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Grow your own: Samantha Wong on food cultivation

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Have you noticed how everyone is suddenly talking about food cultivation? The world and her husband are learning how to grow food on balconies, rooftops and in community allocated allotments – just about anywhere they can get their hands in the soil.

Ask around and you’ll find that health, and the desire to eat local and organic, is what’s behind this craze. Grow your own vegetables and you are in control of what goes into them – you can avoid chemical fertilisers and pesticides. And there’s the financial aspect too, you are able to make healthy food choices without paying exorbitant prices for imported organic products at local supermarkets.

Fresh, healthy and great for the whole family 

The joy of gardening is, of course, another reason so many of us now grow our own food. For some tending a garden, however small, is a meditative experience; for others, it’s more about the energy they get to release, and the physical labour involved. There’s the pleasure of watching your seedlings grow to mature plants, slowly, overtime; and there’s the opportunity to be outdoors, getting the job done at your own pace.

Last but not least, few things beat the sense of achievement you get as you begin to harvest and share the fruits of your labours.

Get growing

So how do you get started? Happily, there are any number of options in DB and beyond, so simply decide how much space you need, and how much time you want to invest.

If you are fortunate enough to have a balcony, rooftop or even a garden, consider setting up a micro-garden. The advantage of micro-gardening is that it allows you to grow all sorts of vegetables, herbs and fruit in a compact space (in insulated containers) and it enables food production all year round.

Note that David Sanders of The Green Patch, who has been supplying and designing microgardens in Hong Kong since 2006, is a great local teacher, incredibly generous with his time and knowledge.

Micro-gardening is, of course, also a great way in to permaculture, allowing you to try out your green fingers before deciding to take the next step, which is renting an allotment.

Here, residents are at an advantage since DB has more than its fair share of community allocated gardening plots.

Many of the DB villages, including Peninsula Village, Chianti and Siena Two B, have shared allotments, where you can rent a plot for six months for around HK$300. Check with your Village Owners Committee for availability.

DB Family Farm, comprising 44, 1-metre by 3-metre plots, is also thriving in Siena Park. All DBers are welcome to enrol to tend a plot for four months at a time, and the good news is that there are no rental costs involved since the scheme is sponsored by Hong Kong Resort. Planting workshops are on offer, and a watering service is available for a minimal fee, which is paid directly to the gardening service company.

For those on the waiting list for a DB allotment, Grandpa’s Garden in Nim Shue Wan has plots for rent. The staff look after your garden during the week and provide seedlings when available. There are also a growing number of rental plots on the rooftops of industrial buildings across Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, and on organic farms throughout the New Territories.

The beauty of these ventures is the sense of community they engender, whether it is helping take care of each other’s plots, or sharing food and knowledge. If you’re looking to get serious about permaculture, take a course with Jenny Quinton at Ark Eden, the ecoeducation community in Mui Wo. In addition to learning practical, hands-on skills that enable abundant gardening and sustainable garden design planning, participants discover how communities can live and thrive alongside the natural environment.

Thrive at Ark Eden 

Consider the Hong Kong climate

It may seem obvious but the most important lesson newbie gardeners need to learn is what to plant and when. Don’t fall into the trap of attempting to grow what you want to eat even though it’s not in season or can’t survive the Hong Kong climate. Listen to the experts, however, and you can have a flourishing crop of seasonal produce all year round.

A good resource on planting, fertilising and when to harvest is Growing Food in the City Microgardening: A Practical Guide by David and Bing Sanders. Growing Your Own Food in Hong Kong by Arthur van Langenberg is another invaluable, well-researched gardener’s tool.

This month, for instance, according to the Sanders, you can start planting Chinese leafy greens and winter vegetables, like choi sum, kai lan, carrots, broccoli, beetroots, tomatoes, lettuce and peas.

Note too that while parsley and coriander suffer in the summer heat, you can grow most herbs year-round in Hong Kong, inside or on window sills.

Make your own compost

Growing your own does involve getting your hands dirty, and there’s no getting away from the fact that you’ll need plenty of wholesome organic compost. Making your own compost is your best bet, and it’s fairly easy to do even in small, confined spaces.

Do a little research and you’ll find that you basically have two composting methods to choose from – Bokashi and Vermiculture.

With Bokashi, you place layers of uncooked food waste (except meat) in a sealed container and cover them with an inoculated bran-like substance. The liquid that collects at the bottom of the Bokashi bin, after about eight weeks, is a powerful liquid fertiliser. Vermiculture, on the other hand, relies on worms to decompose the food waste – their droppings form the fertiliser which collects at the bottom of the container.

It’s important to know that food cultivation requires a lot of time and effort upfront, but once everything is doing nicely – and you have a scarecrow in place to keep the birds off – there isn’t too much to do. Just add water.


Find it

• Ark Eden, www.arkedenonlantau.org
• DB Family Farm, 2238 3601
• Grandpa’s Garden, 9137 0640
• The Green Patch Facebook page


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