By Mila Molina-Lumactao
“Anything with roots attached…”
That was part of hubby’s detailed shopping guide. At the onset of the quarantine and throughout its many permutations, we had agreed that given our respective limitations, abilities, and medical histories, he would make the supply runs, and I would take care of other matters.
So began the ritual of drawing up “The List”: good for two weeks, supplying everything else that the “ayuda” didn’t cover. And that list always included leafy greens such as kangkong, talbos, alugbati, and basil—heralding his return to childhood memories of his Ilongga Lola’s backyard garden somewhere in the middle of busy Cubao to boot, and our family’s renewed love affair with potted gardening.
First to show promise was a long-lost treasure: talinum, which I had kept hearing from my Waray mom. Earlier in eerily pre-pandemic 2019, we had spied a bunch at Robinsons Supermarket (yes, true to their emphasis on wellness and freshness) and I gleefully indulged, happy to recall my mom. We planted the cuttings and later harvested a few times: mostly to be chopped, mixed with a buttery, cheesy omelet. By the time the CQs happened, we had one pot with healthy growth, and so promptly tried to propagate in two other pots.
From sauce to seedling
When we decided to revive our dying oregano, we realized we had to transfer our less-valued ornamentals elsewhere and prioritize edibles for our remaining pots.
Post-lunch with fried fish and the requisite calamansi-patis-sili “sawsawan,” hubby set apart his red chili pepper seeds, and later successfully made them grow. Another day brought another lunch and another “sawsawan”—this time with tomatoes, and he was similarly successful at his attempt with tomato seeds.
Soon enough, when we had a monggo dish, we dutifully kept the alugbati scraps, and so far have a pot of it. Oh, and a forgotten sweet potato, turning rotten? In it went, in rich soil in a large pot roughly 40 centimeters in diameter, and now the lovely, nutrient-rich leaves are busy curling up around wooden stakes driven into the soil.
Are we experts? Not by a long shot. We don’t know enough yet about fertilizers or the optimum NPK (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) ratio. I don’t think we’re ready to go there just yet, but we have for almost two decades now been dutifully collecting the vegetable and fruit peels from our kitchen scraps and incorporating them in a tiny makeshift compost pit. Moreover, when we have water leftover from the rice washings, we use that for watering the plants, especially the edibles. (Spoiled babies.) Our basil didn’t take root, though the lemongrass scraps did.
The enduring “matriarch” is our Lola’s beloved malunggay tree, planted way back in 2006. Every so often, a neighbor—mask and all—comes around, asking for some bunches, and we gladly share, grateful to God for the gift of greens. After all, we call it “ang malunggay ng barangay,” and only have two rules: feel free to harvest, but no illegal logging, please (i.e., an unidentified person once hacked off a large limb).
Sprouts of hope
Will we continue this even after all the Qs are lifted? Yes.
Will we ever go on “career” mode, applying more time to research and purchasing more inputs and tools? Maybe.
For now, whatever sprouts of success we have, we just take time to enjoy them. And on days when the deep undeniable longing for family reunions, or despair over Covid deaths creep up on us, we head to the little backyard and the slim strip where our pots are lined up, and quieten down as we ponder the cycles mentioned by hymn-writer Thomas Chisholm when he penned “Great is Thy Faithfulness”—strangely enough, a comforting verse drawn from the Book of Lamentations:
“Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.”