Blog // Tales from the trail
What we most admired about Fred and Xin was their determination. Their determination and patience. Not to mention the hard work they put in. Amongst the things we admired... well, you get the picture!
You see there was a conflict of sorts at the farm, but a healthy one in my opinion. Xin's uncle and aunty owned and had been running the small farm for many years; they had about 200 free-range chickens, a lime orchid and a wetland - the latter which they saw little value in and were quite happy for a local friend to dump building rubble into - under the impression that if they filled it in, it would cease to flood.
Fred, we had met on our permaculture course in Thailand, and together with his 'partner in crime,' Xin, were keen to establish some of the principles into the farm. In no particular order these included;
- Reduce uncle and the neighbours' reliance on 'spraying' their crops (most of which they suspected ended up in the wetland)
- Establish a few permaculture, organic gardens on the 'reclaimed' wetlands
- Grow more of their chickens from eggs and reduce the number bought from the market
- Hold outreach events with the local schools and community
And so somewhere in the midst of this wandered two intrepid sprouts, keen not only to lend a hand towards their quest, but also to learn a few things along the way (particularly from Xin's knowledge of the local plants). As we were introduced to our digs (a cosy little makeshift room in the garage) and aunty and uncle, we learnt something interesting. This was the sizeable Chinese community in Malaysia, many having come over as traders, but many of these having settled down several generations ago. The size in the region also meant uncle and aunty spoke Mandarin, leaving Xin (who was fluent in Mandarin, Malay and English) to interpret. Yet despite the language barrier, we were bowled off our feet by their hospitality, with uncle having picked up a few choice expressions; 'STOP!.. [work it's too] ..HOT!', 'EAT' along with a few numbers to indicate we needed a second/third helping and 'very good OK!'. Not to mention his unwavering effort to force sachets of local 3in1 instant 'KOPI!' upon us whenever anyone sat down.
Xin and Fred also advertised for volunteers and whilst we were there we briefly met two Scots, Johnny and Fiona and became well aquatinted with a couple of lovely Dutch travellers Ed and Debbie. Consequently, Fred was keen to make use of the extra people-power to extend the already impressive permaculture garden. This currently consisted of the 'Power-Patch' - a small spot underneath the power-lines, the Nursery - now complete with a totally home-made mosaic table from recycled tiles and the African Keyhole - a keyhole bed with compost bin in the middle and an out-of-control pumpkin creeper, borne from pumpkin seeds in the compost bin!
Though various iterations on the name of the new garden extension were made, in the end 'Ninja-fungus' garden was settled upon; the theory [behind the garden shape] being the beds were to occupy the maximum area, whilst allowing wheel barrow access to within a comfortable reaching distance of all points. This was all to be laid out around a fruit tree in the centre of the garden.
Contrary to our previous permaculture project, where there were limited raw materials but funds to buy them in, at Serukam they had limited funds but access to lots of materials, from raiding the swamp and reclaiming construction materials, to scraping out chicken poo from the coops and an abundance of organic material from the jungle over the stream or if one was brave, a venture down mosquito alley (the neighbouring woods)!
Days were thus spent helping build or collecting materials for the Ninja-fungus or otherwise tending to the chickens, compost and existing gardens or on some days just dodging the rain. The hard work was frequently punctuated by the large number of guests at the house to visit uncle (always accompanied by a tour and photographs in the garden), chasing off a particularly persistent cow from a neighbouring farm who had big-eyes for the corn on show or just a big shout from uncle... "STOP.... HHHHOT!" at the same time as a frantic crossing of arms mid-air.
Evenings, we were treated to auntie's delicious cooking, frequently followed by card games and our new favourite game Munchkin.
With Christmas looming however, we all felt it was time (or indeed, it was time) to be moving on after an excellent few weeks on the farm, during which we definitely learned a few things;
- 200 chickens is too many for us (whilst they are entertaining, the noise and the smell wasn't for us!)
- It is possible to create a garden atop a pile of construction waste/rubble
- Self-sufficiency is a massive task - maybe a more realistic aim is to grow some choice items
- Change (of behaviour and mind-set) takes time
- To the untrained ear, 'shit-head' is very similar to 'hard working' in Mandarin
We'll miss Xin, Fred, aunty and uncle, not to mention all the various animals on the farm. With the extra pairs of hands whilst we were there we definitely saw progress and either way we hope Xin and Fred continue their excellent work and we hope to hear about vegetables busting out of the Ninja-fungus for years to come!
Given that the ground underfoot was mostly concrete and rubble where once a wetland stood, the only real option for growing was to create raised beds. Here we used a mixture of logs or reclaimed roof-tiles and bricks to make the retaining walls - remarkably some of these logs started sprouting new shoots when buried upright, I guess they don't call it the tropics for no reason!
These beds were then lined with more logs at the base, which would both help with water retention and decompose over time giving nutrients to the growing plants and hopefully also introducing mycelium into the soil.
This was followed by a thick layer of leaves, then a good sprinkling of chicken poo, lots of water (thanks rain) before finally adding in the soil. Seeds could then be planted directly into the soil and as they grow the base of the bed should compost down keeping things warm and well fed.
Extra leaves and coconut shells were added around the fruit trees to help protect the new soil and also further aid water retention.
Ninja-fungus garden DONE!
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