Sunday, 23 October 2016

Papayas, our local delight with options

Papaya is one of the highest nutrition local fruits, rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, fiber and enzymes including protein-digesting enzyme.  We are blessed to be living in a climate  where papayas can be grown easily with  minimal care.  There are many varieties of papayas and the shape and size differs.  Not all papaya trees produce fruits, there are some that just produces flowers.  To produce healthy papayas, it is important to ensure that it is free from chemical pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilisers.  For me, I avoid GMO papayas as well as the usage of hormones to modify size, taste and texture.  t would be silly to eat something to care for our health when it also contains toxic chemicals.  There is no need to put herbicides to kill off the weeds around the plant and have it be introduced into the fruits that we eat.  Just clear the weeds manually and you can just leave it to dry off or place it in your compost pile.  I also practice salting the ground with coarse salts on a quarterly basis for several reasons.  The type of papayas we grow are less fibrous is texture giving a creamier taste.

It is a great fruit to start the day, having middle of the day and also in the evening supplying us with loads of antioxidants and helping our digestive system.  The fiber in papaya binds with the cancer-causing toxins in our digestive system, keeping them away from our healthy colon cells hence it is a good preventive against colon cancer. The other nutrients in papaya such as the vitamin C, vitamin E, folate and beta-carotene have been found to reduce the risk of colon cancer.  A healthy digestive system further promotes our overall health.

For adults, this fruit is a great fruit to eat as protection against rheumatoid arthritis based on a study that was reported in the Annals of the Rheumatic Disease.    So great for women who tend to suffer this as we age.  For men, in a cancer study reported in the Asian Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it was found that this lycopene-rich fruit helps to reduce  the risk of prostate cancer.  The nutrients in the papaya also helps to inhibit the oxidisation of the cholesterol, protecting our heart.

So, with one fruit, you get to cover your digestive system, bones, heart as well as immune system, it is definitely sitting high in my list of fruits to eat.  I get easily bored or tend to "forget" to eat it if there is only one way of eating them.  There are many ways of eating papaya and still get the necessary nutrition so it makes it easier to incorporate into my daily diet.

We are most familiar with eating the ripe papaya raw but we can also eat the unripe papaya in many ways.  It can be fermented to make it into a probiotic-rich  food.  The fermented green papaya can be eaten similar to sauerkraut or turned into a salad or our local kerabu.  The free papaya can also be skinned and cut into pieces and turned into nutrition soups or used in cooking savoury dishes like curry.  A simple soup is to brown shallots and garlic, add water and the cut pieces of green papaya and bring to boil and allow it to simmer until the pieces are soft.  You can add salt and other condiments to taste.  This soup can be dressed up with other ingredients such as chicken, beef, seafood or other vegetables.

The ripe papaya can also be turned into nutritious drinks like milk shakes or added with other fruits and vegetables to create a healthy drink.  It can also be turned into a healthy, nutritious and delicious snack by dehydrating them.  The dehydration process removes the moisture and it is best to dehydrate it to contain less than 15% moisture as this will inhibit the growth of bacteria that will result in the dried papaya to spoil.  When dehydrating papaya pieces, it is best to use the ripe papaya of good quality and not spoilt or mushy papayas that has already started to spoil.  The end result is a great snack that has minimal loss of its nutrients and ready to be enjoyed at any time.  It is also easy to store them and does not require refrigeration and lasts for months (although you will find that you consume it much faster).  What I do is to pack them in serving sizes as this means that I do not expose the dried papayas to the environment unnecessarily.  The thickness of the papaya pieces will determine whether you end up with crispy pieces or slightly chewy papaya chips.

With its nutrition and health benefits along with its versatility, why not go local and consume our papayas :)

Monday, 17 October 2016

Now I almost know what I have : Plants et al

Over the years I have bought, been gifted and propagated many types of plants and trees.  I finally have decided that I need to know what I actually have at the farm and to plan for their care and maintenance as well as continuity.  When trying to catalog them, at times I have difficulty in trying to classify them so I put them in the category of how it is used most often.  I broke them up into 5 categories:

  1. Herbs
  2. Fruits
  3. Bananas
  4. Vegetables and
  5. Others.
Basically the Others category is what I couldn't fit into the remaining categories.  For a plant that fruits but is mainly used as a herb, then I categorise them as Herbs.  Many can argue over the classification but the categorisation is from my viewpoint :).  I may have missed some but after compiling this list, now I know why I never seem to have enough time...... 34 herbs, 24 fruits,  21 Banana varieties, 35 Vegetables and 10 Others - each type has multiple plants for a total of 124 types.  Amazing what you can fit on a planting space of less than 1.5 acres.  Still more work ahead in documenting them - and there is always something new to add :)

All these are currently at the farm.

