Project Lombong – Ten acres of bare soil…

We are starting on a 10-acre piece of land in Johor, Malaysia. It is situated close to Kota Tinggi, a place north-east of Singapore known for fireflies and waterfalls. Kevin approached us recently about this land owned by his family. He wants to do organic farming on it and provide good livelihoods to people working there. The majority of the area will be a mixed fruit orchard but there will be aquaculture and vegetables too. He does not have any farming experience, but we felt that he has good intentions and is someone we can work with.

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View from the highest point

The land was previously a 3 year old rubber monoculture plantation. When we met him, the land had already been cleared of vegetation by a tractor. He said that the contractor was going to dig up all the tree roots and dispose of them. We recommended against that for many reasons:

  • The roots, despite being dead, still holds the soil together against erosion on his sloping land. Over time, they will rot and act as a slow-release fertilizer.
  • Digging mixes up the naturally-formed soil horizons and disrupts all the organisms in the soil.
  • Aerating soil in this manner introduces a rush of oxygen into the soil. That’s a short-term benefit with long-term losses. With the high temperature and moisture here, this means that organic matter and humus decompose rapidly and become lost as carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
  • Without any big trees or plants to absorb the suddenly available nutrients, they will be lost to the atmosphere (oxidized) or washed away by the rain (leached).

After the first meeting, we scheduled a date to visit the land. Continue reading

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Project Canossian – Chop-and-Drop (Part 2)

Sounding as bad-ass and violent as natural farming (not industrial farming) can ever get, chop-and-drop is actually a really effective gardening technique. Simply put, one chops the existing plant down and drops them right away on the spot where the next plant is to grow. Combined with green manuring, it is an excellent way to kickstart your garden

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Green manure growing out of the beds

Our previous post on Project Canossian ended with a round of green manure. Over the next month or two, the green manure helped to:

  • Fix nitrogen: roots of legumes (beans and peas) act symbiotically with certain fungi to convert nitrogen in the air to the soil for plants to absorb
  • Create biomass: the vigorous growth means that you get a mass of organic matter for mulching when you chop-and-drop
  • Settle the soil: gives time for the newly poured soil and compost to stabilize

Continue reading