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Garden Stories: Our Kampong Farm Rooftop Community Garden

On the top floor of a disused carpark space in Bedok, a group of 20 residents collectively grow, harvest, and cook for one another using produce from their rooftop community garden. Our Kampong Farm has taken a different approach to most community gardens, opting for the communal farm model – where everyone puts in their fair share of  work and enjoys the harvest together, rather than designating individual allotments. I felt inspired by what I saw, and could feel a sense of community spirit from this group of urban farmers.

This sprawling rooftop space is managed by 20 people, and currently not all of it is used for edible plants. Spanning around 15,000 square feet, only 10 per cent of the space is used to grow a wide variety of herbs, vegetables and fruits like caixin, kang kong, spinach, Japanese radish, lettuce, eggplant, tomato, pumpkin, bittergourd, watermelon, musk melon, okra, long beans, chilli, Thai basil, rosemary, perilla, pandan, aloe vera, oyster plant and papaya, among others. 

These urban farmers keep their expenses lean by taking what is normally considered waste from food vendors in the vicinity and using it as fertiliser. Given the number of plants here, store-bought fertiliser would not be cost-effective. In addition, they use a drip irrigation system for some of their plants, reducing water wastage and fertiliser run-off. Desmond Tan, who is part of the team, shared that okara, a by-product of making tofu, has proven to be a highly nutritious fertiliser, and dried banana peels have given their tomato plants a fantastic potassium boost. Food waste is certainly a resource that we don’t use enough of.

In this interview, Desmond tells us about the journey of Our Kampong Farm and lessons learnt along the way.

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!

Garden Stories: Ong Chun Yeow, the Community Rooftop Farmer

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In Yishun, you will find one of only a handful of rooftop community gardens in Singapore, built atop a HDB car park. Ong Chun Yeow is one of several estate residents with a garden allotment, growing lots of leafy greens like purslane, swiss chard, and amaranth, herbs, galangal, as well as fruiting vegetables like bitter gourd, okra and tomatoes.

Opened in 2014, this rooftop garden features 30 garden allotments, which residents ballot for. The diversity of plants in this garden is incredible, I saw corn, broccoli, kale, and strawberry plants, a papaya tree, different varieties of eggplants, gourds, beans, herbs and spices. Through clever space stacking and bio-intensive growing methods, one can maximise their yield, however limited the space, as can be seen in this garden. I also noticed many ladybirds, a beneficial insect and wonderful pest control agent, always good to have them around!

I got to know Chun Yeow through my circle of environmentalist friends and we have been Facebook friends for years, but I don’t recall actually meeting him in person till this year. He is keen on heritage and environmental issues, desires to have a low-impact existence, and practices intentional living. He recently received his Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) and is looking forward to more hands-on permaculture experiences locally and overseas. Whenever I ask him what he’s doing on the weekend, it seems like he’s usually involved in at least one urban farming-related event. As a lover of plants and nature, he’s also passionate about community building activities, such as those organised by Foodscape Collective.

Find out more about Chun Yeow’s journey in this interview, and check out the photos of this marvellous rooftop community garden!

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Garden Stories: Kenneth Tham’s Corridor Display Garden

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Kenneth Tham’s zest for life is inspiring. Aside from running a hairdressing business, parenting teenagers, and caring for his dogs in partnership with his wife, he finds time to tend to an incredibly lush corridor garden, a plant conservatory at their hair salon, as well as raise funds to support the needy.

In late August, Kenneth and other cyclists will ride 1000km to raise awareness and donations to provide basic monthly necessities to 330 households. Plants are part of his efforts to gather contributions to his nominated charity – he sells Begonias and Episcias, and proceeds go to the beneficiaries of Sunlove Neighbourhood Links.

He has a great sense of aesthetics, visible from the highly complementary manner in which he presents his plants – colours, textures, shapes, and even the way the leaves sit – everything falls together nicely. As you can tell from the photos, he’s also an incredibly neat gardener.

During my visit, I noticed an Olive-backed Sunbird sitting on one of his trellises, and he pointed out that he had a family of Dwarf Pigeons living among the foliage. How delightful!

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Clearly an avid Begonia fan, Kenneth has several varieties on display on his corridor and also enclosures for some of his plants at the hair salon. Not all of the plants in the hair salon are for sale, especially not the rare ones. There’s even a sign indicating so, he must have had lots of enquiries.

Many are curious about where he lives, but in order to protect his privacy, I can only divulge that he lives in the north. I can however, share that his hair salon is located at Serangoon Avenue 2, his preferred location as a pick-up point for plant purchases.

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DSCF4883At his hair salon, he sells Begonias, Episcias, self-watering planters and accompanying sleeves that fit snugly. These sleeves are knitted by his mother, and they come in different sizes for differing purposes.

Begonias have been popping up on my radar for the last couple of years. I wasn’t very keen on them initially but I kept encountering Begonia enthusiasts, usually members of the Singapore Gardening Society. Early in the year, I attended an interesting talk organised by the society about how Gardens By the Bay staff travelled to Japan on a Begonia planthunting trip. I can now appreciate the allure of these plants.

In meeting Kenneth, my interest was further piqued, and I decided to take the plunge and purchase my first Begonia. He assured me that when anyone buys a plant from him, they are paying for a well presented plant, and pointed out how well-arranged the foliage is.

One plant of his which I found interesting is the Jewel Orchid, which looks like it has gold dust on the veins of its leaves. That one is not for sale, as it was a gift from a friend. I photographed it, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to capture its gold shimmer.

Please read on to find out more about Kenneth, and how you can contribute to his nominated cause!

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Garden Stories: James Ip and his balcony fern forest

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[photo courtesy of James Ip]

When I first began following James Ip on Instagram a few months back, I dreamed of seeing his balcony fern forest in person. I was amazed by his love of ferns, how he had dedicated his entire balcony to plants, and how beautifully put together his garden is. I paid a visit to his apartment in Kembangan to experience it for myself, it was a marvellous sight!

From his choice of plants and how he has exhibited them, it is immediately obvious that he has a keen eye for details and is a romantic at heart. The plant arrangements present lots of depth, visual texture, and demonstrates careful curation on his part. By staggering his collection of plants at various heights, he has managed to ensure that his balcony accommodates his numerous plants and their needs, as well as allow enough light to enter his home.

His two fish ponds form the backbone to his garden. With its arrival, James began adding plants, and it lends an adequate amount of humidity to his plants. Other than ferns, the garden also features begonias, ivy, dracaena, syngonium, bromeliads, umbrella papyrus, pink alpinia, among others.

His ferns require a bit of care, such as an afternoon misting on very hot, dry days. The water in his ponds experience a 30% per cent evaporation rate daily, which is as frequent as he needs to top it up.

James has done a remarkable job creating a zen balcony space. Read on to find out more about how it all came together!

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[Images from James Ip’s Instagram account]

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