Five tips when growing vegetables in a foreign land 

Published June 15, 2021, 10:01 AM

by Vina Medenilla

Nikka Veronni Factolerin Espinili-Restovic, 32, is a seafarer turned Filipina gardener based in Serbia, where she grows Philippine or Asian vegetables. 

Espinili-Restovic settled abroad after marrying a Serbian national named Radoje Restovic and is now a mother to their three-year-old son. 

Despite working as an OFW for several years, living in a foreign country remains a challenge for her. One is in terms of food. 

Since they live in a town that’s approximately two hours away from the capital city, acquiring Asian vegetables she is accustomed to having is not easy. 

According to her, Philippine dishes such as pinakbet and sinigang are not complete without kangkong, sitao, talong, labanos, okra, and ampalaya. “These are the vegetables that, even in the frozen section of our local supermarkets, could not be found,” she explained.

Due to the impracticality of obtaining these veggies by traveling hours away from home and back, she decided to grow them in their residence instead. Using their backyard and front yard and with the help of her family, she built a garden and filled it with vegetables according to her liking. 

Espinili-Restovic inside her glass garden where she cultivates ampalaya, onion, sitao, radish, sayote, kangkong, tomato, among others. This greenhouse protects the crops from unanticipated frost and hailstorm during spring.

Her thriving garden eventually provided their family with healthy food and additional income as she and her husband expanded to offering value-added products like chili garlic. 

Read: Filipina farms abroad in hopes of introducing Pinoy recipes to family and locals in Serbia

For Espinili-Restovic, tricky is a word that best describes vegetable production. Here, she shares the basics of growing vegetables, even outside the native soil. 

Know the plant variety. Before anything else, learning the plant specifications is vital. This must involve the category where the vegetables fall into; whether hard, half-hardy, or tender. “Knowing the plant classification can help us and our plants thrive at the right temperature or in the right weather condition.”

Onions and garlic are grown in the ground.

Fertilize. Plants can thrive best when provided with essential nutrients. Each plant may differ in terms of its choice of booster or fertilizer. Espinili-Restovic said, “There are plants that do not like wood ashes [because] wood ashes increase the soil’s pH level and lower down its acidity level. Therefore, it is not advisable to put this particular fertilizer on acid-loving plants like strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries.”

Fight pests naturally. Use natural pesticides to deter pests that can ruin the vegetables. Natural repellents can save the environment, growers, and consumers from toxic chemicals.  

Prune. This step is also crucial for the active growth of vegetables. “Like for tomatoes, the so-called ‘suckers’ are to be taken out as early as possible to help the plant produce better fruits, and the whole plant could focus well on producing a good harvest, ” the gardener said.

Talk to the plants. Speaking to plants is an effective approach for faster development. When talking, humans produce carbon dioxide that’s advantageous to plants. Some studies also show that vibrations promote plant growth and help increase the plants’ resistance to diseases.

Photos from Nikka Veronni Factolerin Espinili-Restovic.

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