Filipino couple grows food in the American desert 

Robert and Analiza Tengco, energy technician and nurse respectively, are a couple of Pinoy gardeners who are currently living in Coachella Valley, Southern California.

The Coachella Valley is an arid valley that is part of the Colorado desert. Despite the area’s extreme temperature, which can reach up to 48 degrees Celsius in the summertime, the Tengcos manage to raise malunggay and citrus trees in their yard.

The spouses have been in the United States since 1997. They have been growing Philippine vegetables since they arrived.

They recall cultivating crops in Robert's late mother's backyard during their first month overseas. This is something they've been doing until now. They eventually established a prolific garden at their place.

The couple’s go-to crops are patola, saluyot, wild ampalaya, labuyo, and their most sought-after veggie: alukon or himbabao.

Over the years, the gardening duo planted lemon trees and grapes, which, as of this writing, have already grown and are providing them with fruits regularly.

A lush vineyard thrives in the Tengcos' side yard as well.

Robert, “malunggay king” to friends and co-gardeners, said that, unlike other crops, malunggay and citrus trees can endure the desert heat in July or August–the hottest and driest period of the year in the area.

Many vegetables cannot survive the cool winter climate as well, but malunggay is an exception.

The Tengcos currently have 12 malunggay trees that are about 15 to 20 years old, eight citrus trees (lemons, grapefruits, and oranges), five 15-year-old+ grapevines, three himbabao, and one jujube tree.

They've also been planting and harvesting patola for the past 15 years, almost the same as saluyot or jute that they've been producing for over 20 years.

Asparagus plants thrive in their 10x5 plot, too, which they have been collecting every year since it began fruiting four years ago. They expect it to continue bearing fruits in the next 25 years.

The Tengcos plant crops based on the weather. “We don’t have a greenhouse, so we just select what vegetables to plant at different times,” they said. 

Since both of them have full-time jobs, they minimized the garden workload by installing an automatic drip system that keeps their plants hydrated while they’re away. 

They also maintain their desert garden naturally by composting and making their own fermented plant juice and other concoctions.

These hobbyists do not sell their produce to the public, but they share or barter them with friends, family, and members of different online gardening communities.

“In fact, we have shared them all over the US, Canada included. We just ask the other party to shoulder the shipping and gas fees,” they said, adding that sharing is an expression of love.

Much like other gardeners, caring for plants is the couple’s way to relieve stress in their fast-paced lifestyle in the US.

Photos courtesy of Robert Tengco

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