Update: What happened? October 2021 to April 2022

October 2021 – We totally missed the month of October because Tonji’s foot was acting up again.

November 2021 – We had one visit that was cut short by Tonji’s foot acting up! This time he figured out that it was GOUT! Apparently even vegans can get gout if they have a predisposition to it and eat or drink something that triggers it. Now we know he has gout and it’s triggered by certain kinds of beer.

December 2021 – We had some very nice days at the sanctuary!

The planets aligned!

I could spend the whole day taking pictures of the dogs doing their own thing and just thoroughly enjoying themselves. There’s a lot of frolicking and rolling around.

Sketching at the farm is one of my favorite things!

One good thing about being away from the sanctuary for so long is that we get to appreciate how much things have grown! The Toog trees we planted in 2019 are thriving. We planted another batch of Toog that we had kept in the nursery until they were big enough to plant outside.

We also had sad news. Our dear sweet boy Takoy passed away on Dec 31. He suddenly collapsed and couldn’t move his back legs or tail. We had to put him down. He was buried in the paddock.

January 2022 – Tonji got COVID! Good thing it was a mild case of the Omicron variant. He was still able to go to the sanctuary once this month.

February 2022 – This is the nicest time of the year to be at the sanctuary. The weather is cool and windy and there are beautiful plants in bloom wherever you look!

The Malabulak trees deserve special mention! They have grown tall, they look like proper trees now, and have a lot more flowers than last year! The Malabulak trees shed their leaves every year, before flowering.

March 2022 – Very busy and exciting month. We got a lot done! It is also very hot. An early summer. Does this mean we will have an early rainy season?

THE BIG POND – Tonji is taking advantage of the dry weather to work on our biggest wildlife pond yet! We are hoping that this pond will hold water all year and that we can put fish and water plants. The fish to eat the mosquito larvae and the water plants to slow down the water evaporation in the pond.

This is Tonji explaining science behind it all. Putting this here so we can watch it again during rainy season and see if all he said came true! (the noisy chicken sounds in the background are from our neighbor’s farm)

We upgraded Tonji’s digging machinery from a vintage digger to a brand new skid steerer. He watched a lot of YouTube videos on digging ponds and Small Water Impounding Projects or SWIPs. SWIPS are made mainly to collect rainwater to use for irrigating crops. The online videos are very encouraging, especially the ones from India and the Philippines. The communities that have them report big changes in their environment. The water tables get restored, dried up wells become usable again, and there are many more birds than before!

TWO PONIES – Boo Boo had been an only horse since Takoy passed away. We attempted to send her to our friend Tito’s farm in Mindoro so she could hang out with his cows and goats but she refused to get into the trailer! We didn’t have much of a choice, we decided to keep her and find companions for her. We briefly thought of getting fancy goats but realized it would be difficult to keep them from getting out of the paddock. We were able to adopt two very cute female ponies. Oatly came from Doc Nielsen and Brownie came from Doc Dan. The three horses got along almost immediately.

Boo Boo became noticeably calmer with her two new companions around. Before, the dogs (usually Ollie and Wolfie) would run into the paddock and rile her up by barking at her. She would run around and sometimes try to kick them. After we got the new ponies, it was like she was a different horse! The dogs would bark at her and she wouldn’t react at all. She would just continue eating grass and not even raise her head to look at them.

Day 1 – Oatly is showing Boo Boo that she’s not a pushover
Oatly is very friendly

We harvested our first Malabulak pod from our trees! This is the first year that they produced pods. The Malabulak seed pods are much smaller than the more common and non-native Kapok.

collecting the first pod!

The first seed pod we collected was still a bit greenish. I kept it indoors at room temperature and after 10 days the pod popped open. I collected more than 100 seeds. The seeds germinate easily, no need to soak or scarify the seeds before planting. They started showing signs of life after 5 days. I plan to make a little pillow with all the cottony fluff or “bulak”. The fluff causes allergies for some people. Good thing I am ok with it.

April 2022 – The weather surprised us with rain showers when we were expecting hot, dry weather. Our attempt to sleep outside in tents was cut short since I didn’t put up the rain covers of the tents.

The campers!

We collected more pods, this time with a long stick and net. We are growing them at home in Alabang.

opening a Malabulak pod

Barkley celebrated his 12th birthday! He ate some of the carrots that were meant for the ponies and went for a swim. He is mostly blind now. I am getting used to carrying him around for our morning walks.

We also bought seedlings from Punlang Katutubo in Batangas City. They had Philippine Teak! We are excited to plant more trees!

We have been observing interesting birds at the sanctuary. We hear a lot of Asian Koels, we saw a Malkoha at the nursery, 2 Philippine Nightjars on the ground, we heard a Hawk Cuckoo and we’ve been seeing Grass Owls in the daytime! We are also looking forward to seeing more birds at the new pond, once it fills up with rain water. I think it will be the new birding hotspot at the farm.

The Island Collared Doves that are usually skittish are easy to see there. We see them together with the less shy Spotted Doves. We are hoping they co-exist and the Spotted Doves don’t push out the Island Collared Doves!

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!

Worm Composting Update. Now Even Easier.

