Sunday, 25 December 2011

Pereskia Sacarosa (Bintang Tujuh / Jarum Tujuh)

This is one of the most interesting plant from the cactus family which is often used in herbal medicine and in Chinese medicine, known as qi xing zhen.  It is purported to be used for treatment of cancer (colon, breast, ovarian and cervix) as well as a preventative measure, stroke, high blood pressure  and other types of ailments in holistic or traditional medicine.  It is also used in treatment of hemorrhoids, stomach gastric and bloating. 

A very good friend of mine gave me three stems that she had obtained from her father for me to add to my collection of medicinal plants and herbs.  Planting the stems was an exercise in caution.  It was quite difficult to handle the stems as they were covered with sharp, pointy, needles that can stick into you easily.  I received a couple of jabs when I was planting them and yes, it did feel like a sharp needle sticking into you.  Being from the cactus family but a tropical plant as opposed to the normal dessert cactus, it loves the sun and the rain but does well in soil with at least 50% sand and 50% organic soil.

Four buds in bloom
Four buds
I find it to be a very beautiful plant with its rose-like flowers and beautiful green leaves but it has to be handled with care because it has the sharp needles on the stem.  You will definitely feel the effect of the needle prick for a few hours.  As such, if you have small children, I suggest that you plant it in areas where it is not accessible to them.  It is a great natural way as a deterrent to intruders when planted as a "fence".

This plant can grow to over 20m tall.  Periodic trimming of it will enable you to control the height of the plants whilst encouraging it to "bush out".  I enjoy watching how the flower changes from its bud form to a beautiful, striking red-orange or vermillion colored petals.  Sometimes, the buds are in multiples and sometimes, single.  Due to its appearance, I find that it makes a colorful addition to my herb section and can add beauty and color to your gardens to.  I often wonder where the name Bintang Tujuh comes from and then I started counting the number of leaves the level below the flowers.  Guess what?  There are seven leaves!

For medicinal purposes, the leaves are eaten raw, normally two to three young leaves a day.  It has a creamy taste, neither sweet, salty or sour.  In my research, I found that some articles indicate that it is bitter in taste but I have not found it to be so.  Personally, I consume 2-3 raw leaves about 3 times a week for general well-being - another reason why I prohibit usage of pesticides and herbicides on the farm.  These leaves are a definite positive addition to my "snack" list as I walk around the farm.

It is also a great addition to salads, adding some crunch.  It can also be blended with other items to create a health drink.  It also produces an edible fruit that is green in colour which changes to light yellow as it ripens but do not be fooled, it remains to very sour.

Updated: August 20, 2015

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Chicken And The Egg

If you follow the nutritional research on chicken and eggs, it seems that it changes over time.  But then again, the body's chemistry is still very much a mystery.  I remember a time when people were advised to avoid eggs due to high cholestrol and then recently I read that eggs were back to being good for you because the eggs do not contain harmful cholestrol.  The same goes with chickens but then again most chickens nowadays are given all kinds of medications as well as interesting types of feed.  I am also unsure of all these GM eggs - you know those eggs that claim to have Omega as well as other supplements.   Nutritionally, eggs contain the highest quality protein you can buy which has just the right mix of essential amino acids needed by humans to build tissues. It is second only to mother's milk for human nutrition. In addition, eggs have thirteen essential vitamins and minerals.  Egg yolk is the major source of the egg's vitamins and minerals.  A large egg contains only 70 calories and 5 grams of fat.  Egg yolks are one of the few foods that are a naturally good source of Vitamin D.

Hence, I embarked on my own journey of - rearing chickens and producing eggs.  As the basic principle of SHL is to stick as closely as possible to natural farming, the chicken currently get to run around the farm all over the place, including sometimes entering the house!  They have also started to become a nuisance to my newly planted crops, scratching the soil around it causing for the roots to be uncovered as well as at times, totally destroying the plants.  I started with 28 chickens and chicks, 3 of which were rooters, and of different ages, ranging from a month old to about 1 year old, all "kampung chicken".  In about 9 months, I now have 50 chickens and chicks.

