Nova Ceceliana Nelson is a permaculture designer who wants to help people grow food regardless of how small their space is. At the Goodman Community Farm in Singapore, she uses the garden to showcase what urban permaculture looks like, where upcycled materials are used, and how one can create closed loop systems to turn waste into valuable resources.
At this space where food growers, artists and the community converge, she organises workshops for children and adults to connect them to nature and growing food.
The Goodman Community Farm consists of a forager’s garden and community microfarm. At the forager’s garden, there is a herb spiral, mandala garden, pond, three-bay leaf compost area and wormery, while the community microfarm is a place to test out different methods of growing food.
Nova sees waste as a resource and collects landscape waste, cardboard, logs, coffee grounds and food waste from a café on the premises and uses it around the garden. Nothing goes to waste here. Find out more from this video interview I conducted with her!
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 🙂
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:
Green bean / Mung bean
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.
[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.
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!