Wednesday, 24 December 2014

After five years and still loving it

As we approach 2015, it is time to plan the year ahead and reflect on the last 5 years to gain from lessons learnt.  when I first started the farm, many couldn't imagine what I meant or what it would look like.  After all, to those that had come to visit the piece of land, all they saw was this jungle with no water or electricity supply.
My vision was an integrated farm, incorporating our heritage plants and herbs as well as working towards self-sustainability.  Here I am, a person from the corporate world, with no experience in farming and little knowledge but I had a dream.  My retirement plan, what I would like to be able to do till the day I die without worrying if someone was going to tell me that it was time to leave as I had reached the retirement age.

I had a vision of what I wanted the farm to be like.  I tried looking nationwide for something like what I had in mind but I couldn't find one.  With some of the experts that I had spoken to, they said what I had in mind was not feasible, that none has done a farm like what I had in mind,  Furthermore, it would be difficult to get government assistance if I didn't focus and produce limited types of produce.  It has never been my aim to obtain government assistance nor do I want to be bothered by the politics and bureaucracy.  

Did I fear that I would fail?  I didn't consider failure but focus on making it successful.  To me, thinking of all the ways that it could fail was a waste of time and energy and without any benefit.  Instead, I focussed to gaining as much knowledge as possible from practicing experts, those who have real-life experience and not necessarily those with MSc, MBA or PhD.  Whilst academic knowledge is good, nothing beats real-life work.  Theories and concepts may be good starting points, but there are many factors in the real world that may not be accounted for in academia.  Moreover, I do not have unlimited funding nor do I rely on government grants or assistance to finance my project.  I have always loved challenges on working on things that people said couldn't be done, too difficult or too much effort.  I experimented and documented my experiments for my own use.  I learnt from my errors and inexperience and the joy of discovery. I strive for balance, maximising nature's bounty and not using any chemical pesticides or herbicides.  I strive to maintain and balance the eco-system, appreciating simplicity and complexity of nature.

I am happy to hear the birds, some of which are in the protected and endangered species and I do not permit catching or trapping them.  I had to expedite fencing the property because bird hunters were encroaching my farm and trying to catch them.  I chased away people who came to release lots of pigeons for some reason or another as to me, it would impact the eco-system.

I am blessed to have clean, uncontaminated water supply that brings with it many types of river fish such as kelah daun, titan, bujuk, selling and many others.  All this are indicators to me that the water quality is good that these fishes can survive.  At the first glance, it is hard to imagine that the water from the source would be able to support the farm as it looks small.  However, by creating a water collection area, it allowed us to lay polypipes to the farm.  Now, others are sharing what we built and it is great that we are able to support the neighbours.

When the fish pond was created, what I did was have the previous dried-up stream bed widened and deepened.  This was the only concession to having heavy machinery such as the bull-dozer on the farm, to do the digging.  As we dug deeper, water started to sprout from the ground, an indication that we had hit the water table.  
We rear catfish, tilapia and lamp am plus we have an assortment of other fishes that entered the pond with the water.  With water flowing in and out continuously, the water quality for the fish is good and we do not require oxygenation machines for the fish pond.  Although we use fish pellets, it is a supplement to our natural foods which will remain our secret.  The net effect is our fish have a natural sweetness to it and does not have any "muddy" smell or taste.  A bid no-no in feeding the fish is carcasses and other animal wastes such as chicken stomachs.  We sell them fresh or filleted and sometimes marinated, depending on customer special request.  When I have time, we do produce smokes fish or lightly-salted dried fish.  We are not yet proficient on the production of our fresh water fish hence we are not able to keep up with demand but it is our hope, in the coming year, we will have a marked improvement in productivity.

In developing the land, I didn't raze and flatten it to clear the land but did it by hand.  I learnt to use the parang, sabot and the weed cutter.  This allowed me to check the vegetation and retain what was already there such as bunga kantan or ginger torch, senduduk human, dukung anak and many other types of plants natural to the habitat that had therapeutic or food value.

After getting the lay of the land, we started planting fruit trees, ones that would take a few years to start fruiting.  Over the course of the years, we have added more fruit trees as I began to section off areas.  I added a greenhouse for the more sensitive to pest plants such as tomatoes, pak choy and its cousins and cabbage.  We have a section for the other vegetables, herbal section and "rotating" planting areas.  The rotating planting areas are for plants like cassava or ubi kayu, lemon grass or serai, bananas etc. to ensure the soil remains healthy.

The first structure built was a store room cum bathroom with a well since in the beginning, I hadn't figured out the water supply yet.  IT took a couple of years to build as I had it built in stages.  The main idea was to have an easy to maintain functional farmhouse.  It is simple and all the floors and walls are tiled as I didn't want to have to spend a lot of time cleaning.  Now,the farmhouse is almost complete - there is still some small details to be completed but as you may guess, it is at the bottom of my list of to-dos.  The features that I love about it is the surau, the big kitchen,  and my bathroom.  With lots of water, I can have nice cool, long showers.

