Ask The Expert: Nicolo, teaches us about urban farming, how to grow herbs, vegetables, and touches on all the basics for home-gardens. Let your inner plantito and plantita emerge!

Nicolo Aberasturi is man behind of Down To Earth Ph - a family farm located in Dahilayan, Bukidnon. To say he has a green thumb and a bond to nature is an understatement. At Down To Earth, they grow biodynamic vegetables, farm local grass-fed cattle, heritage free-range pork, lamb and native poultry. Nicolo takes great pride in the fact that the farm’s produce are all grown sustainably and organically - pesticide-free. This plant expert grew up on his father’s farm in Cagayan De Oro, where they produced beef. In fact, it was a happy accident that they began making compost and eventually ventured into vegetables, herbs and then house-plants. While their focus is still produce, Down To Earth has for the last 10 years been helping city dwellers install tower gardens, and organising workshops to educate clients on how to care for house-plants and make their own compost. Hear his must-do tips for beginner plant parents here:

What are house-plants you recommend for novices? 

When I recommend plants, I think they have to have a certain purpose. They should not just make homes look pretty but they should do something for the house. I recommend four plants that also filter the air. This is good for people in cities like Manila since the air is not so clean. I recommend the Palmera plant first and foremost. Four adult Palmeras can filter all the CO2 that one adult in the household will produce! Next, I would recommend the Finger Palm and the Money Plant (it filters nitrox oxide.) Lastly, another easy option is the snake plant also known as mother in law’s plant. These are all low maintenance plants. 

What are the most important things to remember when caring for plants? 

When in an urban area the two biggest stumbling blocks for gardeners are sunlight and water. A lot of places in the city do not get sunlight and that is really important for vegetables. Water is also vital. We rely on tap water which is not the best. Soil is extremely important for plant-health. When you water and feed the soil, the soil, in turn, feeds the plant. When you use chlorinated water, what you get is dead soil because the beneficial microbes are killed. To fix tap water, you will need to leave it out overnight in an open container and stir the water for five minutes. The chlorine will evaporate and then you can water your plants! But, the best water for plants is rainwater. 

Read more: Gardening For Beginners: 6 Plants You Can Regrow At Home

What are easy vegetables to grow in your backyard? 

Easy vegetables to grow for the Philippines are indigenous vegetables to our country! Go for vegetables that are givers: a perennial. Normally people go for annuals like lettuce, arugula or an eggplant or tomato but I highly recommend planting an indigenous perennial. You only plant once and you harvest most of the time! Number one on my list is Malunggay, and my second is Talinom - also known as Philippine water leaf spinach. Once these plants get going, you just keep on harvesting! Remember that Malunggay needs a lot of sun. 

Easy herbs to grow:

Italian Oregano is easy, so is Tarragon. Actually, Basil is also quite easy to grow. Do not expect these herbs to grow healthily indoors, they need sunlight. 

Easy to care for flowers:

Remember that flowers need sun. No sun, means no flowers. I’d recommend an edible flower called Blue Ternate. It produces a lot of very pretty flowers and it loves the rainy weather we have here. 

How do you know if you are overwatering? 

I would always advise you to look at the leaves of the plant. I try to push the plant to spread its roots. You do this by watering when you feel the plant is about to start to wilt. This is also a method to get the plant to be harder, stronger. Wait for the leaves to dry a little or droop a bit, and then water it. When you water, you should fully drench the plant. Then repeat the process. If you do this to indoor plants you should be watering around 2-3 times a week.

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