Complete novice seeks help and advice

ChrisOfKalimantan(13)September 22, 2013

Dear Any and All,
I'm a recent university graduate on a first job out in West Kalimantan. This being West Kalimantan I have a HUGE garden (12 hectares) as well as three gardeners. My gardeners are exceedingly green in all things bar the fingers. Unfortunately I find myself with an equally deficient level of experience, knowledge and general expertise.
There is a fair amount grown locally, kasava, papaya, some mango, some pineapple, rice, corn, durian, rambutan, some carrot, very rarely I can get tomato, lots of chilli, and a huge variety of anonymous green leafy stuff that is edible if cooked for long enough.
Given I have such a huge garden I'd like to try to broaden what I can get locally. I've tried my own tomatoes which did hugely well until they all got killed off by what I think is bacterial wilt just before the bulk of them fruited. I got nine tomatoes from 86 plants. To be fair they were nine delicious tomatoes but I'd still rather have been inundated to the point of having everything with salsa. I am currently trying some peas which were doing great before I most recently went on leave but mostly died while I was away (I don't think they were watered at all). I have had a little more success with these though as I have already had ten yummy pods off them and they're not all dead yet!
In terms of local weather we get anywhere between 3000 and 5500 millimetres of rain each year. It's above 30 degrees Celsius every day and very humid most of the time. The soil is volcanic, and very fertile. The bulk of the rain comes between October and March with there rarely being a period of more than about two weeks without rain at any time of the year. From about June to the end of August the rain decreases to about once a week on average but it's very rare to get more than two weeks without any rain and there's a decent sized lake in the garden that can be used if anything needs regular watering.
As far as experience goes, I've got no gardening experience at all being somewhat city born and bred and my first experience of my gardeners was finding them sat together tying the roots of a little yellow flowering plant I'd asked them to plant a little of into a tight little ball "to make them easier to plant." As such I'm in slightly desperate need of advice and pointing in the right direction. If anyone could suggest anything (or if anyone needs a trial and error guinea pig to try things out and see if they'll work in the tropics) I'd be most grateful. Getting seeds isn't really a problem, I make fairly regular trips to Jakarta (about once a month) and am back to the UK about twice a year. I also have friends in Jakarta for anything that can be posted. There's no post where I am. We do have a box at the nearest post office which is fortunately only about 20 minutes down the road but it's pretty rare that things actually arrive and nothing has ever got there in under three weeks.

Anyway anything anyone can do to assist would be most gratefully received. I'd love to get some strawberries going but I don't think there are any varieties that would survive here. Peas would be yummy too. I have some orange trees that were planted before I arrived as well as four coconuts, a rambutan tree and some papaya and pineapple. I love peaches but can't imagine ever getting them to grow. Avocado would be fantastic and I think should grow here. Passion fruit would be great too and melons. Anything else anyone can think of I'd love to try.

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You don't say what altitude you're at, that makes a big difference. Many of the vegetables you mention are grown at higher altitudes. If you're getting 30+ year round I'd say you're in the lowlands which would cut out most of the vegetables you're familiar with. Better to go to local markets and see what people are growing in the lowlands and stick with those. I'd forget about bringing seeds from the UK, stick with what you can get from Jakarta.

Forget about strawberries (assuming you're in the lowlands), tomatoes are for the coldest part of your year, garden peas won't do any good, get the right corn and it'll do well. Some types of passionfruit won't do well, but there's a lot that will. Oranges don't usually do well in the tropics, the best citrus are limes (oranges that do produce in the tropics tend to stay green when ripe). Your best melons would be watermelons. Avocados are mostly grown in temperate climates but they have developed types that will fruit in the tropics, you need to choose carefully.

In general, your best approach would be to check out the markets and see what's coming from the lowlands. There is a lot that you can grow, you just need to find out what it is and not waste your time on what won't grow.

Good luck with it.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2013 at 3:33AM
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garyfla_gw(10 Florida)

Sounds like tropic gave you good advice ,I grow most of the stuff you mention but during the "winter" when the temps ,humidity and rainfall drop. You certainly should be able to have a fantastic tropical garden !!
local advice always seems to be best no matter where you live?? Got any pix?? have always wanted to visit that area of the world!! gary

    Bookmark   September 24, 2013 at 5:00AM
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ifraser25(z11 Brazil)

