Monday, January 10, 2011

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and an attempt at Sustainable Living in Malaysia

I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s 2008 book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (P.S.) right now about how she and her family left Arizona and moved to their farm in Virginia to try and grow their own foods and buy the remaining items only from local sources. The book reminds me that when we made an offer on this house our plan was to turn the narrow backyard space into a vegetable, herb and fruit garden so that we could grow some of our own foods and to live a somehow sustainable lifestyle in Malaysia for the two of us. While we waited for the sale of the house to go through I read all about Permaculture and read up on Tropical Gardening as best I could; I spent nights laying awake planning out the garden! And in the end, Gardening along with all the environmental green products we wanted to put in the house- wind power, solar energy, recycling, composting have all had to be re-thought/adapted for different reasons.

Well, immediately after moving in, we found out that the back right area of the house, exactly where the vegetable garden was going to go was right above where the sewage pipes flowed out of the house. So that idea was shot down. Yeah we thought maybe we could make planters above ground for the vegetables, but my experience is that vegetables never grow as well in above ground containers... maybe we will revisit this idea in the future because after scoping out the entire property during the landscaping process, we determined that there really is no good place for a vegetable garden on the property (due to our our neighbor’s tanks, sewage lines and our own spectic tank which is in the front corner of the property near the Bamboo plant). The sewage tank was another after-moving-in surprise we thought the house had sewage lines that ran to the main sewage pipes of Seremban town this is what the real estate agents confirmed when we asked. Maybe they didn't understand our question because here bungalows have septic tanks in the ground as there are no city sewage pipelines. The only viable spot for a vegetable garden on our property is in the center of the front yard!!!!

A shot of our backyard. V= where the Vegetables were to be planted near the back door to the Kitchen and all the way to the side of the property, H= where the Herbs were to be planted alongside the Wet Kitchen, F= where the Fruit Trees and plants were to be planted. The Tree to the right is was an existing young Mango Tree.

So we remain gardenless at this point in time. Well, it is OK for a couple reasons, firstly we totally underestimated how hot it can get in the yard and gardening would be an exhausting job. Secondly, there is an abundant supply of vegetables sold at Family Store and the Seremban Wet Market at a very low cost.

I am enjoying Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and there is still a lot to be taken from the book. For example, I’m not really sure where most of the vegetables come from around here. I bet that most of the vegetables in the Wet Market are locally grown and many of the growers even set up inside or outside the wet market. But, I’m not as sure about Family Store and Jusco. I’ve seen USA labeled plums in Family Store and seen US Potatoes in Jusco; I’ve actually bought ‘Red Delicious’ Apples from Jusco which were shipped from Washington State in the US. How do I know, because I tasted the apples and they tasted horrible, like sawdust and I checked where they came from. I’ve tried other red apples here in Seremban only to find that the imported ones are not good (at least the ones coming all the way from the US). I think the apples I eat which are large light redish/yellow in color come from China. But, I should check. I really should be more aware of where these things are coming from. Even before picking up Kingsolver’s book R and I have been trying over the past year to wean ourselves off of the bottled/packaged Western food products that we buy. They cost as much as they do in the US or more making these products account for a good portion of our monthly food cost. The products I am talking about are things like- Heinz Ketchup instead of local ketchup (let’s face it Heinz does taste better, but we can get a bottle of Malaysian ketchup for under 2 RM where Heinz costs over 9 RM for a very small bottle.). The same goes for Western cosmetic products. Some things we still use because there isn’t an adequate substitute, but where we can buy a local product or from Asia we do try.

It seems that Animal, Vegetable, Miracle has its own website here for more information on the book.

1 comment:

  1. You can experiment with growing herbs and vegetables in flower pots. Some examples are mint, basil, lettuce, spring onons, chili, amaranthus, tomatoes, sweet leaf Sauropus androgymus, lemon grass, pandan. The advantage of growing in containers is that we can move them around. Your home here is still new, so you'll need to study where are the warm, cooler, sunlighted and shaded areas, then your garden will be a success. Different types of plants prefer different sunlight and humidity conditions.