by Tan Toi
|Fruits of his labour: Nguyen Van Nghi (left) shows the fruit in his garden. Thanks to the application of micro-organism techniques, Nghi's garden now earns him $12,000 a year. — VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Vu
Some foody friends of mine from HCM City were convinced that a bunch of oranges that we bought were from overseas, and it was much to their surprise when they discovered they had been cultivated by 63-year-old Nguyen Van Nghi in Binh Chanh District, who has spent five years nurturing the harsh alkaline land to produce sweet fruit.
Nghi's four-hectare farm is unlike any other. Several species of salt-water grasses and rushes flourish beside oranges, guavas, pears, pomelos and jack fruit. This strange feature is due to the fact that this alkaline land refuses to absorb water, despite heavy rains, leaving the land bone dry during the summer.
That's why Nghi preserves the grasses to maintain humidity in the earth. When they grow too long, he cuts them back to one or two inches high. While waiting for the glasses that have just been cut to turn yellow, Nghi uses micro-organisms to speed up the rotting process, which creates haven for worms and crickets. Furthermore, the earth surrounding the tree roots also becomes spongy while the roots can sunbathe and breathe in fresh air.
It took Nghi two harvest seasons to realise that it was useless to constantly water his garden during the hot season, because the earth on the surface clots into a glue-like layer, preventing absorption. To overcome the situation, he uses pipes of dripping water instead. After a while, the trees started to prosper.
Thanks to support of experts on organisms, Nghi knows how to take advantage of the blue seaweed in the ditch. The water containing blue seaweed sweeps away plankton, which serves as dessert for tree roots.
Glass peas are also grown in the garden, which silently help to drive away the alum from the roots.
Since the day he applied the use of micro-organisms, Nghi has become more relaxed. For example, when worms attack young orange trees, he only has to spray pesticide once to achieve satisfactory results.
The more knowledge about biography he gets, the more determined he is to welcome birds, ants and other creatures to his garden.
He has also spent time and effort making four bat nests from Palmyra Palm to take advantage of their guano. "Guano is number one," Nghi reveals. Each tree he fertilises with the guano produces very sweet fruits. Every day, Nghi harvests a basket of this natural fertiliser, which only weighs about six or seven kilos.
Some of Nghi's employees even boast that they have become tired of eating freshwater fish. The clean water in the ditch of his garden has attracted various kinds of fish like anabas and eels to swim in. Plenty of spicy vegetables are also grown in the garden to enjoy with cooked fish. "Only fish sauce, salt and seasoning is enough to live here. There is no need to worry about food poisoning," Nghi says, smiling.
Nghi used to work as a mechanic. Following a friend's advice, he bought this piece of land in the middle of nowhere. Luckily, every cloud has a silver lining. In such remote land, Nghi was completely wrapped up in inventing machines. He has even collected a stock of refuse in case of a rainy day.
Many visitors have been surprised at his electric motor, that's capacity is only one horsepower but strong enough to water a four-hectare farm. He had also adjusted his irrigation system to raise ornamental fish. His lawn-mower, after a few slight alterations, now runs on just half the amount of fuel, and he also works as an electrician on several nearby farms.
A Chinese by birth, Nghi is as straightforward and open as local people. Seeing his fruitful garden, many farmers ask him about his success, and Nghi is happy to share his experience. Some people call him for advice over the telephone, while others ask him to manage their farms.
Nghi earns VND250 million (US$12,000) annually from his garden, a humble number but a burning dream of many local farm owners, because this alkaline land used to grow low-valued trees like cajuputs and pineapples. This year, nearly 300 high-yield jack-fruit trees are growing in Nghi's farm, promising a bumper crop in the second harvest season.
Thanks to micro-organism fertilisers, Nghi's jack-fruit are both crunchy and juicy. He is planning to make his jack-fruit trees flower early to avoid the rainy season, preventing the decrease in quality of the fruit.
Nghi explains: "The advantage of micro-organism fertiliser lies in its low price and low environmental impact. More importantly, it doesn't compact the soil."
"Many gardens of speciality fruits in the south-west of Viet Nam, like Lo Ren star apples or Cai Mon durians, suffer from pestilent insect and have low productivity due to compacted soil. It is because the garden owners have used too many chemical fertilisers."
"Only when modern learn to adapt to new techniques will they become successful," Nghi says.
Tran Minh Thanh, a specialist in micro-organism fertiliser in HCM City, agrees. "Nghi's model has been applied since the old days, but it has become a common trend to take advantage of nature in developed countries."
Nghi's door in HCM City is always open to anyone who is interested in exchanging and learning his farming model. — VNS