These Singaporeans are growing their own crops as an additional source of fresh produce


(From left) Retired educator Mahaya Menon, pastry chef Alex Ng and retired photographer Mohd Ishak in their home gardens. PHOTOS: MAHAYA MENON, ALEX NG, MOHD ISHAK

They are creating bountiful green 'playgrounds'

During the circuit breaker period, music teacher Sylvia Chua has been supplementing her meals with crops she cultivates in the community garden near her home in Marine Parade.

The 55-year-old grows vegetables such as kang kong, bittergourd, radish, spring onion and sweet basil.

In her kitchen, no vegetable goes to waste. Radish roots are used to make fried radish cake, while the radish tops go into soups and stir-fried dishes.

Ms Chua, who has been involved in the community garden for the past six years, also shares some of her produce with fellow gardeners.

For gardeners like Ms Chua, home-grown crops have become an additional source of fresh produce.

But to enjoy the fruit of their labour, huge doses of passion and patience, as well as proper planning, are required.

“Time is needed to grow crops. They are not instant food. I've heard of people who want to grow their own vegetables in case supplies are disrupted. But the fastest crops, such as kang kong, can take at least three weeks to grow. Planning is important.”

- music teacher Sylvia Chua on how to have a successful home garden

Retired educator Mahaya Menon, who does not wish to reveal her age, puts plenty of tender loving care into her garden at her condominium unit in the southwest of Singapore, which supplements half of her daily food needs.

She uses moringa and bittergourd in salads and omelettes, and herbs to make drinks to soothe a sore throat.

For healthy plant growth, she uses a good soil mix - 50 per cent potting soil, 30 per cent compost and 20 per cent sand or burnt earth with small amounts of organic fertiliser - and makes her own organic pesticide.

She says: "I believe in eating what I grow. To me, growing plants is like raising children. Give them lots of love, care and attention and they will reward you with healthy and robust leaves and fruit."

Tips for home gardeners
  1. To start, find a suitable spot in your home with sufficient sunlight.

  2. Recycle containers to grow plants. For instance, reuse an egg tray to grow seedlings for large plants such as tomatoes and winter melon. This wastes fewer seeds and makes transplanting them into pots easier.

  3. Vegetables and herbs such as Brazilian spinach, Indian borage, mint, lemongrass, shallots and basil can be grown at home with leftover stems. The stems can be placed in water to grow roots, then moved into a pot of soil. Place the pot on a windowsill with six hours of filtered or direct sunlight a day.

  • Information from Mr Ng Cheow Kheng, National Parks Board's group director of horticulture and community gardening.

For more gardening resources, go to NParks' Facebook page also has a series of videos with do-it-yourself ideas such as making a self-watering planter, as well as recipes to cook produce from home gardens.

In Pasir Ris, retired photographer Mohd Ishak's home garden in his terrace house has been flourishing for the past 12 years. He grows fruit trees, as well as laksa leaves, turmeric and butterfly pea vines.

Leftover fruit peel goes into his growing pile of compost, which is used as fertiliser.

Not everything works, though. His tomatoes did not get enough sunlight and he gave up waiting for his mangosteen trees to bear fruit.

The 59-year-old says: "The best part about having this garden is when the trees start to bear fruit, but you have to be patient.

"I harvested bananas recently and have to wait another month or two for the next batch from another tree."

Like many home gardeners, he picked up tips and knowledge online and from his own experiments.

Also experimenting is pastry chef Alex Ng, 47, who has been renting a 100 sq ft farming plot in Yishun for three years.

He visits his green "playground" daily - home to a variety of fruit trees and exotic plants. His crops include ice plant, white bittergourd, figs, blackberries and pumpkin.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, he has been growing a range of leafy greens, which he shares with his siblings and friends. They include Chinese spinach, cai xin, kang kong, xiao bai cai and watercress.

For those who want to cultivate their own food garden, Ng emphasises the need to find a suitable environment at home first.

He says: "If you get a newly sprouted plant, sure, it will grow initially.

"But if the conditions, such as adequate sunlight and space, are unsuitable, they will get weaker and die."

Besides reaping a bountiful harvest, gardening is also about building community for Madam Chan Kiew, 80.

Daily visits to the community garden near her home in Jurong East have been put on hold in the light of the pandemic.

For now, she tends to her plants at the corridor outside her HDB flat. She uses the pandan leaves for Chinese desserts and the curry leaves for dishes.

She says in Mandarin: "I don't have much space at the corridor. There's so much more we can grow at the community garden. I hope this situation is over soon so I can see my friends again."


This article is produced in partnership with ST Life.


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