  Bahasa Malaysia English Scientific Name
1 Bangun-bangun Indian Borage, Mexican Mint Plectranthus amboinicus
2 Bebuas Premna foetida Reinw Premna foetida Reinw
3 Belalai Gajah Snakegrass Clinacanthus nutans
4 Bunga Tasbih Canna Lily Canna
5 Cekur Aromatic Ginger Kaempferia galanga
6 Halia Bentong Ginger - Bentong Zingiber officinale c.v. Bentong
7 Kadok Piper sarmentosum (Wild betel) Piper sarmentosum
8 Kantan Ginger Torch Etlingera elatior
9 Kari Curry Murraya koenigii
10 Kemangi Basil, Lemon Ocimum citridourum
11 Ketumpang Air Peperomia pellucida Peperomia pellucida
12 Kunyit Turmeric Curcuma longa
13 Kunyit Hitam Black Turmeric Curcuma caesia
14 Lengkuas Kecil Small Galangal Alpinia galanga
15 Limau Perut Kafir Lime Citrus hystrix
16 Mahkota Dewa God's Crown Phaleria macrocarpa
17 Misai Kucing Cat's Whiskers Orthosiphon stamineus
18 Oregano Cuba Cuban Oregano Mentha x. villosa
19 Pandan Pandan Pandanus amaryllifolius
20 Pegaga Asiatic Pennywort Centella Asiatica
21 Pudina Mint Mentha spicata L.
22 Rerama Christia vespertilionis Christia vespertilionis
23 Selasih Hitam Basil, Holy Ocimum tenuiflorum
24 Selasih Putih Basil, White Ocimum citriodorum
25 Selasih Thai Basil, Thai Ocimum basilicum var thyrsiflora
26 Serai Lemongrass Cymbopogon
27 Serai Wangi Citronella Cymbopogon nardus
28 Sireh Betel Piper betle
29 Temulawak Javanese turmeric Curcuma zanthorriza
30 Tenggek Burong Eudia lunu-ankenda Eudia lunu-ankenda
31 Tujuh bilah Pereskia Sacarosa Pereskia sacarosa
32 Ulam Raja Cosmos Dianthus Cosmos Dianthus
33 Spearmint Spearmint Mentha spicata
34 Hemilang (rumput beremi) Wild Purslane Portulaca oleracea


  Bahasa Malaysia English Scientific Name
1 Abiu Abiu Pouteria caimito
2 Alpokat Avocado Persea americana
3 Belimbing Buloh Bilimbi Averrhoa bilimbi
4 Betik Eksotika Papaya, Exotica Carica papaya v. Exotica
5 Cempedak Cempedak Artocarpus Integer
6 Cermai Malay gooseberry Phyllanthus acidus
7 Delima Pomegranate Punica granatum
8 Duku Duku Lansium domesticum
9 Durian Belanda Soursop Annona muricata
10 Gajus Cashew Anacardium occidentale
11 Jambu Bol Malay apple Syzygium malaccense
12 Jambu Madu Java apple Syzygium samarangense
13 Kelapa Pandan Coconut, Pandan Cocos nucifera
14 Kelapa Pandan Gading Coconut, Yellow Pandan Cocus nucifera
15 Limau Bali Pomelo Citrus maxima
16 Limau Kasturi Calamansi Citrofortunella microcarpa
17 Limau Nipis Lime Citrus aurantiifolia
18 Manggis Mangosteen Garcinia mangostana
19 Mata Kucing Longan Dimocarpus longan
20 Nangka Jackfruit Artocarpus heterophyllus
21 Pulasan Pulasan Nephelium mutabile Blume
22 Rambutan Rambutan Nephelium lappaceum
23 Roselle Roselle Hibiscus sabdariffa
24 Sukun Breadfruit Artocarpus altilis

I know I have missed some so I will just have to add as I remember :)

