By Angel Rodriguez
In 2016, I moved into a piece of land from my family. My partner and I are slowly converting it from a sugarcane field to an organic/biodynamic food forest. I’d consider myself an amateur and self-taught gardener/farmer, as I’ve probably only had three years of experience. We all start somewhere, so I wanted to share this list of easy-to-grow plants. I had a humble start by growing tomatoes and some herbs in my apartment’s balcony back in college. You can grow the ten plants listed below in a balcony too or even just by a window.
I’ve always been a sort of “intuitive” gardener/farmer, so you’ll notice I don’t have specific measurements or products for some of the plants below. I have never bought garden soil and have just always been using kitchen scraps as compost. It’s important to know the basics, sure, but I believe you need to follow your intuition and listen to the plants too. They’ll tell you what they need. Farming has been in our blood for most of human history. It’s a skill that’s in all of us. Just be open and listen, somehow you’ll know what to do.
1. Spring Onions
I bought a bundle of these from the market a few months ago and haven’t bought again since! Just plant the leftover root (with 3cm of the stem left) in a pot and allow the leaves to keep growing after you cut them. They don’t mind being crowded in a pot, so you may space them however you like. Chopped spring onions are great for soups and fried rice.
2. Lettuce and Pechay
Sprinkle some seeds on a seedbed and water everyday. The roots are quite shallow so you can use a seedbed that’s around 6 inches deep. When they’ve sprouted, thin out the batch or transplant to separate pots. Make sure to allot 6-12 inches of space between each plant. Grow on your windowsill and it should be ready in 30 days. Remember to harvest the leaves when they’re still tender.
A short video featuring vegetables you can grow from kitchen scraps!
A video on making seed starters from upcycled everyday items.
My all-time favorite spice! The wait is quite long (mine took around 10 months) but it’s absolutely worth it. All you need is a small portion of the ones you bought from the market, including one or two “eyes” for each portion because this is where the stem starts to grow. Use a pot that’s around 12 inches deep and 12 inches wide. Bury it 2 inches below the surface.
They love the sun, but not too much of it. They survive well in shady environments. Once the leaves start to die, that’s when you know they’re ready to harvest. If you’re used to using the powdered form of turmeric, you can replace it with fresh turmeric easily. You just need to grate them. I find that the flavor is much stronger so experiment how much you want to add to your food. I love grating some in a pot with uncooked rice. The rice absorbs the flavor and color while cooking.
For the next four herbs listed:
You may either start from seed or opt to buy those small ones in pots at garden shows. Care instructions can be different per variety, so you may opt to follow the guidelines written on the packets the seeds come in. These are easy to grow on your windowsill, with the requirement of at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. Just always keep in mind the one third rule when harvesting: don’t harvest more than 1/3 of the plant at a single time. This is to ensure your plant can still regrow. Place them near your kitchen so it’s easy to add fresh flavors in your dish.
I love adding freshly-picked leaves in my morning tea. And it’s almost a lazy way to brush your teeth (I kid, LOL). But it gives you a really refresh feeling.
A great add-on to salads, giving a zing to every bite. I know that the flowers are edible, but I’ve never tried. Feel free to do so though.
Pasta tastes so empty without some chopped basil. You may harvest when the plant reaches 6-8 inches in height.
Another great spice to add to pasta, although I usually keep it around for medicinal purposes. A fresh brew of a few leaves is a perfect remedy for the common cold. You may harvest when the plant reaches 4-6 inches in height.
I have to be honest. I find it ridiculous if you supplement with moringa powder and live in the Philippines. Malunggay is so easy to grow! You just need a cutting from a mother plant, stick it into a large container (we recycled a five-gallon water bottle for this) with soil, and done! You’ll have malunggay all year round. You may start harvesting at any time after the plant looks well established. This is my forever favorite leafy green, with its endless list of nutrients and benefits. I try to include it in my meal plans as often as I can.
9. Aloe Vera
Find a pup (small baby aloe) from a mother plant and transplant to a new pot. I usually have one plant pot (any size will do as long as the roots fit comfortably and fill up two-thirds of the pot). They are hardy plants that only need to be watered once a week. Make sure to place them on a south or west-facing windowsill so they can get enough sunlight. Aloe vera is a great treatment for burns. Just cut a leaf from the plant and apply the gel directly to the skin.
Bonus for those with access to rooftop or outdoor gardens:
I found it quite surprising how simple it was to grow these—to think a small pack of the dried flowers cost a fortune when I could effortlessly grow them myself. In a large pot (10-20 gallon container), place 2-3 seeds and bury half an inch deep into the soil. Allow only one plant to grow, so take out the others and choose the strongest looking seedling.
A word of caution, pay close attention to this plant and make sure to prune regularly. (Pruning is the practice of cutting off dead or overgrown stems.) They grow flowers fast once the season is near. I’ve had so many bend at their trunks due to the weight. Observe where this is happening to your plant and cut where you feel the need. Harvest the flowers and make jam or juice from the calyxes.
Yes! These are one of those flowers you can place in salads. They come in orange, yellow, pink or white. They are very adaptable and can be planted to almost any type of soil. Same as the roselle plant, place 2-3 seeds and bury half an inch deep into the soil, allowing only one plant to grow in one container. Water once a day. They are a wonderful addition to any garden as they can attract bees and other pollinators. It takes the plant an average of seven weeks to first bloom into flowers.
All the tomatoes I’ve grown came from seeds I saved from the ones I bought from the palengke. Collect the seeds on a piece of paper and dry them out in the sun (this should be ready in a day or two). Then directly plant them into a pot with soil. Be careful to not water too much as the roots may rot. General rule would be to water twice a week or times when the soil feels dry. They grow all year round, although the best time to plant them is during the end of the rainy season so you can harvest near summer time. You may begin to pick tomatoes when they’ve turned that beautiful bright red color.
There you go 🙂
If you’re a beginner and ready to start, it’s important to remember to not stress about being perfect. There are guidelines and tips on how to grow these plants, but you don’t need to obsess about them. Like I said, farming is in all of us. The experience of growing your own food is therapeutic and empowering. Have fun, wing it and really just take the time to be with your plants.
If you’re interested in learning more about growing food in the city, the Facebook group Manila Grows Food is an excellent resource and supportive community!
Angel is an “intuitive” farmer trying to grow a food forest in what used to be her family’s sugarcane field. She’s a city kid who’s figuring out how to live a simpler life in a farm and tries to live her truth everyday as best as she can. Her other passions include yoga, art and zero waste living. She owns Ka Nami Pasador, an enterprise that creates and sells reusable cloth pads with the mission to promote period positivity by breaking menstrual taboos through education.