Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Bananas - Pisang Lemak Manis

This is one of the more popular bananas eaten raw.  This banana is similar to pisang emas with the main difference being the size and color of the outer skin and the inner flesh of the banana itself.  At the farm, the plant grows to about 5-6m and each tandan can produce 8-10 sikat when cared for properly, especially in the early stages, prior to the production of the inflorescence.  Each plant produces several "baby" plants and selective removal of these baby plants contributes to the health and well-being of the remaining plants.

I like to harvest this banana when is it mature and just before the skin starts turning yellow as opposed to letting it ripen on the plant.  At this stage, the banana skin is a yellowish-green.  Often when it is left to ripen on the plant, it can "overgrow" causing the it to "burst" out of its skin.  Additionally, I can avoid my war with the birds.  The whole tandan can be hung in the house and watch the skin turn yellow.  I find it amazing to watch this transformation.

The taste is sweet and creamy with a relatively firm and smooth texture.  The inner part of the banana is a nice almost golden yellow.  It has a relatively thin skin and falls off the stem easily when ripe so handle carefully.  Conversely, the inflorescence is bitter.  This banana is also a good choice to be mashed and turned into baby food.

When this banana is over-ripe, it can be used to make delicious cucur kodok.  It also makes a delicious banana muffin or cake.

This banana is a good way to end a meal as it is purported to help with digestion.  With its smaller size, it takes only 3-4 bites to eat a banana so next time you want a healthy, tasty dessert, try a pisang emas.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Bananas - Care and Maintenance for healthy plants

Over the course of 3 years, I have learnt a lot about these plants.  It is my quest to have every type of this plants that is "local" to Malaysia which is not genetically modified.  In my own way, I am trying to preserve our banana heritage so that we all can share in the richness of our "banana culture".
To date, I have the following plants:
  1. Pisang Abu Bunga
  2. Pisang Awak
  3. Pisang Berangan
  4. Pisang Emas
  5. Pisang Embun
  6. Pisang Kapas
  7. Pisang Kling
  8. Pisang Lemak Manis
  9. Pisang Lidi (Rotan)
  10. Pisang Nangka
  11. Pisang Raja
  12. Pisang Rastali (Batik)
  13. Pisang Telur
  14. Pisang Udang
I am still looking for Pisang Tanduk and am finding it difficult to obtain.  So, if any of you know where I can get them, I would be happy to hear from you.
Each plant should be planted at least 10 feet apart or approximately 3.5m initially.  As each plant will produce a few baby plants before it is harvested, this will enable the small plants to grow without being crowded out of sunlight, nutrition and water, ensuring quality plants.  Selective removal of some of this smaller plants will also contribute to the overall quality of this group of plants.
Soil type and quality is also important for its growth.  The pseudostem (batang pisang)  has a high water content and this plant requires a lot of water however does not do well in soggy soil.  It is important to have soil that retains sufficient moisture for the plant hence it is best to have high organic content in the soil,  Continuous composting of the remains from the plant after harvesting is a cost-effective manner of adding organic content as well as fertilizing the plant.  To speed up the process of composting, at the farm, I chop of the remains and spread it around the base of the group of plants.
As the plant grows, frequent removal of the old or dried leaves serves a few purposes, amongst them, providing additional matter for composting, preventing the leaves of the older plants from impeding the growth of the younger plants as well ensuring an aesthetically eye-pleasing view.  By placing all these organic matter around the base, it keeps the base cool as well as help retain moisture.  This process is done at least monthly though I try to do it fortnightly - the number of plants at the farm being the challenge to accomplish this task.
By using these methods, we do not have to water the plants and can just rely on the normal rainfall for watering them.
I also place additional organic fertilizers about 1m away from the base of the group of plants every 3 months to provide additional nutrients for the plants.  The distance is important to prevent "root burning" as well as to encourage growth of roots and allow for natural absorption of nutrients by the plants themselves. 
Once the inflorescence has developed, it is important to ensure that ground moisture is sufficient so as to ensure proper development of the inflorescence - the start of the formation of all those lovely bananas.  When all the fruits have appeared, it is best to remove the remaining inflorescence so as to enable the bananas to receive the fullest nutrition for development.  The inflorescence can be eaten although not all of them taste good.  Certain species produce inflorescence that are not bitter and have a creamy and slightly sweet taste that can be consumed either raw, blanched or cooked.  Amongst the species are pisang abu batu, abu bunga and awak.

The period from the formation of the fruit to when it is ready for harvest varies according to species and growing conditions and can take anywhere from 6 weeks to 10 weeks on average. 