Corn feed
  The chickens spend the day scrounging all over the farm for food and I supplement their diet with corn and rice as well as over-ripe papayas and bananas and leftover farm produce such as tapioca and sweet potatoes.  As I do not use pesticides on the farm, I do not have to worry about the chicken consuming harmful residues.  I enjoy watching them as they feed, especially the baby chicks and how they avoid from being stepped on by the bigger chickens and they look so cute :)

The chickens are free to wander all over the place, gathering their eggs was a challenge, mainly due to finding the location.  I knew that they were laying the eggs somewhere as from time to time, I would see the mother hen with newly-hatched chicks, happily strolling and being quite noisy.

Nest found
Sometimes, I was lucky to find the nest but as the hen was already sitting on the eggs, I didn't take the eggs as I wasn't sure how long the eggs had been laid.  At other times, I managed to locate the nest early enough so I was able to collect the eggs.  With over 2 acres of land available to them, and the challenge of keeping the grass and weed to a minimum, there was a lot of hiding places for the hens.   I am striving to produce organic eggs of which the main item  that may disqualify me is that I do not know if the corn that I feed them contain pesticides, fungicide or herbicide.

The eggs are a popular item at my Sunday market stall and often the demand outstrips the supply.  I have my regulars and also off-and-on, those who want them for health purposes.  To maintain the freshness of the eggs longer, it should be refrigerated as eggs age more in one day at room temperature than in one week in the refrigerator.  I get satisfaction from being able to produce eggs free from pesticides and additives.  I have people who ask it I will sell my chickens - for the moment, the answer is no.

My compromise to providing them with as natural a setting as well as to protect my crops and to improve egg collection efforts is to build a chicken run of 20'x15' with "apartments" for the hens to lay their eggs.  This project is underway which is targetted to be completed by this week.  From then on, the plan is to have them all housed in there, with scheduled "roaming" time to enable them to "exercise" and enjoy the scenery, so to speak.  This will also help me protect them from the eagle that once in a while, will choose one of them for its meal.  My goal is to be able to produce 60 eggs per week and then determining the growth path for this produce once I have achieved the target production.  So the adventures at SHL continues.......

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Project Rawdah

One of my goals in developing Helang Lui is to provide a practical example of how land can be developed maximizing existing features on the land.  Alhamdulillah, I was presented with an opportunity to work on a project to develop a property into a retreat, a place where a family can enjoy their weekends in as natural setting as possible in relative comfort.  The property is located in Ulu Langat with a size of 3.1 acres on a hillside, with some sections of steep terrain.
Before I started on this project, I had several good conversations with the owner to understand what his goal and vision for the land was.  It was also important for me to understand how the owner feels about this property as this will influence the direction of the development.  Prior to my involvement, he had met with others and the main idea had mainly been to bulldoze the land to clear it and then start anew.  I tend to shy away from this concept of land razing, especially land that has decades worth of trees.  You can discover many wonderful treasures and in this instance, we found durian, cempedak, manggis, petai, kerdas and jering trees as well as plants and trees that can be used for various purposes such bertam and buloh and also other trees that can produce good lumber as well as provide shade and beautify the land.

Steep boundary line

The first step was to perform a site survey, to see what is on the land, the contour and the terrain.  Getting to the property was a workout as it required about 15 minutes of high grade hiking and walking within the property was another workout but definitely well worth it.  The site survey provided great insights as well as realization of how many beautiful trees there are as well as what types of trees was present as well as what produce can be obtained.  Bull dozing the land would have caused a lost of many of these trees.
Following the site survey and further discussion, a project plan was developed.  This is key to ensure that I know what I need to do for this project as well as will enable me to create a project budget as we proceed.
The first phase was to clear the boundary lines to enable the owner to have a clear sight of the boundaries.  During this phase, trees that were not designated to be retained were chopped.  Locating the boundary markers was essential, and armed with the land plan, we were able to locate the markers, although getting to some of the markers was a challenge.

Sloping boundary, a challenge to fence

The second phase is to fence the property.  This is important to delineate the property and to discourage encroachment as well as unauthorized access.  Due to the previous state, the property had the appearance as a forest and there were signs of unauthorized access as well as rubber tapping activities. 

