10 Things I Learned from Planting All Those Seeds

1 Label the pots before filling them up. It’s faster and more efficient than sticking tags onto pots filled with soil. Use masking tape and a Sharpie instead of plastic tags that can easily fall off. You will be very glad that you labelled the pots when you discover that a lot of the baby trees look alike!

White or Red Lauan?

2 Wear gardening shoes. You are more likely to go outside if you’re not worried about tracking dirt inside the house. I like easy to wash shoes that you can slip in and out off and leave by the door.

Love these EVA Birks!

3 The first part to grow is the RADICLE. It is the embryonic root. It grows downwards. Don’t be like me, panicking when seeds arrived already sprouted!

I got such nice responses, there was no eye rolling or shaming!

4 Tamp down the soil in the pots firmly when you fill them up. Or else the seedlings will topple over! I like to overfill the pots, then tap the bottom on something firm so the soil settles into the pot nicely. I like to fill all the pots first, then make all the planting holes in the soil, place each seed into the hole, then cover each hole. That way you’re not wondering whether or not a pot already has a seed.

5 Use a nice watering can with a fine rose! You want a fine spray of water so the seeds don’t get washed away. It does take longer though for the water to come out of those tiny holes. Patience!

I feel very fancy when I water with these British watering cans!

6 Use rainwater for watering the plants. This is especially important if the water in your area is highly chlorinated. Now is a good time to start a rainwater collection system!

7 Make as much compost as you can. There’s no such thing as too much compost.

8 Keep notes. I wanted to have an app where I could put pictures of the trees, their gps locations, and the date when the tree was planted. But I haven’t found that app yet! In the meantime I’m using a notebook for all my tree notes. Each species has a one page spread and there’s an index with all the names and the page numbers. Everything that goes on with a particular species is listed in its page.

9 Join a group like Philippine Native Trees Enthusiasts on Facebook to get planting tips and lots of encouragement!

10

Just do it! You don’t need to have a green thumb. The sooner you start planting seeds, the better! You will learn a lot and have fun. Start small and remember that everything is a learning experience. No matter what happens, you will learn something!

The Bani seed is alive! It’s so nice to see a seed sprout! Such a nice feeling each and every time!

One Thousand Seeds

This is our big year for planting tree seeds. In a few short months, we have gone from having a few seedlings in bags to more than one thousand pots with seeds in various stages of growth!

February 2019 – It all started with the free seeds we received from the Horti Fair in Quezon Memorial Circle. The seeds came from members of the Philippine Native Trees Enthusiasts (PNTE) and they had tips on how to treat each seed type of seed before planting it. It was fun to follow the different pre-germination treatment instructions for each type of seed and very rewarding to see the seeds grow!

Philippine antive seeds
from seeds
seedlings
to seedlings!

June – We received more free seeds from Philippine Native Trees Enthusiasts at another plant show. This time we kept the seeds at home in Alabang instead of bringing them to Batangas.

from left to right Buri, Malapapaya, Ipil, Taluto

None of the Buri sprouted. The Taluto and Ipil were amazing! They grew quickly and were transplanted to bigger pots after 7 weeks. After a couple more weeks, they were big enough to move to the farm nursery. The Malapapaya is slow growing. They are in individual pots and are just getting their true leaves.

In June, we also bought 100 Pili seeds that we planted and then discarded by August. They weren’t showing any signs of life and we needed the space for other seeds!

Pili seeds

July – We bought 200 Balai Lamok seeds from a member of the Philippine Native Trees Enthusiasts group. We were excited to try the germination technique of Ephraim Cercado from PNTE. He in very successful in growing Balai Lamok.

Success! Back in 2017 we bought 198 Balai Lamok seeds and were able to grow only 8 seedlings. Now with the new germination technique we have 135 seedlings!

I think we can improve our Balai Lamok production even more if we decide to try again next season. We waited too long before planting the seeds and some of them got moldy. I think this may have made the seeds weaker. The potting mix was also too fluffy. It should have been packed down more evenly. The seedlings kept toppling over. We also may have been over watering in the early days.

Our Philippine Teak produced seeds for the first time. We collected them and tried different planting techniques. We were told that Philippine Teak is difficult to grow from seeds. We may possibly have one seed that grew. Or it might be a weed!

Philippine Teak seeds

August – Our biggest month for seed planting so far! We bought 4 kilos of seeds and gathered fruit and pods from 3 kinds of trees in our subdivision.

We gathered Banaba from flowering trees in our subdivision. We experimented on which pods had viable seeds. The pods that were brown and dry and still on the tree but slightly open did the best. The seedlings from pods that were not planted immediately were undersized.

We gathered Mabolo fruit from two fruiting trees in our subdivision. Some of fruit practically fell on our head while we were standing under the tree. We were able to eat those and enjoy the creamy apple flavor. The other fruits on the ground were spoiled, but the seeds were good for planting. All 91 seeds sprouted!

We bought 1 kilo of White Lauan seeds and 1 kilo of Red Lauan seeds from Bukidnon. When the seeds arrived, most of the Red Lauan already germinated! Lauan are from the Dipterocarps family. Their seeds have wings and germinate readily but are only viable for one or two weeks. And many Dipterocarps only have seeds every 5 or more years.

