerets. My children were aroused from their reading of The Living Planet.

We had unveiled the mystery of the pagoda bagworm, but above anything else, we found love and appreciation on the wonders of Nature and the unity of life itself. ~~
Another species of bagworm (Crypthothela fuscescens Heylerts),  Family Psychidae. Photos taken at Angels' Hills, Tagaytay. The larva builds a bag of dried twig of the same diameter and length and attaches on the host plant until it reaches maturity.  The spent bag simply remains hanging. Lower photo shows an exposed larva purposely for study.

Phosphorescent Caterpillars

Dr Abe V Rotor

Caterpillars eating the leaves of ilang-ilang (Cananga odorata), at home near La Mesa watershed. 

They came - an army of hungry glowing worms,
on a sunset on a tall ilang-ilang tree;
there they hang like lanterns or neon far away,
and in crepuscular light there I could see 
a familiar tree traced by its essence in the air,
and now by the phosphorescence from this tree -
Christmas ahead and beyond yet here at hand,
by the glow of these worms reminds of Thee;
through nature's ways to guard the frail and lowly
through the secret of ephemeral beauty. ~   

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Convert your backyard into a multi-purpose garden

Dr Abe V Rotor 

By size, my home farm is a Liliputian version of a corporate farm. Intensive cultivation-wise however, it dwarfs the monoculture of a plantation. It is only when your area is small that you can attend to the requirements of an integrated farm with basic features of a garden.
Our children grew up with a garden at home.

When I moved to the city, I set aside a corner lot equivalent to a space of a two-bedroom bungalow. Here, after two years of experimentation and redesigning a city home garden evolved - a miniature version of tri-commodity farming where I have vegetables and fruits, chicken and hito.

My wife, who is an accountant, estimates that presently, the garden could save up to 20 percent of our family’s expense for food, in exchange for twenty family man-hours every week. Labor makes up to 50 percent of production costs, she says. Since gardening is a hobby in lieu of outdoor games, we agreed not to include labor as cost. This gives a positive sign to the garden’s financial picture.

We do not also consider in the book the aesthetic value of weekends when the garden becomes a family workshop to prove green thumbs, and gainful influence my family has made on the community, such as giving free seeds and seedlings, and know-how tips. When my children celebrate their birthdays, the kids in the neighborhood enjoy harvesting tomatoes, string beans and leafy vegetables - a rare experience for boys and girls in the city.

What makes a garden? Frankly, I have no formula for it. I first learned farming from my father who was a gentleman farmer before I became an agriculturist. But you do not have to go for formal training to be able to farm well. All that one needs is sixth sense or down-to-earth sense, the main ingredient of a green thumb. Here are valuable tips.

1. Get the most sunlight

A maximum of five hours of sunlight should be available - geographically speaking that is. Morning and direct sunlight is ideal for photosynthesis. But you need longer exposure for fruit vegetables, corn and viny plants like, ampalaya. So with crucifers like mustard and pechay because these are long-day plants.

Well, to get more sunlight, I prune the surrounding talisay or umbrella trees at least once a year. I use the branches for trellis and poles. Then, I paint the surrounding walls with white to enhance reflected and diffused light to increase photosynthesis.

Plot the sun’s course and align the rows on an East-West direction. Plants do not directly over-shadow each other this way. This is very important during wet season when days are cloudy and plants grow luxuriantly. Other than maximizing solar radiation you also get rid of soil borne plant diseases. Sunlight that gets in between the plants helps liminate pest and pathogens. And in summer, you can increase your seeding rate, and therefore potential yield. Try planting in triangular formation or quincunx. Outline that part of the garden that receives the longest sunlight exposure. Plant this area with sun-loving plants like okra and ampalaya.

Lastly, remember that plants which grow on trellises and poles “reach out for the sun,” thus require less ground space. Put up trellises at blind corners and train viny plants to climb early and form a canopy. For string beans, use poles on which they climb. You wouldn’t believe it but as long as your rows are aligned with the sun’s movement, and that trellises and poles are used, you can plant more hills in a given area, and you can have dwarf and tall plants growing side by side. Try alternate rows of sitao, tomato and cabbage.

2. Try Mixed Garden or Storey Cropping

What is the composition of an ideal garden? Again, there’s no standard design for it. The most practical type is a mixed garden. A mixed garden is like a multi-storey building. Plants are grouped according to height. That is why you have to analyze their growing habits.

Are they tall or dwarf? Are they seasonal, biennial or permanent? What part of the year do they thrive best? Refer to the planting calendar or consult your nearest agriculturist.

Look for proper cropping combinations through intercropping or crop rotation. Malunggay, papaya, kamias, banana and the like, make good border plants. Just be sure they do not shade smaller plants. Cassava and viny plants trained on trellis are next in height.


Community gardening, QC

The group of pepper, tomato and eggplant follows, while the shortest in height hierarchy are sweet potato, ginger and other root crops. Imagine how these crops are grouped and built like a tall building. We call this storey cropping.             

A friend commented, “Why streamline your garden the American way?” I agree with him. Plant the Filipino way.         

At any rate there are crops “we plant and forget.” Before the pot starts to shimmer, you realize you need some malunggay leaves, a dozen tops of kamote, a handful of fresh onion leaves, etc. All you need is to dash to the backyard and pick these green ingredients.

