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.......