Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Growing vegetables: It's all in the soil

I continually strive to improve the quality of the vegetables produced at the farm.  The basic principle is "going organic".  What this means to me is that no chemical pesticides or fertilizers are used and the water source is free from "introduced chemicals".  From my experiments, it all starts with good quality seeds and importantly, good quality soil.

I experimented with different types of organic matter mixed with the soil.  As long as it is organic, I am game to try with some exceptions.  I have used goat manure, cow manure, decomposed vegetation as well as commercially produced organic soil mixture.  To me, it is important what you add to the soil in order to have a good produce in the end.

The current round of vegetables that I am planting have at least 50% organic matter in the soil and I find that it works very well.  It keeps the soil moist and  not soggy and allows for good aeration as well as drainage.  For leafy vegetables, I plant them in polybags and keep them in my greenhouse to help reduce attacks by pests.  I will continue to add more organic matter and organic fertilizer as the plants grow with the frequency dependent on the type of vegetable.  I also seed other types of vegetables like baby cucumber, French beans, long green beans, tomatoes and various others with this highly organic soil mixture.  This helps produce healthy "baby plants" before they are transplanted outside with the exception of tomatoes which I keep in the greenhouse.  The main reason why the tomatoes remain in the greenhouse is because the chickens love the ripe tomatoes and would fly up to the fruits and peck at them!

By electing to go organic, I spray my vegetables with serai wangi juice which serves as a deterrent but I do have to do some manual tasks like manually removing the slugs and caterpillars as well as spraying them with water to reduce the "white flies".

I like to eat most of my vegetables raw so keeping it free from chemical pesticides removes the worry of ingesting harmful chemicals.  To me, washing the vegetables may remove most of these chemicals but some will still remain within the vegetable itself as well as on the surface.  The weirdest advise I have ever received was, in order to remove the chemical pesticides, to clean the vegetables with a mixture of water and Clorox!

After I harvest the vegetables, I will "process" the soil by mixing it with more organic matter before re-using it to plant more vegetables.  I love it when I encounter earthworms as these are among soil's natural best friends.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Tasty dried, lightly salted lampan

I love experimenting with that I can do to the fish we produce at the farm.  Since our water source is from the river upstream, all kinds of river fish enter the pond so when we "process" the pond, we always get surprises.  Previously, I had place some "lampam jawa" which did very well in the pond.  I think the flowing, fresh river water had a lot to do with it along with what we feed them - they love the green stuff.  It appears that some river lampam had also entered into the pond and now I have cross-bred lampam.
Lampam is a fish with many bones - I think of it as the fresh water "terubok".  It has high fat content so from my experiments, I find it almost impossible to have a really bone-dry fish but what will result is the fish oil will come out and leave the fish moist-like. 

This fish can grow to be big, sometime more than 1 kg in less than 1 year.  This time around I opted to use the smaller sized ones (3-4 inches long) to create a "crispier" fish when fried.  At the same time, since the population of the lampam had dramatically increased, this allowed me to reduce the population helping ensure the total fish population in the next round will flourish.
Each fish was cleaned, removing the scales and innards. and rinsed with water.  Since I use clean, river water, no pollutants or chemicals were introduced to the fish.  I added coarse salt to the rinse water for two reasons: to act as a natural cleanser and to have a natural "preservative".  The fish has a subtle salty taste which for some, would mean having to add more salt and for those who prefer to maintain a low-salt diet, they would not need to soak the fish to try and remove the salt.
For me, in ensuring that you produce good quality dried fish, it is important
to have the ability to dry the fish in an environment where it will not be exposed to flies which will lay eggs on the fish and the maggots will eat the fish flesh as it develops - all these in a couple of days.  At the farm, we have constructed a dryer box which enables us to dry the fish and keeping all those pesky flies away.

Once dried, they can be kept for months, longer if kept in a cool and dry location.  We pack them with a dessicant which helps to keep the moisture away.
There are many ways that you can prepare this dried fish.  You can fry it until it is crispy and serve with some lime or calamansi juice squeezed over the too, cook it with a chilli paste and other condiments to create a sambal similar to sambal ikan bilis (anchovies), cooked in a curry, fried with onion rings, and many other ways.  You are only limited by your imagination.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Key Lime

I love citrus fruits either used as a flavoring for dishes or making drinks.  At the farm, we have planted a few varieties including key lime or limau nipis (botanical name: citrus aurantifolia) grows well in tropical climates.  Locally, this fruit is often used to flavor dishes such as laksa, curries and also to make drinks.  Many people are also familiar with key lime pie of which the key ingredient is the key lime.

