Updated: Nov 8, 2018
Original blog post by Rija, from Lantau.
It’s been many months since my last blog update.
In the meantime, a lot has happen:
Two gardening open days, five meditation retreats, below zero temperature, abnormal heavy rainfall in winter time, more planting, more container building and more insight about water management.
With the help of several volunteers over the course of a few weeks, we can now walk between garden beds in the backyard comfortably. It’s also a good path for walking meditation.
As an aside, in the last photo, you can see on the west side of the path (right side of the photo), the two sheet mulched garden beds that some of you helped built over two gardening open days. Some of the plant growing there including Kale and garland chrysanthemum (tong hau). On the east side of the path, we are growing rocket, ginger and that iron-rich purple and green leaf vegetables that I don’t know the name of in English nor Chinese.
Trimming the orange tree and power tools
At the last gardening open day, I was able to learn from Brother Law how to use and maintain all the power tools we have on the property.
The chainsaw was used to trim the dead branches and those too high of from our orange tree.
The idea is to encourage the tree to grow more sideways so we can reach the fruits when when they come up.
It turns out growing garlic is a very effective pest repellent.
I have two beds of lettuces, one had garlic planted in the midst of it, the other had not. The two garden beds are next to each other. The one without the garlic had an aphid invasion. The other one was left untouched.
After spraying the affected plants with a solution made of chopped garlic, hand soap and a bit of oil mixed in water, I have been able to get rid of the aphid infestation. now the bed looks healthy.
I’ve sown kales very liberally on most of the garden beds. Let’s wait and see to see which area is more nurturing to them.
Eco-friendly cleaning products
Being up in the mountain in the middle of a country park, and disconnected from the city sewage, we have to be responsible with regards to to what goes out of Fa Hong. One remit of the project is to be doing regenerative activities on the land, that is not just protect the environment, but improve it. A first start is not to pollute our downward neighbours with our chemical effluents.
To that end, we’ve started making our own nature-based cleaning products. We’ve made large batch of citrus/orange peel based cleaner to replace the dish-washing liquid.
At the moment, we are still mixing it with traditional dish-washing liquid because alone, the home-made one is not as effective as traditional dish-washing liquids (which use synthetic enzymes to acquire their degreasing power).
However hope is not lost. There are three fruits who have natural enzymes: papaya, kiwi and pineapples.
We do grow papaya but they are not mature and fruit producing yet. I’m planning to plant pineapples on the slopes later in the year.
When we have access to these fruits, we won’t need the traditional dish-washing liquids at all.
For cleaning surfaces, we’ve started using solutions made of white vinegar and lemons. We use it in the kitchen and it’s very effective. We need to stock more lemon and vinegar though. Then I can install a spray in all toilets and bathroom and get rid of the chemical surface cleaning products.
Water strategy in Fa Hong’s garden
More self-watering containers
We the help of volunteer at the last gardening open day, we built more sel-watering containers. They are going be the new nursery home for tomatoes.
self-watering container allow us to not have to water the plants. Instead the plants will pull the amount of water they need from the reservoir at the bottom thtrough a process called capillary traction. Our job is make sure the reservoir have enough water by topping it every couple of weeks.
city water vs natural water
I did notice that after sustained raining, the plant in the garden looks much healthier than after I watered them using the water from city water grid.
After talking about it to a couple of gardeners, I realised we all noticed the same thing. I used to work on a farm on Cheung Chau were the water source come from a natural stream. The monasteries in the neighbourhood seems to also use mountain natural stream which is the best for plants. rain water is second best. From now on, I’m not going to use water from the city grid (which I believe is imported all the way from China through a pipe).
I do collect rain water already, and will find ways to collect some more. That’s what I’m going to use in the garden.
the path of water
Some of the recent heavy rainfall has showed me a new perspective on how the land looks like that I haven’t seen before.
One of the design principle in Permaculture is to slow down the water.
the positioning of the two sheet mulched bed and the digging of a “chicken guts” canal parallel to the path and the stream bed are aimed at slowing down the water.
The stream bed passing through the land, has itself deliberate and accidental ways of slowing down the water.
Retaining streaming water
Given that I want to rely less and less on city grid water, I will be start designing a system of gabions to further retain the water flowing in the stream bed.
What about the food?
One of the goal of the project is to feed myself and then the community of meditators, thus eventually reducing the cost and logistics of food provisioning in Fa Hong.
I often eat from the garden, but we don’t grow large enough variety of plants to cater for our nutritional needs. That’s one issue.
The other problem is that what we grow is not done so in large quantity enough (and this was not helped by the very cold waves we had in February).
With the help of Teressa (who’s done a fantastic job with the cooking and nutrition advices at the last gardening day), I try to stay connected to the multiple perspectives of these issues whenever we get groups of volunteer by taking an approach we call garden-to-table-to-garden. It’s very much an in-progress initiative.
I’ve identified couple of areas that we need to improve on in order to make progress.
(1) being better and more knowledgeable with natural fertilisers.
We are doing well with our composting system (which is a natural fertiliser), but we are very much dependent on output from multi-days retreats and it’s a lot of work to apply with what we grow now, let’s not mention how it will be if want to grow more. In my spare time, I’m experimenting with different recipes for liquid fertilisers, but I’m also still struggling in spotting the right time for applying them.
(2) expanding the growing area further
Although I did a colossal clearing work last summer (with later help from community member Jo), some of the cleared area are too shaded and the slopes haven’t been cleared yet.
I need to clear more trees/shrubs in the backyard to let the sun rays in more and need to start thinking on designing the slopes for growing.
(3) more systematic seed saving and sowing
Seed saving is one of the most effective act of generosity we can do for both our future generations and for the environment.
Whenever we eat a fruit (that definition includes what is traditionally known as fruits, but also what people don’t realise they are fruits too: tomatoes, cucumber, mixed peppers, pumpkin, squashes, eggplants, avocados, …), we should have the reflex to save the seeds for immediate or appropriate planting.
I try do that with our pumpkins and squashes and one of the aim of our garden-to-table-to-garden is to make this activity part of a sustainable food chain.
I plan to install beehives on the land within the next few months.
I will organise a group visit to a beekeeper in Shatin who help people with installing beehives. He makes excellent organic pure local honey you can get from some high-end supermarket chains.
I’ll advertise this bee farm visit soon after I manage to arrange it with him (he doesn’t speak English and my Chinese is not better than his English, so it may take time).
beans and peas and more okra
Now is the right time to plant beans, sweat peas, and okras
Our first season of okra did well and I have managed to save seeds from that crop.
Okra is a perennial plant and will live seasons after seasons. However they have been under stress in the last few months with negative temperature, heavy rain and termite attack. After cutting them to rid of the top sick part, they are now growing side branches which is good news.
We will sow the saved seed on a new garden bed.
The beans and the sweet peas improve the quality of the soil by fixing the nitrogen in the air. Unfortunately, I don’t have these seeds at the moment, so in the meantime, I’ve planted more okra
we are planning to move our banana trees to the backyard, next to the big hole, which is on the bottom part of the land. This is ideal location as banana groves act as natural water filtering system, so that the water that leaves our property is cleaner. Will be a more favourable location for the grove itself as it will easier for us to take care of them. Additionally their fruits will be easier to access to.