Resting our garden

We did very little work on our vegetable garden the past six months, mostly allowing the frequent torrential rains to water it. The season was heavy enough with a book writing project to complete within a narrow deadline while the children had adjustments to make in a new school year. We also had a major roof and ceiling repair job to contend with before and after the Chinese New Year.

I’m glad to say I’ve learned a lot through attempting to write my first book (still in the production oven) and living with the children in a confined, bordered up space at home. We, especially my sanity, were saved to a great measure by rolls and rolls of tarpaulin sheets that we hung from the ceiling to block up the staircase and sticking to our usual home routine while dusty renovation and painting works took place upstairs.

For the children, it was an exciting season of camping out on mattresses in the living room and showering in a small toilet downstairs with the traditional bucket, scoop, and hot water boiled on the stove. As for me, I have learned more about dust management, the beauty of cling-wrapped furniture, resilience, and thankfulness. Pack up the entire house and take one day at a time if you’re living in during major repair works – that’s what I’d recommend to anyone who takes on a similar experience.

After the house was put in order again, it was time to clear the forest that had overtaken the garden, mostly unruly sweet potato plants and crawling kangkung. These were too old to harvest to eat. The okra plants had gone past the best of their growing cycle so I dug them out. The ulam raja had seeded itself in many places and we collected those for a hearty salad with a chili-belacan dip on the side. We also managed to save spinach seeds from old plants. Best of all was a surprise harvest of ginger and some grubby white sweet potatoes that we made into hot soups for tea time. There were also mulberries, sweet papayas, and some long brinjal that survived despite the neglect, including five winter melons from two vines that had sprung up wild from the compost. Since then we’ve enjoyed plenty of hot melon soup on dry and rainy evenings alike, and I figure it’s about time I learned a new way of cooking melon!




After clearing unwanted plants, I opted to improve the planting beds with a good heaping of horse manure, some chicken dung, coffee grounds, and burned rice hulls. I also decided to till more perlite and cocopeat into the soil to provide better aeration, drainage, and sufficient water retention. Enriching garden soil feels somewhat like mixing ingredients to make a gigantic cake. I couldn’t help thinking of cake frosting when topping up the beds with a generous covering of dried leaves.


We’ll wait a few months to allow all the organic matter to decompose properly before planting again. In the meantime, I thought I’d share some tips on what we can do in the garden in a season of waiting like this.

1. Experiment and make the best of what you have.

Happily, my mother brought me a bucket of compost from her own garden and some cucumber seedlings she had to spare. We planted those, as well as some cuttings of Japanese spinach and Brazilian spinach into the shadier bed against the wall. Our cucumber plants supplied a mediocre harvest under the blazing sun on the slope beyond, so I’m hoping they’ll thrive better in this new location. I’ve also constructed a new trellis for them so that the vines have more room to climb and breathe. The reality is that there is still so much for me to learn as a novice gardener. I am reliant predominantly on internet research and the simple practice of lots of trial and error.

2. Enjoy simple garden activities with the children.

It can be a little hair-raising trying to save ripening vegetables from being plucked or young plants from being pulled up by a three-year-old while one’s back is turned. So in a season when there’s not much growing in the beds, I’ve come to appreciate easy activities that Roo can do, such as hunting for snails on wet mornings, trimming a wild garden hedge with a child scissors, exploring different textures like dry flower seeds saved for planting or the hairy feel of a melon vine. She’s loved spreading mulch over beds and around young seedlings and watering established plants (supervision still necessary to avoid over-watering and ensure seedlings are approached tenderly). Roo is always excited about everything I show her, from saving papaya seeds to watching a worm wriggle itself desperately back into soil I’ve just dug into. These are simple things that teach her something valuable about botany and science that an indoor classroom can barely replicate. As we spend time in the garden every day, I’m hoping that her positive experience with nature will cultivate an ongoing love for the natural world and a desire to protect it.

