Friday, 18 December 2015

SHL Supplements and Complements

Over the years, I have developed my own concoctions for use at the farm and in accordance to the types of plants as well as experimenting products from friends as to what works best.  Most people refer to beneficial microorganism as EM or Effective microorganism.  We use clean, natural water for all our concentrate production.

  1. Beneficial microorganism concentrate with citronella comprises of organic, chemical pesticide.herbicide free organic matter such as calamansi, papaya, banana, ginger torch with our own organically grown citronella and fermented with black sugar cane and molasses for a minimum period of 3 months.  The citronella is mainly used for pest deterrent properties but it also adds a lovely aroma to the concentrate along with citrus elements.
  2. Beneficial microorganism concentrate with citronella and Epsom Salts is mainly targeted for fruiting plants and trees with the added magnesium content.
  3. Green beneficial microorganism with citronella concentrate was developed mainly to have an all-in-one for our leafy vegetables such as kaolin, pal chop, cabbage, spinach, to name a few.
  4. Organic mulch is mulch created from our chemical pesticide and herbicide free vegetation including ginger torch leaves and stems, "tebrau", etc.
  5. Organic fertiliser mulch comprises of our mulch with the addition of fertilisers and nutrients and is mainly used to "top-up" our plants.  The mulch and beneficial microorganisms promotes the breakdown of the fertilisers over a time period, releasing them over a period of time and reducing leakages.
  6. Organic potting soil contains various elements but is targeted as promoting healthy root growth and well as better seed germination success rate with its ability to maintain moist soil conditions with the appropriate watering and not soggy.
  7. Fish Amino Acid concentrate is created from our own fish that is reared under 24-hour flowing water "river-like" pond and feed with quality fish pellets as well as the small river fish and shrimps that comes in with the water from a natural river source.  It is fermented for a period of not less than one month.
All the beneficial microorganism concentrate and fish amino acid concentrate are diluted at the rate of 10-20 ml of concentrate to 1 later of chlorine-free water.  Remember, our household water source is filled with chemical during the water processing to kill of bacteria and germs and this same chemicals will kill the beneficial microorganism thereby reducing or removing  the benefits derived from the beneficial microorganisms.

Monday, 14 December 2015

SHL Tips #2: Increasing the chances of germinating seeds and having healthy seedlings

At the farm, growing seedlings is one of our key activities.  We are continuously sowing seeds in our effort to have a continuous supply of vegetables and fruits.  For the moment, we rely on commercial seeds for all 50% of our vegetables and the rest are farm produced.

What we find at the farm, the two major factors for successfully germinating seeds is the quality of the seeds and composition of the germination medium.  Hence I experimented with various types of germination medium with the aim to have one that is cost-effective and easy for us - both from the preparation as well as the maintenance throughout the germination and production of a healthy seedling.

Our germination medium comprises of the following 4 elements:
  1. organic mulch
  2. soil mix
  3. vermicompost
  4. chicken manure
Each of the element plays an important role in increasing the success rate of seed germination and healthy seedlings.  The organic mulch helps in maintaining the moisture content in the mix and
preventing the mix from drying out and keeping the mix light.  The soil mix contains soil and burnt soil to create the base for the root growth that also contains nutrients.  Vermicompost is a good source of nutrients as well as beneficial organisms for the seedling growth.  Apart from providing nutrients to the seedlings, chicken manure contains the key element for a healthy root growth - phosphorous. 
When placing the seeds, it is important to place them at the right depth.  In general, the larger the seed, the deeper it is.  Whilst placing the seed at a lesser depth can still result in germination, it will cause the root to form too close to the surface resulting in a seedling that is not well-rooted hence it can topple easily.

A layer of mulch mixed with chicken manure and soil (7:1:2) is placed on top to further reduce the water evaporation rate.  This will also help keep a continuous supply of nutrients to the seedling as the mixture breaks down thereby not requiring further fertilisation until transplanting.

With moist - not soggy- germination medium rich in the essential ingredients, a healthy seedling with good root growth can be produced.  It is important to have a healthy root growth in order to produce a healthy plant as the root system is the key mechanism for the plant to "eat and drink".

