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Christmas Gift Guide for Gardeners 2016

Hunting for an appropriate gift for a new or experienced gardener? Here is a list that is sure to contain at least one relevant gift for gardeners of varying expertise, for any occasion!

  1. Mosquito repellant plants – Mosquito Plant, Citronella, Marigolds and Lantana are some plants which are said to repel mosquitoes. A thoughtful present for everyone, really. Available at Far East Flora and all good nurseries.
  2. Seeds –  The Seeds Master stocks a huge variety of heirloom, organic, and/or hybrid fruit, flower, and vegetable seeds. They do not sell GMO seeds. Buy individual packs or seed collections, available on their website, from S$5.62 a seed packet.
  3. GIY stick – This is for the travellers, the busy folks, or laid-back gardeners who love the aesthetics and/or benefits of plants but are not to able to dedicate time to watering them. All you need is a reusable bottle and a piece of fabric to use with the GIY stick. Buy it here, at S$10 each.
  4. Headlamp – This one is for the night gardeners, and can be used for any other kind of hands-free activity, or even during black outs. Available for $14.90 at Decathalon.
  5. Haw’s copper indoor watering can – A real showpiece which will last well through the years. Haws are renown for quality watering cans, and its watering rose ensures gentle sprinkling of water on your plants. Buy yours at Super Farmers or Plain Vanilla Home – 315 Outram Road, #08-06 Tan Boon Liat Building.
  6. Dr Bronner’s Castille Soap – This is a great gift that can be used for more than one purpose. This natural, fragrance-free, all-purpose soap comes in concentrated form and needs to be diluted before use – it can be used as a hand soap, or dishwashing liquid, and then used as a pest spray on plants. I don’t recommend just any kind of soap for plants because of its ingredients, including fragrance, but this is one that I consider to be safe. Available at Bud Cosmetics, S$11.90 for 236ml or 944ml for S$30.80.
  7. NaturalGro Organic Kelp Liquid Fertiliser – Seaweed emulsion contains more than 70 trace minerals that are beneficial to plants. Used at a foliar spray or soil conditioner, this is a useful gift for every gardener. Available at The Nature Company and World Farm, 240ml for S$11.50, or 1L for S$35.
  8. 1001 Garden Plants in Singapore (3rd edition) – This is a plant bible of a large variety of  plants available in Singapore, and is a popular read. Contrary to the title, there are more than 1001 plants included in the latest edition. Get your copy today from Singapore Botanic Gardens Shop, Nong, Kinokuniya and Times bookshops, S$27.90.
  9. Botanical watercolour classesWITHIN offers botanical watercolour classes and they have a few different packages for aspiring botanical artists. Vouchers are now available, starting from S$138 for a single class. We recommend at least an introductory class – 4 classes for S$380, materials are provided. More information here.

Something that I wanted to add to this list was knee pads but I wasn’t able to find ones of good quality. Hopefully by next year, I’m getting to that age where I need them and will have to buy mine overseas. I hope to compile a much more comprehensive guide next year. Happy holidays!

Learning the craft of Shibori

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This is Leong Minyi of Mai Textile Studio, she is a textile artist who runs shibori and sashiko workshops in Singapore. Shibori is a Japanese fabric dyeing technique, where indigo dye is commonly used, while sashiko is a Japanese embroidery technique used to reinforce fabric. She also specialises in katazome, which is another dyeing technique, but the fabric pattern is created using a stencil. In the above photo, Minyi is holding a stencil which she has been working on, it is an arduous process of cutting shapes by hand.

I spent my Saturday afternoon learning how to dye a tenugui – a cotton hand towel measuring 35cm x 98cm. The workshop goes for 5 hours, mainly because of the manual and repetitive effort required to adhere the desired deep, indigo colour on the fabric. But it’s all worth it in the end, when you see the result. There are eight 10-minute sessions of steeping your tenugui, and in between, you expose the fabric to the air to oxidise the dye.

But first, we need to fold the cloth. There are several folding techniques, and we learnt some basic ones.

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Soil Mixing Workshop on 3 December at Make Your Own

Old woman hands holding fresh soil. Symbol of spring and ecology concept

I have organised another soil mixing workshop for December, come join us!

Wish to learn the basics of soil and learn to make your own seed raising mix and potting mix for edible plants? There are many recipes out there, but it also depends on what you’re growing. Hear about the variations of soil mixes and participate in this hands-on soil mixing workshop.

Date: 3 December 2016

Time: 3pm – 5pm

Venue: Make Your Own, Blk 4 Upper Aljunied Lane, #01-06, Singapore 360004

Fee: $55 per person, with limited spaces available, so booking is essential. Reserve your seat below!

What you will learn in this session:

– Nutrient requirements of plants
– Physical needs of plants
– Soil amendment basics
– How to grow and care for seedlings
– How to mix your own seed raising mix and potting mix

What you will take home:

– A list of seed raising and potting mix recipes
– Notes from our workshop
– Seed raising mix sample
– Potting mix sample

Garden Stories: Natural Farmer & Permaculturist Mr Tang Hung Bun

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Meet Mr Tang Hung Bun, a joyful, down-to-earth and all-round lovely gentleman. An avid nature lover and experienced permaculturist, Mr Tang is a former physics teacher, and has co-authored a book titled “A photographic guide to the dragonflies of Singapore“. He has since retired from teaching to focus on his passion of farming. He now volunteers with Farmily, a social enterprise which works with senior citizens through farming naturally-grown, pesticide- and chemical-free produce, it is also the farming arm of non-profit group, Ground-Up Initiative (GUI).

