Tuesday, 28 June 2011

SHL Journal - Benefits of Farming

Being able to pursue a dream is great but it becomes wonderful when you get to enjoy all other kinds of benefits.  For starters, since I have started farming, I am able to enjoy fresh, quality food such as fruits, vegetables and fish.  As such, my diet has changed substantially which has contributed to being more healthy and weight loss. 
With the food being great tasting, I either eat them raw of lightly cooked with minimal oil and shorter cooking time.  The result, my meals are lower in calories and richer in vitamins - without me having to resort to counting calories and worrying about what I eat.  I am constantly amazed at all the edible vegetation available in Malaysia and how much information on it is unknown.  We are more aware of fast-foods and convenience foods.  It is shame if we lose the knowledge.
Being very hands-on and being a "laborer" on the farm, I get a very good regular workout without having to go to a specific place and wearing special clothing.  What works best is old, comfortable, loose clothing so how is that for low-cost workout.  At the same time, I get to enjoy fresh air, beautiful surrounding and I do not get bored.  There is a variety of activities that I can choose from that can be classified as aerobic or anaerobic, strength training, cross-training and all those wonderful terms you hear at gyms.  Because I am doing something that I enjoy, each "workout" can last for hours without me checking the time to see if I have worked-out sufficiently.  I continue to be motivated to "work-out" as I get to enjoy the fruits of my labor and also have enjoyed over 10kg in weight loss and toned-up my body, feeling better every day.
While I get physical benefits, I also get mental benefits.  I am continuously learning - from engineering to construction to agriculture to business to health.  I get to exercise the creative side of me with various designs from how the farm should be developed, the house, furniture, and business.  I acquire knowledge on safety including on handling tools and machinery.  There is an enormous opportunity for increasing knowledge so boredom is the last thing on the list.  I enjoy being able to continue learning and my brain gets the exercise it needs.  My home library now consists on books covering all these various topics.  I guess I should figure where these books can be donated someday.
By taking the produce direct from farm and selling it directly, I get the opportunity to interact with people from all social levels.  This provides me with the opportunity to socialize and share information while being able to indulge in my love for studying people and culture.  I learn a lot from these encounters, from how I should communicate to the negatives of stereotyping. I also gain more knowledge on "real people, real lives".
On top of all these, it has also provided me with the opportunity to embark on a spiritual journey, marvelling at all of Allah's creations and his bounty.  I feel blessed.  SubhanAllah.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

SHL Journal - Producing Tasty Fresh Water Fish

Prior to having my own farm, I had tried eating "farmed" fresh water fish and found it to have a "muddy" flavor as well as having a strong odor.  The not-so-nice odor starts emitting from the minute you clean the stomach area of the fish.  Since then, I have avoided eating fresh water fish - one could say that I developed an aversion to it.  I keep hearing some people raving about them so when I started the farm, I decided to research on the possible reasons as to why some fish taste so bad and why some are said to taste good.
From my research, I concluded a few factors.  The first factor is the quality of the water which is dependent on the water source as well as the type and size of the fish pond.  In creating my fish pond, I decided make the pond as natural as possible.  After studying the contour and history of the land, I found that there used to be streams on this property so I decided to use the "stream tracks" as the basis and deepen them to about 1.5-2m depth, creating different depths in different areas of the pond thus having different water height levels.  After all, when you think about it, the river beds are not all one level but have "hills and valleys".  As the pond was dug out, it hit the water table level so thus ensuring (to a certain point) that the pond will not go dry and in a certain way, enable constant supply of ground water to the pond.  The result is a fish pond that resembled a river flowing through the land - definitely not a rectangular or square shape, which is the home to several types of fish - kelah, tilapia merah and bunga, jelawat, ketutu, keli, tongsan, lampam jawa and kerai, puyu, tengas daun and other types of river fish.
Next was to ensure good, clean, fresh water was constantly flowing into the pond and this was achieved by laying polypipe at the source of water up in the hills and piping them down, which coincidentally also supplies the house, with this quality water.  The pond then served as a dual purpose, one to raise fish and the second as a non-stop overflow to the water supply.  By creating the pond this way, I did not have a need for an oxygenation machine that you will find in stagnant water fish ponds.  Without cement base, this enabled the natural-growing plants and algae to flourish with earth-based "food" readily available for them, which also provided another food source to my fishes.  The fish pond would then provide not only a good home for the fishes but also add a beautiful landscape feature to the farm where one can sit by the pond and enjoy the mornings or evenings without that awful water smell of stagnant water (which at times, as with stagnant water, provide a good breeding ground for mosquitoes!).  I learnt from the Department of Natural Resource that they tested the quality of the water by placing kelah fish and if they survived, the water is good.  Ikan kelah  is a fish which will only live in good quality water.  I am happy to see that my kelah is flourishing.
The second factor, is the food for the fish.  Some fish farms feed their fish with carcasses from goats to pigs as well as innards from chicken and also serve as their sewer tank (so no wonder some have an awful smell).  These methods provide for cheaper fish production as well as an easy way out for waste.  I am sure that many of you have heard the saying "You are what you eat".  Well, the same applies to the fish.  How can you expect tasty fish when they consume "garbage"?  Yes, you can produce cheap fish which enables the consumer to then purchase them cheap but I for one, would argue that you can produce reasonable-priced fish without resorting to these alternative food for the fish.  Many take it for granted that the fish they eat is "good" and do not question how it is produced.  After all, if it is bought at the supermarkets and markets, it must be alright.  Think again, the name of the game is price - they want cheap source, mark it up to what the market will bear, and sell it.  Few if any, really check what the fish is fed.  It is also the consumers fault, when they find quality fish which is slightly higher, they complain and want cheaper prices without thought that cheap also means that some corners will be cut and you get what you paid for.  I experimented with feeding the fish a mixture of chopped cassava leaves, "keladi" leaves and inner portion of the banana stem supplemented with fish feed pellets.  The fish also have a selection of small river fish and shrimps that enter the pond from the water supply - a truly natural food source.  I must admit that this approach of feeding the fish requires additional time and effort but it is well worth it.  By creating the food mixture, I also have another option for recycling the banana stems when I harvest the bananas, tapioca and ubi keladi, apart from composting them to be a fertilizer for my "garden".
After one year, the I am now able to start harvesting the fish.  However, with the design of the pond, I am now pondering on the best mechanism to harvest the fish.  I strive to grow the fish as naturally as possible and I have tasted the end result.  I enjoy crispy, fried fish (yes I know, it may not be the healthiest option to cook it) with a dribble of lemon juice that takes as little as 15 minutes from pond to plate.  Now, I love fresh water fish but only the ones from my fish pond with its natural sweetness and no smelly odor or muddy taste - you can say that I am very selective but I want the best in life for me :)

