Thai Buddhist Amulet Artwork

Whenever we visit Bangkok, we inevitably end up at an amulet market  – they’re situated around the main temples (the best one is held on Sundays near Wat Mahathat).

Thais buy amulets for good luck or protection.

I buy them because I like looking at them – I love their colours, textures, detail, and shapes.

As the amulets we buy cost between 10 and 50 baht each (rs10-rs50, or 35c-$1.75), they’re obviously mass-produced, but authentic ones blessed by monks can cost hundreds, even thousands, of dollars.

Amazingly, despite both Alf and I selecting them without checking to see what the other has bought, we didn’t have a single duplicate.

Over the years, we’ve amassed a nice little collection, and now, I’ve finally thought of a way of displaying them.

I’m going to glue them onto painted canvasses, and hang them in our stairwell.

Amulets

Here, I’ve roughly laid out the amulets, and mixed a sample of the paint colour

I’ve chosen a maroon background – the paler amulets will stand out nicely against it, but the dark ones will need a little help – I’ll rub on some gold gilding paste to highlight them and to bring out the detail:

Gilding Paste

Only the top halves have been gilded in this photo

As you can see, red-based paint doesn’t give good coverage on white surfaces, so I’ll undercoat the canvasses with black paint.

Some of the amulets are made from clay or wood, but others are metal, which means they’re pretty heavy, so I’ll attach everything with 2-part epoxy to ensure they don’t fall off as a result of gravity, or summer heat and humidity.

As I don’t have maroon paint, I have to mix scarlet and purple together.

I’ll need a fair bit of paint to cover three canvasses, so I’ll mix one big batch for each coat, as I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to replicate the same shade if I were to run out halfway through.

(With the black undercoat, I only needed two topcoats.)

Though they’re small canvasses, they’re fairly busy – so when Alf hung them, he spaced them out, so that you can appreciate them individually.

If you like standing in stairwells and looking at stuff, that is.

Anyway, that was the background to this project, and now, here are the finished canvasses (the maroon is actually much darker – the flash brightened everything – I really need to take a photography course!):

AmuletsAmuletsAmuletsFinally, they’ll get the presentation they deserve, instead of being stored in the spare-room wardrobe.

And who knows – they might even bring us luck – here’s to health, love, prosperity, and happiness!

3. Layering, Watering, and Turning the Compost Pile

Layering your Compost Materials

Yet another BH&G quote:

“The ideal way to build your compost pile is to fill your bin all at once, with a 15cm layer of one material, then a sprinkling of activator (blood and bone or poultry manure), a layer of something different, more activator and so on until you reach the top.

Water as you go to keep the material moist, but not soggy, then thatch the whole thing with a layer of straw.

Once it’s done, start a new pile.

You need about a cubic metre of material to achieve a critical mass.”

Well, we don’t have that much waste (and there’s no straw here at all, as far as I know), so I’m just adding to it as I can with whatever we have on the day.

Also, I don’t really want compost bins all over the place – not a good look in a small garden – one’s bad enough!

Unfortunately, I just lost my source of fallen leaves – the neighbours decided to prune their coeur-de-boeuf (corossol) tree, Mauritian-style – meaning they hacked at it with a machete:

Massacred treeAlong with the fallen leaves, the shade for the side bed disappeared, as did our privacy screen – from upstairs, we can see straight into their front yard, and they can see us right back – we now wave to each other a lot!

Oh well – it’ll grow back eventually!

Watering

The compost needs to be kept moist but not wet.

I’m giving it a light spray every couple of days – but may need to adjust this as the weather heats up.

Turning the Compost

Final quote:

“Turning compost mixes the ingredients, aerates the pile and speeds up the process.
For fast compost: Turn the pile every three days for two weeks, then leave the pile undisturbed for another week.

Hey presto! Compost in three weeks.
For lazy compost: Turn the pile every six weeks to three months. You’ll have compost in six months.

Don’t turn it more than suggested here, or the pile won’t rot at all.”

My Experience to Date

Initially, I was going with the lazy compost method, but I’ve decided 6 months is a bit too long to wait.

So I started turning the pile last week – the stuff at the bottom was black but very soggy, so I added more chopped-up dead banana leaves to compensate.

Turning the compostI’ve since added the chicken/horse manure blend, and mixed it through.

At one stage there were weird-looking mushrooms growing in it (not a good sign, I imagine), and it had an unpleasant rotting smell – I figured it was too wet, so added some sawdust and dry leaves, and the smell disappeared.

Another time, I think it was too dry, as a colony of red ants moved in – water got rid of them.