Friday, 4 December 2015

SHL Tips #1: It starts with the soil

I continually experiment with the purpose of trying to improve the quality and quantity of yield from my plants and trees.  To me, it all starts with the soil.  Based on my limited experience and experiments, there are a few aspects of the soil that I focus on:

  1. Quality of the soil
  2. Composition of soil
  3. Moisture retention within the soil
Quality of the soil encompasses how healthy the soil is.  My farm is totally organic because I am a firm believer that the chemical pesticides and herbicides causes the soil to die as the various natural life forms that promote the health and well-being of the soil are killed off.  This includes the beneficial microorganisms and the various types of worms.  Earthworms are essential for promoting the health of the soil as well as performing the critical function of aerating the soil.  The beneficial microorganisms further enhances the breakdown of nutrient elements in the soil making it easily available to the plants and trees.

Composition of the soil matters when I am determining what I plan to plant.  Different types of plants and trees require different types of soil composition.  For example, plants that produce tubers prefer soil composition that has a higher proportion of sand than fruiting plants.  A simple way of thinking is this:  If the plant produces tubers like sweet potatoes, ginger, turmeric, and if the soil composition is heavy like clay, it would make it more difficult for the plant to produce the tubers as clay is heavy and hard to push through especially when dry.  If it is too wet, then it will make it more likely for the tubers to rot.  Clay soil is rich in minerals and nutrients so it is not necessarily bad, I just have to make some modifications to the composition to "lighten" it depending on the plant or tree that I want to plant.

Moisture within the soil also makes a big difference.  Some plants prefer "wet" soil and some prefer consistent moisture whilst others prefer to have the soil dry out before watering.  Depending on the plant and the capability of the moisture retention within the soil, this will affect how often and how long you water.  The moisture retention capabilities of the soil can be adjusted with the use of mulch and other organic material as well as sand.

At the farm, we only use organic soil improvers and additives and the majority are farm produced with an eye to organic recycling and minimisation of cost as well as cost-benefit.  With the right soil quality, composition and moisture, you have the option of planting in containers like pots or polybags, or in the ground.  To me, this is the foundation for healthy plants and trees.  If they cannot feed and grow roots, one cannot expect them to grow well.

PS>> I am not a trained agriculture expert nor am I a lifetime farmer.  What I am is a 7-years practicing, hands-on farmer :)

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

SHL Free Range Organic Chicken Soup

Once in a while, when I entertain guests at the farm, I will cook based on our farm produce.  At a recent gathering, I decided to do my version of the chicken soup featuring our chicken.  Cooking free range chicken is different than cooking "cooped up" chickens as free range chickens do not have soft flabby meat and tastes great when cooked with herbs and spices and will result in tender chicken meat.
To start with, we have fresh chicken which we will place over open flame for a few seconds to remove all the fine "hairs" left after the feathers have been plucked.  Cut the chicken into 10 pieces, separating them at the joints and the chicken breast is cut into 4 pieces.
Rinse them well to remove any unwanted innards left.  Place in a drainer and let the water drain off.

The ingredients I use to flavour the soup are:

  1. Fresh tumeric (kunyit hidup)
  2. Fresh small galangal (lengkuas kecil)
  3. Kaffir lime leaves (daun lima pert)
  4. Lemon grass (Serai)
  5. White basil (selasih putih)
  6. Fresh ginger (halia)
  7. Star Anise (bunga lawang)
  8. Cloves (Cengkih)
  9. Coarse salt (garam kasar)
  10. Big red onion (bawang merah besar)
  11. Yellow onion (bawang kuning besar)
  12. Garlic (bawling putih)
  13. Chopped celery (saldri)
  14. Chopped carrots (lobak merah)
  15. Fresh bay leaves (daun salam)
When I cook dishes like this, I am pretty much old school which means I do not use a blender but prefer to use mortar and pestle.  I use olive oil and heat it up and add the onions which have been pound coarsely.  Next I will pound ginger, galangal and tumeric and add it to the pot once the onion has been cooked until it is translucent.  After allowing it to cook for a few minutes, I will add the white basil, bay leaves and kaffir lime leaves which I pound to just break it up a bit.  After 1 minute or so, I will add the garlic which has been pound to a relative fine consistency and follow it with Carrots, celery star anise and cloves.  I add the chicken to the pot and stir it around and add water followed by the lemon grass stalks which I just fund the ends.  I bring the mixture to a boil and then slow the heat to allow it to simmer for about 1 hour.  I add salt and turn off the heat.  The soup is ready.