  Bahasa Malaysia
1 Abu Batu (Nipah)
1 Abu Bunga
2 Awak
3 Berangan
4 Emas
5 Embun Rendah
6 Embun Dingin
7 Embun Wangi (Bunga)
8 Jari Buaya
9 Kapas
10 Lemak Manis
11 Lidi (Rotan)
12 Nangka
13 Raja
14 Rastali
15 Susu
16 Tanduk
17 Udang
18 Ruai
19 Raja Udang
20 Berangan Kampung
21 Telor

These vegetables are in various stages - some seedling, some growing, some producing :)

  Bahasa Malaysia English
1 Asparagus Asparagus
2 Bayam hijau Green Spinach
3 Bayam merah Red spinach
4 Bendi Okra
5 Brokoli Broccoli
6 Cili Akar Hot Chilli
7 Cili Api Bird's Eye Chilli
8 Cili Benggala Merah Red Bell Pepper
9 Cili Kuning Hungarian Yellow Wax Pepper
10 Cili Putih WHITE CHILLI
11 Jagung Corn
12 Kacang buncis French beans
13 Kacang Panjang Long green beans
14 Kailan KAILAN
15 Kale locinato Kale Locinato
16 Kale, kerinting Curly Kale
17 Kangkong Water spinach
18 Keladi Hitam Yam
19 Keladi Kemumu Yam
20 Kelo Moringa
21 Kobis Cabbage
22 Labu Pumpkin
23 Labu White scallop squash
24 Labu Dingin Winter melon
25 Peria Bitter gourd
26 Peria katak Bitter gourd
27 Pucuk Manis Star gooseberry
28 Pucuk Paku Vegetable fern
29 Sawi Chinese Mustard Greens
30 Terung  pipit Turkey berry
31 Terung bulat hijau Round green eggplant
32 Terung Telunjuk Green finger eggplant
33 Terung unggu bulat Round purple eggplant
34 Tomato Tomato
35 Ubi kayu halus Tapioca

All these are currently planted.

  Bahasa Malaysia English
1 Bunga Telang Blue pea
2 Jering Jering
3 Pagoda Pagoda
4 Pinang Areca catechu
5 Surian Suren
6 Tebu Hitam Black Sugar Cane
7 Ubi Kayu Merah Tapioca
8 Ubi Kayu Pulut Tapioca
9 Ubi Keledek Sweet potato
10 Vanila Vanilla

Suria Helang Lui: 7 years later Part 4: Behind the scenes

Suria Helang Lui is a family farm, not a large corporation farm.  It took me 10 years to find the right piece of land for me.  As far as possible I wanted to get a piece of land that hadn't been developed or worked on for a while.  The main reason being that it meant the exposure to chemical pesticides and herbicides would be minimal.  Having the basic infrastructure is important.  The basics are access, water and electricity.  Another important factor is the distance from my home to the land had to be within commuting distance which also meant not far from K.L.

When I bought the land, it looked like a jungle so the first few months, I spent time with my parang
and weed cutter to check the lay of the land to figure out how I wanted to design the layout of the farm.  I already had road access and electricity was near so nothing major to be done in this area.  The water supply to this area was by Syabas and they used a 1 inch polypipe to supply the water to the area which meant that the water supply would be insufficient for what I wanted.  So, I decided to lay polypipe to bring water to the farm.  Three years later, I decided to lay a second water supply line strictly for the fish pond.

The farmhouse was built on a as-I-grow basis so it started out with a storage room/rest room and then I added a square structure of 24 fee by 24 feet and it was connected to the rest room via a walkway.  This has evolved to what I have now: a 3-bedroom, 2 bathroom, 1 bookworm, 1 prayer room, living room, dining/work area (where the walkway used to be) and a large kitchen.  The kitchen area is an open concept kitchen with plenty of work areas and storage all to support the operations of the farm.  To date, I have still not completed the outer exterior - still have details but I hope someday I will get around to it as it is not high on my priority list.  I had started out with a design that allowed for growth and additions so the farmhouse took a few years to be the way it is now.  Each time we did an addition, we didn't have to knock down walls because I didn't want the headache of debris removal and I didn't want to waste money unnecessarily.