Wood fence post with green barbed wire

A major challenge in this phase was to come out with a fencing plan that will maximize on what was available on the land and minimize what needed to be brought in due to no road access to the property, just a pathway.  As such, the fence post was produced from the trees felled and green barbed wire is used.  The choice of the fence post was mainly due to two factors:
  1. Difficulty in bringing construction materials
  2. Cost
Metal fence post was not a consideration due to the attractiveness to thieves who would steal them for scrap metal.  The barbed wired were brought in on the motorcycle - albeit it had to have all-terrain tires on it.

Throughout the two phases, pathways were created to ease access on the property, especially in light of the hilly and steep terrain in sections of the land.  With the season rains, terrain challenge and farm commitments, the fencing work should be completed in by end of this week.  I am looking forward to the completion of this phase and I can already see how the appearance of the land has changed, providing clarity and clear demarcation of boundaries.

The remaining phases are :
  1. The third phase is to enable a water supply to the property.
  2. The fourth phase is to create a rest area.
  3. The fifth phase is to clear the remaining property off unwanted plants and trees.
  4. The sixth phase is to perform plant maintenance.
For the third phase, providing water supply, it is clear that there is a nearby water source as pipes have been found along the stream that passes this property.  It is anticipated that we will embark on this next phase in January with a survey the water source as well as the possible routes for the laying of the polypipe as well as solution to enable water supply to the highes possible level on the land.  There are many factors to consider, another challenge in the development of this property.
From here on, with scheduled maintenance, this beautiful property can become a great weekend retreat.  I look forward to the completion of this project :)

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Banana Plants Part 2

My first article on this was more on what the plant is.  Now that I have been at it for almost two years, I have discovered interesting things about this plant.  This plant is one of the most useful plants - almost all its components can be used for one purpose or another as well as being an interesting edible landscape addition.  I am a proponent for natural, organic farming so no chemical pesticides or fertilizers are used on the farm.  I find that going this route does not detract from the quality and quantity of the bananas produced and has the added dimension of being  a healthier food option.

Unripen Pisang Berangan

Of course we all know that the fruit can be eaten in various ways, depending on the varieties and personal preference.  There is no reason why pisang awak cannot be eaten raw though it is more commonly found as pisang goreng or in cooked form.  The dishes that can be prepared with bananas are not limited to sweet forms but also as savoury dishes such as in curries and as savoury banana chips.  By going organic, I find that it doesn't detract from the quality of the bananas albeit it does require a bit more work.  However, the results speak for itself.
The leaves are great environmentally-friendly food wrappers and liners.  It can be used to wrap rice to make lontong, etc.  I personally use it to wrap the vegetable produce for transport to market.  To discard it after it has served it purpose, it can be added to the compost pile and transformed to fertilizer.  While the plant is growing, I cut off the older leaves to create a cooling ground cover at the base of the plant which also acts to increase the organic content of the soil as it decomposes.  With its big leaves, they serve as great sunshades and create a cooling resting place under the tree especially when I need to take a rest from the hot sun.

Almost mature banana,
a few more days to go

In case you are wondering how to figure out when a banana is mature or ripe, especially the green-skin varieties, check out how many leaves are remaining on the plant.  As the banana matures, the leaves will begin to turn yellow to brown and finally drop off.  When there is 3-4 leaves, this indicates that the banana is mature.  In my continuing battle with the birds, this is when I will chop the plant and store them hanging in the house.  Depending on your personal preference, the bananas will be ready to eat in a few days.  With variety that ripens with its skin turning yellow, I always enjoy watching the progress and marvel at it.  One of these days, I aim to photograph the change process.
Now on to the stem and its many uses.  Traditionally, the inner part of the stem has been used to create a tasty curry, a recipe common in Kedah, especially for kenduri in the villages.  I have cooked this dish when I have invited lots of people over for a meal at the farm which I also add pieces of salted dried fish.  Apart from being people-food, it makes a great nutritious food item for my fresh water fish.  In support of being environmentally-friendly, I tear-off strips of the outer layer and turn them into ties which I use to tie around my banana leaf wrapped produce for market and also as plant ties.  No need to worry about recycling. 
The stems also make for a great fertilizer as well as increasing the organic content of the soil.  I chop them up and place them around the base of my banana plant, which also helps to maintain the water content in the soil - an important factor for these plants.  It also helps me keep the farm more eye-pleasing.
I am continuously learning about this plant and its varieties and I am still on my quest for pisang tanduk plant to add to my collection :)