We planted a few trees and from the baby plants to fruiting, it took about 2 years.  Growing it has been a challenge because there are some pests that just love to eat the leaf shoots, most often the caterpillar.  Every few months, I will prune the tree to encourage growth of new shoots and flowering.  The trees can grow to around 5m tall so by keeping it pruned, I can better control the growth of the tree.  It has thorns on the stems so be careful when you are handling the tree.  Continued maintenance will help ensure that the tree fruits around the year.

The fruit has a tart flavor with a slight bitterness.  It has a relatively high level of vitamin C with traces of iron, calcium and niacin.  The therapeutic value of the juice is purported to be to help detoxify the liver as well as a blood cleanser.  Some have mixed it with honey to help with sore throat and the common cold.  The juice of this fruit is also often used in beauty and hair treatments.  It can be applied to the face as an astringent and to help tighten open facial pores and reduce facial oil.  It is also often used as an ingredient in cleansers.  I have used a mixture of the key lime, including its skin, with water and sprayed it as an odor eliminator leaving a nice citrus fragrance.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Ramadhan 1434 at SHL

Fasting does not mean that you stop doing what you are doing but I view it as a time to review, prepare, improve and adjust.  An opportunity to "hijrah" to be better.  It has been four years since I first started out on transforming SHL to overgrown "jungle" to a farm and it now does not look anything like what it used to although I have tried to preserve the land contour as much as possible.  I am not so much a lover of totally flat land - to me, it doesn't look natural and you will have gotten rid the rich, beautiful top soil by bull-dozing the land.

Through the years, and many experiments, we have decided to focus on a few vegetables, albeit in favor of what I love.  The chosen ones: cabbage, tomatoes, long green beans, French beans, baby cucumbers, petola, okra, the green mustard family (sawi and the like) and a variety of aubergine (terung).  Also selected are peria and chili.  We also plant tapioca and I am never sure what category to place this in as we do use the young leaf shoots for vegetables and the tuber can be eaten in many ways - both savory and sweet.  The aim is to make the produce available every time we go to market.  Taking the lessons learnt from the soil composition, soil preparation, care and maintenance of them, we are starting a new cycle.  It is a great time for us to do this as we do not do Sunday market during Ramadhan and re-start two weeks after Syawal.  With this time frame, it gives us time to grow and care for them.

A few days before Ramadhan, we completed the back-breaking work of creating planting beds and mixing goat/cow manure into the soil.  It is mainly manual labor as we do not use any herbicide so removal of grass and weeds and turning the soil give a superb workout.  We leave the beds for a week whilst we start seeding and by the time we feel that it is time to plant the beds, the seedlings are ready to be transferred.  It is also a time for us to construct the support for the climbers - reusing materials as much as possible such as the fencing material that have been removed now that we have replaced the boundaries with a wall and zinc fence.
It has also been raining almost daily so this gives the soil a good water supply helping with the decomposition of the manure and spreading of the nutrients.  The planting beds are covered with black plastic material to prevent weeds and to reduce the weeding required around the planted area.

The fruit tree planting is also done - have so we are moving to care and maintenance on the fruit trees. I am happy with the selection that we limau bali, calamansi (limau kasturi), jackfruit (nangka), cempedak, soursop (durian belanda), delima, avocado, dukong, coconut and of course, an extensive variety of bananas.   The list I think is good enough considering the amount of space we have: durian, mangosteen, mango, longan, papaya, rambutan, pulasan, Quite a few of the trees have begun fruiting so we are able to enjoy the "fruits of our labor".

On the herbs and condiments front, there are still some varieties that I would like to plant and I need to make some time for this area.  The tea-making herbs that I am focusing on are misai kucing, lemon basil (kemangi) and ruku.  These are my favorites and I like the therapeutic properties that they have.  The herbal plants selected are based on their traditional uses of Malay homeopathy and its therapeutic values.  For condiments, we have turmeric, galangal (lengkuas), ginger torch (bunga kantan), ginger and lemon grass (serai) - these I consider to be the staple condiments in a lot of dishes that I cook along with the other herbs.

Of course no farm is complete without some animals.  The chicken count is up to 60 now of the ayam kampong variety.  From time to time, I get people who come by who want to buy my chicken but they want to buy the cockerel.  I am always suspicious because when I say I only sell my chicken slaughtered and they say that they prefer to slaughter it themselves.  When I offer the hens, they are not interested.  I know that the kind that I have is what some crazies look for in cock-fighting and this is one activity that I am against.  This Ramadhan we will be selling 20 chickens as part of the activity of breeding and growing them.  We will need to do some repairs and maintenance work on the chicken run which I am planning to start after Ramadhan.We also have fresh water fish but this will be a topic in a future blog. 