With such a large area to cover I would think your best option would be trees. You have a huge choice. Take a trip round the local villages and you will find plenty of gardeners who will be only too happy to sell you stuff, though you may have some problems identifying some of it unless you speak good Indonesian. If you have internet and a tablet or similar you could try showing some pictures of what you want from flickr or photobucket. Do try and find some passion fruit. You should have a good choice of types. Here is a list of good fruiting trees that we have in our (much smaller) garden), other than those already mentioned; mulberry, lychee, pitanga, starfruit, barbados cherry, mango, banana, avocado, papaya, cherimoya and brazilian grape/ jaboticaba (might be hard to find this and it is slow). You could also try some nut-producing trees, though I don't know what types are available in Indonesia. Be warned, however, a lot of them are very slow-growing. Pecan is one of the fastest. A good cheap way of stocking up quickly is to save the seed from stuff you buy on the market, though it is a long-term project in general. Passion fruit is good for starters. Don't be too ambitious; you will probably do better to clear only a relatively small area at first and leave the rest as jungle.You can then use this as a nursery for later expansion.If you want a quick cash crop, sweetcorn and/or sweet potato is fast and easy and small areas can be harvested by hand as can passion fruit and pineapple. We don't have the latter, however, as it is not well-suited in our area, so I can't advise. Be prepared for a lot of work whichever way you go, however. Good luck. Ian.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2013 at 5:20PM
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very interesting post to say the least.
as they say, forget what's familiar, go with the flow.
look at US regional forums: hawaii for the most part and florida, zone 10 - the most southern besides the keys:zone11. fl forum is mixed zones, 8-10, but you can find people there in miami area and south : homestead , fl is where most tropical fruit/trees growers are. university of florida have developed many trees adjusted to heat/humidity, even peaches. but you won't be able to get those where you are. perhaps closer regions to your conditions would be in south asia - as far as getting/importing stock. a lot has been going on in thailand. may be you can import from there.
you should be able to grow avocados: the west-indies varieties (caribbean), most accustomed to the heat and humidity: see tropical fruit/trees/florida forum for that. you'll need to post sev times in diff forums, asking specific questions.
guess, you really need to find tropical substitutes for what you are used to. why peas of all things? get them in cans!
you need to determine approx what you zone is compared to other areas - where similar growing conditions exist. certain areas of hawaii get a lot of rainfall - it could come close to yours.
also may be you can get some info in european/dutch forums with indonesian connections?
sorry if i sound lame, just shooting ideas.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2013 at 9:38PM
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more on citrus:
they grow pomelo in philippines and calamansi (some say calamondin is the same, some say it's different). pomelo you can eat raw, calamansi is very sour tiny 'oranges' for cooking/juicing. it is also called philipine lime.
i saw a reference to growing grapefruit in hot areas of india - that might be worth looking into.
also in cuba they grow sour oranges - for cooking/marinades.
sour orange (Citrus aurantium, L.), is also known as bitter, bigarade, or Seville orange. In Spanish-speaking areas it may be called naranja ácida, naranja agria, or naranja amarga. In Arabia, it is naranji; in Italy, melangolo; in India, khatta; in Samoa, moli, in Guam, soap orange.
and saw refs to grapefruit in cuba and india. so that might be possible for you.
also there is sweet lemon (it is not sour, just mildly sweet) that can be grown in zone 11.
Citrus limon “Eureka” is a true lemon with the acidic flavor typically found in lemonade.
Sweet lemon is actually a lemon-like, low-acid fruit known as “Millsweet” limetta (Citrus limetta “Millsweet). Hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 11, both trees prefer well-drained soil with a pH level between 5.5 and 6.5.

however, getting actual trees to plant is another matter. best bet - other tropical countries in southeast asia/islands.

This post was edited by petrushka on Thu, Sep 26, 13 at 18:10

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 9:52AM
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Hi all,
Thanks for the great advice from you all. Sorry to be slow with responses. Internet out here is rather poor.
Responses in orders from posts...

Regarding temperature and altitude:

Quite low altitude, only about 80m above sea level.
Temperature doesn't really vary much at all throughout the year. We're within about an hour's drive of the equator. Maybe a bit cooler in the rainy season but then wetter and more humid

Regarding what's locally available:
Locally there's really very little indeed. For a lot of groceries I have to go six hours or more each way. There's a lot that's just not worth getting. Fresh milk for example would have to come from Jakarta. You can get rice, chicken, herbs, spices and a few other bits at the local markets but it is a very limited selection. If possible I'd like to boost up what I have available and also introduce things people can try locally. Local population are almost entirely subsistence farmers and for them a failed crop is a huge financial blow. Unlike for us where if some of our plants die we just shrug and plant something else for them a good daily wage would be 5 dollars and that's if they can get work. For those that can't it's even more of a blow of something fails. As such they're very reluctant to be the first to try something new. For me though, something new is very appealing.

In response to Petrushka:
Definitely not at all lame, incredibly helpful and lots of great ideas there. As you say getting the seeds will be a challenge but if I can find the exact varieties then most likely I can get at least some of it. I don't think there's really any chance of getting seedlings. Will go through this all again in more detail when I'm not at work and can spend a bit more time carefully considering and responding.
As for why peas, I really like em and I didn't have much advance notice before heading out here so looked pathetic and pitiful until my mum gave me what seeds she had in her fridge that had any hope at all of managing out here. :P
Anyway have some photographs that I will try to add into subsequent posts. If that fails... Photobucket will do.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 9:44PM
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Photo(s) attempt 1...

