How to start your own mini-Bahay Kubo
Bahay kubo kahit munti… did you know that growing your “Bahay Kubo”-inspired vegetable garden is possible even if you’re not in the Philippines? That is, with a bit of effort and creativity. Here is a compilation of distinctly Pinoy veggies that you may be interested to grow, whether you live in a home with a garden or an apartment with a balcony:
Bitter melon, bitter gourd or ampalaya is a favourite vegetable among adults but a bane to children. The fruits can be used for main course meals along with beef strips or beaten egg and can be used to enhance the lavor of salads. Ampalaya is typically grown in tropical to warm countries and thrive well under full sunshine and consistent watering.
Germinating an ampalaya seed in cold conditions takes patience and an eye for details. The seed’s casing is tough – a nick should be made on the seed’s outer casing to help it germinate faster. Afterward, plant the nicked seed in a small container and keep them indoors at warm temperatures. In the cold, ampalaya will grow slowly but will survive with the right soil and amount of water. After a month the ampalaya will be ready for transplant into a bigger plot. Use a large pot, around 12”, so that you won’t have to transplant them again in the future. The plant will bloom as long as the last frost of the season has gone. May to September is the best season to grow ampalaya, which needs at least 6 hours of sunshine. They will thrive well in countries within hardiness zone 7.
It is important to know that ampalaya need room to grow as they are creepers – their vines will reach 13-16 feet long. But pruning them and keeping them up to a certain height is possible and they will still grow fruits. Setting up a small trellis system in the balcony is possible with wooden frames and twines that will act as netting for the vines to cling on to. The trellis also prevents the fruit from coming into contact with the ground, which will cause rotting.
Moringa oleifera, moringa or simply malunggay is a health food that is a favourite addition to chicken broths and is now even used as an ingredient for pasta and juice. Like the ampalaya, malunggay is a tropical plant that needs warmth and sunlight. Malunggay seeds germinate slowly regardless of climate, so patience is needed during the first stages of malunggay growing.
To aximize the growth of malunggay, they have to be placed in large containers as they have big roots. However, it is still possible to grow them in 16” containers and they will survive even when pruned regularly. A “dwarf” malunggay with controlled size can still give a good supply of leaves. But dwarf malunggay may take years to yield pods.
It is possible to grow malunggay in areas where temperatures can get below 0C. The crucial thing about taking care of malunggay in colder climates is not to let the roots freeze. Away from the tropical weather, malunggay can be grown as an annual – to be left outside under the warmth and heat of spring to summer. Leaves and pods can be harvested and enjoyed until autumn. But malunggay need to be brought inside the house once winter hits. A makeshift greenhouse set-up will help the plant survive winter. Stringing Christmas tree lights along the branch system can provide the warmth the plant needs. Overwatering the trees will kill them – a simple catch tray beneath the pot will be a good drainage system.
Siling labuyo plant.
This rare gem of a chilli is one of the most sought-after vegetables among Filipinos who are living abroad. Siling labuyo or wild chilli grows in abundance in the Philippine countryside, and will even thrive without special attention from the owners. This is due to the rich soil and the warm, favourable weather of the tropics. Siling labuyo is used for sauces and make a great pair for pasta, seafood and meats.
Siling labuyo seeds can be sown indoors before the last frost. Germinating the seeds itself takes a long time as it is a tender plant, which means freezing temperatures will kill the plant. After the last frost and once they sprout, siling labuyo need full sunlight and an adequate supply of water to grow. Container growing is possible as long as the container can drain excess water. The plant can grow up to 1.5 metres and can be planted on a pot. The plant blossoms mid-spring and early autumn and will grow in hardiness zones 8 and above.
Lots of growers have encountered difficulties regarding labuyo but cannot seem to pinpoint exact conditions that encourage or hamper its growth. But they are known to grow in cold and warm climates. Patience is very important when growing siling labuyo as they mature late. In addition, siling labuyo may attract birds and ants, so adequate protection from these pests is important. However, covering the plant itself is not recommended.
Kang kong plant.
Kang kong or Chinese cabbage is a crispy and delicious water vegetable that is common in Southeast and east Asian dishes. Stir-fried kang kong with garlic and oyster sauce is a simple and common dish, but the vegetable is also often paired with tofu, seafood and meat bits.
Kang kong grows abundantly in swamps and canals in the Philippines and need sun and warmth. It can grow to 3 metres and usually float on water. Plants that grow naturally in bodies of water don’t require too much attention, but growing them in cold climates has specific and special requirements like plenty and constant supply of water. Cold spells will cause dieback, but kang kong will reshoot in spring or once favourable conditions are met.
The plant can be grown in containers of any size as long as the soil doesn’t dry out. Pots and trays must be closed and have no drainage – buckets or Styrofoam boxes can do very well as a planting containers. Adding soil will greatly benefit the plant, but it can still thrive even without soil. With soil, the container should have a water level kept above the soil. The vegetable can be harvested as soon as it starts growing.
The quintessential Filipino bahay kubo.
Are you growing other common Philippine vegetables in your place? What tips can you give to those who are living in countries that experience colder climates? Share your advice and suggestions on any of the plants you’re growing by leaving your thoughts below!