Our new edible garden exudes the glory of life and the hot excitement of new possibilities.
This is not mere sentimentalism.
Let me be clear. I am planting this garden not as a hobby or just so we can enjoy organic vegetables.
I am planting it primarily for 2 reasons – so we can feed ourselves and have a meaningful place for the children to explore and play.
As Roo turned 14 months it just didn’t seem right to allow the green space behind our house to be overgrown by lalang when it could be used to feed our family of six, all of whom (one child excepted) have a voracious appetite.
Also, our edible garden is not merely a place for play. I hope that as the children explore and as they watch me, they will inherit a love of biological diversity and develop an interest in agroecology and grow in their love for environmental care.
Before I started the garden, I had almost zero knowledge about growing anything. I didn’t know what kind of soil was necessary or even how to plant a seed.
Since putting my hand to the plough (pun intended) I have become more aware of growing things and plant life around me. I am growing in knowledge of so many new things that I never did before such as soil fertility and food and nutritional security. By allowing our kids to help me in the garden, I hope they will grow along with me in these areas and build an inheritance to share with future generations.
Let me share another 10 themes in the second phase of planting our edible garden. Season #2 can only be described as a flurry of activity, with lots of back-breaking, rewarding work.
1. Every vegetable that we harvest is a reason to thank God who makes all things possible.
Our bumper crop of okra continued this season.
Every other day I harvested at least 8 lady fingers and we saw no end to garlic okra stir fries, okra fried with ground cumin, mustard seeds and curry leaves, and the occasional fish curry.
I did begin to wonder when we might stop eating okra, but a brief recollection of escalating prices everywhere made me ever so thankful we could simply step out into our garden and pluck pesticide-free vegetables to cook for lunch and dinner!
Life with 4 kids (2 of whom still homeschooling) did also mean that I couldn’t keep up quickly enough with the green bounty, but we harvested both young and old spinach nevertheless and made pots of delicious soup with them.
Delightfully, I also discovered a bitter gourd plant growing wild on the slope where I had chucked some compost. Across Season #2 and #3, it provided us with so much bitter gourd that I lost track and didn’t feel too badly when we failed to rescue some from pests.
2. Garden play ranges from mildly benign to downright delightful … and sometimes hair-raising.
I can’t help but wonder what goes on in their minds as they wander about. There’s obviously a lot of observation and reflection happening.
Look at the passion fruit wall trellis with copious vines but no fruit!
On days I’m busy working in the garden and the older kids are busy with homework, our younger two are sometimes garden playmates and get up to all kinds of things.
Like sand play.
Oh, but what’s that in my baby’s hair?
What’s that musical triangle doing there?
Thank you Piglet, for homemade pot pourri “Just for Mama”. (I did point out certain plants, to make sure they wouldn’t get slashed!) These painstaking cuttings were dried in the sun and stored fondly in a mason jar in our kitchen as a keepsake.
3. An edible garden is a lovely place to relax and unwind.
One afternoon after morning school I decided to go outside for a breather. We set out our DIY garden table and the kids had fun with sand play while I sat and sipped hot tea. It was so nice, we did that almost every day for a couple of weeks.
On one of those days I lingered outside for longer and enjoyed the scene instead of rushing on to the usual dinner prep.
And discovered this.
Lamb had captured it in the Family Bug Jar and left it on the table next to my mug. I gazed at it for a long time and thought of all the leaves it had been feasting on, but it was a wonderful and beautiful creature nonetheless!
Somehow, appreciating nature energises me to deal with anything thereafter – poop on the floor, crying children, nap busters, you name it.
4. Discovering vegetables that grow wild out of nowhere makes me think of our loving Creator God who can make all things new.
In August I discovered these veggie plants growing wild near the top of the slope beyond the flat garden adjacent to the patio.
Before these had sprung up, nothing seemed capable of growing on the slope except some grass. There were mostly weeds. Banana trees had failed.
The plants had probably sprung up from seeds in the compost that had fallen there but I do believe it was God who made them grow considering the infertile condition of the land.
5. Remarkable things can happen if we’re determined enough to change.
After finding our wild veggies, our edible garden development took a completely new turn.
The discovery made me realise, finally, that I could and should do something to the long slope to make it suitable for planting. My parents had mentioned this way back but with pregnancy and more babies and homeschooling and no domestic help, the idea had rolled off like water on a duck’s back. I had other things to keep up with.
Now, Roo was only 20 months old but I knew that if I waited any longer nothing would happen. I was taking a break from freelance jobs after 3 months of ill health to recover and focus on the demands of family and community projects so this was the perfect time to invest a few weeks on developing the slope, before I got tied up with future work projects again.
I also knew, after listening to advice from my mother and doing some research, that in order to grow anything successfully on a gradient I had to terrace the slope and make raised beds to prevent soil nutrients from being washed downwards.
It seemed like a whole lot of work I didn’t feel prepared for, but I decided to take the plunge and go straight for it.
