Monday, December 20, 2010

Bt Eggplants and Organic Farming

Mainstream environmentalism is often marked with romanticism. They romanticize the "native, non-bio-tech and organic" crops. Thus, they rabidly oppose the use of biotechnology, microbiology and other modern biological sciences in modernizing agriculture.

A few years back, many environmentalists attacked the use of Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) corn, using scary imagery and illusions about the dangers of using natural and soil-dwelling bacteria like Bt on humans if they eat Bt corn. Aside from fear of the "unknown" like using biotechnology in corn farming, the environmentalists also feared a multinational agri-business firm, Monsanto, as the pioneering company for Bt corn. SEARCA in UP Los Banos has a good scientific but simple explanation about Bt corn and why it is not harmful as pictured by the rabid environmentalists,

Just what is Bt? Is it really a "stranger" to crops and soil, imported only by profit-hungry multinational capitalists to exploit farmers and consumers and make huge profit in the process? Picture of Bt from wikipedia.

Here is a brief description of Bt, from

What is Bt?
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a spore forming (flash animation) bacterium that produces crystals protein (cry proteins), which are toxic to many species of insects.

Where is Bt found?
Bt can be found almost everywhere in the world. Surveys have indicated that Bt is distributed in the soil sparsely but frequently worldwide. Bt has been found in all types of terrain, including beaches, desert, and tundra habitats.

How many kinds of Bt are there?
There are thousands of different Bt strains, producing over 200 cry proteins that are active against an extensive range of insects and some other invertebrates.

How does Bt work?
Bt has to be eaten to cause mortality. The Bt toxin dissolve in the high pH insect gut and become active. The toxins then attack the gut cells of the insect, punching holes in the lining. The Bt spores spills out of the gut and germinate in the insect causing death within a couple days.

Now these environmentalists have attacked the field trial and experiment of Bt eggplants in UP Mindanao, Davao City campus. The City government of Davao itself ordered and implemented the destruction of Bt eggplants inside the UP Mindanao campus -- they uprooted the plants! See news today, Davao exec orders uprooting of Bt eggplants

The use of science like Bt in various crops like corn and eggplants is supposed to help farmers raise their income via (a) higher yield and lower crop damage, and (b) little or no need for expensive pesticides, insecticides, contributing even to organic farming. Consumers also benefit via larger crop output and hence, lower and stable prices. But ugly environmentalism and their hatred of biotechnology and profit-motive makes the activists become irrational.

Philippine population is rising by 1.8 million a year, net of death and migration. Since our land area is not rising, and some agri lands are in fact converted to residential and commercial areas, there is no way but use modern science in agriculture if we are to help feed a rising population. Thus, environmentalism should consider this reality before they resort to destructive activities like uprooting and destroying crops using biotech and Bt technology.

Monday, August 16, 2010

My Treehouse, Update

I am a month-end (or “trying-hard”) farmer and a lower middle class urbanite. Since I go to the farm (Pangasinan, northern Philippines) every 3 to 4 weeks to visit a farm that I manage (I don’t own it), my dogs (I used to have 7, now down to only 4) and our farm caretakers, I need to have my own house there. And since I want to live in Makati where I hold an office but I also cannot afford to buy a condo or townhouse, I have to continue renting a place.

So I got no house in Metro Manila despite various government housing “programs” (to be discussed in future postings) but at least I got a house in the farm. It is easy and non-costly to put up a house there, an all-wood house, because we have lots of trees that we planted since the early 90s. And this is what I got there – a treehouse!

It’s a 2-storey, all-wood, no walls (except the toilet, of course), slatted-bamboo floor, house perched on a big and live mahogany tree. We built it around March 2005, so it’s more than 5 years old now. The tree carries the bulk of the weight of the house, but there are 8 smaller posts that help support the house and give it more stability.

The roof used to be cogon, neatly tied and arranged. It’s cool, not hot on cloudless days and not noisy when it rains. But remember, this house is perched on a live tree. The tree’s trunk on ground floor is getting thicker but not rising. The second floor though is rising by about ½ to ¾ inch per year. And the trunk where the roof is clamped is rising by about 3 inches per year! The roof has to be repaired every 2 to 3 years as rainwater slowly seeps into the trunk and into the house.

This is the house until early 2009, before we changed the roof to iron. Termites were able to climb up the house and they like munching the rain-soaked cogon roof a lot, contributing to the damage to the roof. The part covered by wooden slabs is the toilet. Notice the stone terraces on the right side, fronting the treehouse.

