Friday, April 30, 2010

Fig Shoots for Supper

This year's dry season is turning out to be quite long and hot. Under such conditions, we're applying a lot of water to our home vegetable garden. Although a fresh supply of vegetables is great, I hate to think about the water bill.

Having access to water for gardening is really a luxury. During the dry season, many communities in our region barely have enough water for basic household consumption. So vegetable gardening often takes a pause until the rains return in May.

Fortunately, various trees and shrubs, both indigenous and naturalized, offer seasonal or year round access to edible leaves. For instance, moringa trees produce considerable amounts of nutritious shoots during the rainy season.

By the middle of the dry season, the semi-deciduous red shoot fig (Ficus virens) may drop a lot of its mature leaves. But around February, the trees produce a flush of tender, edible leaf shoots. At a time when there are few fresh, homegrown vegetables to enjoy, this indigenous strangler fig offers an abundance of greens (which are actually red). Many people in tropical and sub-tropical Asia stir fry the leaves or add them to curries. The leaves are also blanched and eaten along with chili pepper sauce.

On a late February afternoon, a few years ago, I happened to be in the hilltribe village of Huai Pong where I encountered this young lady who was harvesting a batch of fig leaf shoots for supper. An hour later, at the home where I was staying, I found the same on the menu.

By the way, ECHO promotes the cultivation and use of many types of perennial vegetables around the world. Obviously, certain perennial vegetables can fill a niche for home gardeners with limited access to water.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dry Season Floral Show

In monsoonal Asia, the late dry season is a time of dessicated discomfort. But one thing to be thankful for is the current natural floral show being offered by various types of trees. During late April, one of the most showy species are the Golden Shower Tree (Cassia fistula), with masses and more masses of yellow flowers. Another is the Royal Poinciana or Flamboyant (Delonix regia) which is aflame in orange blossoms. The Golden Shower Tree is native to our area and happens to be Thailand's national tree. Many have been planted along the streets of Chiang Mai. Although the Royal Poinciana is native to Madagascar, it has spread throughout the tropics. They're found all over Chiang Mai. The full bloom Flamboyants in this photo are located on Payap University (Kaew Nawarat campus), across the street from the ECHO Asia Regional Office.

Friday, April 9, 2010

PVC Fish Cage

During a recent visit to Suan Aden Children's Home on the outskirts of Chiang Mai, I came across this PVC fish cage floating in a large pond located on the property. In Southeast Asia, fish cages are commonly constructed in rivers, lakes, ponds and seas in order to confine fish for accessible management and harvesting. Common fish cage materials include bamboo and mesh as well as barrels if flotation is necessary.
Ton Kankaewmoon, who manages the children's home, was inspired to construct this PVC fish cage after seeing a similar one at a local tilapia fingerling supplier. Ton reports that he used 2 inch and 2.5 inch PVC pipe to construct the 3 m x 3 m frame but he reckons that 3 inch pipe would work just fine.

Ton estimates that the frame, once assembled, weighs no more than 20 kg (44 lb.). It's so light that one person can easily construct the cage as well as place it in the water. The glued PVC pipe frame floats just fine making additional flotation materials unnecessary. Ton also used stainless wire to secure the mesh to the frame.

The entire cost was 2000 baht (about $63 US); 1,100 baht for the pipe and glue plus another 900 baht for the mesh.

Ton reports that a cage this size can hold 1,000 to 1,500 tilapia, catfish or other local freshwater fish.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Our First "Official" Batch of Seeds

Recently the ECHO Asia Regional Office sent out it's first "official" batch of seeds. Shown with the shipment are Ruth Tshin, ECHO Asia's Volunteer Seed Bank Consultant, and Lue Chompoothong, Seed Bank Technician. In all, over a dozen kilos of various green manure cover crop seeds, including rice bean (Vigna umbellata), black bean (Vigna unguiculata), jack bean (Canavalia ensiformis) and lablab bean (Lablab purpureus) as well as indigo (Indigofera suffruticosa), a nitrogen fixing tree, were shipped to Laos. Apart from indigo, seeds of the green manure cover crops were purchased from local farmers and packaged at the ECHO Asia Regional Office Seed Bank.

The ECHO Asia Seed Bank is currently evaluating dozens of crops of regional importance with plans to make several of these proven varieties available by the end of 2010. So as soon as our on-line seed catalog is finished and the first dozen varieties are ready for distribution, we will notify our regional partners about their availability.

Of course, we invite interested persons to continue to use the services of the main ECHO Seed Bank based in Fort Myers, Florida ( which offers seeds of hundreds of crop varieties from around the world.