I still haven’t seen any worms – I’m starting to think that maybe there really aren’t any in Mauritius.

Anyway, no huge disasters so far – we’ll see what I end up with in a few weeks time.

Any and all tips are welcome!

Shopping for Manure Mauritian-Style

We needed manure to add to the compost, so this morning we visited the Mont Choisy chicken farm, situated at the horse riding school, in the hope that they had some for sale.

Well, who would have guessed that buying manure would be such a nice experience – we had to wait for the woman in charge to come back to her office, so we took a little stroll through the grounds…

Main house

Entrance to the main house

Worker

She did smile at us afterwards – think she was just camera-shy!

Alf and a horse

You even get to pat a horse or two, and chat to the stablehands

We were sent off down a track to load the bags of manure into the car – we anticipated driving home with all the windows down, and our heads hanging out to escape the smell.

But instead we found ourselves surrounded by mounds of a well-composted horse and chicken manure mix – no smell at all.

Hills of poop!

Hills of poop!

Pre-packed bags

Pre-packed bags

Back at the shop/office, we grabbed a tray of eggs and some free-range chicken breasts, and home we went…

Lime kiln

…past an old lime kiln…

Driveway

…and through the banyan trees (I think) lining the driveway

On the way home, we stopped at our local beach for some seaweed, but there wasn’t any:

Trou aux Biches beach

A very clean Trou aux Biches beach

What a pleasant way to while away an hour – sure beats going to the hardware store!

La Ferme de Mont Choisy Opening Hours:

Mon, Tue, Wed, Fri: 8.30 – 11am and 12 – 3pm

Thu: 8.30 – 11am and 12.30 – 3pm

SFG Update – October 2013

Winter vs Summer

I mentioned in a previous SFG post that, according to my research, if you live in the tropics, you can plant anything, anytime.

Not true.

Well, you can plant it, but it won’t grow.

This is what I think: there are two seasons in the tropics – winter, when most plants are dormant, and summer, when they wake up and take off with a vengeance!

I planted my Square Foot Garden bed in July, and the only things that produced a crop, were the snow and sugar snap peas, and the bush beans – I guess they’re a winter crop.

Most of the other seeds germinated, but the seedlings remained tiny until very recently.

I’ve had 3 failures – despite having tried three different Roma tomato varieties (a number of times), they have yet to germinate. I’m also having trouble with germinating the English spinach and Cos lettuce.

But I refuse to give up – there are hundreds of seeds in those little packets, and if I have to sow every last one of them, I will!

Harvest and Growth

After tasting the peas and beans, we finally understood why people grow their own vegetables – they were unbelievably sweet and tender – we became addicted, and ate them every night.

Sugar snap peas

Sugar snap peas in their prime

First harvest

The very first harvest – not many, but delicious all the same

I initially planted one square of bush beans (9 per square), and seven squares of peas (4 per square) – this yielded enough for the two of us over a couple of months.

I’ve since planted two more squares of bush beans, and have just replanted the square that got infested with mealy bugs.

Bush beans

Diseased bush bean square

Mealy bugs

Revolting!

Most of the pea plants are dead – I’m not sure if it was the heat, the dreaded mealy bugs, or simply that the season is at an end, as we were overseas when they started dying. I’m letting the remaining pods dry on the vines, so I’ll have more seeds for next year.

As an experiment, I recently planted a few sugar snap peas to see if they’ll grow through the summer.

I bought 3 small basil plants to go near the tomatoes, as basil is supposed to aid in their growth.

As I mentioned, the Roma tomatoes have yet to make an appearance, and the Grosse Lisse tomato has only just started to grow – in the meantime, the basil has gone berserk – I’m going to have to make pesto, or give some to our local Italian restaurant – way too much for the two of us!

Soil Composition

I didn’t find either vermiculite or peat moss before I started planting, so the soil is a mix of topsoil and compost.

I’ve since bought a bag of potting mix made from fertilised peat moss, and spread that around the seedlings.

Then I found perlite and coco peat – as I replant each square, I’ll mix some of both into the soil to aid with water retention.

For those of you living here – all of them were from Lolo Supermarket in Morcellement St André.

Fertiliser

Now that the plants are actively growing, I’ve started watering them with a seaweed extract every couple of weeks.

Plants

Herbs: basil, oregano, mint, parsley, thyme, spring onions (scallions), dill (not doing well – I think it’s rotting)

Veggies: carrots (baby), bush beans, snow peas, sugar snap peas, silverbeet (Swiss chard), parsnips, red onion, celery, Chinese celery, Grosse Lisse tomato, Roma tomato (one day), cos lettuce (also one day), English spinach (ditto), iceberg lettuce, capsicum (peppers), hot chilli

Fruit: strawberries

All that in a 5×10 foot space, and there are still plenty of empty squares.