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 9:50PM
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    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 10:02PM
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looks like nice parkland! are those fruit trees or just ornamental?
by the way, some growers from thailand ship internationally - it all depends on agro import rules where you are and how fast the plants can ship so as not to die! may be better selection/shipping from australia?
rainy Hilo on big island in hawaii /carribbean/thai/philippines/aussi tropics - would be similar to your area somewhat.
there are subsets of garden web for australia/europe/etc
i'll poke around to find some links for seed/fruit shippers in asia. i like learning and reading about tropical anything :).
by the way you should have some incredible alocasia/colocasias (elephant ears) locally - are you familiar at all with them? colocasias are edible. prime example is taro - traditional hawaiian crop. not that i like it myself. but there are various kinds of very tasty tropical sweet potatoes that you might grow instead: yams, batatas, boniatos (cuban white sweet potato).
also you should be able to grow monstera deliciosa - it produces an edible large fruit (cousin of swiss cheese houseplant).
peas like it cool, but some beans can def take hot/humid like lima beans and some you can eat fresh from the pod. and all are available as seeds.
e.g. from australia but shipping only locally - see tropical beans at the end.
it's worth looking into indian stuff (which i know very little about, except i can see it in the freezer in the supermarket!).
they grow all sorts of beans/long squashes in the steamy south. oh, you might be able to get some seeds/info/sites thru UK on that!
found what i think is a good place in philippines (at list to start looking, not sure about international shipping) - info on fruit trees.ships nursery trees.
it was referenced last year - Q on shipping/visting with recommendation on
seems to be a very active and useful forum too!
here some useful links info/growing hawaii/fl/china
this is Caribbean puerto rican site(us territory): they ship internationally. even just getting familiar with names can take time:)

    Bookmark   September 26, 2013 at 11:34AM
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lots of interesting links. do you actually have a decent connection to browse or it has to be as minimal as possible? just phone?
uk guy moved to no australia: info on what to grow as substitute in tropics for customary veggies: see tabs growing veg ..fruits is Univ of hawaii at manoa; college of tropical agriculture.
fab info on all tropical varieties with sources from seeds even in foreign countries with addresses! Cultivation/climate reqs. in suriname, latin america, ships internationally seeds of tropical fruit trees, tropical veggies (calabaza - carib pumpkin, not so easy to find as i understand)
this site has comments on growing and what to do with it. . great info philippine site - ships internationally young seedling tropical fruit trees.
food travel blog
on the left a list of countries: explaining local produce/food.
good for local names of veg/fruit/cooking terms.
i don't want to overwhelm you, though i might..
here's a UK site for all sorts of tropical seeds - but ships UK only, but your mum can get it for you, surely and ship it.
can we see more pics ..with comments ?
what kind of stuff do you eat? grow?
it could be useful to get local names for various ethnic stuff to navigate thru sites. i already have lots more 'foodie' info, if you need it on tagalog/south indian,etc
wow, i had lots of fun today browsing, thanks!

    Bookmark   September 26, 2013 at 6:53PM
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garyfla_gw(10 Florida)

Nothing like I'd imagined lol Where are the dense forests?? Might add some IDs so we'd have an idea what we're looking at Particularly curious about the ground cover

    Bookmark   September 27, 2013 at 3:48AM
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stuff in indonesia �" near jakarta - list of businesses
bali co-owner educated in Uk, foundation, blog, training to students ,etc lots of info

whare to find stuff on bali article: �" training organic

    Bookmark   September 27, 2013 at 9:43AM
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Dear All,
Thanks for replies, still a bit crazy busy but will post a response in a few hours that's a bit more in depth. Thanks again hugely for all the info Petrushka.
Gary, the ground cover is locally called Bunga Arakis, it's a nitrate fixer and quite comfortable to walk on. No problem with bare feet. The one we have has small yellow flowers that open early in the morning and close during the day. Fish seem to absolutely love the flowers. I will try to get you an up close picture soon. Maybe someone can provide a better identification. Needs some weeding but isn't too hard to keep under control and beats the grass options that I've seen locally.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2013 at 12:30AM
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might it be you're walking on some cousin of arachis? aka peanut? they are legumes, they fix nitrogen in the soil, look just like your pic too! at least from the distance.
poke in the soil - may be you'll get a peanut out? ! LOL.
of course, hard to see, need a closer pic.
peanuts as ground cover in borneo! sensational! ;))).
i'll ease up on links, promise. think you got enough to start for now....
once you hook up with some 'local' on java or bali - it should get much easier :).

    Bookmark   September 28, 2013 at 1:53PM
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i found some posts in florida forum referencing 'perennial peanut' as groundcover, avail. at lowes, hd.
arachis glabrata (yellow flowers) is best, arachis pintoi grows much higher, 12"? both thrive in the heat.
so it definitely could be a peanut.
here's uof hawaii on pintoi (it's grown in australia too)
for perennial peanut only flowers are edible: in salads and stir-fry. and it is a cover crop and deters bad nematodes too.
the edible peanut that we know is arachis hypogaea.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2013 at 9:20AM
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zzackey(8b GA)

Do you have agricultural centers there like we have in the USA? They have a wealth of knowledge about gardening,etc.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2013 at 11:05AM
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