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Edible Landscape - Banana Plants >> Types of fruits

Updated version :
There are so many types of Malaysian bananas available and it is fun going on this adventure of discovery.  My quest has just begun and I hope to be able to have all the varieties that are native to Malaysia or have been in Malaysia for the last 50 years and have not undergone genetic modification in the last 10 years.  As such, I have sourced some of them and some have been on this land when I acquired it.

Pisang Abu Kuning

Pisang Abu Bunga
The Pisang Abu is can be eaten raw but more often is turned into  pisang goreng or pengat pisang.  There are a few types and some have seeds.  Since I hate biting into the seeds, it takes the pleasure out of it, I make sure that the variety I have is seedless.  The skin of the pisang abu bunga when ripen has a blackish outline with a mixture of green and yellow whereas the pisang abu kuning as the name suggests, ripen to a nice orangeish-yellow.  It is almost squarish, with the clear edges on four sides.  It has a nice sweet taste to it.  At the farm, this is one of the biggest plant at a height of 7m with a stem diameter of about 12cm.

The Pisang Awak is often eaten as pisang goreng but is also great eaten raw.  It has a rounder appearance and the skin is a lighter shade of yellow.  Be aware that there is also a variety of this banana that has seeds which definitely takes away from the enjoyment of a great pisang goreng.  The skin is also thinner compared with Pisang Abu.

The Pisang Emas is a great after-meal dessert and due to its smaller size, is just perfect.  It has a golden-yellow skin when fully ripe.  It is creamy and sweet.  When it is over-ripe, it also makes a great local snack-time dish such lempeng pisang or cucur kodok and can also be used to make banana cake or bread.

The Pisang Kapas is sometimes taken when young and used in cooking.  However for me, I like to let it ripen and eat it as a snack.  It has a very sweet taste and definitely less creamy than pisang lemak manis so I often end up eating more.  The fruit doesn't have any angles on its body and has a smooth skin with a creamier yellow skin when compared with other "dessert" bananas.

The Pisang Lemak Manis is best eaten raw and is great as a breakfast component or after-meal dessert.  Its smaller size makes it just the right size to be eaten after a meal.  When ripen, it has a smooth, bright yellow thin skin and easily separated from its sikat.  When this banana is over-ripen, it gets to be mushy and very sweet so makes a great cucur kodok as well as a tasty banana bread.

The Pisang Nangka is one of the few varieties that remain green when ripen.  The less-ripened fruits is also often used to make kerepek pisang or banana chips.  It can also be eaten raw but is more often eaten cooked as pisang goreng.  I have also tried this out in banana bread and it gives a twist to the bread with its slightly sour but sweet taste.

The Pisang Raja is among the most popular variety for goreng pisang or banana fritters.  The plants on the farm grow to about 5m tall and takes about 1 year from planting to bear fruit.  The skin of the fruit when ripe is bright yellow with speckles of dark brown.  It is seedless and the flesh is sweet and firm when ripe thus making it a favorite as gorend pisan as it absorbs less oil.  It is a popular variety with pisang goreng sellers however, it is less often available then pisang awak or pisang abu.  It is easier to find this variety from pasar tani.  When I have this available at my Sunday morning market, it is sold-out in less than 30 minutes.