And this is the house this year. The cogon roof at the ground floor and second floor has been changed with galvanized iron. The termites on the roof are gone. It’s not so hot during cloudless days, mainly because of the surrounding trees and their leaves. But it can be noisy when it rains though.

I mentioned above that the 2nd floor is rising by about ½ to ¾ inch per year. The tree’s trunk is rising and getting bigger there, it is trying to move apart the two huge 3 x 6 inches support beam of the 2nd floor. Since the beams are well-secured, the tree has tried a new tack: if it cannot push them away, it will swallow them!

A close up view of the thick new “lips” of the tree. At the rate the “lips” are moving and expanding, this part of the wood will be entire swallowed in 3 to 4 years. I do not know if this will break the wood or it will strengthen it by then.

This is a view of the house 5 years ago, sometime in April or May 2005. Notice the trees surrounding it were still thin and small.

And this is the house last month. The trees surrounding it have become bigger and taller. At least two big and leaning trees have been cut already as they posed danger to the house during typhoon season.

A view of the house on the 2nd floor. Yes, those are live new leaves and branches that grow on the trunk. We have to remove some of them; otherwise, they will grow even bigger and occupy the entire house.

A tall, “Tarzan-like house” would need a Tarzan-like carpenter. That carpenter is Charlie Espinoza, the one on the left. Charlie is cool: a rice and vegetable farmer, tricycle driver/mechanic, carpenter, various other jobs, He’s the one who repaired and/or changed the roof. Assisting him, on the right, is Danny Paragas, who also assists his father, Nong Endring Paragas (not shown here) in taking care of the farm.

For those who plan to build their own treehouse too, the first thing to do is to have many trees near your area. Plant trees now on your private land, or take care of those that have grown naturally. Take note that the operative term is “tree growing”, not just “tree planting”. The former means planting trees for the long-term, the latter describes tens of thousands, of such activities every year. An average “tree planting” activity by various groups consist of 99 percent tree planting and 1 percent monitoring. After the picture-taking and being published in some newspapers or posted in some online sites, the newly planted seedlings are left on their own. After a week or a month, many of those seedlings are dead – choked by vines and tall grasses, or got burned in forest fires, or eroded by heavy rains and flash flood, or got trampled by farm animals, etc.

Monday, July 26, 2010


Last weekend, I visited the farm again, slept in my treehouse and got a really long and peaceful sleep, from 9pm to 5:30am, 8 ½ hours of peaceful and deep sleep. Prior to that, I was so tired I also slept from 5-7pm, until Nong Endring woke me up for dinner. Our viand then was one of our free-range chicken who tend to free range a lot, they do not go back to their chicken house in the evening anymore. Either they will be stolen by other people, or some wild animals, especially monitor lizard (“bayawak”) will get them.

Here’s the front view of the mini-dam that we started building a few months ago. As of July 11 this year, 3 layers of stones.

And this is the front view last weekend, July 25, we started building the 4th layer.

Top view, as of July 11. New layer of dried leaves brought down by a small flood the previous weeks deposited at the back of the stones.

Top view, as of July 25. More stones added at the back, more weight, more stability, in case huge and strong flash floods will come in the next few weeks.

Back view, late June this year.

Back view, last July 25. The 3rd layer of stones at the back has been covered by dried leaves already.

This is the gully that we hope will be covered by soil and organic matter brought down by rainwater and flash flood in the coming months and years. Several cubic meters of loosened soil from the higher elevations are expected to be impounded here.

This will be our first experiment at impounding eroded soil and organic matter brought down by flash flood. I personally chose this site because the volume of flash flood here is not so big, unlike in other waterways in the farm.

A wider view of the mini dam plus the stairway going up to my treehouse.

More updates and photos in the coming weeks and months.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Stone terraces, part 2

The main purpose of building stone terraces is to trap organic matter (like dried leaves and branches) and loose soil so that they will not be easily eroded by heavy rains and flash flood. In the process, (a) a new layer soil will be created and (b) the area is beautified.

This is a short terrace, about 1 foot high. Front view, bigger stones are visible.

And the back view. These are smaller stones. Soon they will become invisible when they are covered by organic matter.

Some dried branches are put at the back.

A few weeks later, dried leaves are added at the back.

Below are the terraces I constructed in our house in Cadiz City, Negros Occidental.