My choice of the seasoning is based on the goodness that I want the soup to have apart from having it taste good.  This soup can be served on its own, eaten with rice or as the gravy for noodles.  So, there it is - our version of free range organic chicken soup which results in tender chicken meat and tasty soup filled with nutrients :)

Saturday, 12 September 2015

SHL Version of the Beneficial Microorganism (EM) solution

As we practice organic or natural farming and we aim to recycle as much as our organic wastes to a useful product, I began to experiment with making my own beneficial effective microorganism concentrates for use at the farm.  Knowing the source of the material will further help me ensure
preventing introduction of toxic chemicals to our farm hence we tend to use farm ":wastes".
Selecting the ingredients is also important to me as I wanted to produce something that has the plus effect - more nutrients to the plants and trees - as well as pest deterrent properties.  I also wanted to have as much beneficial enzymes in the mixture.  The whole aim is to produce healthy plants with healthy soil.  The beauty of using this is I do not have to worry when I am happily spraying my plants with the diluted solution that I will be covered with toxic chemicals.  My 2 year old son also has fun spraying the plants and I do not have to worry about how he will be affected to exposure to this solution.

At the base is sugar.  As we grow black sugar cane (tebu hitam) which is one of the sources for the production of molasses with its high sugar content, we use this to serve as the food to the microorganisms.  To have the pest deterrent properties, we use citronella (serai wangi) leaves.  Another good item for this is the onion peels and the outer layer that we tend to peel off the onion when we cook.

Next comes the additional nutrient components that I want to provide to the plants such as calcium, phosphorus and potassium.  Here there are lots of choices such as calamansi (lima kasturi), key lime (lima nipis), banana peel, papaya peel, and even ginger torch (bunga kantan) stalks.  I will chop all these up.  You can also use vegetable wastes from your food preparation.  By adding the citrus elements, your solution will have a nice citrus aroma so you can get aroma therapy whilst you are spraying your plants.

Chlorine is harmful to the microorganisms so it is important to use water that is free of chlorine to this mix.  We are blessed with having a clean, natural water source so that is what we use.

We use a lot of it at the farm as I use it for all the plants and trees, fruiting and non-fruiting so when we prepare, I use a large covered plastic "garbage" container.
Now, the favourite question: how much of each.  The ratio I use is 2 parts black sugar cane, 2 parts organic material (the leaves, peel and such) and 10 parts of water.  Basically, for our production, I use 2 kg of black sugar cane, 2 kg of the other organic material and 10 litters of water.

I allow it to ferment for at least 3 months, the longer the better, and once a week, I will stir the mixture allowing for the waste gases to escape and increasing oxygenation.  It is during this fermentation process that the microorganisms will multiply.  When it is done, I will strain the liquid and store it in recycled plastic bottles.  I use it at a dilution rate of approximately 2 tablespoons of concentrate to 1 litter of water and spray it all over the plant and soil.  The use of these solutions are not limited to the plants but can also be used in your household to clean counter tops and surfaces.  And now you have our story.  Try it and you may fall in love with it too :)

Friday, 28 August 2015

Cauliflower in the lowlands

Another plant that many have always said can only be grown in cooler areas such as Cameron Highlands is the cauliflower.  I started these from seeds, germinating 1 tiny seed per seeding polybag of about 6cm in width and 10cm in height.  I use a potting mix comprising of soil, mulch, and  vermicompost.  I lightly spread my soil mix over the seed, just enough to cover it and sprinkle water to moisten it.  I sprinkle water on it daily and after about 7 - 10 days, it germinates with 2 heart-shaped leaves.  It seems like the cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower all have similar first 2 leaves so if you germinating them at the same time, you might want to label it in some manner.  The seeds do not germinate at the same time so do not get anxious if you see 1 or 2 sprout in the beginning.  It is essential to obtain good seeds for good germination rate.

After the seedling have begun to produce 4 leaves, which takes about 10-15 days, I will then transplant them either to the ground or large polybags.  The third and following leaves do not look like the initial 2 leaves.  The soil composition is similar to what I use in the potting mix.  By seeding in a small polybag, it allow me to reduce disruption to the roots so that it does;t go into shock when I
transplant it.

It takes about 3 months before the flowers will start to appear so be patient.  Small patches of florets will appear.  The thicker the stem is the healthier the plant is.  It is important not to let the plant grow too long in the small polybag before transplanting to a bigger space or it will effect the growth and ultimately the size of the cauliflower produced.  Keep the soil moist and fertilize fortnightly - small amounts - ensuring a steady supply of nutrients for growth.

