There’s nothing tastier than freshly harvested vegetables and herbs. For home gourmands and domestic chefs looking to add a punch to their culinary pursuits, here’s a guide to urban farming suitable for apartment and landed homes.
Farming in modern Singapore – is that even possible? If you have ruled out the idea of growing your own food, think again.
Contrary to common belief that urban farming (UF) is impractical in land-scarce Singapore, growing your own vegetables, fruits and herbs doesn’t actually require that much space. While edible gardening is not without its challenges in the city, the fruits of your labour (pardon the pun) may well be worth the effort.
According to a 2014 paper by NUS, “UF purports to deliver numerous socio-economic and environmental benefits. It reduces the carbon footprint in the city, provides more ‘green lungs’, as well as ecological landscape, and supplies fresh produce... with the added value of improving freshness, nutrition, the taste of the food and the elimination of the need for preservatives.”
There are many ways to farm in Singapore. You can join a community garden group such as Ground-Up Initiative’s Sustainable Living Kampung and Edible Garden City’s Citizen Farm. There are also various groups gardening on HDB estates in Bukit Timah, Bukit Panjiang, Teck Whye, Punggol, and Dover.
If you prefer to fly solo on your own patch of land or balcony, here’s how to get started.
Determining the right spot for your urban farm is the key to success. Spend some time observing your surroundings. How much sun does your spot receive? Is it partially shaded or completely shady? Most vegetables need full sun to grow well. If this is a problem, then you might have to consider growing microgreens, which can thrive indoors under artificial light. Other vegetables that can be grown in low-light conditions include ginger, galangal, turmeric and pandan.
If you are planting directly in the ground, you need to know what kind of soil you have. Most soil is made up of three types of particles: Clay, sand and silt. The ideal soil is 40 per cent sand, 40 per cent silt, and 20 per cent clay. This mixture is referred to as loam. (To find out your soil composition, search online on how to conduct a simple soil test in a glass jar.) If you are lucky to have loamy soil, your garden will thrive easily. If you don’t, you will need to feed it with fertiliser or compost.
Other than particles and air, soil contains organic matter, which is essential to its health. Fertilise your soil with manure and compost to create the best conditions for your fruits and vegetables to grow.
To save money – and the planet – try making your own compost from food scraps. (Refer to our February 2017 issue for tips on home composting.)
CROPS FOR YOUR URBAN FARM
In our last instalment, we talked about the multiple benefits of urban farming, as well as some farming basics. Before you begin, think about whether it is better to purchase your crops as seeds or transplants.
Buying seeds allows you to select from a wider range of plants and is easier on the pocket. On the other hand, transplants are easy, immediate and good for small gardens. A transplant with a healthy root system is also more likely to survive.
If you have the luxury of space, a raised bed with about 20cm of soil is one of the best places to grow your crops. Alternatively, you can buy a deep rectangular trough or pot of the same depth, with drainage holes. Mix in potting soil and compost mix in equal parts, and you are ready to go.
WHAT TO GROW
• Long beans: Fans of sambal long beans will be pleased to know that this is a vegetable that even beginners can grow quite easily. Sow directly from seeds and provide a trellis for the plant to climb up.
• Brinjal: Another easy crop to start off your garden, brinjals or eggplants are best grown in clay pots. Make sure to clean and dry your pot in the sun before planting.
• Sweet potato leaves: Select a spot with full sun and plant your seeds in sandy, well-drained soil. Sweet potato leaves are hardy and require little care.
• Spring onions: Contrary to popular misconception, spring onions are not the same as the leafy green top of a bulbing onion. Grown from seeds, they can be harvested at eight to 10 weeks when the plants mature. You can also harvest the seeds to prepare for the next batch of crops.
Other herbs and vegetables that are popular among urban farmers include pandan, Thai basil, curry leaves, lemongrass, cherry tomatoes, lady’s finger, caixin, kangkong and kailan.
Text GWEN LEE Photo 123RF.COMFARMING