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VERMICULITE: The mineral wonder in urban gardening
by Catheryn Villorente - Thursday, 18 October 2018, 10:58 AM
www.businessdiary.com.ph; October 12, 2018

High-rise condominiums, studio-type apartments, huge commercial establishments, train-like structures of slum areas— these are the common views all over the metro. Indeed, urbanization has invaded most of our cities which brought out numerous problems. One is improper solid waste disposal, which becomes an environmental threat for us Filipinos due to the previous calamities that caused severe casualties. Another effect of urbanization is inadequate space for planting various crops, herbs and ornamentals. Unfortunately, the concept of “bahay kubo” is not anymore applicable in urban setting because all you can see are cements and firewalls, instead of nutrient-rich vegetables at your backyard. Thus, families have no direct access on the health and nutritional benefits of freshly harvested vegetables, fruits and herbs.

To address problems on garbage, food security and nutrition, the concept of Urban Gardening came into the picture. Through Urban Gardening, empty containers are being utilized as receptacle for the planting media so that any person can grow his or her own vegetables, fruits and herbs within their household despite of inadequate space.

But how can we grow a healthy plant with small amount of soil?

The mineral wonder

Vermiculite is hydrated magnesium –aluminium- iron silicate mineral, which resembles to mica and is very versatile owing to its thermal stability and inertness. It is also safe, clean to handle, easy to use, lightweight, odourless, mould resistant, non-irritant, non-toxic and not harmful to the environment. The common use of vermiculite in home gardening is the addition to the soil to improve its nutrient and water retention, increase porosity and makes the mixture sterile. Other beneficial properties of vermiculite are:

– pH is essentially neutral,
– improves soil aeration and makes light open compost, and
– possesses useful cat ion exchange properties.

In a previous study done by the Makiling Plant and Products Exchange, Inc. (MPPE) in 2003, vermiculite in combination with soil showed remarkable growth on lettuce as compared to soil alone in terms of biomass (whole) weight. Tree Care in early 2012 conducted validation of this study using soilless media, composed of vermiculite in various proportions with coir dust and sand. The different growth media with vermiculite showed higher yields of lettuce, hot chili, oregano, tomato and okra as compared to those planted in purely garden soil, coir dust or sand.

Green movement campaign

Due to its numerous advantages, vermiculite was seen as a vital component of soilless growing medium in Urban Gardening. Thus, Tree Care and Maintenance Services Foundation Inc. (TREE CARE), an arboricultural company offering services in proper tree care and other plant maintenance, in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR), is currently implementing a project titled, “Commercialization of Vermiculite-based Low-Spaced Soil-less Growing Medium in the Promotion of Urban Gardening for Primary and Secondary Public Schools”. It aims to promote vermiculite-based low-spaced soil-less urban gardening as an essential tool of bringing consciousness and active participation of the primary and secondary public school children in the “Green Movement”. The research project also intends to promote proper nutrition among the youth in CALABARZON areas. Since Tree Care is also advocating sustainable agriculture, they became the innovators in the local processing of vermiculite to make the material locally available in the market at a competitive price. The implementing agency also conducted various tests to ensure its efficacy in the culture of various plants such as vegetables, herbs and ornamentals.

Just recently, Tree Care conducted a seminar on the Utilization of Vermiculite-Based Low-Spaced Soil-less Growing Medium in the Promotion of Urban Gardening to train selected primary and secondary public school teacher- trainors from the pilot sites in the proper care and maintenance of developed structural and container modules with vermiculite-based media. The participants came from selected schools in CALABARZON namely:

Los Baños National High School representing Laguna,
San Pascual Central School,
San Pascual National High School from Batangas Province,
Bliss Elementary School, and
Lucena City National High School form Quezon Province

The traning program was also attended by Dr. Aniano Ogayon, Officer, Officer-in-Charge, Schools Division Superintendent of Lucena City and Mr. Sabino Abrigunda, Education Program Supervisor I representing Department of Education Batangas Province.

The teacher- trainors and principals were taught on how to prepare and use the proper container, combine the correct mixture of vermiculite, sand and coir dust, and appropriate seedling handling and maintenance. The participants have seen the different kinds of planting containers being used such as 1.5 liter soft drink PET bottles, bamboo, basin, and rectangular earth pot. Different structural schemes were also showcased such as A-frame, straight layered type, bamboo stand type, cage type and vertical ladderized type at the parking lot of MADECOR Building, Los Banos, Laguna where the Tree Care Office is located.

Future Plans

According to Mr. Louie Cabrera, component leader for training, they will conduct the same training program next year for the second batch of participants from Cavite, Rizal and Laguna (Primary School). The entire team would also monitor the first batch of school beneficiaries’ Urban Garden next year. In fact, the first batch of participants will coordinate with other nearby schools to promote the utilization of vermiculite in Urban Gardening. Through this initiative, this new technology will penetrate through the household, and hopefully to the entire community in order for them to have new source of income, to maintain food security within the community, to promote proper nutrition among children and most of all, to protect and save the environment by implementing the 3 Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle).

In addition, Tree Care will also improve and develop their vermiculite exfoliation facility to meet the expected demands for the product. In an effort to successfully accomplish the project, Mr. Elpidio Rosario, project leader, created his own team from Tree Care, namely: Mr. Patrick M. Rocamora, component leader for technical; Mr. Louie C. Cabrera, component leader for training; and Ms. Juvy C. Rocamora, Mr. Joselito C. Soltura, Ms. Miladie Peñaloza-Peñarubia and Mr. Joselito A. Lawas as project assistants.

By: Liza Angelica D. Barral, www.bar.gov.ph

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