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Dec 10, 2009

Raised Beds - It is Cost Effective!

Raised beds incorporating design to maximise planting areas and reducing energy input was developed by the Permaculture movement.  At DQ, we have added a small innovation, i.e. to make it expandable.

The expandable raised beds are now producing their third harvest:

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This is bayam pasir again.  We rotated the bed used.

 

 

 

 

 

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And this is sawi bunga, a brassica chinensis var. It will be ready for harvesting cum thinning in a few days time when the flowers emerge.

 

 

 

 

There has been no purchased input and minimal on-farm produced inputs.  When we replanted, we just top up with some compost, seed the beds and add mulch.  We of course rotated beds.  Once a week we spray some herbal extracts and our Teh Qi (compost tea) spray.  That's about it. No weeding at all was necessary.

If you click on the pictures for a close-up, you can see minimal insect damage.  And the plants are sweet and aromatic.

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The office staff and their children came to help themselves to the vegetables and herbs, and to have a picnic at the farm.

 

 

 

 

The next bed that we will expand to, will be used to plant a herb, most probably basil as companion plant.  In this way, we will reduce even further insect problems. 

Here are some pictures of raised beds elsewhere in the farm:

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Lush gotu kola or pegaga raised bed.

 

 

 

 

 

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Healthy pumpkin plants under the mid-day sun on raised beds.

 

 

 

 

 

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Watermelon plants on raised beds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oct 28, 2009

Expanding Keyhole Raised Beds - Harvest Time

The Bayam Pasir (wild amaranth), a personal favourite is ready for harvest.  And to be frank, I did not even visit the bed once since we sowed the seeds three weeks ago.  Nobody did any weeding, the farm hand just turn on the sprinkler occasionally when the compost was dry to the 'poked-finger' and once a week sprayed some compost tea. 

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Note: Bayam Pasir draws unhealthy levels of nitrates from chemical NPK fertilisers.  Always use low N compost.  Avoid eating too much 'modern' hybrid vegetables grown conventionally.  Always chose vegetables grown on compost such as Grace Cup, even though they may not be certified.  Choose organic vegetables that are non-'modern' hybrid (heritage or heirloom) and slow growing, and grown on compost too.  Talk to your farmer.

Avoid buying from 'organic' corporate farmers. They will use high NPK 'organic' fertilisers, high N demanding vegetable varieties (faster growing and larger), etc.  Too much of these vegetables may cause imbalances in our bodies.

Sep 24, 2009

Expanding Keyhole Raised Beds

One of the biggest headaches in organic vegetable farming in Malaysia is weeds.  The weeds just grow too fast; napia, as an extreme example can reach 5 feet in 30 days.  And do not forget lalang!  Some conventional farmers here lay the entire planting area with plastic sheeting.  Heck, some commercial organic farms do the same!   

 

Weeding is back-breaking work especially for those new retirees who dream of establishing an organic farm: your back is going to give up before your first harvest.

 

Raised bed is one answer.  For the new farmer, you can use an expandable raised bed design that we have developed to suit our local conditions and needs:

 

1.    To increase your production capacity as your sales increases. 

2.    To reduce labour costs

3.    To reduce weeding costs

4.    To reduce dependence on machinery

5.    To ensure long term soil fertility

6.    To eliminate digging and tilling of the soil

 

Soil fertility has not been a problem with us using raised beds.  Earthworm population remains high.  And replanting by crop rotation and continuous adding of compost into the raised beds keeps production at optimum levels harvest after harvest.

 

This is the expandable raised bed design developed by us based on designs developed by permaculturists.  The keyhole and curved edging allows for maximum utilisation of space, and it looks good compared to straight rows of beds.

(Click for close-up):

 

keyhole expansionWeb.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Start with Bed One, expand sideways to Bed Two.  You can continue expanding sideways or you can expand longitudinally to maximise a sprinkler system, for example.  Parti-walls can be removed or retained, depending on circumstances.

 

 

Bed One

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Close up of bed One.  You can reach half of the bed from within the keyhole and the other half from the outside edge of the raised bed.

 

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How about that?  After one month, still no weeds (well, if you can call those few pathetic sprouts, weeds). Notice how the top layer has changed to a darker color over the month.  This is indicative of earthworm activity.

 

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Adding Bed Two after one month

 

It is preferable to use stones or discarded bricks and concrete blocks to make your raised bed walls ( I make it a habit nowadays to stop at demolition and construction sites to pick up old bricks, etc).  It is a one-time investment in labour and costs, and lasts forever as opposed to bamboo, timber, etc.  Remember that in Malaysia, labour costs are a large component of your production cost and you do not want to incur labour costs repeatedly for the same thing.

expanding keyhole raised bedWeb.JPG

 

 

 

 

 

(Click for close-up)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another view: Beds One and Two, expanding laterally.

 

Now that we have demonstrated that even after 30 days there is no weed problems, we have started sowing Bed One with 3 different varieties of vegetables and in Bed Two, a wild amaranth (bayam pasir), a personal favourite.  Go for heritage seeds when you first start out.  They will do very well on compost and raised beds, have less disease and insect problems and will be very forgiving of your mistakes.  

Aug 17, 2009

Raised Beds – More Efficient?

