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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Signing the Lease on the Bangkok Apartment

Bangkok, my new home.  I arrived on Monday evening after a very long 24-hour journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles to Tokyo to Bangkok.  The LAX-NRT leg was not upgraded so I was squeezed into Economy class.  Not so bad as it could have been but I was unable to sleep and arrived in Bangkok very tired.

On Tuesday Tawn and I went to our new apartment to sign the lease and pay the deposit plus the first month’s rent.  The apartment that was decided upon is at Asoke Place tower, about a 5-minute walk north of the Sukhumvit / Soi 21 (aka Asoke) intersection.  At the intersection is both a Skytrain station and an MRTA (Subway) station, so it is quite convenient to everywhere.  Also, traffic is not too bad along Asoke and we’re on the side of the road that heads into the city.

The apartment is quite large (about 700 square feet) and is a 1-bedroom with an additional small storage room.  Tawn was able to choose paint before the handyman repainted, so the walls are a light yellow in the living area and a light khaki in the bedroom.

We spent most of Tuesday shopping for furniture and have so far made absolutely no decisions.  The big question is, how much do we want to spend?  Furniture of decent quality is cheaper in Thailand than the US, but that doesn’t mean it is inexpensive.  At the same time, we don’t necessarily need to buy permanent stuff right now.  So we are going through the joint priority-setting process.

There’s also a few odds and ends that need to be ironed out.  Anyone with any expertise in these areas is welcome to provide advice:

  • The refrigerator (about 2/3s of full size) sits more than 10 feet away from the nearest power outlet, which it would share with the TV, stereo, etc.  I get the impression that there wasn’t a refrigerator there before and it was placed there as a selling point rather than a practical consideration.  Can you put all that equipment on one outlet without a problem?
  • Similarly, the plugs in the kitchen (which are all under the counter, no idea how you run a cord under the counter as there are no openings!) all feed into one circuit, if I’m not mistaken.  So that would be a 2-burner stove, microwave oven, rice maker, and coffee maker (or combination thereof) on one circuit.  Problem?
  • Our clothes washer was originally in the bathroom, but it takes up a lot of space and was on a wall that have no drain, no power, nor a water supply.  The next logical place is on the balcony (makes more sense that it might sound) but there is no water supply and the power is just a closed junction box.  Landlord seems to think it is an easy problem to overcome.  I’m curious to see how.
  • There’s no hot water heater in the bathroom.  Cold showers, anyone?  We’ll ask the landlord on Friday whether we can pay for installation of a water heater, which will run about 5,000 baht plus another 800 for installation.

Truly, none of these are challenges we cannot tackle, but they are interesting “oh, I hadn’t considered that” situations.

Another lesson I’ve learned.  If you want to pay your credit card at one bank with money in a bank account at another, the only way you can do this is to withdrawl the cash from the first bank and then take it to the other bank and deposit it.  So we went to the bank to withdrawl our deposit, first month’s rent, and money for paying some billes.  110,000 baht total.  It is worth noting that the 1,000 baht bill is the largest denomination available.  Yes, we were carrying 110 bills in a wad in my pocket.  That’s pretty crazy.

Well, the adventure is just starting, I’m sure.  I’m extending the hotel stay by a few days because we won’t have all of the necessary arrangements made by tomorrow morning.  Plus, other than a bed and an armoire, we have no furniture.

Apartment Hunting in Bangkok

Tawn has started apartment hunting in Bangkok.  His goal: to scout out apartments that meet our combined criteria (mission impossible!) so that when I’m there in late September we can select a place.

 

I’m not being very helpful.  I found a web site called Mr. Room Finder, set up by a Bangkok local who wanted a site that listed apartments that real people, not overpriced expats, could afford.  So I send Tawn links from my searches, fully realising that I don’t know Bangkok neighborhoods all that well.

 

My recommendations are not always very useful.  Like personal ads, these apartments listings are sometimes… generous.

 

We’ll see what turns up, though.  He’s found a few places that look nice, have a decent location, and are teeny-tiny.  But that’s the reality there, I think.  Especially when we don’t want to spend more than US$ 400 a month on rent.