Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Armchair Farmer - Leaving a legacy

Farming to me is a passion and it is not limited to just plants and trees but also includes animals.  With the creating of Suria Helang Lui, I am finally realizing a dream. one I have had since a child.  Albeit, I went through the normal life paces - studying, working in a professional field, reaching high level of management - everything that the world now marks as making a success of your life.  To me farming is also about leaving a legacy.  Whilst I have left a legacy for the nation - with all its stengths and weaknesses, pros and cons - in the MyKad project, I now hope to leave a legacy of our natural heritage through the farm.

I have never been one to follow what everyone is doing so my approach to farming is also not what everyone else is doing.  I do not follow fads - whether it is farming Arowana fish because you can make tons of money, planting Cavendish bananas because it is commercially better, using chemical pesticides and fertilizers so you can get beautiful produce which makes it cheaper to produce and easier to sell since it looks good to the eyes, and a whole bunch of other fads.  It is based on my priciples of producing quality, healthy, natural foods maximizing nature's bounty.  It is also a spiritual journey for me, marvelling everyday at Allah s.w.t.'s gifts.

While commerce has driven the research into producing quantity of food cheaper, it does not mean that it arrives at the table cheap nor does it necessarily mean that it is healty.  I often wonder at the impact of modifying genetics - I do not think that we are clever enough to know what it will be as there is a whole wealth of area that we do not know or comprehend.  There are maxim's that I live by such as "Don't mess with Mother Nature".
I find that with an integrated farm, you can work to create a balance with nature and a natural cycle of life.

Starting with the basics of good natural water, lots of sunshine and commercial checimal pesticide and herbicide free soil, you can strive to produce quality food.  I do not disregard scientific reasearch but I prefer research that is focusses on natural or organic components such as improvements on composting, ensuring retention of clean, natural water, etc.

Growing vegetables without chemical pesticides and herbicides requires more time as there is more effort required.  For example to control weeds, it is easier and faster to just spray chemical herbicides as oppose to pulling the weeds out or turning the soil.  I find that by doing my way, I continue to "feed" the soil and prevent it from being contaminated and ultimately introducing it into the food chain as well as not having to worry if my chickens, fish or even the ever helpful earthworms dying.

Contrary to some who think that you can produce better produce through usage of chemical fertilizers, I find that you can produce equally good fruits and vegetables without it and using organic fertlizers.  Having the benefit of having my own farm and selling it directly, I can decide when I want to harvest and when I want to market.  I harvest it just a few days before taking it to market - at its prime - and do not resort to preservatives or additives to make it last longer before selling.  This to me is key to enable us to savour the great, natural taste and its freshness.

Most people are familar with only Cavendish banana but we are blessed in Malaysia with a wide array of bananas.  At this point, I think I have just about all the types of bananas in Malaysia which gives me a selection of bananas to enjoy - either raw or cooked.  It is an adventure for my taste buds, enjoying the nuances in the sensation of the various flavours of the bananas.  I hope the next generation will know that bananas is not synonymous with Cavendish.

A big no-no in my food preparation is the use of Aji-no-moto, a seasoning that is widely used.  There are many ways to season your food naturally, an abundance in herbs and spices.  Then again, if you start with fresh food, there is no need to add aji-no-moto to make it taste good!  I have also rediscovered the tastiness of fresh tumeric and at the same time can get the enjoy the natural nutritions gained from its consumption.  It is amazing to discover what else these herbs can do for you healthwise.

I love "original" durian and have not developed the passion for the newer varieties such as Musang King, and all those alphabet and number varieties.  At the farm, I have one original tree which is decades old.  After having a great tasting fruit from an "original" tree, I decided to try planting one so insyAllah, in a few more years, I will have healthy durian tembaga trees which will bear quality fruit in the future.  I placed 7 seeds and 6 sprouted.  It looks like I will be able to pls into the ground in a few months.  It would be sad if we lose these varieties in our pursuit of faster growing/producing trees that have been "modified" to produce a flavour that is well-received.  I still firmly belief that the best flavour of durians is still what hasn't been tampered with.  Buying durian nowadays is turning into something similar to buying packaged drinks - there is no more surprises not nuances in the taste, just the same packaged taste.  My new hobby now is to look for tasty original durian and then try to plant them.  Maybe the next generation will still get to enjoy durian in its natural glory.