The development of the farm is self-funded hence I have the freedom to develop it any way I want and no reporting needed.  After all, I had done my share of reports in my previous life in the corporate world.  As such, every major development is properly planned to reduce wastage and unnecessary investment.  I would say I went to the University of Life as I develop the farm as my idea was different than what I had seen other do.  All the farms that I have seen are focussed on a produce be it vegetables, fruits, chicken, fish, etc. and followed what has normally been done.  Through it all, many have often remarked that what I was doing was wrong and that if I didn't focus, it would not be commercially viable.  All the produce we have now are from what we planted or started and it takes time for them to be productive.  I am happy to say that we are now moving into the black though I do not foresee being a millionaire from it in the near future but what I gain from it is ultimately worth a lot more.  I could have gone into the black earlier if I experimented less but I wouldn't have gained all the knowledge that I have now.  On top of that, I am my own employer, doing what I love and I do not have to worry about what I will do when I retire.  I continue to experiment, do research and learn.  This keeps my brain alive and I do not have time to be bored.  It is through all this that I have been able to move the farm from being a purely raw goods producer to multi types of produce and products.

I am not from an agricultural background but I have never let that stop me from experimenting and researching as well as learning from practitioners.  I cannot do it alone hence having a solid right-hand man who shares my vision for the farm is essential.  From time to time, I add helpers for specific projects - mainly when there is building to do or preparation of area for planting.  It is not a matter of throwing bodies but having the right people with the right mindset and attitude.  Currently there are 3 of us - Azis, Lia and I.  We each have our roles but help each other out as needed.  

Farming is not a 8-5, Monday to Friday job.  We are dealing with living things, nature and life.  When it rains, we have to work around it to get things done.  If the river otters or wild boars decide to invade the farm at night, we cannot just ignore them and let the dogs deal with them or we may end up with our plants destroyed or the fish gone.  It cannot be treated as a job but more as living.  Hence it has to be a full-time commitment.  It has to be a team sharing the same vision of making the farm succeed to be successful.  In every task we do, we have to do it to the best of our ability and not just say a task was done.  I do monitor that members of the team get enough rest so at times outsiders may find that I have people sleeping in the afternoon or resting.  It is not because they are lazy but more of the fact that they were taking care of the farm until dawn.

I am very much hands-on and am involved in every aspect hence I continually need to increase my knowledge from farm practices to marketing.  One of the most important tenet is that we only sell what we will eat or use.  Each week as we prepare for market, the question that I remind my team is "Will we eat it?  Will we use it?".  If the answer is no then we don't sell it.  I care about our brand: Suria Helang Lui.  It has taken us years to build our reputation and it is important that we maintain the trust and confidence from our customers.

While it may be hard work, it is infinitely satisfying and I know that what we produce are good and something that I would feed my family and friends.  Pursuing my passion has given me a lot of pleasure and sense of accomplishment and a future, in shaa Allah, until the day I die.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Pisang Embun Wangi a.k.a. Bunga - fragrant delight

One of my favourite bananas to eat raw - either on its own, in a banana split or in my greek yoghurt
with honey - all natural, no hormones or chemical pesticide or fertiliser, non-GMO with a fragrant honey sweet taste beats the GMO, often with chemical inducements commercial Cavendish hands down.  In size and shape they are similar to Cavendish.  In the age where we have a choice, I choose Pisang Embun Wangi over the Cavendish any day.  The Kedahans also call it Pisang Bunga.  In Indonesia, it is called Pisang Ambon.

The plant itself grows quite tall, about 5m so it does need a bit of room to grow in a home garden.  However, if you love fresh bananas, this tree might be your choice.  The inflorescence (jantung pisang) is bitter so it is not eaten.

The taste is similar to Pisang Emas and Lemak Manis although the texture is softer but not mushy.  This banana ripens with a light yellowish-green  or pale yellow skin so if you are waiting for it to turn fully bright yellow, you would probably end up with an over-ripe, mushy brown/black skin banana.  As with most local bananas, it is best stored in a basket or fruit bowl, not on a cool surface like ceramic tiles.  When stored in the fridge, the skin will turn brown-black even though it may still be good to eat.  It is funny how many are still tuned in that for a banana to be ripe, it must be yellow.  There are many varieties of banana which ripen with a green skin so it is best not to "judge the book by its cover".  The flesh is also a cream color with a pale yellow tinge in the centre.

