20 Apr – Update

At least seven neighbours came down to help in today’s group session in the community edible garden!

The first things we did was to check out the health of our various growing plants. Some are still really small, but they have really grown quite a bit in the recent rains (after the long 2-month dry spell). Didn’t take any photos (add later) but we realised our tomato, basil, okra plants started to show signs of flies, aphids, baby grasshoppers… sparking a discussion again on how we are going to deal with these “pests” when they come. On one hand, we want to encourage biodiversity and be ecologically friendly, and not use pesticides on the edible plants; on the other, we get rather worried when the aphids, grasshoppers, etc start showing up on our doorstep!

Mr. Wong said he bought this “black oil”, which is much more effective than “white oil” and any of the insect-repelling methods. He hurried home to get his bottle of the “black oil”. I wondered what went into the making of the “black oil” product. The name itself doesn’t sound very eco-friendly? But don’t mind to experiment to see the effectiveness. Mr. Teo tried sprays of it on the winter melon plants which are starting to climb the pergola.

Mr. Teo, Dennis and Lydia typically use ground chilli paste mixed with water to repel the unwanted insects.

Dennis had a brainwave. He suddenly remembered that dill (of which we have plenty) has “bad” insect-repelling properties, while also attractive to the “good” ones (e.g. pollinators). He and his sis cut out 3 small branches of dill, and started grinding them with water. He then sprayed them on the chilli and basil plants.

Last week, Dennis, Lydia and I set up a little “nursery” to germinate corn seeds. We had place 2 seeds for every pocket (24 in total) of a seedling tray – of these, 1 have sprouted! Initially, I wondered if the rest are not going to germinate, but Dennis re-assured saying that it is a good sign that the rest will germinate in the coming days!

We transplanted our 1 corn seedling in the raised bed meant for the “3 sisters”. Hopefully, the park visitors don’t mistake it for ordinary grass, and pluck it out!

Our first corn seedling!

Our first corn seedling!

Mr. Wong and Annie helped transplant some white sweet potato leaves at the pit garden. These plants are from Mr. Wong’s edible garden at home. His home garden is amazing, and warrants another blog post of its own. We now have at least 3 types of sweet potato plants in the garden:

  • Sweet potato plants – grown for leaves in raised bed that looks like the number “8″
  • Sweet potato plants – grown for the potatoes in wicking bed next to the “8″
  • white sweet potato plants – grown for leaves in the edge of the pit garden
Sweet potato leaves from Mr. Wong's home garden

Sweet potato leaves from Mr. Wong’s home garden

Must learn more on the differences of the 3 plants.

Our cai xin (those that have not been harvested) have been sprouting flowers and seeds. To take advantage of the availability of dried seeds, Dennis and Lydia suggested that we put in the seeds. They opened up the pods one by one, and patiently spread out the seeds. Some have sprouted in the recent rains! To create mulch effect, they added  dried twigs beside the furrows.

We also realised that our resident Kapok (cotton) trees have been shedding cotton. These are useful for mulching too!

Straight row furrows

Straight row furrows

A few of us also trooped over to Sharon’s place to check out her edible garden at home. She couldn’t stay to help much at the garden because she has painting classes to go to. But she came anyway to see how she could help, and also gladly showed us her plants at home.

As with neighbour Wong’s, her home garden warrants a blog post on its own.

Totally thankful for the community garden and for the people chipping in to the project. There’s certainly a sense of community, good neighbours & friendships – something which I didn’t feel during the first decade of staying in the same estate!

 

19 Apr – “Welcome Packet”

After last week’s meeting with the core “team”, I had been busy drafting up a set of online documents nicknamed the “Welcome Packet”

It was obvious from the meeting that while we all wanted to see the community edible garden become a success – the word “success”  means different things to everyone.

A review of why we created this garden in the first place was needed, and to do so, I went back to check what we documented as a consolidation of what neighbours wanted in supporting the creation of the community garden (created in Sep 2013: http://bit.ly/1eS5A2q).

With this, I started drafting the “Welcome Packet”.

It was not easy, and by no means, done. There is so much more to write, based on various inputs of neighbours who contributed since.

But here it is – the draft: http://bit.ly/1kKU0G9

The key intention for having the documents online – allow easy access to key information, and a basis for further discussion, agreement and action.

The link has been sent out to the core team and other neighbours who expressed support for the garden project.

Didn’t give a deadline for feedback yet – but given that we intend to launch in 5 months’ time, I guess we need to have the community’s feedback within a month! Will need to start planning outreach (going from house to house, etc) as quite a number of neighbours who do plant edible plants, don’t speak English nor go online.

15 Apr – a launch date for the garden?

At today’s neighbourhood committee (NC) meeting, I shared with the committee how it would be nice to have a carnival at the park (where our edible garden is). The park has undergone renovations recently, and has now a new hard court, and soon, a new playground.

The park is just minutes from our homes. A carnival would really help bring the neighbours together to celebrate the new changes in the park (having a playground is hard won, as I hear).

To me, the carnival is perhaps something we can do in the short term, before the garden launch. It would have community art events, flea market, talks…

Neighbour Ricky posed a question back to me, “Why not have them together? A carnival, and a garden launch. Same day.”