Farming has also opened a new door for me - the therapeutic and medicinal properties of these living beauties.  The benefits of misai kucing, durian belanda, ruku, lengkuas, tumeric, ginger torch (bunga kantan), ikan haruan, fresh eggs from ayam kampung and more yet to discover.  I am happy with the direction I am taking now and love to share it with as many people.  I hope when the day comes, I will leave a farm that people can visit and rediscover nature in its full glory - my legacy for the next generation.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Tasty Green Beans (French Beans)

I find this vegetable plant makes for a lovely plant to grow on a trellis, with its delicate looking small lilac flowers and I can just hear some of friends say that this is the reason I planted it :). Its botanical name is Phaseolus Vulgaris.  They are rich in Vitamin A and C as well as Calcium and Iron.

Actually, it is one of my favourite bean vegetable.  The green beans, known as kacang buncis in Malay, takes approximately 45 days before it will start producing flowers resulting in tasty green beans in about 1 week. However in my latest experiment, it was ready to harvest in 40 days with the modifications I made from the previous experience.  The difference is:

  1. Higher organic content in the soil - 30% of soil mixture is organic matter
  2. Fertilizer used is vermicompost
  3. Pest control and additional fertilisation with the use of E.M.++ spray.

I planted the plants from store-bought seeds which I sowed in organic-rich soil.  After about 3 days, it began to sprout.  In my previous plantings, I transplanted them in big polybags and placed them outdoors by a trellis when it began to produce its trailers.  This time around, I sowed it directly into the trellis bed.  For my experiment, I planted them in my greenhouse, mainly to prevent my chickens from scratching around the plant and so that I can work with it rain or shine.  The greenhouse roof is clear plastic sheets so it allows the sun in as long as the sun is out.  I find it best to water twice a day and it does well in lots of sunlight, which we a graced with here in Malaysia.  During its inital growth stage, I fertilize it once a week and once it starts to flower, I fertilize it fortnightly.  Once a week, I spray it with an organic pest repellent to keep the insects away,  which in this case is my E.M. spray with citronella (serai wangi).  To encourage growth of new shoots and flowering, I remove the old leaves periodically as well as ensure no leaves rot on the vine which may encourage fungus thus infecting the plants.

The soil mixture that is used is a mix of sand, lots of organic matter and soil.  This allows for good drainage and yet able to have a moist and not soggy soil for the plant to thrive in.  At the farm, the trellis is 2m high.  For your home landscape, you can plant it in a planter box or large pot and place it at a balcony or along a fence and you can have a nice plant to look at whilst at the same time able to harvest a good vegetable for lunch or dinner.  You can get that great satisfaction of harvesting and cooking a self-grown, tasty, healthy vegetable.  For future plantings, I am allowing some beans to mature and dry out on the plant so I can harvest the seeds which is almost black in colour with the skin of the bean being light brown in colour.  Now that I have a better methodology, I have sowed more seeds in our trellis beds in the outdoor vegetable section of the farm.

Some of the ways of preparing this is lightly sauteed in olive oil and garlic, often you can find it fried as a tempura, and added into various vegetable dishes.  It's subtle tastes makes it great to be cooked into savoury dishes so go ahead and use your imagination when preparing it and getting all the nutritious benefits from it.

Updated: March 18, 2015

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Long green beans

Like many vegetables, the long green beans ( Malay name: kacang panjang, Botanical name: Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis ) can be eaten raw and are deliciously crisp when fresh.  Personally, I like them when they are a darker shade of green with slight visibility of the pods for eating them raw.  They are a good source of protein, vitamin A, thiamin, riboflavin, iron, phosphorus, and potassium, and a very good source for vitamin C, folate, magnesium, and manganeseAs the fruit matures, it turns to a yellowish green to yellow to brown.

I seed them in small polybags (about 10cm diameter) using store-bought seeds. It takes approximately 3 days for the seeds to sprout and once it has sprouted, with the right soil mixture, it grows rather rapidly.  As with most of my vegetables, the soil mixture contains organic matter as well as some sand within the mixture to allow for good drainage as well as moisture control.  After about 7-10 ten days, they are ready to be transplanted.

