The photo that inspired me to find out what happened to the natural fiber rope trade, once dominated by Philippine “Manila Hemp”

While reading about the 2014 International Coastal Clean-up Day I came across this beach clean-up photo by Kip Evans.

plastic rope debris photo by Kip Evans

The image — and knowing something about ghost nets in our oceans — had me curious about marine trash washed up on the beach and remaining in our oceans, and specifically, when the world switched from using biodegradable natural fiber fish nets and ropes (photos below) to synthetic or plastic, petrochemical-based ropes.

In the process, I learned how the Philippine fiber, abaca, known as “Manila hemp” dominated the natural fiber rope industry starting in the mid 1800’s…

abaca hemp warehouse Manila late 1800s

Traders at abaca warehouse, Manila, Philippines late 1800’s. Bales of abaca are at bottom right of photograph. Photo source: The Philippine Islands by Ramon Reyes Lala via the Gutenberg website, published in 1898 by the Continental Publishing Company.

…and how a material invented in the 1930’s and originally designed as a fabric to replace women’s silk stockings signaled the decline of abaca / Manila hemp as a prime material for the natural rope and cordage industry.

Interested in a bit of history?  Link to the article on Native Leaf’s blog here (The switch from natural fiber abaca, hemp ropes to synthetic ropes).

Related Links:

Monterey, melons and more…

Did you know that Monterey County is the only county in the United States with more than $1 billion — yes, that is BILLION — in annual vegetable sales?  Wow!

Monterey County Fields

Monterey County, California farm field, near the Hwy 1 freeway. Photo

According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) most recent Census of Agriculture for the category of vegetables, potatoes and melons, the top five counties were:

  • Monterey County, California
  • Fresno County, California
  • Yuma County, Arizona
  • Palm Beach County, Florida
  • Kern County, California

Summer and Globe Squash Monterey County

Monterey County grew almost twice the sales value of the next largest county, Fresno… and produced almost 9% of total U.S. value of vegetable production.  Another, wow….and it is true that the Salinas Valley is the salad bowl capital of the U.S. (and the world?).
Monterey county artichokes
Most of what I see driving around Monterey County and neighboring counties are a whole lot salad green fields, and a lot of strawberry farms.  Not so much melons or potato fields.  This billion dollar number must mean mostly salad greens and artichokes, since strawberries are under another category for berries and tree nuts — an even bigger agriculture industry in California.
Textured MelonsIt is nearing summer time, and I am thinking of cherries and melons and luscious fruits to enjoy this summer, and places to take our grandchildren like “U-Pick” types of farms.    The melons pictured on this post are the Casaba melons, which originated from Kasaba, Turkey, and are in the “winter melon” group that includes honey dew melons.  “Winter” meaning they are hardy melons, since these melons are actually available in summer and fall.
Casaba Melons
I looked at the California Agricultural Tourism Directory website, clicked on the “U-Pick” category, and was surprised to find out there was only one listed for Monterey (The Farm – in the Salinas Valley). Surely there are more U-Pick farms in Monterey County? If you know of others, please comment.  Thank you!

The Saguaro Cactus Menorah

photo from

I heard about this unique saguaro cactus on the radio earlier today.  It is estimated to be over 135 years old…

Excerpt from an article by Julian Osorio at

For the seventh consecutive year, Mel Kline of northeast Phoenix will observe Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, by lighting his 30-foot saguaro Hanukkah menorah cactus.

“This is the only living saguaro Hanukkah menorah,” Kline said. “It’s a symbol of freedom in today’s world. It’s a miracle.”

The saguaro menorah has eight arms and a middle trunk. Kline lit the first arm of the saguaro at 6 p.m. Saturday and will continue to light an arm for each night of the Jewish holiday.

Photo by Mel Kline (Mel and Ellen Bett Kline light up their saguaro Chanukah menorah).

…About 400 people visit the saguaro menorah yearly and 150 people showed up on the final night last year, including snowbirds from Canada and Europe, Kline said.

“We receive wonderful feedback from people who visit or are just driving by,” he said. “People will get out of their cars and start taking pictures.”

Kline bought the saguaro 35 years ago when it was only 10 to 12-feet-tall for about $100. Hs wife initially wanted a maple tree, Kline said.  Read the complete article, here…

Related articles:

Article Southwestern Menorah –

LolaKo’s article Not crazy for cactus…yet  (article about my very own saguaro cactus planted from seed, and photos of cacti at Jardines de San Juan, in the California historic mission town of San Juan Bautista)

Lola Jane’s Saguaro Cactus planted from seed…now almost 18 years old!

