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Green Manure Crops & Crop Rotation

There are many benefits to growing green manure crops, mainly to improve soil conditions for growing your next crop of healthy vegetables. These benefits include higher nitrogen availability, additional organic matter, increased beneficial micro organisms, improved soil structure and water retention, breaking up hard soil, and in some cases soil fumigation and weed suppression.¬† I would highly recommend growing green manure plants as part of a crop rotation strategy – don’t have one? I’ll show you how ūüôā

What is green manure?

Green manure consists of leguminous plants such as those in the peas, beans and grass family which have nitrogen fixing capabilities. Liberally distribute or broadcast seeds in your pots or garden plot, and after around 6 weeks, “chop and drop” these plants and dig it into the soil and leave to break down for 1-2 weeks to add nutrients back into the soil. Don’t wait till it begins to flower or fruit or you will lose these nutrients.

For our tropical climate in Singapore, I would suggest the following:

  • Mustard seed
  • Cowpea
  • Pigeon pea
  • Soy bean
  • Green bean / Mung bean
  • Winged bean
  • Lab Lab

If you happen to forget to chop and drop your plant in time, at least you can eat the pods of pea and bean plants, or use mustard seeds, leaves and flowers in your cooking. If you are looking to purchase some of these seeds, I have cowpea and lablab available here. I will eventually update this post to include links where you can buy these seeds.

Cowpea plant

Practicing Permaculture in the City

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[Milkwood PDC course outing with David Holmgren in Sydney, photo by Oliver Holmgren]

With more Singaporeans learning about permaculture, many wonder if a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) is relevant to them and how we can practice permaculture in the city given most of us live in apartments.

In my previous post featuring reviews on PDC courses in Southeast Asia and Australia, I mentioned that the PDC is highly relevant if you wish to design a farm or any kind of space for growing crops because it is a design course. The course is currently not available in Singapore, and I would suggest getting acquainted with the ethics and principles of permaculture first, before deciding if you wish to proceed. You can even do an online Intro to Permaculture course like the one offered here (it started on 1 May but it looks like one can still enrol).

So how can we practice permaculture in the city, where it’s also relevant to apartment dwellers? In permaculture, the aim is to create a holistic design system for managing an ecosystem in harmony with nature, and can be scaled down to suit the size of our balcony, corridor, rooftop, courtyard, or backyard garden/s.

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!

Permaculture Design Certificate course with Milkwood

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A few days ago, I received my Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) from Milkwood after almost 14 straight days of classes. In between, we had¬†one off day to prepare our personal design projects for presentation and submission, but otherwise, it was a 9-5 day every day. And now that it’s over, I’m a bit sad that I won’t be seeing my classmates very often, but we will continue to stay connected via a private Facebook group that Milkwood created for us.

If you’re wondering what permaculture is, my extremely basic definition is –¬†a holistic design system for managing an ecosystem in harmony with nature, you can find other definitions here. Permaculture co-originator Bill Mollison defines it as “… A philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted & thoughtful observation rather than protracted & thoughtless action; of looking at systems in all their functions rather than asking only one yield of them & of allowing systems to demonstrate their own evolutions,” while the other co-originator, David Holmgren has updated the definition to be “Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for provision of local needs.”

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This course was a spiritual experience for me, and probably for most who attended, because we interacted with many gentle, lovely, likeminded people along the way, and the course provided a catalyst for creating change in our lives. Even though I was already open to all the concepts we discussed, the process opened me up further to doing even more for others and the community. I felt recharged after the course and on the last day, we left class on a high note, feeling that there were so many possibilities before us.

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Photo by Oliver Holmgren

Garden Stories: Pavilion Edible Garden

PEGMy friend, Pui Cuifen, has been working on Pavilion Edible Garden in her neighbourhood for over a year now. It’s a community garden which she had initiated in 2013, and it has really taken shape since, with active¬†participation¬†from neighbours, and voluntary help from permaculture designer, Debbie Han, and landscaping organisation, The Nature Company.

Having visited¬†their community garden¬†blog¬†on occasion, and seeing updates from Cuifen’s Facebook page, I could tell it was a real labour of love and an inclusive space for residents and members of the public.¬†Cuifen and neighbours, Dennis and Lydia kindly gave me a tour of the community space, which is nestled in a private estate in Bukit Batok. Mr Teo (the gentleman on the right), was diligently tending to plants all afternoon and is an active contributor to the community garden.

I’m a huge supporter of community gardens not just¬†because I love gardening, but I feel that creating one¬†is a great step towards building resilience in the neighbourhood. While Pavilion Edible Garden is still relatively young, they are off to a great start. They have a wonderful set up and variety of plants, which include fruits, vegetables and butterfly attracting plants, and they¬†are quickly gaining traction with the community, with more neighbours taking an interest in the garden.

Featuring permaculture principles, the garden has a banana circle, herb spiral, and will soon have a 3 sisters vegetable bed. It also features wicking beds, and community members create their own compost where possible, although they started off with compost donated by The Nature Company. There is a diverse range of plants which include moringa, winter melon, collard greens, beans, yam, sweet potatoes, okra, chilli, bananas, papayas, and lots of herbs.

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