We bought 1 kilo of Anang seeds and 1 kilo of Tail-leafed Panau seeds. Anang is the same family as Mabolo. It also has black wood. Tail-leafed Panau is a Dipterocarp. Most of the Tail-leafed Panau were germinated when they arrived, with very long roots. The Anang hasn’t sprouted yet.

Tail-leafed Panau

Tonji noticed a good looking tree with pods in the village. It turned out to be Bani, a beach forest tree that grows quickly and can produce seeds in 3 years. We planted 35 seeds and are waiting for them to sprout.

Bani seed has a tree design!

All these seedlings from seeds that we bought and gathered are like our little babies. They have taken over the front steps of our house, the side garden, and one section of our lanai. We check on them every day, sprinkle them with rainwater, and pick out the hairy caterpillars that like to eat their leaves. When they get bigger, they will move from our house to the farm nursery and then eventually get planted on the ground.

The next stage of our seed collecting and planting will be collecting seeds from the Philippine native trees in our refuge that we have a lot of and that produce a lot of seeds. Trees like Banato, Alibangbang, and Akleng Parang. Then we can distribute them among the tree-loving members of the Philippine Native Trees Enthusiasts group so that even more people can learn to enjoy planting the seeds of Philippine native trees!

Flags and Tables

This year we are trying to be more organized and systematic with our tree planting and seedling production. We enjoy buying trees and seeds a lot and hope to do better at taking care of and keeping track of all the things we’ve bought and planted.

There’s an excellent guide to reforestation called “How to Plant a Forest: The Principles and Practice of Restoring Tropical Forests” by Forest Restoration Research Unit of Chiang Mai University. We hope to incorporate many of the practices mentioned in that guide at our project. The guidebook used to be available on their website as a free download. Their website doesn’t seem to be working anymore, so I’ve put a downloadable copy here!

This was available as a free download from the FORRU website, but I can’t find the link anymore. Click on the link above to download.

According to the guidebook, these are essential features of a tree nursery:

  • shaded area with benches for seed germination, protected from seed predators by wire mesh
  • shaded area for potted seedlings, with removable shade for hardening
  • work area for seed preparation
  • reliable water supply
  • lockable storage for materials and tools
  • fence to keep out stray animals
  • shelter and toilet for staff and visitors

We converted an old unused piggery that the previous land owners built into a new nursery.

On the right side is the lockable area for tools and equipment, the left side is the work area and storage area of potting mix materials
The tables are incredibly heavy!

The tables are a great improvement! The seedlings are now easy to see and organize. In our old nursery, the seedling bags were on bare ground. The roots of some seedlings would go through the bag and into the ground! It is hard to extricate the seedlings from the ground once this happens.

There are a lot of nursery practices described in the book that we want to incorporate into our nursery. Things like keeping better records, how to harden off the seedlings before planting them, and using root trainers.

According to the guide, these are the basic steps in tree planting:

  • Stake out the area where you will plant the seedlings. Mark the spots with a 50 cm stake. Space the seedlings randomly or 1.8 meters apart.
  • Distribute the seedlings among the people planting. Use baskets to carry the seedlings.
  • Dig the planting hole using a hoe. The hole should be 2x the volume of the container. Clear the weeds in a 50 to 100 cm diameter circle around the planting hole.
  • Remove the seedling from the bag making sure to keep the root ball intact. Slash the bag if necessary.
  • Plant the seedling. Make sure the root collar is level witht he soil surface. Fill in with loose soil. Press down with the palm of the hand to make it firm.
  • Add fertilizer.
  • Cover with mulch.
  • Water the seedling.
  • Replace the stake.
  • Clean up the site and remove the plastic bags.
Bamboo stake and flag made of and old blanket and yarn.
Using vermicast as fertilizer. Forgot to put the wood chip mulch on top!

The bamboo stakes and flags make it much easier to see where the seedlings are planted. This will help a lot in keeping track of the newly planted seedlings. Another option to making flags is to paint stripes on the stakes.

These simple improvements have made something that was already fun even better!

May Flowers: Philippine Teak and Narra

After a very hot and dry April, we had May showers and flowers!

Philippine Teak flowers
Philippine Teak flowers in May 2019

This is the first year our Philippine Teak produced flowers. We received 3 wildings from Dr. Ed Gomez in August 2016. They came from the Philippine Teak tree that he planted in the back of the Marine Science Institute in UP Diliman. We kept them in the nursery for 1 year before planting them near the cottage. Two survived, one died unexpectedly. This year, one of the two surviving trees flowered for the first time!

Philippine Teak growing near our cottage, May 2019

Our Narra trees also flowered for the first time this year! Tonji is very excited about the Narra flowers. He is already imagining a corridor of yellow blooms and the grass carpeted in fallen yellow flowers.

Narra flowers, May 2019
A corridor of Narra trees

It was such a treat to see the Philippine Teak and Narra flowers after a hot and difficult summer. In March, Barkley’s eye got injured while we were at the refuge. Something small, like a seed got embedded in his right eye. He had surgery on his eye.

Barkley’s eye was already injured here. It got worse!

In April our outdoor activities ground to a halt while we tended to Barkley’s eye. It was very hot and dry at the refuge. We just did day trips without the dogs to check up on the plants, trees, and construction projects.

It’s so dry! This is what it looked like in April.

Everything dries up in April. The ponds have no water, the grass is brown, even the big clump of bamboo in the distance turns yellow. It’s such a relief when it starts to rain again in May and everything turns green again!

Green again!