All in all, you could say that we are still active in Ramadhan and these activities remind us of the bounty from Allah s.w.t.  To all my Muslim readers, we wish you Selamat menunaikan ibadah di bulan Ramadhan yang mulia ini.

Durian, oh delicious durian

It seems that the current trend is to go for durians with fancy names and
numbers like Musang King, D101, D24, etc.  My preference is still for original varieties.  Now that I have the farm, I can plant the types of durians that I like.  So, my adventure with propagating durians begins.  There is only 1 durian tree at the farm and it is the type that I like, creamy sweet with yellow flesh.  This tree is obviously planted a long time ago and probably from a seed.  Last year, I only got about 10 fruits from the tree and this year it looks like I may get a good harvest.  Every year we have a Durian Fest and I hope in one of those years, the timing of the fruiting will coincide and we will be able to serve this great tasting durian.

A few months ago, I got my hands on some durian tembaga and I really loved it so I decided to try to plant it from
the seeds.  From the whole fruit, I got 8 good seeds whicht I planted in a polybag.  Out of the 8, 6 germinated.  The soil mixture that I use is one with rather high organic matter.  I have not fertilized it, letting it obtain its nutrients from the soil mixture.  I water them when the soil has a low water content, never letting it dry out.
The durian baby trees are now transplanted into the ground and insyAllah, in 7-8 years, it will start fruiting.  Until then, it is maintained every 3 months to help its growth. 
There are several reasons why I prefer to plant them although it will take longer before fruiting:
  1. I prefer plants and trees that have not been genetically modified.
  2. Trees plant from seeds lasts longer so it will be my heritage for the next generation to enjoy and possibly earn some good seasonal income.
  3. The taste, texture and color is great - nothing beats naturalness.
  4. Preserving the heritage for future generations - nowadays, most people plant the new varieties so this variety may be lost if not replanted - one of the goals of SHL.
InsyAllah, in about 7-8 years, I will be able to taste the fruits.  Even if I don't, I am happy to play my part in preserving our durian heritage, the king of fruits :)

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Project long green beans

I enjoy eating long green beans, whether raw or cooked.  I prefer them when they are mature and green, still crispy.  Previously, I had done smaller experiments in planting them, looking at soil content, support structure and water quantity as well as sunlight.  This time around, we decided to plant a lot more than previously, about 100 plants.
I started with seeding them in small polybags and once they were about 10cm with several leaves, they were transplanted.  The planting beds were also prepare carefully, removing the weeds and then mixing the soil with "seasoned" pure goat manure and then covered with black plastic.  The beds was covered to serve two main purposes: to reduce the weed and grass growth as well as to help retain moisture in the soil.
Since we do not use any chemical herbicides, it was essential to remove the weeds and grass prior to planting and to control any new growth.  It would be a waste for all the nutrients from the goat manure to be used by grass and weeds.  Covering the beds also meant that we would reduce the time taken to maintain the beds - a big savings in time as we would have to manually remove the weeds and grass.  I was hoping that it would also mean that we would not have to water them but rely on the rain to supply the necessary water to the plants and that has come to fruition.

Five weeks after transplanting, it began flowering  and about at six weeks, the first beans began to appear.  The intial harvest was around 6kg and now it is producing about 15 kg per week.  I am happy with the results in terms of the yield but I learnt that we need to improve how we support the plants.  On a weekly basis, I remove the mature leaves and try not to let any dry out on the plant.  By removing the old leaves, it encourages the plant to produce new shoots and more flowers.  Without old leaves drying out on the plant which turns mushy when it rains, it helps prevent mold from forming on the plant which can kill the plant.  As the leaves are maintained, I also manually remove the black aphids which literally suck the life out of the plant.  All the time and effort is worth it when I see the quality of green beans that we produce.  SubhanAllah.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Tumeric - a totally edible plant

As with many condiments, so does tumeric (Malay name: Kunyit; Botanical Name: Curcuma Longa), it taste better fresh and provides maximum health benefits.  In Malaysia, you can find both fresh tumeric and tumeric powder easily.  Personally, I prefer the fresh tumeric and I find that it doesn't leave an after-taste more often experienced with turmeric powder and you can be sure that it is pure.  Apart from being used in culinary and traditional medicines, the rhizome is also used to create a natural yellow dye.

The tumeric belongs to the ginger plant family hence it can be propagated from its rhizome.  The first time I planted it, I used store-bought fresh turmeric, selection the ones with the darkest rhizome skin colour to ensure better success in propagation.  In ensuing propagation, I have used the farm-produced rhizomes.

