Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Introduction to horticultural carbon

Tropical Horticulture and Gardening carries a description of the use of horticultural carbon.

Horticultural carbon is a great new product for gardeners in the tropics. It can be mixed with clay soils to improve soil porosity. It is sterile and only half the weight of soil. Unlike sand, it is able to hold water and nutrients. It is made from sawdust, compressed into briquettes and carbonized in a kiln. The briquettes are the main product. Horticultural carbon is a byproduct made by breaking up the brickets into particles of less than 1.5 cm diam. The fine dust or soot (1 mm or less diam) is sieved away and the rest are graded by size.

I use carbon mixed with burnt clay in various proportions: one part carbon to one part clay, two carbon to one clay, or pure carbon. The mixtures work well in flower beds and big pots. In small pots, they tend to dry too fast. The best mixture is probable two carbon to one soil (by volume)

I developed this material as a substitute for soil, for growing a tropical rain forest within a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur. The forest contains over 100 species of timber trees and palms and it is thriving on this medium.

I next used this material to grow the herbal garden of the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre in Kuching. The plants in this medium are bigger and healthier than those on normal soils.

Another project is a cactus garden on a rooftop, exposed to full tropical sun and rain. Many desert plants were able to live on this medium, showing that they do not mind the tropical rain, so long as the water drains away quickly. However, daily rain during the past couple of months have prevented them flowering.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Published, at last

Today, I received a bound copy of Tropical Horticulture and Gardening. My copy was from the Clearwater Publications (International) Edition that will be available at the Singapore Floral Expo. After the Expo it will be available at Nature's Niche at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

The Academy of Science's (Malaysian) Edition was delivered to the Academy the day before yesterday. The retail price mentioned in our discussions was RM (Ringgit Malaysia) 260 but we have no control over how the Academy will finally market it and at what price. From past experience with the Academy, the book will probably be sold direct by the Academy rather than through retail booksellers, but I will try to get the Forest Research Institute Malaysia a share of the action.

Friends who saw early drafts of the book were put off by its apparent lack of focus and advised me not to proceed. The first publisher I offered it to, turned it down. I gritted my teeth, provided the start-up finance and went ahead. To make a real impact, this book had to be radically different from everything else in the market. I wanted it to be a thinking person's book: informative, scientific, humanistic and universal, yet firmly based on first-hand and truly tropical experience. Also individualistic and provocative. Otherwise why bother to write a book? The cost of marketing takes up 50% of the retail price of a book, leaving barely enough to finance the design and printing. The effort is worthwhile only if the author has something to say and wants to say it in a personal way.

Members of the Selangor Gardening Society who saw a set of the final printed pages a week ago were greatly enthusiastic, so perhaps I have managed to pull it off.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Yes, we are almost there

The printing has been done and the books should be available before Christmas. The retail price has been fixed at Malaysian Ringgit 260, but do not expect to find this book in the bookshops. The Academy of Sciences Malaysia, publisher of the Malaysian editon, has not appointed any distributor, so books will have to be obtained directly from the Academy, at 902-4 Jalan Tun Ismail, 50480 Kuala Lumpur. I will try to arrange for it to be sold at the bookshop of the Forest Research Institute Malaysia at Kepong. Members of the Selangor Gardening Society had a preview of the book and were enthusiastic about it.

The International Edition will be available in Singapore and Australia. I will post the details when I have them.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Yes, it is being printed

Today, I got to examine some of the printed sheets as they came off the machine. The colour of the pictures was a little too yellow, but this was easily adjusted by the machine operator. The machine is fast and I expect the entire print job (1500 copies) will be done in one week. Not bad for a 350 page full-colour book. We plan to rush some books to Singapore for the Singapore Garden Festival on 16 - 25 December, before the official launch in Kuala Lumpur.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Tropical Horticulture and Gardening being printed

Finally it looks as if the book is being printed, after weeks of excuses. I think the Printer was under pressure to rush other books and I got pushed out of the queue.

The latest printing technology is a lot better than the old technology using metal type (I am refering to the 1960s when I edited a forestry journal) but there are some new dangers in the system. In the days of metal type, each time we corrected a proof, the obsolete version would be destroyed. Now the obsolete versions hang around in the digital realm somewhere in the computer memory and come back inexplicably to haunt us. Last week, we decided to look at the latest printout and found wrong pictures on some pages, unauthorized font changes, a missing line and a repeated line. I also found an embarrassing typo that was missed in proof-reading, but I decided to live with it, so as not to cause any further delay.