After further discussions, a tentative date for the garden launch was set – 6 September.

Why “6 Sep”? It is just after the September school holidays, and we can celebrate the Mid-autumn festival also.

Sounds like 6 Sep will be a very busy and fun day! 5 months till the garden launch.

12 Apr – Update

At least five neighbours came down for our regular weekly community garden session this morning. For two other neighbours who came by subsequently, it was their first visit to the garden – they had heard about it, and wanted to see the garden for themselves!

A few things we that did within a couple of hours:

Improved the quality of soil in 2 wicking beds. Soil quality has been an issue as the beds were made in a hurry, resulting in too much compost in the beds. Neighbour Steven donated some bags of red brick soil, which we mixed with the existing soil. Dennis and Lydia led in this activity as they knew how it is to be done.

Improving the soil in a wicking bed

Improving the soil in a wicking bed

Neighbour Cuifen brought bags of brewed coffee and tea collected at her workplace, as well as free bags of brewed coffee from Starbucks. Starbucks Singapore had kindly said that we can collect brewed coffee from nearby Starbucks outlets, but so far, we have no need to do so!

adding bags of coffee into the open compost

adding bags of coffee into the open compost

As part of housekeeping, Cuifen busied herself with tidying our toolbox. The toolbox was a kind donation from a neighbour, Benny, who’s in the construction line. In our toolbox, we have bulky tools for common use, hats, boots, organic fertiliser, first aid box (items to be added)… A simple box with items that are very useful when we need them

A peek into our toolbox

A peek into our toolbox

Dennis, Lydia and Cuifen also discussed how we wanted to grow the 3 sisters, now that the bed is ready, and we have seeds. The seeds were donated by another neighbour, Kaiyan, who gave us at least 3 varieties of corn seeds! We decided to start with planting the variety that looks most like the type that people are familiar to seeing and buying at the supermarkets (the yellow corn cobs). As we consulted our corn-”expert” Lydia, the following idea came into being…

  • 3×3 rows of corn – seedlings to be transplanted in when they are ready
  • bean seedlings to be transplanted beside the corn, 1 week after
  • pumpkin / gourd seedlings to be transplanted in between the spaces

Of the neighbours who came by to check out the garden for the first time, Mr. Wong who had attended our group meeting a few days before, is growing giant pumpkins at home. Or rather, he is starting to grow them. He doesn’t have any more seeds for us, else we would certainly love to have a giant pumpkin in the community garden!

He did however give us packets of seeds that he painstakingly brought back from the US. Mr Wong, apparently, has a farm in Arizona, hence his interest and knowledge in growing plants that are not exactly from the region. It was obvious from our conversations that he has a lot of passion for what he does, and is very willing to invest his time and resources in creating what he believes in.

Planning how we will grow the 3 sisters

Planning how we will grow the 3 sisters

And finally… a quick peek at our little mint plants in the herb spiral. Dennis and Lydia have been monitoring the settling of soil within the spiral, and adding baby transplants (mint, thyme, oregano). Dennis shared that in time, the herb spiral should look bushy. At the moment, they are busy trying to get as many baby plants as possible – so that once we have sufficient baby plants, we can do workshops.

This idea from Dennis sounds really interesting. workshop: grow out your baby mint – get the children to bring home baby plants to grow, once the plants are larger, to bring back and transplant, with the transplant plants labelled with their names and under their care.

Mints

Mints

10 Apr – Mini celebration, and going forward

With the garden creation ~ completed last week, it is time for a mini celebration, and to have a review at what went well / what did not / and what the core team of neighbours who support this project want to see going forward.

With this objective in mind, 13 neighbours came together after work / dinner to meet at Mr. Nathan’s place for a 2hr meeting.

Cuifen gave a quick sharing on how this project is now 1 year plus (since the idea was first raised to the neighbourhood committee). She thanked & appreciated everyone who made time for the meeting, because obviously it was important enough for them to make time & attend the meeting, and for their various contributions (however little) and support that helped bring the project to where it is today.

To celebrate, we enjoyed a chocolate cake all the way from the other end of Singapore (Changi Village!), as well as spring rolls kindly provided for by Mr. & Mrs. Nathan.

Expressing what we want to see going forward

Expressing what we want to see going forward

On the sharing… the views of what went well / what did not / and how to move forward are as diverse as the number of people around the table!

Common themes that were brought up:

  • water supply
  • leadership and delegation of garden-related tasks
  • ownership of the garden amongst the core team, and other neighbours supporting the project
  • allocation of plots (the reasoning is if no one has his own space, over time there is no one really tend to the garden?)
  • use of non-organic pesticides to deal with “pests” – yes / no? are they more effective than organic means?
  • guides on what / how to water, what to plant, when can gardeners access the garden, etc
  • clearer communication (what is decided, what is the objective for doing ___ action)
  • reach out to neighbours, especially those who learnt of the project after the “branding” & outreach was carried out / those who just moved in / and those who are offline & would spend time in the garden if we reach out to them

While we didn’t exactly reach to a clear consensus after the 2hr meeting, it became clear that we needed to create a framework on how we move forward as a community.