On our farm, we do not use any machinery to till the land or harvest crops. Partly this is because we are only one acre in size and these activities can be managed manually, and partly it is because we want to save money on machine rental fees and fuel costs.
A typical week on our farm involves biweekly harvests, light tilling, weeding, compost-adding, and seed sowing. With over 50 varieties of vegetables growing on our farm, we have to plan these activities carefully every Monday as a team to make sure that nothing gets forgotten.
Roofs and growing techniques
There are 8 roofed areas on the farm, each housing 3 raised grow beds about 1,407 square feet in total area . The roofs shelter our vegetables from rain, which helps spread diseases, and hungry birds that happily peck away at young leaves.
To prepare each bed, we till about 5 inches of the top layer of the soil to loosen it and overturn the weeds. We then sprinkle a 2-inch layer of our farm-made compost onto the tilled beds. We finish by topping the soil with an inch of rice husks to keep the soil covered and moist, protected from the wind and the hard sun.
Under the roofs we grow oak lettuces, curly kale, dinosaur kale, gazunywet, roselle, italian basil, cuban oregano, and tarragon. Other vegetables that can tolerate tropical conditions like tomatoes, eggplants, chilis, and holy basil are grown nearby without roofs. We follow different growing procedures based on each plant’s requirements.
For large-growing vegetables like kale, lettuce, tomatoes, chilis, and eggplants, we grow the seeds into seedlings first in our nursery until they reach about 3 inches in height. Then we transplant them to the growing beds and plant them about 1-1.5 foot apart. These vegetables take between 60-90 days to mature.
For quick-growing vegetables like gazunywet and roselle, we sow the seeds directly into the beds about 2-3 inches apart. We grow them very densely to maximise the harvest volume from each bed. After 21 to 28 days of planting, these vegetables are ready for harvest.
To make sure that we have a continuous supply of vegetables throughout the year, we plan our growing by the week. We set our harvest targets for each week and work backwards from there.
For example, if we want to harvest 500 bundles of gazunywet on July 28, we first study how long it takes to grow gazunywet during the monsoon season and how much area is required. It usually takes 21 days to grow gazunywet during the monsoon season and two vegetable beds to grow 500 bundles. So on July 6, our team tills the beds lightly to create pockets for the seeds to germinate in. Then on July 7, we broadcast the gazunywet seeds over the beds.
The planting schedule is helpful for growing leafy greens and lettuce varieties to serve customers that prefer set weekly deliveries. These customers may order 200 bundles of gazunywet every Friday or 5kg of green oak lettuce every Tuesday. Knowing the dates they want the vegetables on allows us to set a planting schedule in advance.
For perennials like curly kale and chilis that produce new leaves and fruits continuously after every harvest for about 6-8 months, we do not need to prepare a planting schedule. Instead, we observe how much we can harvest from the plants each week without weakening them. During the dry season, for example, we could harvest 15kg of dinosaur kale per week from 2 vegetable beds and that same amount would grow back within 2 weeks.
Keeping a nursery
We have a small nursery on our farm which we use to grow seedlings, microgreens, and herb pots. Built from hollow steel frames and outfitted with a hard clear acrylic roof to allow sunlight in, the nursery can withstand heavy winds and torrential downpours. The sides are covered with green shade cloth to allow wind to pass through and keep birds and pests out.
The most valuable product we grow in our nursery is herbs. To make our herb pots, we root the cuttings in water for about 2-3 weeks until roots appear. We then transplant them into pots with our special organic soil mix. The herbs that we currently grow are Mediterranean varieties like basil, tarragon, and oregano, all of which are sensitive to Yangon’s humid climate. High humidity can fuel the growth of harmful bacteria and cause plants to get root rot because the soil retains too much moisture. The nursery environment helps reduce these risks.