So, how do you know when the bananas are ready to be harvested, especially for the varieties that don't change the color of their skin?  Additionally, I like to harvest the bananas just before it is fully ripened to win the battle against the birds and ants.  There are several hints to the readiness for harvest.  The first, check the number of leaves left on the plant - there should be 3 or less green leaves left, the remaining already brown or yellow and drying off.  The second, look at the end of each fruit, it should already have turned black and the remaining flower petal dried black and fallen off.
Once the bananas have been harvested, it can be hung in a cool and airy area to further ripen.
Just remember to chop up the harvested plant and place them around the base of the group of plants so you will have a nice group of plants with the additional benefit of more organic content available for their growth.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

SHL Aqua Project: Jannah Part 5

Three and a half month after start of the renovation of the ponds, fresh, clean river water began flowing from near the source.  I love hearing the water gushing into the pond and before the fishes were placed in the pond, I did my own initiation of the pond - sitting under the water pipe.  The force of the water is powerful and I had to plant my feet into the base of the pond to prevent from toppling over.  The water felt almost cold and definitely clean.  I had a back water massage and it felt heavenly.  I am currently figuring out a plan to make this water inflow an aesthetically pleasing feature - maybe a waterfall or a series of fountains - I have time to work on this.
Once the water had filled to a steady level and began to flow out to the river, I deemed it ready to begin its function as my fish "river" pond.  After much contemplation, the decision was made to focus on two types of fish for this first round: red tilapia and catfish (keli).  The pond is divided into 2 parts with the area for the tilapia measuring approximately 10000 sq. ft and the area for the catfish measuring 3000 sq ft.  The tilapia pond is shaped like a river as I had retained the original shape which was based on the natural contour of the land.  Over the months of renovation, vegetation had begun to grow in this section of the pond.  Even my pair of geese, Emir and Siti, enjoy swimming in it.  I enjoy watching them, expecially in the later part of the afternoon as the sun is setting - it is so relaxing.

I introduced the first batch of 3,000 baby red tilapia on June 1 and it was a joy to watch them swimming in the pond.  Over the next few days, I observed its condition and also to ascertain the capacity of the pond.  A week later, I added another 7,000 baby red tilapia and now I can see that the pond is populated.  They play hide-and-seek between the vegetation as well as nibble on them. 

The pond for the catfish is has a concrete base as well as walls hence making it much easier to harvest.  If I had retained an "earth-based" pond floor, it would have made harvesting a challenge since they tend to burrow in the ground when the water level is at floor level.  The 5,000 baby catfish was introduced into their new home on June 8 and it looks like the pond can support another 5,000.  The plan is to add them this Friday.
I feed them 42-44% protein fish pellets - the smallest size. They are fed twice a day. I have noticed their growth which I attribute to both the feed, the availability of natural food as well as the water.  I love feeding times, watching them rush to the surface to gobble up the food, although the tilapia doesn't have a feeding frenzy like the catfish and this I attribute to the fact that the tilapia has the natural vegetation to nibble on.  I also feed the fish occasionally other plant-based food and this will remain as my secret feed ingredient.  For me, it is important to keep the water as clean as possible hence you will not find carcasses of chickens or goats thrown in nor will the sewer waste be piped into the ponds.  All these factors will ensure that I will have great tasting fish, without the muddy or "funny" taste and this I have learnt from my proof-of-concept phase.  I also want to ensure that the ponds do not emit any foul odors so that I can enjoy the environment of the farm to the maximum.
InsyAllah, the first harvest of the catfish will occur in late August or early September 2012 whilst the red tilapia in October or November 2012.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Bananas - Pisang Embun

A favorite used in traditional medicine to cool a fever, this green-skinned banana if often eaten raw, it has a nice aroma to it when at its prime ripeness.  This banana is also sometimes called pisang dingin or cool banana.  Each sikat can weigh over 2kg making it one of the larger size of bananas.  The outer skin remains green even when ripe so do not wait for it to turn yellow as more often than not, it will turn brown meaning that it is now spoilt.  The plant can grow to over 10m with the pseudostem diameter over 30cm, making it an armful.
The inner pseudostem is also often used in traditional medicine to treat muscle aches and sprains.

