Thursday, October 25, 2007

A few typhoons this year

While Southern California was reeling from plenty of wild fires aided by very strong desert winds with gustiness up to 100 mph sometimes, Metro Manila and surrounding provinces was cloudy and wet for 3 straight days. The reason was a low-pressure area in the southern part of the country that pushed those cold winds and thick rain clouds. The low pressure area though, did not graduate to become a new typhoon.

It is now late October and so far, the Philippines has had only about 6 typhoons this year. This is unusual. The country would get around 19 to 20 typhoons a year on average. The rainy season usually ends by October, with occasional rains falling by November and December. The country's weather bureau, PAG-ASA, earlier announced that "La Nina" phenomenon might extend the rainy season until December this year. Lucky for us if this happens, because the rainy season was delayed by 2 months this year. Instead of May or June, the regular rains came by August.

Of course, less typhoons means less destruction. Last year, the country experienced about 2 super-typhoons -- typhoons with winds more than 200 kph. One typhoon, localled called "Milenyo", packed winds up to 250 kph, so it knocked down thousands of trees, electrical posts, houses and giant billboards. Many people were also killed, and much plentier were rendered homeless and injured. This year, we are lucky that we don't have such kind of super-typhoons.

Since early this year though, the price of rice and other agricultural products have been rising. The delayed rains middle of this year is among the main reasons. Delayed rains meant delayed planting, and hence, delayed harvesting. Many rice farmers are just harvesting their first cropping in the previous weeks, when they should have already planted rice in the second cropping.

Meanwhile, dams for irrigation and/or hydro power plants have not fully stock enough water for the coming dry and rainless months. One beauty of plenty of typhoons is that they pour plenty of rains for the fields and the dams. With few typhoons, we had less rains to fill up our dams.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Seeds of certain forest species

Planting trees is fun, and you should protect them to become big trees someday -- so you can cut some of them and build your own wooden house from the trees you have planted a decade or 2 ago, some you can keep so you can tie long hammock to lie down and sleep, or play with your children or grand children someday.

Watching the big trees producing their own seeds is also fun. Some tidbits about the seeds of some trees.

1. Mahogany -- among the fastest-growing hard wood species.
The seeds are lumped on one bundle of brown, oblong-shape thick cover, lit ooks like chiko fruits, but much bigger. Inside this bundle is around 65 seeds on average. A seed has a wing on its tail. So when that bundle matures, it releases the seeds from the tree, and the seeds fall and fly like small rotor blades of helicopters, enabling the seeds to travel farther, thus ensuring that they can perpetuate their specie to a much wider area. One mature tree can produce thousands of seeds per year. Even assuming that only 5 to 10% of those seeds would grow to become young saplings, there are hundreds of new saplings (or seedlings?) of them that grow around or near the mother tree.

2. Narra -- the Philippines' "national tree".
This is slow-growing, but hard wood quality. The seeds are small, enrircled by tiny layer that acts like wings too. So when the seeds fall from the mother tree, they can fly away if there's a strong wind, ensuring the preservation of their specie to far away places. Narra can produce lots of branches, so if you want to produce long and huge trunks someday, you should plant them close to each other (2x2 meters distance initially, later make them 4x4 by removing the trees in the middle).

Note: birds don't eat the seeds of these 2 trees. The seeds are big for most birds, and they don't seem to taste yummy for the birds too.

3. Acacia auri, acacia mangium, eucalyptus, others -- are fast-growing.
But you can hardly see their seeds, very small. Some bird species eat their seeds, when the birds make po-po, they scatter the seeds to far away places. Of course there are forestry techniques how these very small seeds can be collected and planted to produce seedlings.

Other trees that have very tiny seeds are benguet pine (like the trees you see in Baguio), ordinary pine trees, some local dipterocarp species like molave.

Making tree planting real tree growing

People who are serious in "tree growing" and not just "tree planting" do NOT plant trees at the end of the rainy season, ie, end-October or November. They plant in June (or late May), at the start of the rainy season. Those seedlings are still frail, unless they are at least 3 feet tall already, meaning their roots and stems are already hardened from strong sunlight.

My observation as a practitioner of agro-forest farming for more than a decade now, is that if you plant at the end of the rainy season, and you don't water them for the next 5 months at least, plus the necessary cleaning of undesirable weeds and vines that compete for sunlight and soil minerals, survival rate of those seedlings after 1 year is only around 10%, you're lucky if you get 20-25% survival. The rest are dead, sayang ang pagod, sayang ang seedlings. And if grass fires occur (they usually occur anywhere from January to May), you'll have zero survival. The tree planting activity then would be good only for picture-taking and project reporting.

Whereas if you plant at the start of the rainy season, you save on labor and watering for at least 5 months straight. By the time the rainy season has ended, the seedlings have already developed strong roots that will allow them to penetrate deeper sub-soil for water and minerals. That is why survival rate is much higher.

If the seedlings are still small, ie shorter than 3 feet tall, better keep the seedlings in one place, remove the small plastic bags that hold their roots, put the seedlings in bigger plastic bags, add more soil, water them regularly, and plant them June the next year, at the start of the rainy season. By then, the seedlings should be at least 4 feet tall, would have vigorous roots and will have much bigger probability of survival. Those who will plant the seedlings would also be glad to see that the small tree they have planted are already tall, taller than grasses and weeds.

Groups that are intent on planting at the end of the rainy season should allot more money to hire laborers who will regularly water those plants, remove the competing grasses and vines, apply fertilizers (organic or inorganic), and replant those that died. The cost here should be higher. Nonetheless, people should be aware that it should be a "tree growing", not just a "tree planting", activity.

Finally, for people who want to see real big trees someday, better that they buy lands in the provinces, just a few hectares, and do what they want or plant what they want. If they want "bio-diversity", they can plant several dozens of different species of trees, from fast-growing commercial species to slow-growing, dipterocarp and vanishing species. The area can be made later into an income-generating eco-tourism resort, or for bird (or some wild life) research sanctuary, the options are unlimited.

Planting trees on lands you do not own, especially if it is "public forest land", meaning "owned and managed" by the DENR, is very often a waste of time. It is because if you have open access to plant those trees in those lands, other people also have the same access to cut those trees on those lands someday. The DENR is the biggest manager of lands in this country (in behalf of the state that owns all lands). It is also the lousiest and laziest manager/s. If you want to check or refute this, try to visit any nearby "public forest land" and estimate the percentage of that area that still has thick forest cover.