About rattan and difference between rattan and bamboo plants

Rattan (Calamus) is sometimes mistaken for bamboo.  There is a big difference — bamboos are in the grass family of plants, and rattans are among the hundreds of types of palm plants.

Rattan canes are solid, while bamboos are hollow.  Both plants are used for making furniture, and strips of bamboo and rattan are also woven into wicker baskets and other handicrafts.

Wicker is the generic term for a woven fiber (usually natural plants), woven into functional items.

The theme for this week’s photo challenge at the WordPress Daily Post — WRONG — is a tough one!  I settled on my rattan photos.

My sister and I bought rattan rocking chairs for our mother while in the Philippines.  The group selling the chairs and rattan handicrafts grew rattan plants nearby and I  took a few shots, and focused on the rattan spikes.

So what is wrong with this rattan?

Rattan – Calamus, Philippines

It may be obvious to you now, but at the time, I did not notice that it had been hacked into, until I downloaded the photos.  I thought…oh detail shot is marred and the palm was cut (though I was happy to see that it continued to grow).

Upon cropping the photo and looking at it closer…it looks like only the leaf frond was cut.  So it was I — who was wrong!

Close up of spikes – Rattan palm. Rattan plants have spikes to help it climb over other plants — like vines — and to deter animals from eating the plant.

So….the rattan palm continues on its growth and travel upwards.

Some rattan can grow over 150 feet!

Can you follow the source of this rattan….from the top left corner to the bottom right, leading to the half-constructed “Nipa Hut”? More on the “Nipa Hut” at the end of the post…

Fresh strips of rattan

Rattan canes and strips, stored in the ceiling area of the workshop — I love the pattern of the ceiling, from the woven palm leaves.

Kitty napping on a well-used, woven rattan chair.

Rattan Seedlings – propagation of rattan is only possible from fresh seeds.

Most of the world’s rattan grow in Indonesia, followed by the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Bangladesh.  Rattans help the overall ecosystem of forests, and unsustainable harvesting can be a problem.

We noted — at least in the area where we bought the rocking chairs — locals working with government programs to replant rattan in the area, and to help create a future plant and material source for the local handicraft industry.


And a note about Nipa Huts:

A Nipa hut, also called “bahay kubo” is a type of traditional Philippine stilt house.  Bahay Kubo translates to cube house, and kubo means cube in English.

The name “Nipa Hut” came during the American colonial era.— named after the thatched nipa palm fronds used for the roof.  Nipa hut photos below from the late 1800’s via the Gutenberg website.

native philippine hut late 1800sSmall, very basic Nipa Hut above, and below, image from inside of another type of nipa hut.

inside of native hut via gutenberg dot org

tuba gathering from coconut tree

Nipa hut behind man climbing coconut tree to collect “tuba” — coconut sap wine.  Hollow bamboo tubes are used to contain the wine.  Images  from the book “The Philippine Islands” by Ramon Reyes Lala. It was published in 1898 by the Continental Publishing Company.

Who is Rachel Carson…and the MBARI Open House

On a foggy day last week, Jeff and I walked from the Potrero Rd. entrance to the Moss Landing beach, past the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and towards Phil’s Fish Market & Eatery.

Rather large driftwood — drift LOGS, really, at Moss Landing Beach

On the way back, we decided to take the road and frontage trail, instead of walking back on the beach.  On Sandholdt Road, we noticed this ship, the Rachel Carson, at the Moss Landing Harbor.

We wondered….who is Rachel Carson?

Note: The photo does not do justice to the rather new, shiny ship.

I did not think anymore about the Rachel Carson ship — and these set of photos — until reading the “Your Town” section of today’s Monterey County Herald.  Excerpt:

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute will hold an open house from noon to 5PM Saturday at 7700 Sandholdt Road.

At 12:45PM, aquarium executive director Julie Packard will christen the institute’s newest ship, the R/V Rachel Carson.

Other activities include talks about the expeditions to the Gulf of California and Sargasso Sea, a tour of the labs, a look at ships and undersea robots used in the deep-sea excursions, and workshops where children can build their own remotely operated vehicles.

According to the MBARI website, the R/V Rachel Carson “will serve as a replacement for both the R/V Zephyr and R/V Point Lobos, and will be able to launch both ROVs and AUVs, as well as conduct multi-day expeditions”.

The new research vessel was named Rachel Carson in honor of the American marine biologist and conservationist.  Click here to view a better image for the R/V Rachel Carson, on the MBARI Press Room page.