It grows well in a sun and well-drained soil and requires substantial water for good growth.  If there is insufficient rain, then it needs to be watered.  The tumeric rhizome doesn't grow as well in heavy clay soil.  I find that he best soil mixture for good growth after my experiments at the farm is 50% soil, 30% organic matter and 20% sand.  I fertilise it about once a month.

Each leaf grows on its own stalk.  The mature leaves are best for using in cooking.  It can be harvested as you want to use it without impact to the growing rhizome.  The rhizome has an "orangish" skin and mature rhizomes is almost orange in color on the inside by comparison to young rhizomes are yellowish-white in color.

It is a small plant, measuring under 0.5m.  As such, it can make a good walkway or patio border plant for the home landscape.  It produces a creamy white, with a tinge of green, flower when mature, taking at least 6 months from planted at the farm, and it is at this stage that the rhizomes are ready to be harvested. 

The flower grows on its own stem from the base of the plant.  At the farm, the flower has grown to about 10cm long, with multi-layers of petals.  In creating an edible landscape, this plant is a good option as it is a flowering plant require minimal maintenance.  The beauty of this plant is the whole plant is edible: the leaves, the flowers and the rhizomes.

In Malaysia, both the leaf and the rhizome are used in cooking.  It produces a wonderful flavour that enhancesNo rendang dish is complete without tumeric leaves.  The flower can be eaten as ulam or salad.  The plant produces singular leaves which can grow to be quite long, about 40-50cm long, if it is healthy.

Among the health benefits that have been attributed are:
  1. It is a natural antiseptic and antibacterial agent and is useful in disinfecting cuts and burns.  In traditional medicing a paste is created and applied to cuts and burns.
  2. Has properties that appear to prevent and stop the growth of cancer cells.
  3. In traditional medicine, the juice extracted from the tumeric has been used as a natural liver detoxifier.
  4. A potent natural anti-inflammatory that works well without the side effect, it has been used in natural medicine for treatment for athritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
  5. Used in natural medicine for treatment of psoriasis and other inflammatory skin condition, usually by applying a tumeric poultice.
 For its culinary uses and therapeutic benefits, this plant should be high on your list if you are planning an flowering edible landscape.

Updated: March 15, 2015

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Put Away the Aji-No-Moto

Before Aji-No-Moto, the dishes still tasted great and a lot of it is due to the freshness of the ingredients and also the herbs and natural seasonings used.  At the farm and at home, we use the various herbs grown at the farm.  All these herbs have all kinds of well-being benefits without thinking of them as health food but as mere tasty seasonings.  Often at the market, I am asked how do you use them as seasoning so here is a summary of how I have used them:
  1. Kemangi or Lemon Basil
    With the natural lemony aroma and taste, I have used this in:
    •  the creation of salad dressings such as chopped kemangi leaves with olive oil, salt and pepper and if you want a zing to it, add some chopped chillies,
    • coconut-based gravy dishes (masak lemak) that includes seafood and/or fish - just add a few leaves
    • chopped and mixed with olive oil and added to pasta
    • seasoning for a marinate for chicken (baked or fried) and for fish and crustaceans - you can either blend it or pound it with a mortar and pestle with other ingredients
  2. Holy Basil or Ruku / Selasih Hitam
    It has a creamy taste with a touch of aniseed.  Some ways are:
    • chicken marinate prepared similar to kemangi leaves
    • in savoury dishes such as Asam Pedas on its own or in combination with Kemangi leaves
    • chopped and mixed with olive oil and added to pasta
  3. Lemon grass or Serai
    With its slightly spicy lemony taste, it complements many dishes and also as a refreshing drink:
    • Condiment/seasoning to many savoury dishes such as Asam Pedas, and coconut-based gravy dishes.
    • In combination with other ingredients to create a marinate for fish, seafood or chicken
    • Seasoning for steaming or boiling seafood such as cockles, clams, shrimps, crabs, etc.
  4. Ginger Torch Flower or Bunga Kantan
    • Definitely an important ingredient for Asam Pedas and Laksa
    • Condiment for Nasi Kerabu
    • Chopped and added to olive oil with salt and pepper for a salad dressing
  5. Selasih Putih
    With its slightly creamy taste with a twist, it has a subtle taste.  As such, I think that it can be used in many ways but I have only tried it as:
    • an ingredient as a marinate for chicken and beef
    • a seasoning in coconut-based gravy dishes
  6. Curry leaves or Daun Kari
    • An important ingredient in making curries to give it that extra tastiness
    • As a seasoning in creating a spicy fried chicken or ayam goreng berempah.
    • The young leaves can be chopped and added to olive oil oil for a "spicy" salad dressing
  7. Suren leaves or Daun Surian
    • As a seasoning for coconut-based gravy dishes that uses young jackfruit, bamboo shoots or young bananas
    • As a condiment to reduce the bitterness of dishes that use papaya shoots and flowers
  8. Tumeric or Kunyit
    • The tumeric leaves is used as a seasoning in spicy dishes of chicken and beef such as rendang
    • Chopped tumeric leaves along with the fresh pounded tumeric root as a marinate for chicken or beef
    • Fresh tumeric root pounded and used in coconut-based gravy vegetable or meat based dishes to create a masak lemak kuning.
  9. Ginger or Halia
    • Used as a seasoning in many coconut-based gravy dishes of seafood, chicken or beef
    • As a seasoning in soups
    • Pounded or blended with other herbs to create a marinate for chicken, beef and seafood
    • As a seasoning in rice prorridge
  10. Galangal or Lengkuas
    • Used as a seasoning in making rendang
    • Pounded and added to other herbs to create a marinate for chicken and beef
    • Used as a seasoning in coconut-based gravy dishes featuring chicken or beef
  11. Coriander or Ketumbar
    This highly fragrant leave gives the extra "oomph"
    • Chopped leaves with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper for a light salad dressing
    • Chopped and used or its own or added to other herbs with salt to create a marinate for meats like chicken and beef which can then be fried or grilled
    • As a seasoning for rice porridge.
    • As a seasoning for soup dishes.
What I have listed are some suggestions.  You can be as creative as you like once you get to know them, the options are endless.  My adventure is just beginning and I hope to uncover others to add to my recipes list.

