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  • Justine

Green Manure and Ham

"You do not like them. So you say. Try them! Try them! And you may."


Been meaning to start a ‘gardening blog’ for some time now to document our inferior — at times cringe-worthy — foray into the sport (I consider anything that makes me sweat a ‘sport’), to consolidate and share all the advice that’s been so generously given to us, and to showcase our favourite herbs and vegetables to grow, alongside some simple ways to incorporate them into meals. Alas, I never got around to doing it.

When I look back on the last nine months, I see two headless chickens (figurative, mind you) running around the garden, one (Justine. That’s me. Hi.) bossing the other (Scott. He at the office now. Hey hunnn, miss ya come home soon) around; sowing seeds, pulling weeds, counting the legs on creepy crawlies, tending to seedlings, spraying jets of water at aphids, literally watching flowers turn into beans. In the end, I never found the time / never wanted to sit still in front of the computer for long enough to write anything down.

It is so easy to forget the vulnerability of being human when we’re kept occupied by an endless stream of tasks and distractions to the extent that we stop listening to our body. But last week I was sharply reminded that none of us are infallible, when Scott and I found out from the gynae that I’d had a missed miscarriage — a somewhat cruel joke. (Booo!) I’d rather not expound upon the details, but I will say this: box of chocolates. Sometimes it is the good stuff, and sometimes it’s the not so good stuff like marzipan cherry and chromosomal abnormalities.

Now it is time to slow down and catch a few breaths — and maybe write a blog post or two.

Strangely, the garden seems to be feeling the same way too. (This is, after all, a ‘gardening blog,’ amirite?) After the long spell of high temperatures and low rainfall we experienced between July and September, everything is looking a little tired, if not sad. Living at the equator and being accustomed to hot and sunny all year round, I sometimes forget that seasons do indeed exist. But even without distinct seasons, our garden has been cycling through change and transformation, effortlessly and naturally.

To borrow the words of a certain Charles Birch on the Principles of Natural Systems, “nothing in nature grows forever” (There is constant cycle of decay and rebirth.)

The 2 weeks of neglect while we were away pushed our Hawaiian Current and Beam’s Yellow Pear tomatoes right over the edge. They were pretty dead upon our return so they were the first plants we dug up. We’d had a good run with them, albeit a short one. I got a real kick picking ripe Tommy toes off the vine and popping them into my mouth as I pottered around our veggie patch, but I don’t think I’ll be starting any new tomato seedlings soon.

For one, the soil where they were growing was a bit too clayey for their liking I think. A couple of plants succumbed to root rot quite early on, which I’m guessing happened because their roots were waterlogged after a heavy downpour. Also observed that the root system of the plants we dug up hadn’t really grown much, so probably the roots weren’t able to push through the clayey soil. We love eating tomatoes too much to give up just yet, but a quick break from these temperamental and high-strung fruits would be welcomed.

After we cleared the tomatoes, I threw on a thin layer of compost and then scattered some Caliente Mustard seeds which my sister got for us from Marshalls. I wasn’t sure if they’d germinate in our climate but they seem to be getting on well so far. It is apparently an excellent green manure that has biofumigant properties. (Biofumigation is the suppression of soil borne pests and diseases by the release of naturally occurring gases).

The concept of green manure is really new to me. I only came across it a couple of months ago when I chanced upon an article about it. It seemed interesting, but I wasn’t sure if growing cover crops, only to plow them into the soil to fertilise and improve soil quality was something relevant to us at our scale. I guess at some level, we kind of practice this concept with our chop-and-drop mulch? Kinda??

So anyway, Caliente Mustard seeds were given and Caliente Mustard seeds have been sown. I’ll keep you updated on how we get on with this ‘green manure’ hooha.

If by some chance this amateur experiment and poor explanation of green manure has inspired you to grow some yourself, I suggest doing a bit more reading (I give my research 2.5/10) and trying with leguminous plants like velvet bean, lablab bean, jack bean, etc. I read that they help add nitrogen to the soil, control weeds, and also provide food for people and fodder for animals. Y’know, many birds, one stone. What’s not to love?

If green manure is not your cup of tea then I hope you take a cue from our declining veggie patch and remember that life too has its seasons. Now is a time for deep rest; no more squandering energies. Instead, cultivate only what you need to thrive and practice trust that the right step at the right time will be enough. Boy oh boy, plants do talk a lot if you hang around to listen! (I’ll admit gardening does provide one with a lot of mental free space for philosophising and daydreaming, heh.)

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