If you have horse poop, then you have a great opportunity to make a LOT of worm compost or vermicast. Vermicast is the poop of worms, usually a particular type of worm that lends itself well to composting. With worms, the end material is greater than the sum of the parts that were put into it! Through their digestion, the worms convert the horse poop into an excellent, all natural, complete fertilizer that improves the structure of the soil and makes it hold more water.

I wrote about worm composting in this earlier post https://sylviatramos.blog/2018/01/23/easy-vermicomposting-with-african-night-crawlers/

I was sort of forced to simplify my technique when the wood barrels I was using failed. During the summer, I did not realize that the gaps in the barrels had sealed up and my worms got overheated. It got steamy inside the barrels. Sad to say, some of the worms melted! I moved the worms to a raised bed for vegetables that wasn’t being used. They’ve stayed there since summer because they’re doing better than ever on the ground! All the things I thought I knew about worm care previously has been turned on its head!

the worm bed under shade netting



What I learned from the worms

I didn’t think they would do well on the ground, but it now makes sense! I think their current environment is more natural. I kept them in containers before because I was worried about them either crawling away or being eaten by ants. I think some of the birds are able to get into the worm bin, but on the whole the worms seem to be doing much better than in the barrels. I don’t think any of them have run away!

My current on the ground set up has better drainage and ventilation than the old set up. Before when I would harvest the vermicast, I would classify it as Grade A, B, or C. Now all of my harvest is Grade A!

vermicast
when the worms are done, it all looks like this!


I also found just the right gadget for sifting the vermicast. It’s a big and flexible Tubtrug colander. I carefully sift the compost to make sure the worms don’t get mixed into the harvest and also to remove all the uncomposted bits. When I’m sifting, it feels like I’m returning a lot of it back into the worm bed. But when I’m done, my yield is much more than before! I’m now getting a lot more vermicast for the same amount of horse poop compost. I am able to harvest so much vermicast that I was able to give out big bags of it to close friends and relatives during the holidays!

I water the worms with water that has been left out to sit for at least 24 hours. This is to make sure that the chlorine in the water evaporates.

This is what it looks like when the horse poop compost is freshly applied.

horse poop compost

And this is what if looks like after 21 days.

Let There Be Ponds!

We are harnessing the power of water to restore, rehabilitate, and rejuvenate our property and make it more attractive to wildlife. One way to do this is to make a lot of ponds! The ponds catch and store rainwater so it can be used by plants and animals instead of just running off the land. We don’t use pond liners so that the water can eventually sink into the water table to recharge it.

We are making all sorts of ponds and trying different pond building techniques.

Our very first pond was built in February 2015. It’s our biggest and deepest pond. It was build by hand by 6 people.  We wanted Pond No. 1 to be deep so it would hold more water for a longer time The deepest section is two meters deep.

The workers also built two smaller ponds near Pond No. 1. We learned from these smaller ponds that even smaller ponds can hold water for a long time. It’s not that necessary to make the ponds very deep.

In 2016 Tonji decided that he wanted to build the ponds himself. We bought a small backhoe. He built Pond #4 in March 2016. This pond has a small island in the center. It was very popular with the ducks last year! This pond was later renamed Secret Pond.

In 2017 we didn’t build any ponds. Tonji did some pond maintenance and enlarged Pond No. 3.

This year Tonji completed two ponds and is working on a third! It took him 9 days to build Pond No. 5. This pond has a back “wall” made up of mounded dirt that is supposed to hold water and add depth to the pond. At the other end it tapers out to a shallow overflow area. Tonji thinks his backhoe is equivalent to 4 men digging. This pond was finished quickly with the help of workers to move the dirt out and finish the sides by hand. This pond was later renamed Owl Pond.

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First he clears the grass with the grass cutter
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Oops, stop digging while Barkely inspects the work!
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Momo’s turn to inspect the work
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Pond No. 5 after one day of rain

Pond No. 6 took only two days to build! It is a small pond that Tonji hopes will provide water for the trees growing by the side. This pond was later renamed Picnic Pond.

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start of Pond No. 6
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Pond No. 6 or Picnic Pond almost finished, will be tapered by hand

Pond No. 7 is still under construction. Tonji says this is going to be a big pond. This pond was later renamed Faraway Pond.

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Day one of Pond No. 7 or Faraway Pond
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Tonji’s companion while digging for 3 days! 

Pond Stats:

Pond No. 1
built from 25 Feb 2015 to 27 March 2015
current dimension: 17m x 8 m

Pond No. 2
built 2015
did not measure

Pond No. 3 (in 2019 Tonji said he doesn’t really count this as a pond)
built 2015
current dimension: 7m x 4m

Pond No. 4 (now called Secret Pond)
built March 2016
did not measure

Pond No. 5 (now called Owl Pond)
built February 2018  in 9 days
current dimension: 7m x 10m

Pond No. 6 (now called Picnic Pond)
built March 2018 in 2 days
current dimension: 6m x 5m

Pond No. 7 (now called Faraway Pond)
started March 2018
still under construction

note: in 2019 we renamed the ponds. We retained the names of Pond #1 and Pond #2. The rest were renamed because I could not keep track of which pond was which!