Pretty won’t feed you
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - October 5, 2020 - 12:00am

Unless you happen to catch yourself a pretty Sugar Mama like in one country song I get to hear now and then, chances are “pretty won’t feed you” – but with this I refer to ornamental plants and flowers that so many Filipinos are going crazy about. I know there is a craze for plants now that has led to the evolution of “plantitos and plantitas” but I did not realize just how far and wide the craze is and the demand was, until we drove through parts of Tagaytay, Alfonso and Carmona in the province of Cavite. Literally every street corner, even sari-sari stores, displayed a few pots or varieties of plants all available for drive-by sale.

There is, however, some concern over the fact that all these plants create a huge demand for water as well as space but only gives back psychic profit or the satisfaction of owning, tending and seeing “Pretty” plants and flowers in your garden or in your flat. The harsh fact is that Pretty is often more costly than satisfying. Yeah, you can stare at it all you like, but I can get more satisfaction staring at a plate of chicharon bulaklak or lechon and then chomping it all down just like Cookie Monster does. Even vegetarians get to have their plants and eat it too!

Because of the global pandemic, there are now movements pushing for planting or gardening edible plants that are filling and more satisfying and beneficial in the long run. In fact, some have suggested that homeowners rip up their pretty lawns or front yards and build raised soil beds for vegetables and herbs. In parts of the United States, “Edible Gardeners” make their produce accessible to the general public because we all can produce much more than we can consume. I have personally done the slow dance towards edibles over ornamentals and nothing beats harvesting fresh vegetables and cooking them on site. Whether it’s kangkong, pechay, okra or upo, pandan or lemongrass or kalamansi, the availability of the produce really tilts your interest towards edible and filling rather than pretty!

Speaking of pretty, a number of people have spent a small fortune getting into ornamental or aquarium fishes as well as the more expensive Japanese Koi hobby. I myself have renovated my Koi pond and huge aquariums after 20 years of not having undergone any major repairs. But just recently I realized that there is no harm in throwing in or separately raising edible fish and not just “pretty” fishes. It doesn’t take much to raise tilapia or catfish in a large aquarium or a small pond as long as you get pre-sexed or single gender batch of tilapia to grow and really plan out the system and management. You can go really small like maybe four or six pieces in a 50- to 100-gallon aquarium or dedicate a pond to raise them in. I know that BMeg Feeds Corp. has a line of aquatic feeds designed and manufactured for that purpose and nothing beats harvesting or using a home-made fishing pole to catch a few pieces for dinner. I did this once in Lipa with my daughter Hannah, hoping she gets the bug for fishing, but it did not catch on with her.

If you do decide to raise a few in an aquarium, just make sure you have a good filtration system and change at least 10 to 20 percent of the water weekly. DO NOT put in fish – any fish – into a freshly filled aquarium using tap water that is highly chlorinated! You will kill them in a few hours. To this day there are still many people who don’t know that “MWSS water” is chemically treated and needs to breathe or aerate for at least 24 hours before you put in fish. Actually, most of us wait for the aquarium to settle, then we put in one test fish, like a canary in a mine, and wait. If the test fish survives then the tank is OK.

By coincidence I interviewed gardener/reporter Mer Layson who will soon have his own gardening show on OneNewsPh and he gave AGENDA viewers a very important tip about plant care: Don’t use chlorinated water directly to water your plants. Apparently, using MWSS water straight out of the tap is also toxic for plants, especially sensitive ornamentals. The best thing to do is to “aerate” or store the water in a drum for at least 24 hours in order to detox the water.

So, going back to Pretty versus Edible, just a word of caution: fruits and vegetables in the garden tend to ripen pretty fast, dry up quickly, unlike the chemically treated commercial produce that stays fresh for days or weeks. I learned from a guy who used to work in a processing facility that products are chosen based on looks and form, sprayed and even “waxed” to prolong their freshness and shelf life. In contrast you will discover that natural or organic bananas direct from the tree and many vegetables quickly ripen and then rot because they are free from preservatives. So if you see a good bunch of fruits or veggies, eat them ASAP or the bugs and fruit flies will.

When you think about it, it’s interesting how pretty plants, pretty flowers and pretty girls can all be high maintenance, you have to feed them and chances are they won’t feed you! They also use a lot of chemicals and “preservatives” to stay “Pretty.” Cheers!

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