So, as the bulk of it’s growing, I’d call it a successful first foray into the wonderful world of Square Foot Gardening.

I need a life.

Strawberry cage

A cage to keep the mynah birds away from the strawberries

Carrots

One of the carrot squares and silverbeet

Parsley and spring onions

Parsley and spring onions

Parsnips

Parsnips

SFG bed

Lettuces in the forefront

SFG bed

Tomato dwarfed by basil plants

Shaded from the afternoon sun

Shaded from the afternoon sun

SFG bedIf you’re interested in starting a Square Foot Garden, this website is the one I used to gather all the information I needed – it’s a one-stop shop!

Attack of the Mealy Bug!

What I believed to be white mould, turned out to be mealy bug.

And it’s not just in our garden – there’s an island-wide outbreak of it.

It’s affected mango, lychee, and pawpaw orchards, and well as vegetable crops, and ornamental plants.

The worst-affected in our garden were the hibiscus, gardenias, Madagascan frangipanis, pawpaw, and mulberry.

The mango tree next door is covered in it, and unfortunately, as it overhangs our Square Foot Garden bed, the mealy bugs have spread to the basil, peas and beans, by way of falling leaves and baby mangoes.

We sprayed the ornamental plants with Amidor (active ingredient Imidacloprid), and are spraying homemade white oil on the edible plants (2 parts vegetable oil shaken in a jar with 1 part dishwashing liquid, then diluted at the rate of 2 tablespoons to 1 litre of water).

We also had to radically prune some of the plants to remove the worst-affected parts.

Needless to say those prunings did not go into the compost!

Everything will need a close eye kept on it for the foreseeable future, as it’s going to be a recurring problem.

A Lesson Learnt the Hard Way

According to an article in last week’s paper, the Mauritian Government’s solution to the infestation, is to introduce a parasitic insect from India that eats mealy bugs.

Do people never learn?

In the 1930’s in Australia, the sugarcane industry in Queensland fell prey to cane-destroying beetles. The government imported cane toads from Hawaii to eat the beetles.

Unfortunately, the beetles lived at the top of the canes, and as the toads couldn’t jump more than a couple of feet, they looked elsewhere for their food source.

They ate all manner of native insects, small mammals, birds and reptiles (basically whatever they could cram into their mouths), thereby both killing the native fauna, and reducing the amount of food available to other native critters.

On top of that, they’re poisonous, so anything that ate them died.

Since then, they’ve spread from the cane fields of Queensland, down into New South Wales, across the Northern Territory, and into the north of Western Australia, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake, and well-established colonies wherever they’ve been.

Each female lays between 8000 and 35000 (!) eggs during each bi-annual breeding season, and the cane toad’s average life-span is 5 years.

In 2011, it was estimated that there were 2 billion cane toads in Australia.

There is no estimate of the number of creatures they’ve gobbled down or poisoned over the last 80-odd years.

And no-one knows how to stop, yet alone eradicate, them.

Mauritius

Mauritius is like Australia – an island with endemic fauna.

There is no telling what the introduction of this new insect will do in the long run, and the fact that, in India, it’s successful at controlling mealy bugs with no adverse effects doesn’t mean a thing – Mauritius is not environmentally identical to India.

Also, what will they eat once the mealy bugs are gone?

I’m not a greenie by any stretch of the imagination, but surely this type of thinking is short-term, and the potential for disaster, limitless.

All that one can do is to hope that a) it works, and b) the long-term impact on the environment is a positive, or at least, benign one.

I’m reminded of that children’s song about an old lady who swallowed a fly, then swallowed a spider to catch the fly, then swallowed a bird to catch the spider…

I guess if the introduced insects become a problem, the Government can introduce something else that eats them…cane toads, perhaps – Australia’s got plenty to spare.

And then some!

cane toadscane toad

2. Compost Materials and Ratios

 For effective composting, you need a combination of dry and green waste.

Another direct quote from BH&G, Australia:

“There should be 25-30 times more carbon than nitrogen for it to work well.

What’s high in carbon? Woody prunings (chopped small), shredded paper, fallen leaves.

What’s high in nitrogen? Grass clippings, green plants, old flowers, manure, fruit and veggie scraps.”

