Compost Happens

At  the back of the house, there is a brick structure which I believe were destined to be dog kennels. Unfinished, the walls are about four foot high forming two bays with an open front that looked very much like compost heaps I had seen in a grander garden somewhere on my travels. Of course that is exactly how I have utilised them.

The windfall of having a structure that might as well have been purpose built for composting is additionally sweetened by a ridiculous amount of available organic material. The grass gets cut twice a month which is a couple of feet's worth in one of those bays. Then trimmings of sugar cane, banana and papaya trees and miscellaneous garden cuttings supplement the kitchen waste of coffee grounds, vegetables, fruit trimmings etc. The supply is prolific. I even have the choice of occasionally dragging a neighbours bag of grass or trimming from outside.

I don't even turn it. Days of hot dry sun and then soaking tropical thunderstorm make the decomposition process intense and it is year round. Once one bay is full, I start filling the next and halfway through, the first bay is composted and ready to be used.

I use the layer just above the compost that is not quite ready but has started to break down as a 'nourishing mulch' for the plant beds in the Potager which are closest to this heap. I might mix this with some dried leaves too. The compost I then use in the specific areas I'm planting or mixed with some top soil for potting. The compost is a rich dark chocolate cake which I just marvel at and harvest so to speak in roughly three month cycles. I can't quite believe how ridiculously easy this is now that I 've got into a groove with it.

I avoid putting weeds  in there although the grass cuttings may unintentionally include some and a friend advised against any kind of citrus that has bactericide properties that can slow down the process. Once while helping myself to some of that luscious dirt  with my hands I scooped up a gigantic grub, possibly a rhinocerous beetle. I don't ever do that anymore with my hands.

I also have an unofficial compost heap outside these bays, against one of the walls. Here I do put weeds and turf and twiggy branches that I can't be bothered to strip of their leaves but no kitchen stuff and I leave it for a longer time. I started doing this because I didn't really know what to do with all of that and discovered that after a year, it composted just the same, but with a little more woody bits that need to be sifted out.

I use this other compost when I'm planting a new bed, turning it in deeper so that there is less chance of weed material having any effect. My guess is that with a longer breakdown, it's less likely to happen. Although, I'm beginning to not worry so much about this as weeds from blown seed is so prolific that the real game is in making sure there's a good amount of mulch and some kind of weeding goes on before they get out of hand.

Its a good job that I do have this resource because the soil here is incredibly clayey. At first I followed the lead of the locals in leaving it that way, as plants seemd to do fairly well in their gardens but then they also do a lot of watering (that clay gets hard when its dry) and a lot of fertilizing. I have since learnt to manage better by reverting to a soil  mix that I've learnt with experience is pretty much an ideal growing medium - sandy loam.

Where there's Smoke

It rained today. An event that has acquired new meaning since we were shrouded with haze billowing in from the neighbouring Indonesian islands.  The dry weather that brought the haze finally gave way, thunder rumbled for hours as we waited with bated breath literally until the rain came and washed a week's suffering away. What was joyful relief  has now instilled a new found sense of gratitude every time it rains.

That week, the days began with an anxious checking of the air pollutant index to see with growing wariness the numbers escalate to unhealthy and then hazardous levels. The authorities warned everyone to stay at home with the air conditioning on and not go outside. I don't have air conditioning. I live in an older house in a less urbanised neighbourhood that's better ventilated and suited to living with just fans. The pictures above show a landscape with almost a dreamlike quality wrapped in mist except it wasn't mist it was acrid particulate smoke that you could smell and irritated your eyes, nose, throat and lungs.

New to this phenomenon, I navigated a sizeable learning curve trying to understand the problem I was dealing with and what I should do. The first discovery is that there are quite a few measurements for pollutants out there and both Malaysia's API and Singapore's PSI don't include PM2.5 which is the finer particulate that gets into your lungs and stays there. On learning this I became more vigilant about closing windows and doors. A few days later, the numbers started to go down aided by the intervention of cloud seeding and waterbombing and finally, it rained.

A casual mention on my facebook timeline alerted me to the effects of haze in the garden. A friend noted that leaves were turning yellow. Another friend echoed the same and I ran outside to see its effect on mine. Indeed, here and there I could see it too. The haze wasn't just choking us, it was doing the same to other living beings too. And not just flora, there was all the wildlife that can't stay inside in the air conditioning or put a mask on.

As the fires raged in indonesia, so did public opinion about who was to blame and whether adequate measures were being taken. Indonesian leaders deflected blame to the unscrupulous land clearing practises of Malaysian and Singaporean Palm oil companies situated in Indonesia. Singaporeans complained about the government's continued use of the PSI, accusing them of hiding the truth. In Malaysia there was such poorly disseminated information, that even a well intentioned Cabinet minister comically gave out 40,000 face masks that had no ability to protect the wearer from harmful effects.

Amidst  the din of all this, little analysis has been given to the real arsonist here, the spiralling demand for Palm oil based products. Demand for palm oil has doubled in the last thirteen years and is predicted to more than double again by 2030 and to triple by 2050 to keep up with the spiralling demand for more chocolates, cookies, cosmetics, air fresheners to name a few. This is the fire, that really needs to be put out.

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