6. A passionate vision to be able feed one’s family within a narrow budget can make a Mama do, well … crazy things.
The idea that this green space could make us self-sufficient to a certain extent got me. It really got me. Cutting down our grocery bill was an attractive possibility that I intended to turn into reality.
So one hot Wednesday afternoon while Roo napped, I left the three older kids to their own work and indoor play, grabbed an old cangkul (hoe) and hammer, and built my first wooden terraced garden bed.
As mentioned in this earlier post, my parents had lots of unused hard wood to spare. A few days before, Sweet Man had helped me cut as many pieces as I needed according to the length I’d measured, and they were just right.
It took a lot of huffing and puffing, lugging heavy pieces of wood down the slope and raising them into place. I had to get the positioning right and it wasn’t so simple driving the 3-ft length rebar into the ground. Using a hefty hammer made the job a lot easier but the bars kept going in at the wrong angle!
I started building a second bed the same day.
The slope is rather steep as you can see from this side view. And see how quickly the pumpkin vines grew, sprawling over the edge of Bed #1.
Sweet Man had plans to build some steps leading to the bottom but he had his plate full right then so it was a lot of climbing, careful treading and some inadvertent sliding downhill!
Trying to dig into the hard ground to terrace the slope was another story. Lessons learned – make sure there’s a bottle of drinking water nearby and straighten up often to avoid backache! But really, there was no avoiding backache especially with this kind of work.
The sweat flowed and the muscles ached and the reality of the Bible verse, “Break up your fallow ground” (Hosea 10:12; Jeremiah 4:3), came constantly to mind.
It isn’t easy to break up all our wrong habits and clear our heart of weeds in order for our hearts to grow and bear abundant fruit. If we want to truly live, and live meaningfully, we need to take the time – and energy – to dig deep and work at the less tangible things of Life, the secret inner matters of the heart.
All too soon, Roo awoke from her nap and my mother helped me get her. Together, we all sowed a new spinach bed at the top of the garden. It was a nice and easy way to end a hard afternoon’s work.
On Friday that same week (4 September), I completed the second bed and 3 days later was amply rewarded by our first round brinjal. What a brilliant colour!
7. Taking the easy way out and ignoring issues that can hinder plant growth isn’t a great idea.
The same day I completed the second bed, I loosened the soil in it. I saw a lot of clay and numerous rocks and old rusty nails that the house builder had dumped onto the slope instead of disposing of them in a proper manner. Ugh!
I had hoped to complete the job quickly but when unexpected things like this arise, you can either deal with them immediately to ensure a good return of investment or take short cuts and pay the price later.
The older two kids wore gloves and helped me collect as many nails as we could find. We also collected small rocks of all shapes and sizes and put them at the side of the fence for Sweet Man to use in building the garden steps later. Waste not!
The kids wanted to play a game with the old nails but I put my foot down. Rusty nails aren’t suitable playthings!
8. Making occasional trips to a good supplier of gardening material and buying in bulk is the best use of time and energy.
I had to amend the soil with suitable nutrients and matter before planting so the next day I went to Sungai Buloh with my mother to buy sacks of chicken dung, cocopeat and rice hulls while Sweet Man babysat the kids.
These items are so much cheaper compared to buying in limited amounts and I was glad I had prepared some storage space for them when we reorganised the garden patio a few months earlier.
You may have wondered why Sweet Man wasn’t putting any “work” into all the aforementioned, but actually I hadn’t wanted him to get too involved. I had gotten tired of being the “Finger Gardener” for all the years I was either pregnant or having a wee nursing babe latched on, meaning he was doing almost all of the garden work and I had only to point a finger and say what I hoped would get done!
9. Building a trellis is a lot of fun!
9 September. It was the day my mother had come over to help and give the kids Chinese lessons, so I didn’t have to worry about Roo waking up from her afternoon nap and having to attend to her personally.
I transplanted pandan, lemon and lemon grass plants on the edge of the slope.
I then started constructing a bamboo trellis in the second bed intending to plant french beans. With his homework all done, Lamb was determined to help and it was a fantastic opportunity for some really special mama-son bonding.
My 7 year old farmer in the making!
We drove the bamboo pieces in about 1.5-ft deep using a hammer.
And were rewarded that very day with a delicious bitter gourd!
That same evening, I also made my first batch of bokashi bran to prepare to start bokashi composting, which I’ll share about in a future post.
10. Things do get easier when you get the hang of things.
A week after the second bed was completed, I started making a third bed intending to plant sweet potatoes and more okra.
I had a good rhythm going by now and terracing the slope didn’t seem as difficult as when I’d first started.
Our third bed!
I stood at the bottom of the slope and looked up at all the work that had been done and reflected on all of God’s blessings that we had experienced in this short season that enabled this to happen.
And I thought to myself, “This is just the beginning.”
It was the beginning of even better things to come.
Upcoming post: Edible Garden, Season #3 (Sept–Dec 2015) – soil amendment, transplanting seedlings, making natural pesticide, homemade fertiliser (fish amino acid and bokashi tea), cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, a fourth bed and more trellises.
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