Rachel Carson wrote the book Silent Spring and is credited with advancing the global environmental movement.  Excerpt from Wikipedia…

Late in the 1950s Carson turned her attention to conservation, especially environmental problems she believed were caused by synthetic pesticides. The result was Silent Spring (1962), which brought environmental concerns to an unprecedented share of the American people.

Although Silent Spring met with fierce opposition by chemical companies, it spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy, which led to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides, and it inspired a grassroots environmental movement that led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter.

The open house also celebrates MBARI’s 25th anniversary.  The presentation schedule is as follows:

  • In the PACIFIC FORUM: Extending MBARI’s reach
    12:00 Volcanoes of the Gulf of California ~ Jenny Paduan
    12:30 Video ~ no speaker during christening of R/V Rachel Carson
    01:00 Volcanoes of the Gulf of California (repeat) ~ Jenny Paduan
    01:30 Monterey Bay: A window to the world ~ Chris Scholin
    02:00 Secrets of the Sargasso Sea ~ Alana Sherman
    02:30 ESP around the world ~ Jim Birch
    03:00 Secrets of the Sargasso Sea (repeat) ~ Alana Sherman
    03:30 ESP around the world (repeat) ~ Jim Birch
    04:00 Exploring the Gulf of California ~ Steve Haddock
    04:30 Exploring the Gulf of California (repeat) ~ Steve Haddock
    12:15 Mysteries of the Deep (live presentation)
    01:00 Mysteries of the Deep (live presentation)
    01:30 Deep-sea video
    02:00 Mysteries of the Deep (live presentation)
    02:30 Deep-sea video
    03:00 Mysteries of the Deep (live presentation)
    03:30 Deep-sea video
    04:00 Mysteries of the Deep (live presentation)
    04:30 Deep-sea video

For further details, please visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) website.

Our trail walk back towards Potrero Road…

Foggy Moss Landing Harbor

Beach Sagewort (Artemisia pycnocephala) is the most common, California native plant, found around sand dunes. This one encircled by non-native — and aggressive — iceplants, which do not provide food or shelter to native wildlife.

Reward for lost scientific instrument!

Fish & Wildlife Service employee photo, via Wikipedia

Link to Wikipedia article on Rachel Louise Carson (May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964)

Carson began her career as a biologist in the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, and became a full-time nature writer in the 1950s. Her widely praised 1951 bestseller The Sea Around Us won her a U.S. National Book Award,[1] recognition as a gifted writer, and financial security. Her next book, The Edge of the Sea, and the reissued version of her first book, Under the Sea Wind, were also bestsellers. That so-called sea trilogy explores the whole of ocean life from the shores to the surface to the depths.

Annual Obon Festival at the Monterey Peninsula Buddist Temple

While the Washington D.C. area bakes in 100+ degree weather, the temperature was cool and in the 60’s today at the Monterey Peninsula Buddhist Temple, in Seaside, California — home base for the 66th Annual Obon Festival.

From the Monterey Peninsula Buddhist Temple website:

The Obon festival is a Buddhist tradition to celebrate, remember and express gratitude to all family members who have died.  The Obon festival has been celebrated in Japan since 657 AD.  The first Obon in the United States was held in Hawaii in 1910; festivals on the mainland began about 20 years later.  2012 marks the 66th year of the Obon Festival on the Monterey Peninsula.

The first Monterey Obon Festival was held on August 25, 1947 at the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) Hall in Monterey, home to the Temple then. In 1963, the event was moved to the Monterey County Fairgrounds where it was held for 30 years.  The Obon Festival returned to the Temple, now in Seaside, in 1993.  3,000 to 5,000 people from across the Monterey Peninsula and beyond attend each year.

We visited the festival for the first time since moving to this area, and were pleasantly surprised.  It was a well-organized event, featuring plenty of food booths, martial arts demonstrations, tea ceremonies, a book and Asian gift store, and exhibits of bonsai - the practice of long-term cultivation and shaping of small trees growing in a container.

The bonsai displays were interesting, and once we realized how old the trees were — from 20 to 50 years old — we really appreciated the devotion it takes to practice this Japanese art form.

It is fascinating to see a redwood tree (sequoias) — the tallest living trees on our planet, and normally growing 300-350 feet tall — in miniature format, and growing in a tiny ceramic pot.

Bonsai Redwood Tree

Bonsai Monterey Pine Tree

Bonsai Olive Tree

Bonsai Elm Tree

Bonsai with flowers!

