It’s the merry month of May made more exciting with scattered showers particularly in the afternoons. Thank God for rains, I don’t have to water my plants every day. I also collect rain water for those plants in the shade.
This week, after standing up against China in a rally in Makati, we proceeded to the Bureau of Plant Industry in San Andres Bukid, Manila, to buy more seeds. I have started a project: Oplan Pechay in the compound of my mom in Cainta, Rizal. I am sharing with the tenants of her apartments how to do urban farming, given the limited space they have in front of their unit. I am giving them their first organic soil, organic fertilizer and seeds in their initial attempt to plant. They provide the containers such as damaged pails, basin and food boxes and used plastic bottles of softdrink, soy sauce, vinegar, water and others. They punch drainage holes near or under the containers to drain out excess water. I’ll take pictures and post them here as we go along. The purpose is to get them started and excite them to savor the joy of urban farming.
Speaking of pechay, that’s what we want to plant right now. It is a low maintenance vegetable and could be planted any day, most anywhere there is full sun and practically any kind of soil. Pechays are hardy and not choosy but it is still best to have nutrient-rich soil, a mixture of ordinary soil, rice hull or cocopeat and vermicast or compost humus. Or buy them ready to use. I buy my organic soil from the Agriventa booth of the Sidcor Sunday market.
They are annuals, meaning, after harvest, they will die. Also, you can have your matured pechay ready in 25-45 days after transplanting.
First, fill your seedling tray with rich organic soil. You can use shallow Styrofoam food container, egg tray, egg shell, your tarnished and well-worn tray and food box, baking tray and others. Sow your seedlings in a straight line. Press a little but do not cover them, instead, sprinkle them with some shredded coconut husk or a thin dusting of soil on top. Your favorite itinerant young coconut (buko) vendor will be too happy to share coconut husk with you. Moisten them, but not too wet. Then cover with plastic wrapper so that the wind won’t blow away those tiny pechay seeds. Place in a shaded area with bright, filtered sunlight. Spray with water everyday just to dampen the soil, but not to soak because it might cause the seeds to rot.
Second, After about 2-3 days when the seeds show a sign of life—greenish spots on the seeds—remove the plastic cover. Let them stay in the seed box. Continue to dampen with rice wash. In the next 7-10 days, the seeds will continue to sprout. Water them with just enough rice wash. Gradually expose them to direct sunlight (say, one hour a day) to acclimatize them with the sun rays. When they are about 2 inches tall with about 4-5 leaves, they are ready to be transplanted to your raised beds on the ground or to bigger pots.
Third, dig small holes, 6 inches apart, in your bed or pot. Transplant the pechay seedlings from the seed tray after 10 days. Press the soil around the seedling, but do not compact it. Keep the soil most at all times—during these hot days of summer, water them twice a day. Expose them to sunlight. That’s all your pechay needs—water and sunlight—because they are very low maintenance plants.
However, some pinworms or cutworms might find your pechay palatable and start to eat them. Watch out for tiny holes or scratches on the leaves. Remove these greenish black worms with your tweezer (tiyani). If you are unable to do this, be sure to wash your pechay very well before cooking or eating them raw. You may also spray with mixture of water, soap, baking soda and a little oil to make the mixture stick to the leaves.
Fourth, harvest the pechay after 25-45 days by snipping the stems at the soil level with a pair of scissors. Do not pull the roots because in the next four months your pechay plant will continue to grow more leaves and you can harvest and eat pechay continuously. Add more soil to your pot. Continue watering. Each plant will grow a minimum of 10-14 erect stalks, measuring at least 8-10 inches long.
Fifth, left alone, your pechay will bear flowers. Andres Tionko, executive director of Panay Rural Development, Inc., says, “just let your pechay be without harvesting the leaves until it bears flowers that will turn into fruits—1-inch long pods. Wait till the pods turn brown (mature) and ready for harvesting. Sun dry the pods and separate the seeds. Air dry seeds for a day then place into a dry resealable container for storing. Place dry charcoal in the container to absorb moisture. If properly prepared and stored, seeds can last up to 6 months or more.” Pechay seeds cost Php2/packet of 50 seeds from the Bureau of Plant Industry.
Pechay leaves can be eaten raw or used in soup and sautéed pechay. They can be added to salad, nilagang karne, bulalo, chopsuey, and other oriental dishes. They can be used for Filipino dishes to wrap tilapia for ginataang tilapia, wrap small fishes for stewing in vinegar (paksiw) and many others.
The different varieties of pechay are pechay Tagalog, pechay Baguio and pack choi or bok choi. They are all rich with vitamins and minerals such as ascorbic acid, vitamin C, riboflavin, vitamin B2, niacin, vitamin B3, vitamin A, and beta-carotene.
Urban farming is easy and enjoyable. Now pechay, next will be other all-season plants. Keep on reading.