This banana is best consumed raw and is not suitable for turning into banana fritters because it tends to "soak" in the oil.  However, it is also good when roasted with the skin still on or turned into smoked bananas (pisang salai).  Another option is to use it to make cakes and pancakes especially when it is overripe as it tends to be mushy to mashing them up would be easy.

From a nutrition standpoint, as with other bananas, it is high in fiber and also contains vitamin A, C and calcium.  In traditional medicine, this fruit is eaten when you have a fever and the pseudo stem is heated and used to treat sore muscles.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Suria Helang Lui: 7 years later Part 3: From produce to products

When I first started the farm, I was more focussed on producing produce: fruits, vegetables and fish.  I felt and even more strongly belief now, for the continued sustainability and economic well-being of the farm, it was essential to not only have "raw" produce but to also have a range of products based on the farm outputs.  All our products have to live up to our principle of being affordable to the masses.

I began to experiment and delve into the world of producing healthy food in the firm belief that the underlying basis for good health is good food.  Personally, I am not into processed supplements so my concept it merely to facilitate the consumption of good food.  From the herbals, fruits, leaves and flowers, I began experimenting in producing drinks that could be consumed as part of my daily beverage intake.  I had to belief in the benefits as well as it had to taste good.  So, I am always the first guinea pig.  I wanted to be able to produce health supporting drinks, that are preventive as well as curative.  So, many of the plants at the farm serve a multi purpose.

The top of my list are the Bentong ginger and turmeric combination, Misai Kucing leaves and flower, Soursop Leaves,  Mangosteen and Roselle.  I did research on the nutritional value, the health properties as well as the use in traditional and alternative therapy.  All the source is planted at the farm and grown organically.  Some of our drinks are seasonal whilst others are available year round.  In line with trying to produce healthy products, we do not use any colourings, preservations or flavourings - it is all natural.  Some of our drinks are sweetened and we use brown sugar; no white sugar is used.  At this stage we only do direct selling to the customer as I do not feel that we are prepared to go beyond that yet as our produce is not mass-produced.
I do not want to outsource production of the ingredients as it then goes out of my control and I may wonder if short-cuts are taken.  The basic principle in our products is "If I do not consume it, then I will not sell it" - the same that applies to our fresh produce.  With the production of these drinks - in concentrate or ready-to-drink - it has allowed us to add-value to our produce.  At the moment, the packaging is simple as I focus more on what is inside the bottle than the appearance.  However, I know that in the future the packaging will evolve but the key consideration is still affordability to the masses.

Over the years, I have developed our own liquid fertiliser concentrate and there are 3 types:

  1. Enzyme fertiliser with pest control targeted for flowering and fruiting plants
  2. Enzyme fertiliser with pest control targeted for foliage
  3. Fish amino acid fertiliser
These concentrates are made from produce from the farm with limited addition from outside such as molasses and sea salt.  The ingredients from the fish for our Fish Amino Acids (FAA) are also from the farm as we do rear fresh water fish.  In this way, I am able to ensure that there is negligible introduction of toxic matter into the fertilisers.  My 3-year old son "helps" me out at the farm and one of the things that he loves to do is to spray the plants.  I do not want to have to worry that he may be negatively affected.  These are all used at the farm and we now sell it.  It is a concentrate and is non-toxic making it easy to use and affordable.

I also do seasonal products like tempoyak from quality kampung durian so we have these when durians are in season and until our stock for that season finish.  We do not add any preservatives or colouring to it and it is done naturally.

Sometimes, when we have a bit of time, we will also do fermented green papaya which is a good source of probiotics and the enzyme papain.  I enjoy eating this either as a salad or turning it into a topping for fish similar to the Thai mango topping for fish.

We rear fresh fish, namely catfish (keli), red tilapia and lampam in our fish ponds.  We pipe our own water from the source specifically for the fish ponds ensuring a 24x7 flow of fresh water through over 3000m of polypipe.    This is a separate supply line from the pipeline for the rest of the farm use. Although the actual distance to the source is less than 3km, due to the route we have to take, it takes that length of polypipe.

This is one of the most worthwhile investments that I made on the farm as it results in us having a clean fish pond that requires no artificial aeration and brings with it additional food for our fish in the form of the small river fish and shrimps.  An aesthetic value added to the fish pond is our fountain which doesn't require any pumps to function, merely the application of the law of Physics.  (Note: Took me years to see firsthand the application of what I learnt in Physics in secondary school).  The water comes in on one end and exits the pond into Sg. Lui on the other end.