3. Practice Organic Farming

Traditional farming is back with modern relevance. Organic farming is waste recycling - not by getting rid of the waste itself but by utilizing it as production input. “This system is an alternative to conventional chemical farming”, says Domingo C. Abadilla in his book, Organic Farming.
Practice organic farming for two reasons. Crops grown without chemical fertilizers and pesticides are safer and more nutritious.
What would you do with poultry droppings and Azolla from the fishpond? Kitchen refuse and weeds? Make valuable compost out of them. For potash, sieve ash from a garbage-dumping site. Just be sure it is not used for industrial waste. Can we grow crops without insecticides? Generally, no. But there are ways to protect plants in a safe way, such as the following:

Alugbati, tops gathered for diningding and salad

• Use mild detergent, preferably coconut-based soap, to control aphids and other plant lice.
• Plant tomatoes around pest prone plants. They exude repellant odor on a wide variety of pests.
• Keep a vigil light above the garden pond to attract nocturnal insects that may lay eggs on your plants at daytime. Tilapia and hito relish on insects.
• A makeshift greenhouse made of plastic and mosquito net will eliminate most insects.
If you find stubborn insect pest like caterpillars and crickets, make a nicotine solution and spray. Crush one or two sticks of cigarette, irrespective of its brand, dissolve it in a bucket of water. The solution is ready for application with sprinkler or sprayer. But be sure not to use the solution on tomato, pepper and eggplant. It is possible that tobacco mosaic virus can be transmitted to these crops.

A friend who is a heavy smoker, came to visit our garden. When he touched the tomato plants, he was unknowingly inoculating mosaic virus. Tobacco virus can remain dormant in cigars and cigarette for as long as twenty years. Then it springs to life in the living system of the host plant that belongs to Solanaceae or tobacco family.

4. Raise Fish in the Garden Pond

Catfish (hito) fattened in our garden pond have become pets; the biggest measures 2 ft long. 

Water from the pond is rich with algae, plant nutrients and detritus. While you water your plants, you are also fertilizing them. The pond should be designed for growing tilapia, hito or dalag, or a combination of these. For tilapia, keep its population low to avoid overcrowding and competition. Stock fingerlings of the same size and age.

Try growing hito, native or African. When you buy live hito from the market, separate the small ones (juveniles), which will serve as your growers. They are ready to harvest in 3 to 6 months with 3 pieces making a kilo. Hito is easier to raise than any other freshwater fish. One thing is that you do not change water often because the fish prefers to have a muddy bottom to stay.

Feed the fish with chicken and fish entrails, vegetable trimmings, dog food, etc. Just avoid accumulation of feed that may decompose and cause foul odor, an indication that Oxygen is being replaced with Carbon Dioxide and Hydrogen Sulfide.

Azolla, a floating fern, is good fish and animal feeds because it contains 20 to 25 percent protein,. It is also an excellent organic fertilizer because it is rich in nitrate, a product of nitrogen fixation by Anabaena, a microscopic blue-green algae living in the fronds of Azolla. Nitrate is important for plant growth. Grow Azolla in a separate pond, or in floating cage, so as to maintain a regular biomass supply.

5. Integrate Backyard Poultry

Raise some broilers and layers in separate cages. Have other cages to rear chicks and growers to replenish your stock. Formulate your feed. If not, mix commercial broiler feed and yellow corn in equal proportion. This is more economical and you may get better results than by using commercial broiler feeds alone.

Construct a fence around the cages and have some turkey on the loose. Similarly you may rear a few native chickens to get rid of feed waste. Clip their wings regularly to prevent them from escaping and destroying your garden. I don’t recommend piggery unless the neighborhood does not object to it.

6. Plant Fruit Trees
Do not forget to have some native fruit bearing trees such as guava, atis, guyabano, kamias, kalamansi and other citrus species. If your area is big you can include coconut, mango, kaimito, bananas. Rambutan? Why not? There are fruit bearing rambutan trees in some residences in Quezon City.

Atis, ripe in the tree

Just like annual plants, adopt the East-West planting method for trees so that you can have seasonal crops in between their rows. Use compost for the fruit trees, just like in vegetables. You can plant orchard trees like mango, guyabano, coconut and cashew along the sidewalk fronting your residence.

7. Make Your Own Compost, and Grow Mushrooms, Too
In one corner, build a compost pile with poles and mesh wire, 1m x 2m, and 2m in height. Dump leaves, kitchen refuse, chicken droppings and allow them to decompose to become valuable organic fertilizer. Turn the pile once a month until it is ready for use.
In another place you can have a mushroom pile made of rice straw, or water hyacinth. After harvesting the mushrooms, the spent material is a good compost material and composting will take a shorter time. To learn more about mushroom growing and composting, refer to the technology tips of DOST-PCARRD, or see your agriculturist in your area.

8. Plant Herbals - Nature’s First Aid
It is good to have the following plants as alternative medicine. Lagundi for flu and fever, guava for skin diseases and body odor, romatic pandan and tanglad for deodorant and air freshener, oregano for cough and sore throat, mayana for boils and mumps, ikmo for toothache, pandakaki for cuts. There are other medicinal plants you can grow in your backyard. Remember, herbals are nature’s first-aid.
 Pansit-pansitan (Piperomia felucida) for arthritis; Oregano for colds and sore throat, also for food flavoring (dinuguan, pizza)
 Pandan mabango for rice flavoring; soro soro for lechon
Coconut provides  the family young (buko) and mature nuts every two months. 
 Tanglad for food flavoring, also as deodorant  
 Saluyot and squash flowers grow with very little attention. 
 Malunggay is a must in every backyard. It grows along fences and in dead corners into a moderate size tree that remains productive up to 20 years or even more. Our malunggay tree at home is around 35 years now. Both leaves and young pods are rich in vitamins and minerals.  

These things and many others are the reasons you should have a home garden. One thing
is sure in the offing: it is a source of safe and fresh vegetables and fruits, fish and meat, and natural medicine. Most important of all, the garden is a re-creation of nature itself, a patch of the lost Eden. •