Pisang Embun (L) &
 Pisang Nangka (r)
Sometimes, people mistake this banana for pisang nangka as both remain green when ripe.  However, they have distinctive different taste.  Unlike pisang nangka which is also sometimes used to make pisang goreng, this banana does not fare well when fried - it turns into a soggy mash, leaving a banana fritter which does not have a crispy batter.  The shape is also different.  Pisang Embun has softer edges versus pisang nangka and the ends of the banana is also different.  The flesh of pisang embun is creamy white.  There are two types of this banana that I know of, one which has a nice aroma when ripe and the other without.  I prefer the one with the aroma as it tends to taste sweeter.  However, due to the size, it can serve as a breakfast meal in itself - a great way to start the day and easy on the stomach and digestive system, which just "woke up".

Apart from it usage in traditional medicin to cool fevers, due to its high fiber content, it is also used to improve the digestive system and treating people who have difficulty with their bowel movement.
So, if you are wondering what banana to have for breakfast, I suggest pisang embun.

Monday, 4 June 2012

SHL Aqua Project: Jannah Part 4

Three months from start date of project, the fish ponds are now ready.  The new 3" polypipe has been connected and the wonderful sweet, clean water has made its way to the ponds.  It is definitely a force of rushing water - I tried standing under it and had to ensure that my feet was planted well in the pond. 

It took 2 days to fill the ponds to the level of the overflow thus ensuring that water is continuously flowing in and out of the pond.  I love hearing the water, so relaxing.  With the water, the baby fish from the river also has entered the pond.  They are my pond testers - if I they died then I know that I have a problem.  Alhamdulillah, they are happily swimming in there.  I have retained the general shape of previous pond so it still appears like a river flowing through the land. 

During the time that it took to get the last pond ready, grass and vegetation started growing in the other pond.  I decided to leave it as when it is filled with water, it will provide additional food and habitat for the fish.  Now that the water has been released into the pond, I see the fish playing hide-and-seek.  On Friday, June 1st., I released 3000 baby red tilapia.  After observing them for a few days and seeing that all is fine, I will be adding another 17,000 over a period of a week.  I may add another 10,000 to 20,000 more depending on how this intial 20,000 works out and my observation of it over a period of two weeks.

The last pond is fully cemented and it is done differently than the rest with a holding pond between them.  The size of this pond is 3000 sq. ft. and  will serve multiple purposes.  The plan is to release about 10,000 baby keli.  Due to its nature of burrowing into the ground when water is drained from the pond, by virtue of a cement floor, this will ensure that they can be properly harvested when it is time.  With the separation of the holding pond, this will also prevent them from entering the other pond.  However, with the good quality water as well as my blended feeding approach, it will have a great taste without the "muddy" flavor.  Now I am selecting the source for them.

The holding tank is the area that will be used to "collect" the tilapia during the harvesting process, thus ensuring minimal damage to the fish and allowing live fish for sale.  All in all, I am happy with how things have turned out but there are still improvements that I will have done over the next few months.
For pest control, in my previous experiment, I found that if lemon grass was planted around the pond, this will deter the memerang so we have just planted serai wangi around the pond.  This will serve a dual purpose - added protection for my pond and adding another herb to my herbal collection for transforming into other products in the future.
The next detail addition will be the water sprouts from various spots along the banks of the pond which will help improve aeration of the pond as well as providing aesthetic value.  At the same time, listening to water has always relaxed me.  I choose this mechanism for aeration due to all these reasons as well as being eco-friendly and staying away from dependence on electricity or diesel-powered aeration devices.
And so the adventure continues and insyAllah, we will be ready for harvest in 4-5 months time.

Bananas - Pisang Udang

This variety of banana is not commonly found and it makes an interesting addition to my collection of banana plants at the farm.  Due to its sweet and sour taste, it is not popular as banana fritters however to "cucur kodok" afficionados, this is THE banana to use to make them.  It ripens to a bright yellow with brown "spots". 
The plant grows to about 6-8m and the leaves have a reddish tinge to the stem.  The inflorescence tastes bitter so I don't recommend it if you plan to have it as ulam.  As with many of the other species, the first plant takes about 12 months before harvest the offsprings take about 8 months after the initial plant was planted before it will be ready for harvesting.

The skin is smooth but not waxy and is not thick, similar to other banana varieties that are eaten raw like pisang lemak manis. The outer flesh is creamy white and the inner flesh is a pale yellow.   Each banana averages about 6-8cm long and is ovalish in shape. This banana can be eaten raw and is a refreshing change with its slightly sour taste along with the sweet.  Try making serawa pisang with sagoo, coconut milk and nipah brown sugar - delicious.
So, to all you banana recipes experimenters, try this banana in your next attempt - you may be surprised.