Life as a Farmer

There was once a time when I was at the top level in corporate world.  There was once a time when my time was just filled with work commitments.  There was once a time when I was jet-setting all over the place.  There was once a time when I was making the big bucks.  Now I am a simple farmer producing food without the use of chemical pesticides, fertilizers or herbicides.  And guess what, I am happy :).
All my previous experiences have been useful in my current vocation.  To debunk some myths, farming today is not for the faint-hearted, illiterate, no-other option person.  It requires you to have lots of "professional" skills.  Among them are planning, time management, project management, budgeting, accounting, communications, personnel management and marketing.  Apart from that you need knowledge of Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Botany, Mathematics - to name a few.  so, if you think that anyone can do farming, think again.  I have great respect for the successful farmers that I know - they have an abundance of knowledge in a wide-array of areas and not having an MBA does not detract them from success, though quite a few do have MBA.  Surprised?  Don't be, this is the new breed of farmers.

At the top of the list, is commitment as there is no off-days in farming as you are dealing with life forms that need tending daily.  Management of the daily activities is prime or it will result in low yield or low quality produce.  Each item that you plan to produce can be seen as a project on its own with its own timeline, resource requirements, costs, sales and marketing tasks.  There is no such thing as letting nature take its course with minimal effort from the farmer.   

For example, take producing bananas as a project.  To have high quality and high yield, you cannot just plant the plant and let it grow on its own and wait for the plant to fruit - so when someone makes an ignorant statement
like "Bananas should be cheap, you just plant and wait for it to fruit.  You do not have to do much.", they should try it.  You need to maintain the plants, ensuring sufficient water and good quality soil with good nutrients.  Periodic maintanance of the plant, removing old leaves and checking the health of the plant, is a must.  You need to watch out for pests (human and animals) and also for sickness.  All this requires knowledge, resources and management.  A good yield per plant is around 15-20kg.  SHL produces and direct sell its bananas to preserve revenue and reduce money-drain.  What do I mean by money-drain - well if we sell to another party we get RM 1.00 per kg but if we sell direct, we get RM 3.00 per kg albeit there is the additional cost of sales.  However, the net result is better revenue for the farm.  By selling it ourselves, it also gives us the control over the quality of the produce - we practice JIT - just in time - so the bananas are harvested and sold at its prime.

Producing vegetables is also another big continuous project.  Going natural introduces added challenges.  The easy way would be to just use chemical pesticides and herbicides and I can get rid of these pests easily and quickly and produce beautiful-looking vegetable with a lot less effort.  However, in line with my principle that I only sell what I want to eat, this is not an option. This project lends itself to research of alternative ways of keeping pests to a minumum whilst providing necessary nutrients for quality vegetable growth.  While it may be more time-consuming, it is worth the result - fresh, tasty, nutritious vegetables without traces of harmful chemicals.  Some may argue that it is only a trace so what is the big deal.  To this I say, the choice is yours.  There are so many things that takes years of consumption before the effect is seen so I leave it to you.