There were also presentations of ikebana – the Japanese art of flower arrangement.  As much as I love vases overflowing with flowers, it is enjoyable to see a minimalist style of presenting flowers, where the emphasis is also about the lines, the stems and the twigs.

Some beautiful examples below:

Did I mention the wonderful volunteers happily pouring free cups of hot green tea to festival attendees?  The hot green tea was perfect for the cool weather (warm sake, cold beer and sodas were also available for sale).

My one complaint…the Styrofoam cups, which are difficult to recycle!  If you read this and plan to attend next year, bring your own mugs for the free hot green tea and other beverages.

More photos from the festival, tomorrow…

Related links: – link to 2012 Japanese Obon & Bon Odori Schedule

Monterey Bonsai Club

Monterey Peninsula Buddist Temple

Ikebana International - Monterey Bay Chapter

Don’t put all your bananas in one basket

So…all those rotten bananas from the China export mess taught Philippine banana exporters a lesson.

Banana Plantation, Photo Source:

A lesson that reminds me of the insurance industry terms, risk management and risk separation, or…. don’t put all your eggs — and bananas — in one basket.

After Japan, China was the 2nd largest market for Philippine banana exports.

In mid-May, China impounded Philippine bananas and instituted strict quarantine measures — which many suspect was really due to the ongoing disputes over the Scarborough Shoals, in the South China / West Philippine Sea.

Philippine banana exporters realized that they cannot rely on just a few export markets, and the industry is now looking at other markets, like Pakistan and countries in the Middle East.

And the good news, the Department of Agriculture announced that Dole Philippines is sending its first ever shipment of Cavendish bananas to the USA.  Cavendish are the common type of banana sold at grocery stores.

Bananas at the grocery store

Ecuador is picking up the Philippine banana import void to China.  Though halfway around the world from China, Ecuador’s government is providing a subsidy for their China-bound banana exports, to give their producers a price advantage.

Did you know…bananas are the 2nd top commodity by weight (after furniture) in all container shipments arriving at USA ports?  For more, view the post “What’s in the Box”.

Top 10 banana producing nations
(in million metric tons)
 India* 26.2
 Philippines 9.0
 China 8.2
 Ecuador 7.6
 Brazil 7.2
 Indonesia 6.3
 Mexico 2.2
 Costa Rica 2.1
 Colombia 2.0
 Thailand 1.5
World total 95.6
Via Wikipedia-Source 2009 data-Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
*Note: Although India leads in banana production, most of it is for domestic consumption and not for export.

Related banana links:

Fresh Plaza – Global Fresh Produce and Banana News

All about bananas, from Wikipedia

Lolako’s “What’s in the Box” - Top Commodity, by weight, arriving in U.S. container ports

Bananas – Philippines

Clever line from Philippines Today columnist Fred G. Gabot…“save the sagging saging, Sir“.

Saging is the Tagalog (Philippine national language) word for bananas.  It is pronounced something like sah-ging — the ging part rhymes with ring.

I heard about the Dole banana plantations in the Mindanao region, but prior to this post, I did not know that the Philippines is among the top nations growing and exporting bananas…how about you?

Not crazy for cactus…yet

I’ve planted and grown many plants over the years, but I can remember having only two cactus plants.

One was a gift from my friend, David, who gave me specific instructions to put it in my office, by the computer.  It died about 3 years later.  I am sentimental with gifts, and feel bad that I killed a slow-growing, easy-care plant, that can live for over 100 years.

And then there’s the second cactus, a saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea)…which, amazingly, I still have.  This cactus is special to me — even if once in a while I get a poked by its needles — because my daughter planted it from seed.

My 17-year-old saguaro cactus, grown from seed.

Years ago, I went to Phoenix for a business trip.  At the Phoenix airport,  I purchased a package of saguaro seeds as part of my pasalubong items for my daughter.

Saguaro cactus are found in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and Mexico.  It can grow up to 70 feet, and live for over 150 years.

My cactus is about 17 years old, and just over 14 inches tall.  Talk about slow-growing!  At this stage (without “arms”) it is called a spear.  It will eventually grow an arm, after about 75 years.

So, if I manage not to kill it, and if my grandsons want it, they may see it grow an arm in their lifetime.

When I gave the seed packet to my daughter, she placed the seeds in a little pot with dirt, watered it, and we quickly had about 20 little seedlings.  One particular seedling took charge of the space, and all the other seedlings died.  We did not pick a particular seedling, nor thin them out.  It’s as if they all knew which seedling was boss, and simply died to allow the boss seed to grow in the space.

