Growing western herbs in the tropics- Malaysia and Asia-my experiment
I have been living in Malaysia for almost two and a half years. I have expended much time on learning how to cook bread properly but something was missing. It was my gardening. The development that I live in has perfectly manicured gardens with wonderful tropical plants that only a cheap workforce can supply. I however I am an slighly single minded (okay incredibly single minded) when it comes to gardening... If it cant be eaten or used( eg lavender) I am soooo not interested.
My partner was aware of my issues. So he tried to source some recycled wood to create a planter box for me... he searched for a number of weeks but was ultimately unsuccessful. Thank god for Ikea and their furniture. He daringly rode about 30km round trip on a motorbike laden with many Kg's of Ikea furniture to assemble my planter box. But the journey was not over... of course Ikea furniture was not the right shape for what we wanted and so some cutting was required... simple I hear you think... uhh no. None of the local "carpenters" has the right tools so a trip to the school I work at was undertaken and after a couple of hours the cuts were made... Now just a simple job of screwing together you would think... uh no. Malaysia has a penchant for cheap.. at the expense of serviceable. The screw claimed to be "stainless steel" they looked like "stainless steel" however disappointingly they did not behave like stainless steel. Do you know how long it takes with a pair of pliers to remove a screw whose head is all chozzeled out.... 20 mins imagine 10 such screws and you get a view of the herculean task that "making a planter box" in Asia was.
But all of that is over now and I have 2 planter boxes with 4 plastic potting bags in each one. Most of my herbs have sprouted and I am on my way.
Lessons I have learned from the actual gardening in Asia:
1. Local potting mix can be acidic which some of plants won't like. So be prepared to treat your potting mix with lime to adjust the acidity
2. Seed raising mix is necessary if you are using local potting mix, The results far outweigh the cost.
3. Use local seeds, I know this is a no brainer but seeds from local fruit ie capsicum and chili's grow well here as they are acclimatised
4. Even though it is humid, you plants still need watering, especially if they receive no water from the sky
5. Basil is a great plant to grow in the tropics, it LOVES the heat and the humidity and is sooo delicious
6. The plants I have successfully grown are Basil, Sage, Thyme, Rosemary, parsley (both types), oregano, Tomato and Chili. From seed the best plants were Basil and oregano. I could not get my rosemary to sprout from seed and resorted to buying a small seedling.
7. Seeds germinate really quickly here compared to the part of Australia I was living in. So there is no excuse....get gardening!
8. As the seasons in the tropics are Wet and Dry its always the right time to try raising some seeds.