Time management and prioritization is important.  The big benefit now is that my family is first and I arrange what I need to do around my family and my needs and not the corporate agenda.  It is all about scheduling what I
need to get done at the farm against my priority.  Having good staff is also important so that we can work as a team together, living a life and not living for work.  With all the chores at the farm, I do not need to find a gym - I can get my cardio, weight and strength training as well overall workout at the farm without thinking of it as task I need to do but incorporated into my lifestyle.  I also do not worry about retirement as it is my farm and I can continue to be active and have quality of life without having to think what I want to do after retirement if I was still in the corporate world.  There is stress because of standards that I place on myself and due to unexpected issues arising but it can be managed.

So, the next time that you look down on a farmer, realize that this person has probably the equivalent or more skills that you as an engineer, doctor or any of the other "professionals".  We, the farmers, who produce food for you should be treated with respect :)

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Water features at Suria Helang Lui

I love water, I love being close to water, I love hearing the sound of water.  With the wonderful, clean, water source, I try to maximize what I can do with it, both from food production, household water use and aesthetic landscaping.  The beauty of it all is since the water is from a continuous flowing water source, the water needs to continuously flow out or my pipes will burst so I have no guilt feelings of using the water in all these ways.  When necessary, all the plants are also watered from this same water inflow hence continuing the no chemicals concept on the food production.  My suggestion to those of you who are looking for a place for a retreat, always check the water source options.
At the farm, the water is used for household use including as a drinking water source.  For years now, I have been drinking it direct.  I feel no guilt in taking long, cool showers as the water has to continue to flow out.

One of the main farm activities is to produce tasty fish and the water plays an important role.  The water continuously flow in and out of the ponds, keeping the ponds clean and providing good quality water for the fish to grow and breed.  The pond itself was created based on an old stream which still has a pretty shallow water table.  This also serves as a flood prevention pond as this area has been known to flood albeit not very often.
I spend a substantial amount of time at the farm and I have a home there, my getaway from the busy, hectic Kuala Lumpur, and it is less than an hour
away.  To this end, I like to add features that would further provide for a peaceful and relaxing environment.  It took a couple of years but I finally have my landscape fish pond by the front entrance of the house with a mini waterfall as the water outlet.  There is a lot of river stones all over the property which as we work the land, we have "collected" and this pond features the use of these stones.  The sound of the water flowing into the fish pond is relaxing to hear and makes the area as a great place to have my breakfast, a wonderful way to start the day. 
Another water landscape feature is planned and this one is by the patio of my bedroom.  InsyAllah, this will be ready this year as will the house.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Curry tree (Pokok Kari)

No curry dish is complete without the addition of the leaves from the curry tree (Botanical name : Murraya koenegii ).  This tree is very easy to take care of and the growth can be controlled by frequent pruning.  The pruning also encourages it to form branches hence you can shape this tree.  In the late afternoon, as I walk by it, I always get a whiff of curry.
This tree can grow in sunny to partial shade areas.  Until recently, I didn't realize that it could produce beautiful white flowers.  The more mature the leaf is, the stronger the flavor of "curry" it has.
Whilst it is most often used as a "spice" for curry dishes, the young shoots are also eaten raw as ulam. 
Some of the therapeutic benefits reported are :
  • Helps to relieve the pain caused by kidney stones. They also cleanse the urinary tract, preventing bacterial infections.
  • The leaf has tonic properties. It can be mixed with honey or buttermilk to create an herbal drink to strengthen the digestive system. It can also help treat dysentery and diarrhea.
  • It can be applied externally on the skin as treatment for minor skin infections and eruptions.
  • The juice of curry leaves can be used as treatment for eye disorders and to prevent cataracts.
  • The root and bark of the curry plant have medicinal properties. In traditional medicine, the leaves are ground into powder and used to treat diabetes.
  • The fruit of the curry plant is also edible. It can be used for the effective relief and treatment of poisonous stings and bites.
As this tree is easy to grow and produces lots of leaves, you only need to plant one tree in your garden and with it leaves and white flowers, can be a beautiful and edible addition to your landscape.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Eggplants - So many varieties

Before I became a farmer, I was vaguely aware of the a couple varieties of the eggplant.  Now, I find that there are so many varieties and called a few names - eggplant, brinjals, aubergine and guinea squash - and is from the plant family Solanaceae.  As with the varied names, there are also many sizes, shapes and colors.  This plant is a perennial but is often cultivated as an annual in locations which have a climate other than tropical.
This plant is propagated from seeds.The plant can grow quite tall but can be controlled by selective pruning to help shape it.  It produces small purple or white flowers with a yellow stamen.  A healthy plant can produce lots of flowers, beautiful to look at so you might want to consider this for your home garden, both as a landscape feature and food source.  At the farm, it is watered regularly and fornightly organic fertilizing and this seems to result in good quality and quantity of flowers and fruit.  I also water them at least once a week with water from the fish pond so that it can receive the various minerals and nutrients available from this water.  Be careful with terung pipit though as it does have sharp thorns on its branches and stems.

