Project Canossian – Building A Garden With Waste (Part 1)

A few months back, we built a food garden for the Canossian School in Singapore. They work with kids with hearing impairment and the school principal Terry wanted a sensory garden for the kids to develop all their senses. She lamented a few times about how children nowadays do not get to pull things out of the soil.

Canossian School is very fortunate because they actually have unused space for a garden. We have spoken to many schools that want a food garden but do not have any space left. We would walk the school grounds to find that everywhere has been concreted or planted with trees. Canossian School has a sizeable and flat grass patch and we were allocated about 35m x 11m for the garden.

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The possibilities are endless, like a blank canvas.

Analyzing the Site

Before even thinking about garden design, we needed to understand the site. From a distance, we noticed many bare patches that grass did not grow on. That’s not a good sign. The type of vegetation growing on it was odd as well. Walking the ground, we immediately noticed that the soil was soft. It was not the spongy softness of a soil with good structure and many pores. It was a muddy kind of softness like wet pottery clay. As expected, there had been major soil works about a year ago. We learned that there is construction waste like concrete rubble beneath the soil. There is no top soil but just a layer of yellow clay. It’s not a great start but we are used to all these in urban environments. Continue reading

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Maejo Baandin – Building Houses with Mud

After leaving Mindful Farm on the second day of 2015, we once again hopped on to our neglected motorcycle and went on the road. After taking a few wrong turns, getting lost, and asking around, we finally got to our next destination – Maejo Baandin. Maejo is the name of the village, “baan” means home in Thai, and “din” is earth. Not surprisingly, we were greeted by many beautiful mud structures in the premise.

Found the entrance at last!

Found the entrance at last!

Maejo village is a remote village located 2 hours drive North of Chiangmai city. In this village within walking distance to one another, there are three places that promote sustainable living – Maejo Baandin, Pun Pun, and Panya Project. Pun Pun promotes mud building and seed saving for self-reliance. Panya Project is a community of volunteers and they regularly teach permaculture courses. Continue reading

Project Spectra 2 – Green Manure + Chop-and-Drop

Earlier, we posted about kickstarting the rooftop farm at Spectra Secondary School by growing green manure. You can read about that here. We are happy to report that the legumes have been growing very happily and rapidly. We have been intentionally lazy and have not watered or done anything. There is a time for us humans to work hard and there is also a time to sit back and watch nature do her magic. As expected, the monsoon rain really sped up the growth of our green manure.

Week 3

The legumes have sprouted and grown through the thin layer of mulch. You can literally see it growing by the day!


Continue reading

Project Spectra – Farming on a Rooftop

We were tasked to build a farm on the rooftop of Spectra Secondary School recently. It is a new secondary school in northern Singapore that focuses on vocational and practical skills so that students will be well-equipped to work upon graduation. The school’s philosophy behind this rooftop farm initiative is “No One Owes Us a Living – We Work Hard to Put Food on the Table”. As such, we will also be teaching the students how to farm organically. I have no doubt that it is out of this world for these city teenagers.

The barren rooftop when we first stepped onto it.

The barren rooftop when we first stepped onto it.

The good and also bad thing is that the infrastructure is already built. There are 11 big concrete planters filled with soil which means we can start growing soon. Unfortunately the soil has been left bare for a few months. In the tropics, this mistake was magnified by the baking sun and torrential rain. I learned from the school that the landscape contractor has scraped off the top layer of the soil because it was muddy. My guess is that the “mud” is actually the fertile top soil that got damaged by the elements. We are now left with the clay subsoil… Continue reading

A Fixation on Nitrogen Fixation

2014-01-11 09.47.03Nitrogen is one of the three macro-nutrients needed for healthy plants. It is the eldest brother N within the NPK trio. In the tropics, this vital ingredient is often found lacking in cultivated soil. From my experience using the soil test kit in various gardens in Singapore, nitrogen always shows up as “low”.

How can this be! There are tons of nitrogen in the atmosphere, roughly 78%. However, atmospheric nitrogen doesn’t just flow into the soil readily as it is inert. Continue reading

Project Nanas @ Johor, Malaysia

After a few weeks...A family friend has asked me to help start an organic farm in the premises of a timber factory in Johor Malaysia. I am calling it Project Nanas because nanas means pineapple in Malay. The location of this factory is at Pekan Nanas which literally means Pineapple Town. This place used to produce the most pineapple throughout Malaysia! Interestingly, many European languages (including German, French, Norwegian, Hungarian, Greek, Finnish, and probably more) call pineapple “ananas”.

The objective of this farm is to provide employees with fresh vegetables and also green up the premises. The factory is currently expanding and constructing a warehouse. A long and narrow strip of land that is sandwiched between this new warehouse and a river is where the farm will be. Continue reading