What first inspired you to look into “growing your own”?

My inspiration came from my first baby girl. I went to the supermarket and bought an apple for her and looked at it and thought that’s just too perfect – too shiny, too red, unblemished. It got me thinking that it can’t be right as there’s no such thing as perfection in the natural word and I started to study how modern food is grown and the methods and chemicals used. So I decided to look into growing my own and experiment into how to do it without such additives. But I quickly found the heavy clay soil in Brunei is very acidic and not good to grow in, so how do you condition the soil to make things grow without chemicals? I also had a Japanese koi pond and realised there’s a lot of waste from the fish that can be used as a natural fertiliser and from that point discovered aquaponics. Being very ‘hands on’, I researched and built my own systems, experimenting and learning all the time. My wife will tell you about me being out in the garden late at night working under torchlight!

What’s better about using more natural methods to grow produce?

For a start it’s healthier without all the chemical additives. Modern farming thinks we have to help the plants with chemicals, whereas if you look at natural methods such as composting, mulching and knowing about the climate, the plant itself and the soil is more than enough to grow food and be sustainable at the same time. The problem is it’s more work than simply throwing on a load of chemicals. It’s very simple, you need to take care of the environment – for example if you love fish, you’re not taking care of the fish, you look after the water. With good water you have good fish. It’s the same with plants, if you can take care of the soil, then the soil will take care of everything else. Using natural methods to keep the soil fertile is sustainable, unlike the vast amounts of land around the world that is now unusable from the over use of chemicals in intensive farming. Natural food waste is gold – rather than throwing it away in plastic bags in landfill, you can put it back into the environment as compost to grow things and even feed livestock.

How did you move on from your home garden and aquaponics and discover vertical gardening as a solution?

Well I realised there would be no point in trying to create fields and fields growing sustainably, given the lack of good land and the hard work it would be to condition the soil. My studies into aquaponics led me to look in to the whole concept of permaculture and some of the more futuristic methods now being pioneered. That’s how I discovered online the idea of vertical gardening, to grow maximum produce in a minimum space, all in a sustainable way, using the waste from the fish as nutrients for the plants.

Being progressive means thinking out of the box, pioneering new ways to solve problems, plus most of all it’s about education – always learning and improving your knowledge.

What challenges have you faced in setting up one of the first projects like this in this part of the world?

Apart from it being too radical for most people haha? Well, it’s the climate – you can’t underestimate the heat here, so placement is very important. It’s one of the major problems – you can’t use glasshouses or transparent tunnels as they trap in too much heat if you want to grow things like lettuce and herbs. Also the sun is so strong here, so you need to setup in the shade. It all comes down to education and knowing your plants, as there is so little data available on growing in the tropics in this way. So I am doing my own research and development at the same time. Funnily enough, everything can grow twice as fast in tropical weather, so long as it’s done in the right way.

What are your hopes for the future in progressing this pioneering method to grow crops?

Well I hope that people will understand the benefits of growing in this way. You don’t need much space – in fact it’s designed to use void space. There’s an amazing amount of dead spaces in Brunei that could be used for growing in this way – from unused buildings, parts of government offices, even at the hospital – empty spaces that could be given over to producing food. Growing plants also has the benefit of reducing the heat load on the building, reducing energy costs and saving money. And you get something to eat at the end! Growing in the city centre saves on transport costs in bringing food in for the people, as it allows us to grow locally a lot of the vegetables we currently import. In that way it’s a sustainable solution for the future of the country.
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