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Being a farmer - Challenges and Joys

After commenting on Facebook on a comment about a nation's ability to produce enough food for its people, I realized how dear at heart this topic is to me.  A few years ago, I made the commitment to develop a farm.  I faced many challenges - among them, battling people's perception of my abilities and commitment as well as some viewing that my venturing into farming is a waste of my skills.  Since I was small, I have always had a dream of one day owning my own farm - producing great quality food produce.  Albeit, growing up, farming was considered something that was done by people who do not have the ability or opportunity to further their education hence the perception that farmers are low-educated people, I still nurtured the dream of one day having my farm and being hands-on - not a "gentleman farmer".
I have learnt many lessons and gained an immense amount of knowledge and experience in developing my farm.  To the faint-hearted, this adventure is not for you.  It tests your patience, your endurance and your faith.  I approach the development as I would with any project - using project management techniques including having a project plan with resources and deliverables defined.
To start with, finding the right piece of land is key.  Many were surprised at the piece of land that I chose and considered that I paid too much for it but in the end, people began to understand.  I chose a land that was the last remaining jungle around other "kebun".  This land has a land grant dating to 1908 but in the last over 40 years, had not been worked.  It was last a paddy field but all traces of this was gone when I got it.  Tarzan would have a wonderful time on the land :).  Key things that I looked at which in the end made the land cheaper overall was the fact that it already had a tarred road access, electricity and ability to obtain clean, fresh water.  Sometimes when people buy a piece of land because it is cheap, they forget these 3 items.  The cost of having a road access to your land can run in the hundreds of thousands of ringgit, and sometime, it is just to have it built with gravel stones - no tar.  Hence a land bought at RM 40K per acre can in a blink of an eye become RM 140K per acre and you still do not have the electricity and water!  When some people realized this, they began to see that I am not stupid for paying more than RM 40K per acre for land that was a jungle because at the end of the day, it not only costs less but also speeded up the time of development.
What does someone from IT and Telco background know about farming?  Very little but that did not stop me.  Life is a continuous learning exercise so I started to learn.  I didn't go to a university or take any formal training.  What I did was to visit and learn from practitioners from all over the country.  There is a lot of knowledge that is not in books - they are a good reference but in reality, there are so many factors that can impact that is learnt through experience and not found in books.  I have to admit that I do have a collection of books covering a wide range of related topics.  They are mainly localized since after all, I am living in Malaysia and not England or U.S.A. or Australia.
Nothing beats taking the theory and knowledge and putting it into practice.  It is a never-ending discovery process.  What may work on another farm may not work on mine due to various reasons.  It is a continuous refinement process - making adjustments as I go along.  When things do not go as I expect, when my patience is tried, I take a deep breathe and refocus and deal with the challenge.  I do not view it as a failure but as an opportunity to learn and improve.  Farming is for the positive-minded, open to challenge people.
Being a Muslim, farming is also an opportunity to be a better Muslim.  Everyday I am amazed by Allah s.w.t. creations and power.  It makes me feel blessed that Allah s.w.t has given me this opportunity.  I am given the opportunity to produce affordable quality, pesticide-free, halal food, for myself, family, friends and customers.  It makes me appreciate life more and gives me an opportunity to serve my fellow Muslims.  Although I am not there yet, insyAllah, it will provide me with good income as well as activity as I grow older till the day that I die.
Farming requires passion.  You have to love farming as it has its ups and downs.  Farming requires commitment.  You have to be committed as it is not an 8-hour in-out job.  Farming requires faith.  You have to have faith as there will always be challenges.  Farming requires principles.  You have to have principles or you will not be able to do it right.  Farming requires brains.  You must use your brains to plan, address issues, learn and a whole other multitude of activities.  Thus, never under-estimate the farmer.
I studied the layout of the land, trying to preserve its good quality top soil, any plants or trees that are beneficial to humans and utilizing the natural stream-bed contour to create a fish pond.
My target for the farm was to be able to produce a complete meal with the exception of condiments such as salt and sugar.  In a way, should there ever be a need, the farm will be able to feed its people from what is produced.  No rice is planted so in dire circumstances, this will have to be replaced with cassava or tapioca (ubi kayu), just like during the Japanese Occupation.  Other than that, cooking oil can be produced from coconuts.  All the other elements are available - fish, vegetables and fruits.  As my approach is to go as natural as possible, should organic fertilizer not be available, I have my compost.  I practice crop rotation so as to to "kill" the soil.  The plants drink the rain water and when necessary fresh, clean, natural water. 
The fish are fed the fish pellets as supplement - there is tiny river shrimp, small fish and plants that they feast on so should the pellets become unavailable, the impact is very minimal.  My principle is to feed the fish what it would normally eat so chicken innards, human excrement and dead animals are a no-no.  The  other key element is clean water which I pipe from a natural, clean source.  These factors keep my pond from becoming a cess pool with a stinky odor.  Since I have the option to be selective, I only eat fresh water fish from my pond and it tastes great.  I refuse to eat store-bought fresh water fish as it tends to have a smell as well as a muddy taste.
Having a farm also enables me to indulge in my other interest, herbs for well-being.  I am constantly on the lookout for plants or trees to add to my collection.  I have started producing two types of teas: misai kucing tea and kemangi or lemon basil tea.  I regularly drink these two types of tea for health maintenance.
As a rule, I will taste-test all the produce from the farm before I sell them.  A maxim that I live by: You only "feed" other people what you would eat yourself.  It also gave me the opportunity to test out recipes cooked with herbs as condiments - learning the recipes that our ancestors used.
The cost of food is ever rising.  Our government continue to subsidize certain basic food items.  You will find more and more imported fruits and vegetables as well as other imported food produce in the markets and supermarkets - items that can be grown and produced in Malaysia but often costs less than Malaysian produce.  One wonders why?  My personal experience in getting my produce to the consumer direct at our version of the farmer's market exposed to me the bureaucratic barriers.  This alone can be a deterrent for the farmer in selling his produce direct to consumers.  I was fortunate to find a "friendly" location.  This gave me an opportunity to sell fresh produce direct from the farm thus making Friday and Saturday extremely busy days, preparing for the Sunday morning market.
For me, being able to come in direct contact with my customers was important.  It provided me with the ability to obtain uncensored feedback from customer, provide an insight to customer preferences as well as real people's buying strength.  This activity also gave me an insight to the ignorance of some Malaysian's and the stereotypes held namely people involved in farming are uneducated and cannot speak proper Bahasa Malaysia let alone English.  They also tend to look down on farmers so I have a great time surprising them.  I enjoy the social interaction and it gives me great satisfaction when I have resellers of my produce at the same market and when the customers themselves promote my produce to other customers.  It also enables me to get the most income from my produce
It is still a long road to when the farm turns a profit but I have faith that with perseverance and hard work with Allah s.w.t. blessing, the farm will succeed.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Farm Services: Development of Farms and fruit orchards