It is difficult to spot the difference between the leaves so I wait until the plant produces the fruit although I can distinguish a couple of the varieties.  The fruits produce can weigh the plant stems down so it is important to stake them to prevent the plant from toppling or the fruits from laying on the gound which can damage it.  At the farm, I use a 1" pvc pipe of at least 1m long and then I thread "rafia" string along the branches to provide support.  I find that by threading the string, it prevents damage being done to the branches and provides balanced support.

Some varieties taste better than others eaten raw.  Other ways for preparing it include using it in curries, baked either with olive oil or with a cheese topping, dipped in batter and fried, sauteed with a seasoning of your choice, stuffed with cheese, seafood, breadcrumb mixture or whatever you fancy - the options are limited to your culinary imagination.  A special quality of terung pipit is it is often used locally is as a condiment to reduce the bitterness of papaya shoots.

There are probably more varieties so I look forward to more discoveries....

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

SHL Red Tilapia Asam Pedas

My latest culinary adventure in the SHL Kitchen was to create my own version of the local dish Asam Pedas.  The aim was to use as many ingredients as possible from the farm.  The fish used is fresh red tilapia and with its firmly soft (is that an oxymoron? I guess most of you know what I mean) and ability to absorb flavors, I thought it would be a good fish to use for this dish.  Next I had some bottle gourd which I felt would also be a great vegetable to add to this dish as it can absorb the flavors of the Asam Pedas.  I also used vine-ripened tomatoes to have that slight sweet taste and a touch of sourness.The herbs used in this dish was also available at the farm so the journey began.  The ingredients used were:
  1. Cleaned red tilapia (300gm fish size to make serving much easier
  2. Tamarind juice - add more if you like it really sour and less it you just want to have a subtle taste
  3. Red chillies
  4. Bottle gourd
  5. Vine-ripened tomatoes
  6. Shrimp paste (belacan)
  7. Persicaria odorata or known in English as Vietnamese mint or in Malay as Daun Kesom 
  8. Lemon grass or serai
  9. Red onion
  10. Salt to taste
I do not like to use the blender and prefer to use a mortar and pestle (lesung batu) to create a paste of chillies, belacan and tomatoes.  I also use it to pound the lemon grass to be added.  I brown the sliced red onions in oil and add the chilli-tomato-belacan paste to it.  After a few minutes, allowing the flavors to blend nicely, I added the tamarind juice, lemon grass, daun kesom and additional water to create a gravy.  After it is brought to a boil, the pieces of bottle gourd is added.  When this has become soft and the gravy brought to a boil, the fish is added.  Once the fish is cooked, it is now ready to serve.  It is an easy and quick dish to prepare, all in all taking less than 30 minutes to prepare from cleaning the fish to serving.

SHL Smoked Red Tilapia

One of the things I enjoy is to experiment with ways if preparing whatever we produce.  I began producing smoked red tilapia in November 2012 - in small quantities first to have people try it out.  Based on the positive feedback, I began to make them quite regularly and sell it at the Sunday morning market in Sg. Penchala.  It is a popular item and finishes fast.  Many have asked how it is made so here's how I process it so maybe whoever is interested can try to make it too.
Starting with fresh red tilapia, preferably those bred in running water ponds (as it tastes tons better), clean off the scales and cut it open from the "back" so that is splits open and remains joined by the "tummy" side.  This will enable the fish to absorb more of the marinate and "dries" faster.  Rinse it well and at the farm, since we have clean, river water, the fish doesn't get touched by chemicals in our normal water although it may be present in small quantities.  Be sure that the fish is really fresh or the meat of the fish will become "mush".
Nest step is to prepare the marinate.  The ingredients are:
  1. Lemon grass (serai)
  2. Calamansi (limau kasturi)
  3. Coarse salt
Pound the lemon grass and squeeze in the juice of the calamansi and add salt, mixing these ingredients well.  I also add the calamansi fruit that has been "juiced-out" in the marinate.  Add the fish and mix it well with the marinate and let it marinate for at least 6 hours, keeping it in the fridge the whole time.  I tend to marinate it for at least 24 hours.
The most time-consuming part is the smoking of these fishes.  It is important to have damp firewood that will create the smoke as well as turn into embers to provide the necessary heat to slowly dry the fish.  Be sure not to have flames as this will cook the fish too fast and not allow it to smoke nicely or you will end up with grilled fish and not smoked fish.
Now that you have the smoked fish, what do you do with eat.  There are many ways to prepare them for your meal:
  1. Fry them to create a crispy fish and you can munch on the whole fish.
  2. Cook a sambal with chillies and a touch of shrimp paste (belacan) and tamarind juice (air asam jawa) to create a spicy smoked red tilapia dish.
  3. Cook a coconut-based gravy either with or without chillies, with or without belimbing buloh and add the smoked fish to create a creamy dish or  masak lemak as an accompaniment to your rice.
  4. Chop it up and add to your rice porridge.
If any of you have any other ways of turning it into your meal, I would love to hear about it.  Happy trying :)