I’ve re-potted the saguaro just once.  Honestly, I am surprised that it is still alive.  It does have a brownish area in the bottom, so I don’t know how much longer I will have it.  Maybe it is time for a bigger container.

The silhouette of a large saguaro stands at sunset in Saguaro National Park on the east side of Tucson, Arizona. Photo via wikepedia files.

As much as I love  plants, I am not exactly crazy about cactus.

Maybe it’s the needles, and the poke factor.  I don’t like plants that can puncture my skin and make me bleed.  I do make an exception for old fashioned roses, since in return, I get to inhale one of the loveliest scents in existence.

A visit to Jardines de San Juan, a Mexican restaurant located in the historic mission town of San Juan Bautista, California, inspired me to learn more about my saguaro cactus.

The Jardines garden has an abundance of cactus, some of which I photographed using my phone camera.  Many were sporting beautiful flowers.  Below are a few of the shots…

Jardines De San Juan, back patio area June 2012

Learning more about my saguaro has given me a whole new appreciation for cacti, and may get me to bring another in our home.  For now though,  I must first get some heavy-duty gloves and re-pot the one I have.

Which cactus camp are you in….crazy for cactus?  Or…keep those spiky plants away from me!

And if you are curious to know how long cactus seeds keep (or are viable)…check out the comment section on’s “Contact” page, here.   Can you guess?

  • over 20 years?
  • over 200 years?
  • or for over 2,000 years?

Where to see springtime wildflowers

If you are looking to view wildflowers this spring, the U.S. Forest Service has a great website, with a listing of wildflowers by region.

The wildflower below is from the Pacific Southwest viewing area, and specifically, the Slate Mountain Botanical Area, in California’s Sequoia National Forest.

Pinewoods fritillary (Fritillaria pinetorum). Photo by Fletcher Linton, U.S. Forest Service Website

Click on the map below to link to the Forest Service website.  You can then click your specific region to find details on where to view wildflowers in your area.  Each area has a detailed description of what you can expect to see, as well as safety information and directions.

Go out and view wildflowers while they are here — and celebrate spring!

An idyllic setting in an alpine meadow of the Albion basin in the Wasatch Mountains. Photo by Teresa Prendusi - US Forest Service website

Tinted Trees: California Black Oak

Spring time also means native California black oak trees (quercus kelloggii) are sprouting new leaves.  The spring leaves of California black oaks are a beautiful light green, sometimes with pinkish hues, contrasting beautifully with its black trunk and branches.

California black oaks are highly drought tolerant, and vital to wildlife for habitat and for food.  It has the largest acorns of western oaks, which are consumed by deer, quails, wild turkeys, scrub and blue jays, woodpeckers, squirrels and rodents, feral pig and livestock.

California Black Oak, spring 2012

This above photo is the “normal” shot, and the following photos have been altered using the simple Windows Photo Gallery fix tool, adjusting the tint.  It is called a black oak for a reason, and no matter the color changes, the dark trunk and branches remain the most prominent feature.

For more details on the California black oak, visit the US Forest Service website article on quercus kelloggii, link here.

Signs of Spring

I took these photographs over the weekend — sure signs for me, that spring, in our little part of the world…is finally here.

Mustard flowers blooming in between fruit trees

Mustard flowers are in full bloom, cropping up and getting taller, along the sides of many of our roads, and in between still dormant fruit trees at local orchards.

Blooming California Poppies - Springtime

Yellow-orange California poppies are emerging…

Some fields are abundant with wildflowers, and finally…the landscape and rolling hills are momentarily…GREEN!

It was summer time when we immigrated to the U.S. in 1979, landing in Northern California. I remember first really noticing the landscape when my mother, younger sister, and I were riding on a Greyhound bus, going through the Sacramento area (easy to understand since there is not much else to do during a long bus ride).

Looking out the bus windows, the colors I saw were predominantly tan, golden and brown.  I did not know what to make of it really — it certainly was different, and I was not sure I liked all the dry landscape.  Where’s the green?

So after years (and years and years) of living in this part of California, I have come to love and appreciate the changing seasons, and even the golden brown landscape.

I always look forward to spring…a magical time for me, when the landscape is suddenly lush and green.

Although these photographs are from areas in San Benito and Monterey County, many areas of California have scenery similar to this.

I know this time is ephemeral, and soon, these hills and fields will dry up and the grasses will begin to turn to golden and brown colors, once again.