I love farming and in the last couple of years that I have been immersed in it, one thing that is clear is, as with anything else you do, you must have a passion for it.  It requires commitment and time, and of course money.  However, no matter how much money you have, if you do not have trusted people to work with you, many unnecessary challenges will be faced, often resulting in additional costs and in time, some people give up.  For farm to be in top form, producing quality produce, you must have the time to spend on it.  Around the Hulu Langat area, there are many properties that remain uncared for and turning into a jungle, mainly because the owners have no interest in it, have no time to spend on it, thinks that it is an investment which in the future they can sell and make a lot of money without putting any more effort till then, and a whole other multitude of what I consider wasteful or irresponsible excuses.
Owning a piece of land is a gift, a treasure and a blessing.  It is an opportunity provided to us and should not be squandered.  Options abound.  At the very least, if the owner is too lazy, then find someone and farm it out to them.  However, I feel, that once you really see it with your heart and mind, you will realize the treasure that it is and do something with it and not waste the opportunity.
As such, Suria Helang Lui is venturing into a new area - providing land developing and maintenance services to absentee or part-time dwellers land owners who are interested in developing their land in agriculture such as fruit orchards, weekend farm retreats or vegetable farms.  We develop a relationship with the land owners to understand what their aim and objective is and work towards achieving their dream and vision.
Currently, we are working on one project on a property, which at first glance, people mistakenly think that there is nothing much on it except for forest vegetation.  Within the Hulu Langat area, a major portion of the land has been explored first by the Orang Asli and later, in the early 1900s by Indonesians, mainly originating from Sumatera, namely Kerinci and Minang.  During the time where immigration laws were almost non-existent, people were more mobile.  Until today, there are strong family ties between Malaysian Kerinci and Minang with their families in Sumatera.  As a result of this ealier land development, in many areas you will find Durian, Jering, Kerdas and Petai trees.  Over the generations, with the lack of care on some of these properties, it has returned to a jungle with the aforementioned trees interspersed.  What a waste of opportunity as these trees produces popular items that Malaysians love and definitely have a commercial value.
If a land owner would love to have an agriculture-based property, I highly recommend that the first step taken, after the boundary has been determined, should be to perform a survey of the vegetation.  You may be surprised at what you find.  Unfortunately many land owners do not know one tree from another, some mistakenly identifying a durian tree as a regular wood tree due to the size.  Many people are familar with the propagated version of the durian tree that only lasts around 15 years and not aware that durian trees planted from seeds lasts for decades, hence growing to a great height with big trunks. 
Often people think the easiest and fastest way is just to bulldoze the land and re-plant.  This short-sighted approach often results in lost treasures such as these great fruit trees, great lumber as well as medicinal plants that are often found only in deep jungle, with all the ground razing being done.  With most land clearing, the bulldozer shoves everything on the ground, including the wonderful top-soil into a few piles, which later the owner will have to decide how to get rid of these unsightly hills.  Sometimes, when the land owner decides to build a house, this pile is flattened, causing decomposing organic matter to be mixed with the soil, forming the base of where the house is built.  It is no wonder that often these houses end-up with cracks, when their floor base is sinks or shifts due to the decomposing material.  Later, these same owners wonder why they have to fertilize their plants and trees so much.  Sometimes, I feel like saying "Duh!!!!!".
I view owning and developing a land as a trust, an inheritance to future generations as well as an obligation to preservation as much as possible.  In our quest for development, we have lost many unknown treasures and with each generation, knowledge.  Sometimes, we are so caught in modernization that we forget that many medications, albeit in its traditional form, originate from these plants and trees.  Take the Senduduk Hutan also known as Senduduk Putih.  It has a blood coagulation element within the juice of the leaves as well as the ability to draw out certain types of animal secretions that prevent coagulation of the blood such as the leech or pacat.  It also is used in many other ways.
Once a fruit orchard or farm getaway has been developed, it requires tender loving care to fulfill its maximum potential.  With many land owners busy schedule, regular maintenance is essential and these can be outsourced to outfits like us.  However, as with many relationships, this is a mutually-agreed relationship built on trust with a long-term view.
So, if you need our services, feel free to contact us via my mobile 019-365-1806 or through e-mail at