The fish pond also serves as our flooding prevention measure as this area can flood when there is a lotof rain for a period of time. Our fish also feed on the banana pseudostems, tapioca leaves and kangkong so it also enables us to have another use for our produce "wastes".  The banana pseudostem also have the added function of cleaning the water in the fish pond.  From time to time, I also feed it with the black soldier larvae, which is a by-product in the production of the enzyme fertiliser.  We do also feed them fish pellets but with all the other food that the fish feed on as well as the clean water, the fish produced does not have a "muddy" smell or taste.  Whilst we do sell fresh fish, we also will do smoked fish (ikan salai) which we first  marinate with our own farm produced and blended herbs.   It is a time consuming process but well worth it in producing a quality fish product thereby adding value to the raw produce.  No artificial additives or "smoke" flavouring used and alhamdulillah, whenever I bring them to market, it is always sold out.

Because we produce organic produce, I am currently experimenting with producing more probiotics food products.  This will be a new chapter in the farm development with an eye for the future.

The last and final part of 7 years later is : Behind the scenes which will cover the infrastructure as well as human resources.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Tomatoes, oh Tomatoes: You love TLC

I love vine-ripe tomatoes that are grown organically.  If you find them in supermarkets, they are expensive.  So I grow my own.  To those of you who have tried growing them, you know how trying it is.  First, they are susceptible to pest especially aphids and white flies.  These pests basically suck the life out of the plant.  If the pest is not controlled, you end up with a dead plant which leads to a major disappointment especially if you started with a healthy seedling.  Over the years, I have had many plants died on me so I continually experiment with the mixture for pest control.  After many iterations, I have finally come up with one that I can live with.

You can produce it yourself by creating an enzyme solution from organic wastes (such as fruit peels, vegetable discards, etc.) with citronella, indian borage and ginger fermented with a sugar source (molasses, gula nipah, gula melaka, etc.) and unchlorinated water for at least one month. though I tend to ferment for 3 months.  What will be produced is a liquid filled with beneficial enzymes and microorganisms as well as nutrients with pest control properties.  This is a concentrate which you then dilute at the rate of 10ml or 2 tablespoons of concentrate to 1 litre of water,  Just spray the plant including the underside of the leaves twice a week.

Tomato plants love water but cannot abide soggy soil so the soil mixture had to be able to retain water but not drown the roots.  Water had to be accessible to the roots so by having a richly organic soil, the soil remained moist throughout the heat of the day, keeping the plant "fresh".  The plants love the sunshine and does best in full sun in the day but if there is a lack in moisture, the plant can wilt and may not recover.

Now that I got the pest under control, and the soil mixture with drainage done, the next step is to encourage flowering and fruiting.  Most organic fertilisers are general purpose and doesn't provide the full support for flowering and fruiting.  I conducted some experiments and found that liquid fish amino acids (FAA) with sea salts and liquid calcium concentrate worked best for me to encourage flowering and fruiting.

I produce the liquid FAA by fermenting 500g of fish wastes, 100 ml of probiotic liquid (such as from probiotic drinks or yogurt drinks), 100 ml of liquid molasses or 100gm of molasses with 1 later of unchlorinated water.  The mixture is fermented for at least 1 month.  I use fish wastes from the farm fish as I can ensure that it has not had any contaminants introduced such as chemical preservatives that are often applied to fish from the market.  Fish wastes include the innards of the fish, the gills and the bones.  Instead of molasses, I have also tried using gula melaka.  

I also produce the liquid calcium from eggshells from the farm eggs (which are from free-range organic chicken) fermented with vinegar for at least 1 month.  For the sea salt, I will dissolve 500g of sea salt in 1 litre of unchlorinated water and leave it overnight before making my FAA concentrate.  The difference before and after the application of this combination is tremendous.  Now I am even more motivated to plant more varieties of tomatoes :)

Before application, 1-2 fruits per bunch
Before application, few flowers

After application, average of 5 per bunch

After application, increase in flowers

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Suria Helang Lui: 7 years later Part 2: Vegetable and herbs

The farm is designed with the concept of every thing grown at the farm is either edible and/or have therapeutic values or in support of the farm produce.  Hence vegetables and herbs are integral.  Most leafy vegetables require more care and with the farm size of 2.5 acres and the multitude of content, I needed to have a way of growing it with the least amount of time and effort required and lowest cost possible.  The objective is to produce quality vegetables for the family and to support our market stall, making it affordable to many.  This is where the producing our own fertiliser and pest control helps as well as having the greenhouse.