But for now, I will enjoy it, and take in the lush, green colors….candy for my eyes and it seems, a sort of nutrient for my soul.

What does spring mean or signal to you?

Green Gift Guide: 10 Compostable, Biodegradable Gifts

Great to see’s recent Green Gift Guide and list of 10 Compostable, Biodegradable Gifts, which includes Native Leaf’s hand-woven romblon leaf placemats.

Here is an excerpt from Blythe Copeland’s article:

The world is full of things you didn’t know you could compost, and now your holiday shopping can mimic that trend, too: Organic, Fair Trade teas and coffees, woven place mats and bamboo plates, bioplastic baby toys and potato-based ponchos all have their place on this year’s list.

On Native Leaf’s place mats:

Giving organic, sustainably-harvested textiles for the kitchen and dining room to your favorite foodie is one option — or you can go the uber-chic-and-totally-biodegradable route with these Romblon place mats from Native Leaf.

Click here to view the Green Gift Guide article and slide show (hand-woven romblon leaf place mats on Page 8 of the list).

TreeHugger, a Discovery Communications Company, is the leading media outlet dedicated to driving sustainability mainstream. Partial to a modern aesthetic, they strive to be a one-stop shop for green news, solutions, and product information.

What do you think about the list?  Are you considering green products for your holiday gift giving this year?

Sack Scene

Every time I see these sacks lined up on farm fields next to Highway 101, I wonder…what is inside the sack and what do they grow there?

Last week, on the drive back from San Jose, we actually had a reason to turn on the side road near the fields, and stopped to take a closer look.

The scene reminded me of boot camp, soldiers lined up, and ready to march.

Oh…red onions.  So now I know.  And it was not I who tipped the sack over…really!

More Cucurbitas

Here are more cucurbita varieties, this time found at Trader Joe’s in Monterey.  I am not sure yet if I like the warty types.  Some of these cucurbitas have serious wart conditions.

Variety over monoculture…it’s a good thing.  Maybe it’s a trend.


Autumn Time, Pumpkin Time – and the difference between a pumpkin, squash and gourd

Officially, the fall season starts today for countries in the Northern Hemisphere (the United States, Canada).

We are enjoying the last of the sweet summer corn, and now see dried and decorative corn in the market.

And I lament not savoring enough local cherries (yet again) this year.

Pumpkins / Squashes of varying shapes and sizes are now in stores and market stands.

And by the way, if you are wondering what the difference is between a pumpkin and a squash — or a gourd — the answer is at the end of this post.

This year, there seems to be more varieties than ever, like the cream and orange pumpkins below.  They look to me like designer pumpkins, and the texture and pattern could be on a sofa or chair fabric.

There are white pumpkins

There are also miniature white and orange pumpkins

And beautiful, as well as crazy, alien looking squashes (at least what I call squash)

My favorites are these turban squashes, for the unusual shape and color variety

Here is the answer to the question, what is the difference between a pumpkin, squash and a gourd (from the Texas A&M Aggie Horticulture website).

The genetic history of the pumpkin is so intertwined with the squash and the gourd that it’s sometimes difficult to tell them apart.

Generally speaking a pumpkin is something you carve, a squash is something you cook and a gourd is something you look at. Though it’s really not that simple, it’s also not that difficult. The answer is in the stem.

Pumpkins and squashes and gourds all belong to the same genetic family – Cucurbita. Within that family are several species or subgroups – Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbita maxima and Cucurbita moschata.

The pepo species is usually recognized as the true pumpkin. Varieties within this group have bright orange skin and hard, woody, distinctly furrowed stems. But the group also includes gourds, vegetable marrow, Pattypan summer squash, scallop summer squash, gray and black zucchini and summer crookneck squash.

The maxima species also contains varieties that produce pumpkin-like fruit but the skin is usually more yellow than orange and the stems are soft and spongy or corky, without ridges and without an enlargement next to the fruit. They don’t really make good handles for jack-o’-lanterns. Varieties such as Atlantic Giant, Big Max and Show King are often listed as pumpkins but are more properly called pumpkin-squash or squash- type pumpkins. Other members of the maxima group are Hubbard squashes, banana squashes, buttercup squashes and turban squashes – in short, most autumn and winter squash.

Finally, there’s the moschata species. Varieties in this group are usually long and oblong instead of round and have tan rather than orange skin. The stems are deeply ridged and enlarged next to the fruit. Ironically, a member of this group is used for much of the canned pumpkin sold in this country. Other non-pumpkin members include the squash-like cushaw, winter crookneck squash and butternut squash.

