Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Digging tools for the garden: fork versus changkul

Farmers and gardeners in Asia use one general purpose tool for digging, lifting soils, leveling the ground, and slicing off weeds at ground level. This is called the CHANGKUL in Malaysia. In the hands of an expert, the changkul is a very versatile, precise and cheap tool. For the the amateur, the European garden fork is a much better tool for digging. You place the fork exactly where you want dig, before pushing it into the ground. For lifting rhizomes and tubers, nothing can beat a fork.

The European garden fork has never caught on in Asia. Because a fork works like a lever in turning over heavy soils, the steel teeth and wooden handle must be able to absorb strong lateral force without breaking. Good forks are made of high quality steel and special timber. It is a curious fact that despite the abundance of timber species in Malaysia, only one Malaysian timber has ever made the grade as a resilient tool handle. This is 'tempinis', Streblus elongatus, formerly used for shoulder poles ('kandar' sticks)used in carrying heavy loads on the shoulders. The loads were balanced one at each end of the pole. This timber is no longer in the market, for lack of demand.

We won't moan the passing of the kandar stick, but it is a pity nobody is interested in improving the quality of locally-made hand tools, and bringing tempinis back into production.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Managing a grapevine in the humid tropics

In a mediterranean climate, grape vines are pruned back drastically after the grapes are harvested. The vines live through the winter in a leafless condition. Then in the spring, they produce new growth, in the process bearing leaves and flowers.

In the humid tropics, vines can grow throughout the year, but produce only leaves. I have found that when the vines are pruned back drastically and deleafed by hand, new buds will sprout after two or three weeks. If flowers are produced, they will be produced on inflorescences located in a very specific place: adjacent to the third leaf at the time of new growth. Nowhere else and at no other time! If the opportunity is missed, there is nothing to do except to give the plant a few months to grow and then repeat the process. Flowering is not guaranteed but you get another chance with each flush of new growth.

Unfortunately, my grapes are small and sour.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Solitary passionfruit bears fruit

According to the textbooks, solitary passionfruit plants will not bear fruits, because they require cross-pollination. A solitary plant that I am growing on a rooftop garden in Kuala Lumpur, seven storeys above ground, and far from any other passionfruit bears abundant fruits. The species is Passiflora edulis. I expect the seeds will produce self-fertile plants. I would be happy to send seeds to anybody who would like to try.