The vegetables selected are based on what I like - after all, what is the point of growing things that you don't like?  My favourites are tomatoes, cabbages, kale, kailan, choy sum, spinach, french beans, long green beans and broccoli.  I also like other vegetables so we have an assortment of them planted.  Some are planted in the greenhouse - those that require more care like tomatoes and cabbages - and others are planted outdoors - especially the ones that require a trellis or climbing support like the beans and cucumbers.  We rely on organic methods for fertilisation and pest control and I am continuously experimenting on formulas to improve the quality and yield as well as to protect my vegetables from the damage done by pests.

Another aspect that I continue to experiment is growing vegetables in polybags.  As more and more people tend to live in apartments and condominiums whereby they do not have the land to grow their plants, container gardening is the only option.  As the greenhouse has a size limit, I can simulate growing vegetables in a small space - the soil composition, water and drainage, fertilisation, pest control and light requirement.

The seeds we selected are all non-GMO and some are organic.  In the last year we have started to produce our own seeds to support our continued planting cycles.  This will help reduce our seed costs as well as reducing our dependence on commercial seed suppliers.  We have started to sell some of our seeds but this is not a focussed activity.

Part of the learning process is understanding the soil composition for the various vegetables, pests that love it and how to control it as well as water and fertilisation.  A key component is to keep the soil healthy and alive by regularly introducing beneficial microorganisms and enzymes as well as encouraging the earthworm population.  For me, one of the best decisions I made was not to bulldoze the land hence I retained the top soil that took years to build.  All the vegetation wastes are recycled back into the soil which further adds to the quality of the soil over time.

Going organic has also made it more of a challenge in controlling pests but ultimately, it is worthwhile for the quality of vegetables produced.  Having access to quality water free from contaminants also makes a difference.  Chlorine kills microorganism hence their use in the water purification process.  This in turn may also affect the beneficial microorganisms in your soil.  In promoting the natural health of the soil, this can adversely affect our efforts hence our reliance on natural river water that we have piped down from the source.  Whenever someone asks me what to look for when buying a piece of land, I always says it is important to have a good natural water source.

One of my interest is the role of food as a source of promoting good health and prevention of diseases.  So apart from having nutritious vegetables, I also love to plant herbs and spices.  Over the years, I have been building and studying the herbal plants that we plant at the farm.  I focus more on our native plants and gather information from practicing traditional herbalist.  The various herbs can be used in cooking as well as in drinks.  Amongst the plants we planted are turmeric, Bentong ginger, small galangal, ginger torch, lemon grass, citronella, and misai kucing.  I began this collection about 5 years ago and continue to build it as I study our traditional therapies.  I focus on what is found in Malaysia as I hope to build a heritage collection at the farm.  Some of the produce is sold in its raw form and some are used in the production of our drinks and concentrates which is designed to make it easy for people to add to their diet and consume as part of their normal diet.  In order to ensure perpetuity, we also work on propagating the plants.

Apart from human consumption, my herbals also serve as source materials for my pest control formula.  There are many herbals that can serve as pest control such as citronella, Indian borage and ginger.  So, these types of herbs serve a dual purpose at the farm: for humans and for pest control.  By growing them at the farm, I can be assured that they are free from chemical pesticides thus it prevents the introduction of toxic chemicals into my farm system.

Apart from herbals, we also plant honey bamboo (rebung madu) and it also have multiple purpose - provide for rebung madu (honey bamboo shoots), the bamboo to use in create supporting stakes for the plants , bamboo rod to harvest fruits and source material for creating a trellis.  At the same time, it can also provide me with an impromptu fishing rod.

The basic underlying tenet is still to do no harm to the ecosystem and continue to retain the balance.  It is a holistic approach with care and thought given to all at the farm.  Hence our tagline: "Maximizing nature's bounty".

Part 3: Our products for continued sustainability of the farm.