We were quite happy with our 71kg of pumpkins from the trial 35ft x 10ft 'no-dig' patch.  pumpkin patch1Web Size.JPG

 

 

 

 

From that first pilot, we have decided it may be more efficient all-round to grow pumpkins in raised-beds.  Here's a couple of pictures of our pumpkin raised-bed patch:

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Of course we are not advocating using clay bricks for the raised-beds.  We happened to have some left over from the walit house.  

You can also use bamboo as the next picture illustrates:

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It will be interesting to know the overall cost-effectiveness of this 'raised-bed' method for growing pumpkins in terms of energy and effort used, production, etc.

Apr 27, 2009

Sheet Mulching - Saves Time and Water

Sheet Mulching is another permaculture technique suitable for tropical countries. At our farm, watering needs can be reduced by half using mulching. Sheet mulching keeps soil moist and prevents weeds from proliferating.

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Sheet mulching using cardboard.  We are growing pumpkins here and we will proceed to companion plant with serai or lemon grass and then add a layer of compost and leaf mulch on top of the cardboard.

 

 

 

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Mulching using banana leaves.  Here our objective is to retain soil moisture during the initial stages of napia grass growth and also retain the nutrients from our high-N compost variety during some exceptionally hot days lately.

Our objective is to improve on our previous record of 40 tons of high protein, high omega 3 napia grass per acre per 38 days.

 

 

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Sheet mulching using cardboard, then topped with compost and dry lalang and leaves.  We intend to grow melons and pumpkins here and will companion plant with lemon grass or serai.

 

 

 

 

No-Dig Herb And Vegetable Garden - Report No. 2

The No-Dig, Lazy-Man herb and vegetable gardens are turning out very well. The plants are luxuriant and really a joy to behold in the mornings with their fragrances and buzy insects.  Part of the reason is the use of our "Qi Compost" which seems especially well suited to herbs and the slower growing varieties of vegetables.  There's so little work involved in maintaining the gardens, it's amazing!

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Herb Spiral
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Negligible Work Involved In Maintaining This Lazy-Man's Garden

 Here are some of the herbs and vegetables growing at the lazy-man's gardens:

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Okra Webcekur.jpg

 Kesum 
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Mar 14, 2009

Mandala, Bird's Nest and Snake-Shaped Pond

Mandala Garden and Bird's Nests

The twain can meet. Here's how:

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I intend to build this at the farm. The mandala shall be 40 ft across. Swifts need a roving area in front and a large water source, and that will be the mandala's centre.

The animals produce lots of gnats and mosquitoes during the wet season and swifts eat them, thus doing the farm a service.

The mandala in front will provide a conducive environment for the swifts and enhance production of the edible nests. One house will produce up to 40 kg of nests; selling for rm4,000 per kg, that's rm160,000 per house per annum.

 Semi-Intensive Snake-Shaped Fish Pond

Commercial fish ponds pollute the environment and are energy intensive. Because of intensive farming, the ponds use pumps and motors to aerate. Waste are typically just discharged to the environment.

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This snake shape pond will use gravity to flow the water from Point A to Point B, from Point B a wind powered pump will lift up the water to the filtration pond which shall comprise mechanical and biological filtration to clean the water. Throughout the length of the snake-shaped pond will be surface disruptors to aerate, as the water gravity-flows throughout the length of the pond. 

My bank which advertises that they are 'friends' of farmers told me my mandala and bird's nest, and snake-shaped pond, is not agriculture, it's hobby farming!

Looks like I have to sell off some asset to fund these ideas. Eco-solutions have to make financial sense for farmers to adopt them. I think these two ideas can produce good income without damaging the environment.

Feb 16, 2009

No-Dig Herb and Vegetable Garden - Report No. 1

I have decided to have a no-dig herb and vegetable garden at the farm.  Here's my working sketch:

 

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I will build up the soil by first laying down a layer of dried lalang, then some goat dung, followed by compost.  To protect the soil and to reduce the need for watering a thick layer of  mulch will top off the planting medium.  Seeds will be sown directly on to the medium and protected from birds and being washed away by the mulch.

As the vegetables are harvested, we need only top up with compost and dried lalang.  There is no need for turning of the soil, no need for fallowing, etc.  Season by season, we will build up the soil and it will never be depleted of nutrients.

Here are the result of the first day's work:

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 I am pretty satisfied with the first day's work.  It looks like it is not only going to be productive, but also aesthetically pleasing.  The workers will have a variety of vegetables for their meals with minimal input of labour and time.

Jan 23, 2009

Is your organic farmer "sustainable"?

So, is your organic farmer 'sustainable'?  Does he practise sustainable agriculture, or is he the organic version of the commercial industrialised farmer? 

Here's an example of how we practise sustainability:

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This is a filtration pond.  Plants are used to absorb the nutrients in waste water from the fish ponds and from washing the rebans.  From the pond, the water flows out into a bacterial filter to further break down the pollutants.

 

From the bacterial filter, a long narrow winding stream further filters the water using water plants.  filteration2.jpg

 

Alongside, water loving plants such as bananas, misai kucing, etc. will absorb all nutrients that seep into the surrounding soil. 

 We try to reduce our foot print as best as we can.

 

So, is your organic farmer 'sustainable' or is it just business for him?