And if you are wondering where the Cucurbitas — photographed for this post — can be purchased, we found these at the Moss Landing Farm Fresh Produce Stand today, next to the The Whole Enchilada Marketplace off Hwy 1.

Enjoy the fall…and your pumpkin pies.  And remind me to eat more cherries (and maybe make a cobbler) next summer.  This summer went by so quickly.

~Lola Jane

Lavender and Natural Wreaths at Creekside Farms

I recently visited Creekside Farms in Greenfield for their lavender.

Wreath from

Creekside Farms is a family owned and operated farm, right here in Monterey County.

They create beautiful, all natural wreaths and grow most of their wreath ingredients –herbs and flowers–on their farms, all without the use of pesticides

They recently re-launched their website and now offer their gorgeous designs for retail purchase, online (prior to this, they were a wholesale only operation.)

The lavender fields were just harvested when I visited, but you can still see blossoms on the photos below.  They use the french lavender hybrid Lavandula x intermedia var. Grosso for their products — a tall and sturdy type of lavender with beautiful blue, and very fragrant blossoms.

Here  are photos near a field growing yarrow, with some flowers in bloom.

And here is a photo of the lavender fields in full bloom beauty, courtesy of Creekside Farms.

Natural Fall Wreath from


You can visit their website at to view creations like this beautiful fall wreath, made from a mixture of dry elements such as yarrow, quince slices, cherry peppers, sweet annie, preserved fall leaves, and wheat, as well as fresh eucalyptus, bay, and curly willow.


Native Leaf’s On-Line Retail Site

Finally, the on-line retail store for Native Leaf is up and running at — and it has been keeping me busy these last few weeks.

And since I enjoy this whole blogging thing, I put the retail site on a blogging format— WordPress with a Market Theme.  We have only about 1/5 of our products posted…and so a lot more work to do.

Eco-Friendly, Biodegradable Wine Bags from

I have some pictures and blog posts on the site that may be interesting to those of you who know about our products.  I wish I was blogging from the start of Native Leaf…but as the saying goes, better late than never.

Here are some photo and link topics:

On the story of Philippine sleeping mats called “banig” and the origins of our romblon leaf natural placemats (From Sleeping Mats to Place Mats)

Photos of some of our weavers on the blog post Our Weaving Groups

And fun stuff too, like eating Banana-Q’s at the beach-side market where we buy our romblon leaves (Sweet Potato and Bananas Q’s—for Breakfast!)

Let me know what you think when you visit!  Thank you.

Banana Leaves and Sweets

My six year old grandson, Jun, and I were eating cassava cake at a local Filipino restaurant.  He asked what was underneath…and could he eat it? I told him it was a banana leaf and no, you don’t eat it.  He pulled off the leaf strips, smelled it…and then bit into it.  “Hmmmmm….” he said quizzically.

I thought of other foods where banana leaves are used, and how much banana leaves are a part of island and Filipino cooking — and my childhood food memories.

Banana Plant with Fruit – the entire leaf (huge!) is harvested, rib removed and cut into squares for Suman or smaller as a container for Puto

In the Philippines, snack foods are wrapped in banana leaves, used as a bottom, or to contain sweets prior to baking or steaming…sort of like cupcake paper or cupcake foils.  The difference is that the banana leaves impart a flavor when cooked.. so it is really a part of the recipe.

Puto and suman are popular sweet treats that use banana leaves.  As with many recipes, there are regional variations, and in the central Visayas, muffin-shaped putos are made from fermented rice flour.

Contained in Banana Leaf, Filipino “Puto” sold at the Palenke (Market)

When we were little, suman was a snack treat we often ate.  It is typically made from sticky rice half-cooked with  coconut milk, wrapped in banana leaves and then steamed to finish the cooking process.

During Christmas, suman was served with rich and dark hot chocolate drinks, using freshly ground cacao beans.   We would peel the banana leaf off the suman, and if freshly steamed, take in the aroma — before dunking it in our chocolate drinks.

Filipino Suman – Sticky Rice and Coconut Milk wrapped in banana leaves and steamed

Like puto, suman has many varieties depending on family and region, and can also be made from grated cassava root — one of my favorite type of suman.

I like the fibrous texture of cassava suman, and sweetened with sugar and coconut milk…it is so delicious!  Sometimes chocolate is swirled into the mix prior to wrapping in banana leaves, or the center is filled with sweetened ground peanuts.