With all the produce from the farm, we have elected to sell it  ourselves to ensure quality, freshness and competitive pricing as to practice our principle of providing affordable quality pesticide-free and herbicide-free food.  For the last three years we have had a stall at the Sunday morning market in Sungai Penchala and I am happy that we have many regulars.  We also a few types of herbal teas at the market and also via mail.  Our selling principle is we do not sell what we do not eat or drink.  Hence, we have tried it all and also eat or drink it regularly.

As we move into 2015, I look forward to being more productive, more efficient whilst not compromising on quality, freshness and price competitiveness and above all, enjoying what I do and getting satisfaction at seeing people loving my produce.  We at Suria Helang Lui wish everyone a fruitful and joyous 2015 and may we build more relationships whilst solidifying existing ones.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Peria Katak or Balsam Apple

I find this climbing plant to be a very pretty plant, from the leaves to the flowers to the fruit and seeds.  The botanical name is Momordica Charantia and in English it is know as bitter gourd, bitter melon, balsam pear or balsam apple.  These plants are annuals and from my experience, it lasts about 6 months before the quality of the plant and fruit starts to drop.

I am not an avid fan of this fruit-vegetable but it has good therapeutic value that I do try to consume it.  So, to to do that, I have to plant it so I can be confident that it is as natural as possible without all those chemical pesticides and fertilisers since I want to eat it for the health benefits.  I bought a few packets of seeds and managed to get some plants to grow.  The fruits are of different sizes so I do not worry about the sizes.  After all, these are not on growth hormones :).

It takes about 1 week for the seeds to germinate and sprout.  I seed them in small polybags filled with high organic content soil.  Once it has sprouted, I will wait until it has produced more than two leaves and the "climbing" stems has appeared before adding organic fertilisers such as vermicompost or other types of organic fertilisers.  After 1 week, it is transplanted outdoors on beds with stakes.  Since it is a creeper, this can be an addition to your edible landscape at your home by placing it near a trellis so that it can climb its way.  You can also "train" it to grow in the direction you want by placing the shoots in that direction.  It loves the sun and doesn't do as well in semi-shady areas.

It produces bright yellow flowers with an orange centre.  Not all
flowers will produce the fruit, only pollinated ones.  So, I find that planting a few of these plants close helps increase the rate of cross-pollination.  It is also important to remove the yellowed and old leaves to encourage growth as well as to provide easy access for the insects to the flowers for pollination.  A healthy plant will produce an abundance of foliage which often will hide some of the flowers so I also tend to remove the leaves around the flowers.

I fertilise every 2 weeks with organic fertiliser and ensure it receives sufficient water, either by rainfall or watering it.  We have the blessings of abundant clean water, free or chlorine or other additives and I feel that it makes a difference.  As with many vegetables, drainage is important.  To control pests, we use organic pesticides such as serai wangi spray - home-made because we have planted it for the main purpose of making our own organic pest control.

I have been disappointed with the results from bought packaged seeds so I decided to produce my own,  I allow the fruit to ripen to a bright yellow-orange before I pluck it from the plant.  I will then place it in whole on a shelf and wait for it to burst open on its own, which is normally about a day later.  The individual seeds are coated with a bright red skin which is peeled off to uncover the light brown seed which an interesting "flowery" edge, a very distinctive form and so far the only seed that I have seen that has a pattern around the edges,  The seed should feel firm and not soft indicating that it is mature enough to be planted.  Should you buy seeds, test the firmness of the seed, if it is soft, it will not produce plants or produce weak plants.  To store these seeds, keep them in a dry and cool area and they can last a few months.

In traditional and homeopathic therapy, it is used as a treatment for diabetes.  For Malays, it has long been eaten as ulam with sambal belacan.  It is also a favourite among "juicers".  Further information in natural medicine can be found in this link >>

Bitter gourd pods
boiled, drained, no salt
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy79 kJ (19 kcal)
4.32 g
Sugars1.95 g
Dietary fiber2 g
0.18 g
0.84 g
Vitamin A equiv.
6 μg
68 μg
1323 μg
Thiamine (B1)
0.051 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
0.053 mg
Niacin (B3)
0.28 mg
0.193 mg
Vitamin B6
0.041 mg
Folate (B9)
51 μg
Vitamin C
33 mg
Vitamin E
0.14 mg
Vitamin K
4.8 μg
Trace metals
9 mg
0.38 mg
16 mg
0.086 mg
36 mg
319 mg
6 mg
0.77 mg
Other constituents
Water93.95 g

Percentages are roughly approximated usingUS recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

Updated 17 February, 2015

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Edible or Therapeutic Flowering Landscape Part 1

The basic rule that we have for plants at the farm is that it must be either edible or have therapeutic values and is our botanical heritage.  I love flowers so I find flowering plants that meets the criteria and work on growing and propagating them as well as trying the understand what makes them grow well.  These are all relatively low maintenance so you might want to try to add them to your landscape, if you don't already have it.

Bunga Kantan (Ginger Torch)
Ruku (Holy Basil)

Lengkuas Kecil (Galanggang)
Selasih Putih (White Basil)

Misai Kucing (Cat’s Whiskers)
Tujuh Bilah

Kunyit (Tumeric)
Kari (Curry)

As I manage to photograph more plants, part 2 will follow.  I look forward to furthering my quest whilst land space permits J