Building a personalized home - Part 2 : Dream bathroom

I consider the bathroom one of the important parts of the home.  It is one of the first areas we see in the morning and one of the last areas before we go to sleep at night.  It is also an area where cleanliness is a top priority.  At the same time, it can also be a great relaxation area.
My principle of all areas of the house is usage of natural light, easy to clean and maintain, comfortable and definitely easy on the eyes.  This same principle was applied to my bathroom.
Since this is a bathroom, I needed to ensure privacy from other eyes yet allow lot of natural light.  To accomplish this, the part of the roof over the bathroom has a 2'x2' skylight and the walls facing the exterior of the house has many glass cubes.  This allows for lots of light to enter while ensuring privacy.  The use of white tiles and the glass cubes keeps the bathroom bright and at the same time contribute to low maintenance and ease of cleaning.  At the same time, I wanted the walls to look "artistic" so I included the use of   brown-beige trowel stones, also an easy-care wall component.  by not using windows, I will not have to worry about window treatments such as blinds or curtains, which will add work to the maintenance.
I have the luxury of pure, clean water from a source up in the hills, with the added benefit that if I do not use it, I have to release it to the drains or my pipes can burst.  So, what does this give me?  It gives me the luxury of taking long showers and baths.  With good water pressure, I had a "rain" shower installed.  It feels so good to have a nice, cool shower after farm activities.  To complete my options, I will be installing a water heater so that I can have a warm shower for those cold early mornings.
I find it relaxing to hear running water like in a stream or river while having a bath hence a custom bath tub, complete with river rocks that the water can flow over, Nature's music.  I can have the illusion of  bathing in the rain by turning on the shower at the same time.  It also helps to have something beautiful to look at hence the tile, glass cubes and trowel stones on the wall.
Being custom-made, the other end of the bath tub is designed to accomodate comfortable placement of my head as I lie in the tub, complete with water streaming over my shoulders, offering a soft shoulder massage.
I have cleaned it up and started to enjoy my bathroom - absolutely wonderful, relaxation therapy.  Alhamdulillah.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Syawal September Market