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Marinated Red Tilapia

Starting with a great, fresh fish, there are many ways to prepare red tilapia.  Being very fortunate to have lots of ingredients that I can use as a marinate at the farm, I decided to experiment a bit to see how the flavors will blend.  I enjoyed it so I am sharing it here.  This marinate can be applied to 1-1.5kg of fish.  Ensuring that the fish is fresh and farmed in "running water" makes a difference to the final taste of the dish.

Ingredients for marinate:
  1. 2 stalks of lemon grass (serai)
  2. 1 yellow onion
  3. Fresh tumeric (kunyit)
  4. 3 calamansi (limau kasturi)
  5. Salt to taste
I prefer using a mortar pestle (lesung batu) as opposed to a blender so I placed all the ingredients for the marinate together and pounded them until they became a paste.  I then added some salt and the juice from the calamansi - I added this after the other ingredients were pounded to prevent it from "jumping out" of the pestle.  To speed up this process, I had sliced the lemon grass, onion and tumeric.  Try to use fresh tumeric as it does make a difference to the taste as opposed to using tumeric powder - this will also add better nutrients to the dish.  There are numerous health benefits from the lemon grass, tumeric and calamansi so this is a healthy way to prepare the fish at no expense to the taste.

The marinate was then applied to the fish and left to marinate for 1 hour.  You can marinate it longer if you wish - I was just hungry hence the 1-hour marinate.
This fish can then be grilled, cooked over charcoal or fried.  For a low-calorie option, you might want to avoid deep-frying the fish.  as a note, there is no need to add any flavor enhancers as by using fresh ingredients that bursts with flavor, your palate will enjoy the experience.  In my hurry to eat the fish, I forgot to take pictures of it done :)

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Toona Sureni - long term plan

It is always amazing what you learn from people who become a part of your life.  In this case, I was introduced to Suren leaves or as people from Kerinci call it: daun suhin or in Malay - daun surian, as a condiment you use in cooking rebung and young bananas as well as other savoury dishes.  It adds a slightly sour taste to the dish.
It's botanical name is toona sureni or known in English as Indonesian Mahogany.  I am not sure if it can be easily found in Malaysia and the ones that I know of have been brought over by people originating from Kerinci where it is widely planted.

It is planted from tiny seeds that was sprinkled over the ground and lightly covered with soil.  When it was about 10cm tall, we started to transplant them to various locations on the farm.  Depending on the location of the plant, some died, some grew faster than the others.  In general, I found that if it was planted in the ground that had a 50% clay composition it would grow slower that in ground that had a lower clay composition but at the same time had at least 30% organic matter.

The tree produces distinctive stems of leaves from the main trunk and grows straight without any branches.  In the 2 years that I have had this tree seeded and planted, the tallest tree is now over 8m tall and the shortest is about 2m tall.   Traditionally, it has been used as natural insect repellent including for mosquitoes.  The natural aroma from the leaves and tree bark repels these insects.  I have noticed that the immediate area surrounding the location of the tree has fewer insects, including mosquitoes and gnats.

The young leaf shoots are red in color which turns into a dark green as it matures.  Before the leave fully stem of leaves fully matures - where there are still leaves that have a red tinge to it - is when it is used as a condiment.  Hence I categorize this tree as a tree that falls into the edible landscape variety.

This tree can grow to 30m tall with a trunk diameter of up to 2m - this of course will take years.  You can say that this will be for the next generation which by then should make this into a valuable tree.  The lumber produced is prized in the production of quality wooden furniture and window frames.   I am looking forward to observing the growth of this tree and what its fruit will look like.  So if you are selecting a tree to add to your landscape, you might want to consider this tree with its multi-uses.