3. Fill the waiting with good things.

In the time it takes to build up a good supply of finished compost and resting the garden sufficiently, there is so much else that requires our attention. Meals to cook. Lessons to supervise. Pets to tend to. Games to enjoy. Outdoor pursuits and family traditions of music playing and devotions before bedtime. There are also ongoing home and community projects. Of course, this season of waiting to plant again also provides more opportunities to linger in solitude and quiet reflection, something I treasure especially more during Holy Week. We have been occupied with preparations for Good Friday and Easter, and I think I have benefited greatly from deliberately making personal space to fast and connect in a deeper way with God, my thoughts and emotions. After six months of intense work and a home renovation, this kind of space provides room for much needed rest and restoration.

Lamb’s pet, Ginger
Dictation with Jolly Grammar 2. Piglet is now 6. 
Roo enjoying Pattern Blocks
The funkiest game in school, RAMPAS
Roo mulching beds. She almost mulched herself too.
Mulching okra seedlings
Arranging seedlings in a sunnier spot
Watering kangkung
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Homeschool May-June 2016


I often wonder how it is possible that our home life which is so dependent on the lull of a routine for its success is also nothing short of wondrous and breathless at the same time. May and June went by with school examinations for the older children and they prepared for them mostly independently as I spent much of my energy homeschooling Piglet and Roo, the latter right smack in the middle of her fantastic two’s. At two, everything is truly marvellous and must be fully explored even if it means scaling dangerous heights to get there.

In this Keeping-Up-With-Roo season, I tend to cling more than ever to our simple routine, following it mindfully, sometimes tenaciously, but also knowing it has to be held loosely in order to educate the whole child, “head, heart and hands” (think Waldorf). This, and also the awareness that childhood is indeed precious and fleeting has made for relatively peaceful mothering for the most part even though there will always be the usual heart-stopping toddler-initiated event or two, often more, that comes with the territory.

Every day we work through practical life – self-care habits and the mountain of chores it takes to run a household of seven – dog included, fish and caterpillar excepted. The older children have begun to grumble or drag their feet occasionally which tends to make my blood boil but I’m choosing to view these as teaching opportunities to remind ourselves that learning to persist through drudgery in order to serve others and keep on top of our own “mess” is part of educating the heart.

I say “remind ourselves” because, in truth, upon deeper reflection recently I have come face to face with my own internal grumbling about the constancy of clean-ups and have therefore come to a new resolve to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Character is caught, not taught. As Rudolf Steiner famously said, “You will not be good teachers if you focus only on what you do and not upon who you are.”

While there’s been an hour or so of academics for each child, more than double the amount of time spent reading-aloud and reading independently, and good progress in two languages, history, science and art, we’ve stalled miserably in music and math.

Thankfully though, besides simplicity I’m also learning more confidently to adapt to life’s changing seasons without feeling too badly about fudging some areas. With home-based work projects set to increase in the next few months and the unpredictable rains alternating between brief drizzles and torrential downpours, I decided it was timely for us to get a head start on garden work during sunny days. Our small green patch, on maintenance mode since Roo was hospitalised in April (a bit of a scare deserving another post), would benefit from a good deal of changes and provide in itself a myriad of practical outdoor activities central to learning, imagination and play. The previous season of crops was nearing its end and it was time to uproot, let the land rest awhile, and plant again.

I’ve been falling into bed exhausted each night but growing a few more inches in wonder at how spending time simply with children whether at home or in the world outside has blessed and enriched my own life beyond measure. Education truly begins with being present and attentive, reading the open book that is their lives and then stepping out into new paths with them, mutually enjoying the adventure and the fulfilment it brings.

Studies on Egypt – making an Egyptian collar
Kitchen work suited for toddlers – washing vegetables and peeling garlic
Learning how to prepare a planting hole and add more colour to the garden
Roo’s current favourite indoor activity – beading assorted colours with pipe cleaners
Piglet enjoying the privilege of reading aloud a new book to me while I nurse Roo at nap time
Experiments with air - homemade wind vane and string pulley
Experiments with air – homemade wind vane and string pulley
Looking for earthworms as we plant spring onions, parsley and Brazilian spinach in a new bed
Looking for earthworms as we plant spring onions, parsley and Brazilian spinach in a new bed


“Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” ~ Charlotte Mason

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