How Does My Garden Grow – Pt. 6

The arrival of Thai New Year coincides with the end of my gardening season. The sun passes directly overhead here in Thailand and my south-facing balcony receives no more direct sun until sometime in mid-August. With this change of the seasons, it is time to turn my attention to soil maintenance and my first attempt at balcony composting.

P1200904

A picture taken two weeks ago shows that in the middle of the day, sunlight is barely hitting the balcony. Within another two weeks, even the pots hanging over the edge of the balcony will be in shadow.

Soil quality is a big issue for me. The initial bags of potting soil I purchased from the nursery here were terrible: filled with rocks, sticks, and lots of clay, it looked like the bags had been filled at a construction site. Considerable effort was invested in sorting through the soil to remove foreign objects and amending it with steer manure, coffee grounds, and chopped-up coconut husks.

Last year, I first mooted the idea of trying to compost on my balcony. I researched various options and once I discovered that there were worms living in some of my pots – and they had survived the several months of direct sun on the balcony – vermiculture seemed potentially workable.

P1210061

The first step was to get a plastic storage container. It needed to be a dark color to block light but I didn’t want to choose too dark a color for fear it would absorb too much heat. After returning home with the container, I drilled air holes in the sides and bottom – a total of about 20. According to what I’ve read on a few websites, this should be sufficient but I may need to drill more, or larger, holes in the future.

P1210063

At the bottom of the container I placed a layer of shredded newspaper. This provides a base of “brown” (or dry) material and also helps to absorb excess moisture. The paper will bread down over time.

P1210064

On top of the paper, I added the left-over dirt I had on hand from previous plantings. Next, I started cutting down some of the tomato plants that are past their prime, clearing the soil from the roots and adding it to the container.

P1210067

That’s where I started finding some of my good friends, the earthworms. There seem to be fewer than before, but hopefully these guys will be well-fed, enjoy their new home, and compost like crazy.

P1210069

The end result, a neat and tidy compost bin. It is easy to access when I want to add more leaves, vegetable and fruit trimmings, eggshells, and coffee grounds. Because I have a few more tomato plants to pull up, I think I’ll buy another container and expand my composting.

Humid Tomatoes

Side note: Among my lessons learned this season was that you really need to right varieties of tomatoes to grow in hot, humid Thailand. That’s why I’ve already bought this collection of seeds from Tomatofest.com particularly well suited for my climate. Can’t wait to see how those work next season.

For more on my balcony gardening adventures, click here.

 

Baking: Lychee and Rhubarb Pie

Two weekends ago I traveled to Samut Songkhram, the smallest of Thailand’s 77 provinces, located about ninety minutes to the southwest of Bangkok. There I had lunch with Ajarn Yai (literally, “big teacher”), the retired director of the rural school where I previously volunteered as an English teacher. This being lychee season, Ajarn Yai insisted that we take several big bunches of freshly-harvested lychees. Once home, I decided to try something new: a lychee-rhubarb pie.

P1200863

Lychee are the fruit of an evergreen tree that grows in tropical and subtropical climates. The fruit is round, about one inch (two to three centimeters) in diameter, and is covered in a leathery rind. Peeling is easy, if slightly tedious.

P1200865

The interior flesh has a grape-like texture – firm but slightly squishy. Most lychee have a large, inedible pit but some trees produce seedless fruit informally called khathoey (or ladyboy) lychee by the Thais. The flavor of lychee is sweet and perfumey, not overpowering but slightly astringent – especially in not-quite-ripe fruit.

P1200871

It is this astringency that made me think of rhubarb. Since the lychee were sweet and astringent and the rhubarb is tart, I thought they might make a refreshing dessert – kind of in the same way that a lemon sorbet can cleanse your palate between courses in a meal. I peeled the lychee, chopped the rhubarb, and mixed in some sugar and corn starch as a thickener.

P1200874

Trying something different for my pie crust, I cut rounds (in honor of the shape of the lychee) to form the top crust. It then went into the oven for about 40 minutes until the crust was golden and the filling cooked through.

P1200884

The end result: The filling was a little dryer than I would have liked and quite tart, too. That’s probably because I added only a half-cup of sugar. I liked the flavor, though, and it worked very nicely as a refreshing dessert after a richly flavored meal, cutting through the flavors of the meal better than a heavier, sweeter dessert would. Next time, though, I think a bit more sugar is called for and also a few minutes of pre-cooking the filling to extract more juices.

 

Passing on Thai Highways

A few weeks ago I needed to do a border run. While I normally do this by flying somewhere, what with higher plane ticket prices I decided to try something I hadn’t done in a long while: the tour bus ride to the Cambordian border. Based on that experience, I think I’ll spend the extra money on a plane ticket in the future.

The story is told here in this two-and-a-half minute video:

Look, I realize that land-based travel is all that most Thais can afford. That’s perfectly understandable. And I don’t want to be one of those foreigners who insists that everything should be just as neat, tidy, and safe as it is back home. But…

Surin Bus Crash - Nation Group
Sample of the type of images that regularly grace Thai news sources. Courtesy The Nation newspaper

…after taking this border run and being reminded of how dangerously Thai bus, van, and truck drivers operate their vehicles, especially when it comes to passing on the road, I think my chances of returning from my border run alive are significantly higher if I fly!

 

My Action Photo

The entertaining MyWinningPhoto site here on Xanga hosts weekly themed photo contests. Last week’s theme was “Action” and, unfortunately, I didn’t get my photo submitted by the deadline. Nonetheless, I thought I would share it with you.

P1200830

Taken on the Thong Lo BTS Skytrain platform with a Panasonic Lumix LX3 – f/5.6 with a shutter speed of 1/1.3 seconds, a 24mm lens, and an ISO of 80. Hope you enjoyed – and don’t forget to go vote!