I also remember eating suman wrapped in palm leaf, but mostly the ones our family made were wrapped in banana leaves. So, essentially the word suman is a generic name for an assortment of tube or rectangle shaped, leaf-wrapped, steamed food (typically sweet or served with sweet dipping sauce).

During past trips to the Philippines, it seems there was always someone (kind and sweet)—like our Nanay Lucing or our Auntie Terling— who made batches of suman for us.  We enjoyed the treats while there, and then a fresh batch was made right before our departure to the U.S. to take with us.   Sadly, our Nanay Lucing has passed away, and though our Auntie Terling still seems young and beautiful to me,  I have to accept that she is nearing her mid-seventies and is not as energetic as before.

At our last trip, my sister and I purchased our Suman at the market from these women.

Wrapped in Banana Leaves, Suman and Puto for Sale at the Market

It occurs to me that it is now OUR turn to keep alive food traditions that we enjoyed from our childhood.  So…I better make sure my sisters and I know how to make suman if I want to keep this tradition for grandsons Jun and Gabriel.

My cousin Ate Violeta and her daughter Jady stayed with us during their visit to California.  Ate Violeta is an excellent cook and showed us how to make biko — another popular coconut milk and sticky rice treat.

Jun and Gabriel loved eating Ate Violeta’s Biko and it did not last long in our household …even the extra batch we put in the freezer “for later” soon vanished.

Biko is often what Jun will choose when we get a snack at the Filipino restaurant after his Tae Kwon Do lessons (though lately he has looked for Cassava Cake and has also been enjoying Ginataan - sweet potato, bananas, jackfruit, tapioca and rice balls stewed in coconut milk).

Well…with all this good banana leaf memories…I will definitely make Suman (and hot chocolate) a holiday tradition for the boys.  And though I don’t have the ease of lopping off fresh banana leaves from my backyard, I have no excuses really.  It is pretty easy to get banana leaves in the U.S. —- the leaf sheets are sold frozen at most Asian markets.

Frozen Banana Leaves — squares or rounds — are sold at most Asian Stores or Filipino Stores in the San Francisco Bay Area

And hopefully Jun and Gabriel will have pleasant memories associated with banana leaves…just like their Lola.

Please do comment and tell us your banana leaf memories, or favorite food wrapped in banana leaves.

Note:  Banana leaves are available at most Asian Markets — in the frozen food aisles — and is almost always available (also frozen) at Filipino Markets and mini stores.

Lola Jane’s Filipino Food related posts:

Philippine Romblon (Pandanus) Plant

The pandan plant is quite interesting and has many uses.  In certain parts of the Visayas region of the Philippines, it is called Romblon …which is also the name of an island / province.

Romblon - Close up of leaves

Pandan is a salt tolerant plant and grows by the seashore in Western Pacific Islands.  There are many varieties that grow in Malaysia, Indonesia and Hawaii.

In the Philippines, there are over 50 varieties, with some types producing leaves softer and more pliable, depending on where it grows.

Pandan leaves are super fragrant and used as a  flavor ingredient and as green food coloring in Filipino Cuisine.

In addition to the Filipino cooks, the Thais, Vietnamese, and Malaysians use pandan leaves in their cuisines.  Though most uses are for desserts such as custards, puddings and gelatin, there are other recipes I would like to try including pandan-wrapped fried chicken (from Thailand-wow!).

Pandan is also an ingredient for teas and other herbal concoctions.

Many cultures weave pandan leaves into useful items like

Weaving Romblon Leaves

  • sleeping mats
  • small bags
  • backpacks and market totes
  • boxes and other containers
  • place mats
  • trays





Below are some pandan /romblon product examples,  produced by Native Leaf.

Romblon Leaf "Bayongs" (Market Tote Bags)











Romblon Mini Bag (and placemats in background)













What a multi-purpose plant indeed!

Here is a picture I took of two friends collecting romblon leaves for their own projects.

Picking Romblon (Pandanus) Leaves

There are small islands in the Philippines whose economy is tied to picking, drying and selling romblon leaves.  More on this topic next time…

In the meantime, let me know if you know of other uses for this interesting plant.

Lola Jane

It is Spring…Catch the Cherry Blossoms!

My favorite time of the year is officially almost here.  The mustard flowers are in bloom everywhere, and now the cherry blossoms are out.  It is amazing how quickly those blossoms turn into fruit and in a just a few months, fruit stands across California will be selling beautiful, luscious cherries!

In bloom, mustard flowers and cherry tree blossoms in background


This is also the time of the year, when our normally golden hills have been so green, looking like something out of the emerald isles.