I first learned of Mr Tang through his blog, where he shared a soul-crushing video of his established permaculture food forest destroyed by heavy machinery. His landlord decided to lease the land that he rented to a developer, and what he had created in almost two years was demolished in three days. I would later hear my urban farmer friend, Ong Chun Yeow, mention Mr Tang in many of our conversations, and it took me quite a while to make the connection that he was that same person.

I had the immense fortune of meeting him during my visit to Kampung Kampus, and he gave me an impromptu tour of a permaculture garden that he and other volunteers had been working on since mid-January this year, after a few of them discovered a small, temporarily unused plot on the premises. Here is a video of that plot before and after Mr Tang and other Farmily volunteers worked on it. Incredible and inspiring. One of the remarkable things about this garden is that they do not water it.

As you can see from the video, he grows wintermelon, eggplants, roselle, taro, chilli, currant tomatoes, okra, winged beans and bittergourds. Some of these edible plants are intercropped with marigolds, a wonderful companion plant, and the garden features several pigeon pea plants, a shrub favoured by permaculturists for its nitrogen fixing qualities and as “chop and drop” material, there is also a neem tree, which is also a nitrogen fixer, and has many medicinal properties, its small branches can be used as a natural toothbrush.

It was such a pleasure to spend time with Mr Tang. Please read on to find out more about him and his interesting perspectives!

Reviews: Permaculture Courses in South East Asia and Australia

Recently, I obtained my Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) in Sydney with Milkwood, and was keen to find out about the courses offered in the region. Since several people in the urban farming community in Singapore have one, I thought to ask them about their experiences and write a blogpost listing PDC options and reviews.

For those asking, “Do I need a PDC?”, my personal opinion is that while it is a useful course and it sounds very interesting, it’s relevant if you’re designing your own backyard or someone else’s garden/farm space. Otherwise, learning the 12 permaculture principles would suffice, a more affordable option, because the full 14-day PDC will cost you at least $1,000 in course fees alone – my opinion, of course. It greatly helps if one already has gardening/farming experience. In my class, everyone pretty much had experience growing edible plants, and some people had chickens as well as goats, so we didn’t have to keep stopping to explain basic information on growing plants.

When deciding on a PDC, it is worth considering what climate you are thinking of applying your knowledge to – tropical, subtropical and/or temperate, and city or rural? Also, whether you prefer a more hands-on experience in the countryside or a less physically involved experience in the city. They each have their own strengths, so see if any of these 7 reviews pique your interest!

 

Indonesia

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1. Where did you complete your PDC?
Kul Kul Farm at Green School, Bali.

2. Who were your teachers? And how many people were in your class?
Ian Lillington (main trainer), Orin Hardy (practical training), Jodi Roebuck (grazing and bio-intensive gardening) and Scott Godfredson (planning and design). Additional evening talks and speakers – Brendan Morse (permaculture in East Timor), Jeni Kardinell (straw bale housing), Petra Schnieder (water technology), William Ingram (social enterprise and traditional weaving), Dennis Walker (systems approach) and Elora Hardy (bamboo architecture and design).

There were 26 students in total (including myself).

3. How much was it? Did it include accommodation?

The two-week design course is USD1,500. It includes food and tent accommodation. I added another USD150 for better comfort of staying in a twin-sharing bunkhouse.

4. Highlights of the course? 
  • Personally, the greatest highlight is getting to visit the Green School and Green Village to physically immerse in the amazing bamboo architecture.
  • We were also given a tour of the bamboo factory, PT Bamboo Pure, where different types of bamboo are treated and formed for making furniture and buildings.
  • On top of that, a short workshop by native craftsmen using bamboo to create simple building structures, musical instrument, etc.
  • I also thoroughly enjoyed myself on a half day tour of the Subak water management system in Bali.
  • Another highlight is a trash walk, led by John Hardy, which was an eye-opener on how destructive urbanisation and modern lifestyle can effect a once pristine and harmony with nature island.
  • Last but not least, the invaluable friendship of sharing culture and exchanging ideas with fellow classmates from all over the world. I’m so excited by the projects they will bring back home to start upon completion of this PDC!
5. Theory vs practical? 
Personally I found that the course inclines more towards theory-based classes and would prefer more practical and hands-on experiences. However, I also appreciate and understand it is next to impossible to cover the subject’s holistic and multidisciplinary teachings within two weeks when it is also evolving with the advancement of technology. Thus, this PDC generally managed to give a good overview of permaculture and its design as a form of a toolkit for the participants.

6. This course is for those who…

love Balinese culture and Green School! 🙂 I wouldn’t recommend just anyone to head there for PDC, especially city folks who are used to modern amenities. You will need to gauge your comfort level and appreciate a rural and back-to-basic lifestyle of insect bites, smell and sight of the composting toilet, stomach discomfort due to food and water, awareness of natural surrounding and possible danger, etc.
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