The lower layer was built more than a year ago. The upper layer was built about 3 months ago.

The 3 layers of terraces are shown here. The flowers’ roots should benefit from the decaying organic matter below the soil surface.

The stairs. My older sister who takes care of the flowers was very happy with the terraces I built for them. My mother who is already old and sickly enjoys watching the flowers.

My treehouse, July 2010

My treehouse is now more than 6 years old. It was built around December 2003 and was finished around March 2004. It is all-wood, 2-storeys high, slatted bamboo floor, originally cogon roof (now galvanized iron), and perched on a live mahogany tree.

The advantage of putting your house on a live tree is that the main “post” does not age or being attacked by termites; on the contrary, the main “post” gets stronger through time as the tree becomes bigger.

One disadvantage is that the tree is getting bigger and taller, and new branches are sprouting up inside the house.

And on the roof, new branches are rising too. These new branches + rising tree require regular repair on the roof, once every 2-3 years at least. That’s one reason why after 5 or 6 years, the original cogon roof has to be replaced by galvanized iron. The termites also do not stop from attacking and eating the cogon roof. They seem to "smell" the roof several feet below, from the base of the house.

And below, here’s how new the new “skin” of the tree would try to swallow a 3 x 8 inches wood.

One view of my treehouse, from the base up. The first floor of the house is not rising, the tree is getting bigger, and it causes some mis-alignment on the floor. The second floor is rising by perhaps 1/2 to 3/4 inch per year. But the roof is rising by about 2-4 inches a year.

Another view from the opposite side.

Side view, with the toilet, covered by slabs.

Farther view and the surrounding trees.

I’m proud of my treehouse. The only house I truly own. I sleep there once every 2 or 3 months.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Stone terraces after 6 years

Building stone terraces is among my favorite activities in the farm. We started building good stone terraces in 2004 when we also built my new treehouse then.

Here’s one side of the terraces near the creekside, picture taken from the 2nd floor of my treehouse. This was in April 2004. Notice the small and thin mahogany trees then.

And here’s the same view 6 years after, taken in April 2010…

Last month, we trimmed those young and tall mahogany trees beside my treehouse. It’s getting dark because of the thick leaves outside.

Another view of the terraces from below, near the creek. Picture taken in April 2004.

The mahogany trees were young and thin then. Six years after, the trees have grown bigger and taller, it’s darker now under the canopy.

On another side of my treehouse, there is another cluster of stone terraces beside our dinning hall. Picture below taken in March 2004, when the structure was under construction.

And here’s the view 5 years after, picture taken in March 2009…

And another picture taken a year after, April 2010…

Some of the trees near my treehouse have grown big and tall, they have become dangerous should they be brought down by trong typhoons. Those trees were either trimmed at the top, some are scheduled to be cut within the year, get the wood for lumber, and remove the danger to my treehouse.

Above is another view of the dininghall with stone terraces and a foot bridge. Picture taken last May 2010.

Two guys are taking care of our farm with care and loyalty. In the middle is Ninong Endring Paragas, my wedding godfather. Beside him is his son, Danny, who also became my wedding godson. Without the help of these two guys, all those stone terraces would not have been built and preserved, and all those trees that we planted several years ago would have been cut and stolen by lots of wood poachers. These small-scale illegal loggers just live in the same barrio.

My daughter's bunny

Several weekends ago, my daughter, Elle Marie, asked to have her own pets. We went to a pet shop – the birds are pricey and they can be noisy and Elle doesn’t like noisy animals. Another option is a puppy but it should be messy to keep a puppy inside the house, the hair, some poops and barking could be inconvenient for her too. We ended up with a… bunny!

Elle was so happy with her bunny that day. She stayed late that night, she wanted the bunny to sleep beside and we haggled for an hour that she can’t do it, that the bunny should go back to its cage. A bunny does not make any noise, it only wants to eat and eat vegetables and grass. We bought a pair actually, but the other one died after a few days. Here’s the remaining one, it has superb appetite.

One day, we brought it to an open area and let it run around.

There was a cat that was strolling in the park that day and wanted to attack the bunny. I had to scare the cat away. Later we brought up the bunny on the elevated play area.

Among the bunny’s favorite food is kangkong. Here eating its fresh leaves of kangkong in its cage.

Since it’s time consuming to be buying fresh kangkong from the public market every 2 days or so, I started planting the kangkong stem in pots. Some stems have grown new leaves, others wilted.

Now I have a little kangkongan! 