It has now been a year since I started doing Sunday morning market at Sg. Penchala - although I did take Ramadhan off.  Alhamdulillah, there has been progress since the start.  We are getting the rhytmn for our activities and with the house almost done, we can focus more on farm production.  I am often asked what do we take to market and I thought it would be fun to have a pictorial description.  On last Saturday, I took out my camera and started capturing all the items that we were taking to the market.
Bunga Kantan or Ginger Torch

A must if you are cooking laksa, the bunga kantan is harvested a day before market to preserve freshness.  To store, I find that it is best to store with about 1 cm of water in the fridge or chiller.

Ulam Raja

The king of the ulam , the Ulam Raja is harvested one day before market and placed in a container filled with enough water to soak about 1cm of the stem.  This keeps it fresh.

Ruku and Selasih

The Ruku (with slightly purple leaves and flowers and Selasih (green with whitish-green flowers) can be eaten as ulam or salad and used as a condiment in dishes using beef, chicken or fish - at least those are the dishes that I have tried.  But then again, you can be creative.

Bunga Betik

The papaya flowers have a slightly bitter taste that can be removed by cooking them with senduduk hutan leaves.  It can also be eaten raw.

Sweet Potato leaves -the reddish/green
version and the all green

The ubi keledek  or sweet potato leaves are a great option for leafy vegetable alternative.  It is harvested two days before market and kept in container with its stem soaked in about 1 cm of water.  It can be cooked in the similar manner that you cook kangkung.

Bayam kampung or
broad-leaf spinach
The green broad-leaf spinach loves rich, organic soil and is harvested the day before market day and kept in a cool, moist environment to retain freshness.

Papaya shoots or pucuk betik

The Papaya shoots or pucuk betik is picked one day before market day.  It can be stored in a chiller for a couple of days but best eat or cooked within a 2 days from harvest.

Cassava shoots or
pucuk ubi kayu
Two types of cassava shoots or pucuk ubi kayu are sold at the market.  One variety is a thinner and sharper shape and the other is a broader shape.  Once harvested the day prior to market, it needs to be kept cool or it will wilt rather quickly.  These shoots emit heat so it is left overnight in the cool air.

Terong pipit

This variety of aubergine a.k.a. terong pipit is harvested a couple of times of week - Wednesdays and Saturdays - at their prime.  It is kept in the chiller until Sunday market.

Daun salam  shoots

This Indian Basil or daun salam shoots are harvested on Saturday for market.

Terong telunjuk and
terong bulat

This small versions of aubergines, terong telunjuk  and terong bulat, are harvested on Wednesdays and Saturdays, at what I consider to be the tastiest state. 

Belimbing besi

A variety of the starfruit, belimbing besi, is picked as and when they are ready and stored in the chiller for market day.

Tapioca or ubi kayu

Tapioca or ubi kayu, is dug out on a day prior to going to market.  I do not wash the tapioca as this helps retain the freshness of the tuber.

Lemon basil or kemangi

The lemon basil or kemangi do not like water on their leaves for long period of time so it is harvested in the late afternoon the day prior to market  and placed in a container where the bottom of the stems just touch the water.  The leaves bruise easily with continued contact with water so care is exercised to ensure the leaves are kept "dry".

Tumeric leaves or
 daun kunyit

Lemongrass or serai
The tumeric leaves or  daun kunyit as with the other leafy produce is harvested a day prior to market day for freshness.  Whilst the lemon grass or serai is harvested two days prior to market - more because it is time consuming to process it ready for market - and also because it can be kept fresh easily.

