There are several ways to grow a garden on your balcony, but with the hot climate, what is the best way to grow a garden in Singapore? We have spoken to some of Singapore’s greatest garden specialists to give you the answers to just this.
Many of us have tried it, happily putting out a tomato plant or seedling on our balcony or corridor – and shortly after, it’s no more. The climate in Singapore can be tricky – and many questions arise when you attempt to grow your own garden here. With the help from specialists from Citizen Farm and Aerospring Gardens, we’ll bring you good tips on what to do with SG climate, bugs and limited space!
Firstly, do we need space?
CF: Not at all! You can start a garden with just a few pots in the kitchen, a balcony space, or even in the common corridor (as long as your neighbours are alright with it).
AG: The Aerospring Garden vertical gardening system requires no more than 1 sq m of a sunny balcony or outdoor space. Sunlight is essential to growing edible plants. Edible plants required 4-5 times more direct sunshine than houseplants like ferns and palms, it is what makes our food taste as good as it does. We recommend 2-4 hours of direct sunlight hitting the leaves of the plants daily to ensure that the plants thrive.
How is aeroponics different from planting in soil?
AG: The overarching term for growing without soil ie. In nutrient-enriched water is hydroponics. Aeroponics is directly related to hydroponics but the main difference is that the roots are suspended in air and only periodically showered with nutrient-enriched water.
What are the advantages, are there some veg or herbs that grow better?
Hydroponic gardening is our way of having fresh, healthy, local produce that is much more sustainable than shipping lettuce from California to Singapore or herbs from Holland, for example. Without land and with only limited balcony space, hydroponic gardening has been the only way for us as busy city dwellers in Singapore to become urban gardeners. There is also plenty of research showing that hydroponically grown plants grow up to 30% faster than in soil. If you are averse to dirt and soil-bound bugs, then growing hydroponically is extremely advantageous.
What tools will you need, if you’d like to start planting your own garden?
CF: First, you will need to figure out what plants to grow, whether for food or for fun. Some plants flourish in our climate but others may not do so well. Once you have narrowed down the plants to grow, you need to get the right kind of soil for them. Most nurseries will be able to advise you on this. You can also do a quick search on Google for basic instructions. Good gardening tools will grant you an easier time with gardening tasks such as repotting, pruning and harvesting, but it’s not necessary to splash out on these. The most important thing is to give each plant what it needs in terms of water, light conditions, soil conditions, and fertiliser (if appropriate), and to deal with pests as they come.
AG: The Aerospring Garden requires no tools, everything you need to start growing is included when you buy it. Local customers in Singapore are given seedlings (baby plants) to fill their poles, international customers may need to purchase seedlings at their local nursery or germinate with seeds from scratch. We do not provide seeds, due to the viability of seeds (they must be kept in cool conditions, not a warm warehouse) and international restrictions on shipping seeds prevent us from providing them with the kit. If you would like to germinate your own, you should acquire some grow lights and an area to cultivate your own nursery.
Which fruits, veggies and herbs are easy to plant and maintain so you won’t be disappointed soon after you’ve planted?
AG: In Singapore, we have had great success growing Tuscan Kale, all kinds of chilis (not just chilli padi but exotic, hard to find habaneros and jalapenos) and herbs like Basil and Mint. The Aerospring Garden also allows you to grow larger vegetables like cucumbers, tomatoes, pumpkins, squash as well as fruit like passionfruit and melons because of its large reservoir (they take up a lot of water and nutrients) and space to accommodate larger root structures. At certain times of the year, we have been able to grow more difficult herbs like Parsley, Sage, Dill and leafy greens like lettuce, mustards and chard with our system.
CF: Indian borage is a hardy plant that has an interesting texture, colour and scent, and can be used to make tea. If your growing space has a lot of sunlight, We would also recommend mint and basil.
If I was to buy seeds from a store or supermarket – would these work if I dropped them into soil?
CF: There is no guarantee that seeds from store-bought fruits and vegetables will germinate, but some likely candidates are chilli padi and red/green beans.
AG: Supermarket produce tends to be cultivated from F1 seeds which is a hybridised plant. At Aerospring, we only use seeds from our own products we know to be heirloom varieties. We also use F1 seeds but we buy these from reputable seed vendors like Franchi, local purveyors the Seedsmaster or online from sources like Burpee, Baker Creek or Eden Seeds in Australia.
Watering plants daily and getting rid of insects and pests can seem like a bit of a show-stopper for many newbies wanting to plant for themselves. What really needs to be done, if you want to do this?
CF: f you have no interest in something, it will seem like a lot of work even if it is a quick and simple task! The amount of work required depends on the plants – some plants are fine with almost zero maintenance (just be sure to water them once a day) whereas some may be more prone to pests and diseases, and require more care. Watering should be done daily, but other tasks like pruning and fertilising can be done weekly or fortnightly. When we build gardens, we apply permaculture design principles to ensure that we or our clients have maximum yield for minimum effort, but the gardens should still be monitored from time to time to nip any problems in the bud.
AG: You may not need to water your garden daily if you use an Aerospring Garden but nature is not something the system can control. Insects are par for the course for any garden or farm anywhere in the world and it is for that reason alone that pesticides exist. There is a natural order to everything in this world – an aphid or whitefly have natural predators too but complete neglect ie. Not checking regularly if your plants have been invaded can only lead to a major infestation. Bugs will always prefer edible plants over house plants for the same reason we humans do – they taste better! You need to spend some time gardening if you want a successful edible garden, you should check your plants, especially the underside of the leaves and the axils of the plants for any infestations by whitefly, mealybugs or aphids every couple of days. Trim away any dead or torn leaves and harvest any leaves/stalks/fruit as desired or when ready. You should ensure that the water level in your bucket is full and top up with water and nutrients when necessary. You should measure the EC and pH of your water to ensure optimal nutrients. 5 minutes a day is what we spend in our own 3 Aerospring Gardens to make sure that everything is tip top. But we can still go away for a long weekend and depending on what we grow, up to 2 weeks without having to worry about the health and state of our garden.
To get a better idea of the aeroponic system, we’ve got 8-year-old Philip to show us how it works:
You can either get the seedlings from Aerospring Garens or grow them yourself:
Ok, you can’t grow a seedling from a chili plant, but from a lot of other plants, this is possible. It’s getting dark in our last take, but we just have time to see how to change the water, add the minerals and have a look at the new seedlings and where to put them:
3 months later – see the result of of our chili plant:
– and a photo:
If you are interested in aeroponics and would like to know in more detail how it works, you can get more info on aeroponic gardening here: https://www.aerospringgardens.com/
If you want to try and build your own hydroponic system, start your own edible garden or master the art of growing tomatoes that will actually end up on your kitchen table, Citizen Farm has a wide array of workshops.
Also, check out Orgayana’s event calendar for other workshops on gardening and DIY.