At the farm, it is transplanted in polybags before placing them along a trellis to allow better utilization of area, effective fertilization, protection from the farm animals and ease of relocating as well as weeding.
The long beans is a climber and is easily trained.  If you plan to plant it at your house, you can plant it along the fence or by an arbor.  It takes approximately 30 days before beginning to flower which then transforms into the long beans.  During this period, the water content in the soil is very important - do not let it dry out as I find that this will reduce the quality and quantity of the beans produced thereafter.  Conversely, do not let it be in a soggy, wet soil as this will encourage rot which can kill the plant.  I let some of the beans to mature to create a new batch of planting seeds.  I fertilize them fortnightly with organic fertilizer.  The mature leaves are also removed periodically to encourage new growth and flowering as well to prevent leaves from rotting on the vine which can encourage fungus which in turn will affect the plant.

The beans are susceptible to black "aphids", which will eat the beans and my best friend in this is the kerangga, the natural predator to these pests resulting in me not having to worry about getting rid of these pest.

The young leaf shoots can also be eaten like many other leafy vegetables - cooking it within a stir-fry dish.As with many vegetables, they are so many ways to prepare it and for me, it is a must in pecal and lontong.  Sometime, I chopped it up along with other ulam and mix it with rice for my version of nasi kerabu.  So, have fun experimenting.

Growing Cabbage

I love cabbage - raw or cooked. I find that this vegetable is very versatile. Cabbages are rich in vitamin A and C. and Calcium. It is also a good source of Thiamin, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Potassium, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Folate and Manganese
Thus I began to experiment planting it from store-bought seeds. I sowed the seeds into 6" polybags in a rich, organic soil mixture. It took about 3 days for it to begin to sprout. According to the seed package label, it should be transplanted in 3 weeks. I did transplant into bigger polybags in about 3 weeks but it was based on the growth of the seedlings - I transplanted them when the width of the plant was the same as the diameter of the polybag.A moist soil is important for its growth with a regular watering, never letting the soil dry out.  I fertilized it every 10 days with organic fertilizer to ensure continuous supply of nutrients.  To keep pests away, I use organic pest deterrents such as serai wangi mix and I check the leaves often to remove any "creepy crawlies".  I find the cabbage plant to be beautiful, like a big, green flower. 

For people with limited space, you can plant them in big planters where it can serve a dual purpose - providing a lovely plant to grace your landscape and at the same time, producing a vegetable for your consumption.  Normally, cabbages are planted in rows of soil beds but at the farm, I plant it in polybags to enable me to better care for them and also to prevent the farm animals from damaging them.  It is imperative to ensure that it receives sufficient water so I water it twice a day once it has been transplanted.

To enable a relatively constant supply of this vegetable, I have sown seeds about 1 month apart so I have plants at various stages.  After transplanting, it takes almost 3 months before they are ready for harvest.  Once the head begins to form, I stop fertilizing and just ensure that the plant receives sufficient supply of water.  I place the plants in my greenhouse to help reduce pests attacks.  The plants does well with lots of sunshine so if you are planting it on a balcony, be sure to allow it to receive around 6 hours of sunlight so a east facing balcony is best - allowing maximum sunglight with less heat.
From my experience, it takes almost 4 months for the cabbage to be ready for harvest so I have to exercise patience but I feel that it is well worth the effort.  Being pesticide-free, I enjoy eating the cabbage raw - as an ulam or salad.  You can also make coleslaw, stir-fry it as a vegetable dish, cooked as with spices and/or chili, pickle it, use it as a wrap for baked dishes, an item in sayur lontong - the options are endless.  So try growing it in a pot and enjoy the fruits of your labor :).
Notes - Lessons learnt:
  1. Soil mixture should be "light" and contain high organic content to ensure a moist growing medium and ease for root growth.
  2. Pest repellent are essential to produce beautiful cabbages.
  3. Fertilization during growth stage before formation of the cabbage head is important to ensure a good size cabbage.
  4. Lots of sunshine.
  5. Never let the soil to dry out - water is critical to good growth.  Insufficient water will result in smaller size cabbage heads.