Pumpkin or labu
The eggs are collected during the week, jsut after is is laid and is sold weekly.  Similarly with the pumpkin, it is harvested as and when it is ready and stored for market day.

Pisang Kapas

Each week I never know what bananas I will have for market so on Monday or Tuesday, I will make my rounds and check which bananas will ripen by market day.  For "dessert" bananas, when it starts to turn yellow, it is harvested as if it left to fully ripen on the plant, it tends to burst out of its skin.

These are some of the produce we take to market.  As you can imagine, Saturday is the busiest day at the farm and for me as majority of the produce is picked and prepared for market on Sunday.  However, the remaining days are filled with activities of planting, fertilizing, weeding, etc. etc. etc.  I enjoy seeing the progress and it is definitely satisfying when I see people buy and enjoy my produce :)

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Building a personalized house - Part 1

Amongst the things that I love at the farm is the bounty of nature's beauty.  I also love a lot of light - I think it is a shame when during the day, you would have to turn on the light indoors.  At the same time, since it is at the farm, the house needs to be built functionally, allowing me to carry out my farm activities with ease without having to worry about spending a lot of time organizing and cleaning the house.  I want to be able to spend the majority of my time on farm activities and not housekeeping chores. 
To start with, I made the decision to use tiles for the floor and for the walls as this will make it easy for me to clean.  Here I exercise my uncommon style - I use many different types of tiles and colors to delineate the different areas.  I also use the tiles to create a frame for my treasured pieces such as in my surau.  The tiles are used to frame the two beautiful, Belgian wall hangings that are of great meaning to me - the Al-Fatihah and Ayat Kursi.

I also like lots of fresh air and prefer natural cooling to air-conditioners.  As such, the external walls are topped with lattice to allow for air to circulate with fresh air coming in constantly from the outside, even with all the doors closed. 
In my bedroom, to allow for lots of natural light, I have a door leading to the outdoors, that when completed will have 14 glass panes and two panes will be a swinging "cat's door" to enable my cats to go in and out at will.  The door size is also larger than the standard size at 42in. by 72 in.
On the roof, are skylights and there is a lot of glass tiles on the exterior wall, to further allow light in.  As a result, I do not have to turn on the lights from around 0630 until 1900, contributing to less electricity consumption and being earth-friendly.  I opt to use glass tiles because I didn't want to be bothered with having to install curtains - this way, light comes in but you cannot see inside, only able to see fuzzy shapes.  My bedroom is divided into 4 areas, the solat area, sleeping area, storage area and bathroom.  It has an open concept and I use entryways to define the areas.

I like to have little designs added in to reflect the purpose of the area so the entryway to the solat area has a nice cupola shape and as it has 2 walls to the exteriors, there are clear glass tiles positioned to add more light to the area.  Separating between the sleeping area and the solat area, I love the blue glass tiles, to add a contrast that is cool to the eye.  I also found an interesting wall finisher that is made up of tiny stones that is applied to the wall in the same manner as plaster.  This enabled us to have a nice finish to all those curvy lines in the entryway as well as adding an interesting feature to the entryway.  In keeping with the allowing fresh air to circulate all the time, the top of the wall is finished with lattice-work.

I love having people over and I have an event, insyAllah, that I hold every year, the Durian Fest.  With the aroma of durian and many guests, I needed to have an area that is large enough to house this event.  This is the third area that was built on the farm following the leggo style of building.  The living room is a 24x24 tiled open space from which the areas are attached to and with two double-doors, one the main entrance and the other to what I hope will be a picture-garden when I am done :).  When all the exterior doors are opened, I love the airy feeling.  I have yet to decide if what type of furniture I will place in this room but for the moment, it just houses the tv stand and my bookcases.  

I like leaving this area uncluttered as it connects to the surau so whenever I have solat jemaah, there is a lot of room.  To reduce distractions but yet give a bright and fresh feeling to the surau, the walls are also topped with the lattice-work and although there are no windows, there are clear glass tiles positioned as well as skylights for maximum lighting without making it too warm in the afternoon. 
I have still got quite a lot of work ahead but I am having fun in this adventure.  I can't wait to have it completed because it is a distraction from my main activity, farming.