In the beginning

When this farm was first acquired in early 2015, it was in a terrible shape. In fact, my wife and I weren’t even entirely sure what we were up to, other than just buying a piece of land because “we love nature” and perhaps building a house here since buying a house is so expensive. The primarily durian-dotted hill slopes of this 2-acre freehold agriculture land has a mix of carambola, mango, mangosteen, rambutans and a plethora of wild jungle trees.

Nature reclaiming what's hers (Jun 2015).
Nature reclaiming what’s hers (Jun 2015).

The “infestation” of wild vegetation of a variety of shrubs and trees was horrendous back then. The entire place was chock-full of them! It was not surprising as the place has long been abandoned and poorly maintained. Strangely, the fruit trees were doing just fine, or so they seemed. The place looked no different than that of a forest. In fact, if a food forest was anything to go by, it was indeed, literally, a food forest, for diverse species of birds, insects and even wild boars! On second thoughts, that’s just perhaps how it was meant to be: organised chaos, teeming with food and life, just like the jungle with multiple layers. It was simply nature’s way of reclaiming the environment.

Over the years, coupled with literally untold blood, sweat and tears, events just unfolded in their natural order. There were highs and lows, monies lost, lessons learnt and mistakes made. Due to various circumstances involving personal commitments, career development and family matters, I had to abandon the farm after a 9-month period of working on it.

Upon returning after 4 years (May 2019).
Upon returning after 4 years (May 2019).

On 1 May 2019, I returned to the farm for the first time after almost a 4-year hiatus. Unfortunately, I found the place in an even worst state than before. It exhibited signs of bad planning, bearing gross mistakes; remnants of illegal squatters during my absence. Not wasting any more time, I set about to quickly put some plans in order:

  1. Clear the shack of all rubbish (amounting to more than a 3-tonne lorry capacity) as it will be our primary shelter for the time being (shack seen in the photo above upper left).
  2. Clear the undergrowth in preparation for the upcoming durian season, to facilitate harvest.
  3. Infrastructure works: Road repair, water works (sourcing from nearby stream, repair of rain water harvest system) and toilet (arborloo).
  4. Post-durian season, to fertilise the durian trees and further remove all non-fruit trees to make way for other beneficial vegetation in a permaculture framework. Ongoing special care for the durian trees would be of utmost importance; removal of parasites, dead branches, etc.
  5. Plant fodder crops and supportive vegetation for insects, birds, poultry and bees before an animal system is to be established. These include a variety of flowers and plants that directly and indirectly benefit them. This can only be done in areas where there will be no construction planned.
  6. Planning for the new house, workers’ quarters and nursery. This would be ongoing for the next 2 years. The water source and nursery are important to prepare for the upcoming dry and rainy (planting) seasons respectively.
  7. Soil management: Building soil fertility by composting organic matter. Organic matter is primarily sourced from rotten fruits (carambola and durian) to be placed at designated location(s), along with other greens and browns. The resulting product would be used for vege beds and potting mix. EM and bio-fertiliser to be prepared and applied to increase soil microbial activity. This would be an ongoing process.
  8. Security for equipment, humans and vegetation: Parameter fencing to be outlined. This is crucial to protect against human intruders especially during durian season. Fence also helps in safeguarding against dogs and wild boars.
  9. Begin planting low maintenance non-critical cash crops: sweet potato, yam, spinach, beans, chillies and passion fruit.

What’s seen in the list above is non-exhaustive. A number of them require constant revisits over years. However, they are pretty much in the right chronological order with some minor exceptions. They would serve as a good guide for an indefinite time.

Slowly but surely. Change takes time (Jul 2019).
Slowly but surely. Change takes time (Jul 2019).

Unfortunately, I can only begin planting crucial/critical fruit trees (e.g. durians, mangosteen, etc) once all the above are done. However, I can actually begin planting some not-so-critical (but equally important) trees like gliricidia, ice cream beans, moringa and neem at places where there will be no planned activity (construction, heavy movement, etc).

Farm work is tough. I believe it’s going to get tougher especially when it’s an activity that is primarily driven by the availability of funds (at least for now hopefully). Passion aside, no one survives on free air, water and sunshine. When I’m away to build funds in KL, that’s a loss of productivity at the farm. It’s a dilemma that I have to contend with for the moment.

The series of 3 photos seen above are roughly taken from the same angle over a 4-year period. The road ahead would be uncertain, but if there’s one certainty to be held closely in this endeavour of mine, it is that change takes time.

It can only get better.

In the beginning

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