Our green waste will include:

  • kitchen scraps
  • old bunches of flowers
  • fresh prunings and weeds from the garden
  • grass clippings (or, in our case, swathes of long grass)
  • seaweed to bulk out the green waste, as between the two of us, we don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables to have a lot of kitchen scraps (though with Alf being Irish, we always have a lot of potato peelings!)

And our dry waste:

  • torn newspaper
  • coffee grounds
  • dead banana leaves (but I won’t use the trunks as they’re too slimy)
  • fallen leaves from next door’s mango and Coeur de Boeuf trees
  • sawdust for extra “carbon”, if required
  • crushed eggshells (though if we don’t get worms in the compost, I don’t know whether they’ll break down, so I’m not sure yet if I will add them)

If you have access to it, animal manure (cow, chicken etc) makes an excellent addition, and speeds up the decomposition process, as will chopping everything up as small as possible.

I haven’t looked for chook (chicken) poo yet, but will start asking around – someone told me there’s an organic chicken farm in Mon Choisy, so I’ll make that my first stop (though if it’s fresh, the car might get rather stinky!).

(One thing I regret not doing back in Australia, was buying some Zoo Poo – the idea makes me laugh – spreading (well-rotted, not fresh!) elephant or giraffe poo around the garden! I love it!)

Ashes from wood fires is also good to add, but we don’t have any.

Things that DON’T go into the Compost

  • Diseased plants
  • Dog and cat poo
  • Meat, fish, dairy products
  • Fried foods and salads dressed with oil
  • Glossy magazines
  • excessive amounts of citrus peel or onions (though how much is too much?)

So, more trial and error ahead.

Hopefully, one day, I’ll actually know what I’m doing!

1. Introduction to Composting

I’ve gathered a fair bit of information, and while it’s not rocket science, it’s too boring to read all at once, so I’ll be posting it in three instalments.

And as I’ve never composted before, I’ll be learning as I go, so bear with me.

Why Compost?

We have a lot of garden waste, as well as smaller amounts of coffee grounds, kitchen scraps, and newspapers, and it seems “wasteful” to put it out for the bin men to cart away.

Also, I’m going to need a steady supply of compost for the vegetable bed.

As compost is fairly expensive to buy (which in turn, makes your home-grown veggies expensive), I’ve decided to try my hand at making my own.

Another thing that’s expensive is the compost bin, so I’m making one of those too.

I can’t see the point in spending a fortune making (let’s face it) soil.

Albeit nutritious soil.

Some people get very complicated when composting – but if that’s what you want, stop reading, because I’ve chosen the simplest route possible.

How Composting Works

This is a straight quote from the Better Homes & Gardens Australia website:

“Oxygen-breathing bacteria break down material in the compost heap and excrete nutrients such as phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen.

As the material rots, the compost pile heats up and rots away even more.

Actinomycetes (a cross between fungi and bacteria) live in cooler parts of the heap and leave a cobweb-like growth on the compost – but don’t worry, it’s healthy.

Worms also burrow away, converting rubbish into soil.

Your compost is ready when it’s black, just moist, and crumbly.”

Sounds good (and as I warned – boring!), but despite the huge amounts of digging that I’ve done over the past year, I have yet to see a single worm!

Does Mauritius even have worms?

Anyway…

Making the Bin

If you’ve got plenty of room and a lot of waste, you can make a simple compost bin out of wooden pallets and star pickets – see here for instructions.

But I don’t have either, so I’m making this one.

Basically, you cut a large hole in the base of a plastic rubbish bin:

Base removedThen you dig a hole 10-15cm deep, and a bit wider than the bin. Place the bin upside down directly on the soil, and backfill to keep it in place.

And then you start filling it with whatever material you have on hand, water it, and put the lid on to cover the hole.

The lid lets in air, but stops critters from getting in – around here, mice, rats, and shrews. Not that I ever see them – the only reason I know is that Tipsy the cat occasionally brings a dead (and mutilated) one home.

Yuk!

Alf – get rid of it please – she’s hidden it behind the couch!

I did see a tang, or tenrec (a type of hedgehog originally from Madagascar) once. They’re cute but very shy – I tried to take a photo, but it kept running away and hiding it’s head in piles of leaves.

Apparently it’s not just cute, but also delicious if you like that sort of thing.

Think we’ll just stick to steak – we’re definitely not throwing a tang on the BBQ!

Anyway, the bin’s a bit of an eyesore, so if the composting works, I’ll think up a way of disguising it.

I’ve decided that it won’t have a permanent spot in the garden – as the waste rots down, I presume the ground underneath benefits.

So I’ll move it around each time I empty it out and thereby spread the goodness around.

If, that is, I can actually turn waste into garden gold!

Ready to roll