As we do not use any hormones or other artificial additives, the growth rate of the florets takes about 1 month before you will get a good sized cauliflower.  What I have learnt is the good fertilisation and water control as well as area size for growth of the plant makes a big difference to the health and growth of the plant and flower.  By ensuring these factors are taken care of, there is no need to use chemical plant inducers.  Applying a layer of mulch on the soil surface also helps to retain the water whilst keeping the soil moist not soggy which is detrimental to the plant as it will cause the stem to rot from over supply of water.

For pest control, we use our homemade effective microorganism with citronella spray.  This serves as pest control as well as additional nutrients to the plant.  Keeping it organic and free of chemicals gives me the freedom of enjoying the florets raw without having to use other chemical cleansers before consumption.

My conclusion: you can grow cauliflower in the lowlands and with the proper care, you will get to enjoy these delicious vegetable.

Shredder, My New Love

I am involved in a new love affair - yes, you read it right.  My new love's name is Hawk Shredder which is made in China.  It is simply wonderful, it helps me out and does things that fills my heart with joy and it didn't put in in the red, in fact, in shaa Allah, within 1 year will help me save money.  What more could a woman want?
Am I gushing over a shredder/chipper?  Yes, I am.  I have been looking for a shredder for over two years but I didn't want to over-invest.  After all, one of the principles of the farm is to be sustainable economically so any investment should be able to pay for itself.  Otherwise it would not be practical. This item is important to the farm, not a toy.

Being an organic farm that is more focussed on maximising nature's bounty (which is our tag line), an inherent principle is to go for natural farming where possible and using what we have to the maximum potential.  For us, it is important to keep the soil alive and to continuously feed it so it will be healthy, enabling us to grow edibles using more natural methods.
Top soil is important as well as the soil composition.  An important element in our farming methodology is the use of organic mulch, free of pesticides and chemical fertilisers.  In our initial stages, we used bought organic matter but over the years, we have begun to recycle our organic waste such as banana pseudostems, ginger torch leaves and stems, grass and various other plant-based matter.  In this manner, we can feel confident of mulch matter being free from chemical pesticide, herbicide and fertiliser.

As in all love affairs, it is not perfect.  There are ups and downs.  The downs are the shredder cannot handle recyclable wastes that have high water content nor with lots of stringy fiber so it doesn't handle the banana pseudostem.  It will cause the shredder to clog up and overheat.  The up is there are many options at the farm - the tebrau, bunga kantan stems and leaves and all sorts of other vegetation.

You also need to get attune to how it functions - don't stuff the input chutes or you will have problems with it clogging up.  Just take it easy.  Every once in a while, you will need to clear the output chute.  As the shredded material will be moist, it may clump up so it doesn't drop off easily.  Get a feel on when you need to speed up the engine and when you can just have it at a steady pace.

As with any relationship, you have to maintain it.  Be sure to use good quality 4-stroke engine oil - no need to go overboard on this as the prices of the oil for 1 litter range from between RM 10 - 50.  Periodically clean it so that it doesn't dry up on the insides and create blockages.

All in all, I am happy with it as we have been running the shredder about 3 times a week, 2-3 hours each time.  I now use a lot of mulch all over the farm, around my fruiting trees, my vegetables, and also as an organic additive to the soil.  At the rate that I am creating and using mulch, the machine along with the lubricants and petrol would have paid for itself in 6 months.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

How the Super 5 salad came about

Over the years, I have continued my research on the various herbs and plants that I have planted at the farm.  I read up research articles, talked to alternative medicine practitioners as well as tried them out myself.  It is born out of my love for healing, gardening and keeping our tradition alive.  So this article is based on what I have learnt and experienced.  

We live in a country rich in natural resources that we have only just begun to document with many of the information passed over the generations by word of mouth.  Whilst pharmaceuticals tend to address corrective measures, our ancestors had a diet full of preventive measures and my aim is to focus more on preventive measures but at the same time look for curative measures.  

In our fast-paced life, I find that salads are one of the best mechanisms for eating food that is nutritious and full of preventive measures - all of it being organic since introducing chemical pesticides and herbicides only adds toxins and cancer-causing elements to out diet.  In selecting the Super 5 salad elements, I focussed on our main major illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, gout to name a few.  So in my research, I looked at what were the major causes and how to control them within our bodies.  Another important factor was the ease of growing and caring for these plants so people can succeed in growing them in their home gardens.

My Super 5 consists of ulam raja (cosmos caudantus), ruku or selasih hitam (holy basil), kemangi (lemon basil), tujuh bilah or bintang tujuh (pereskia sacharosa) and selasih putih (white basil).  
  1. Ulam raja is rich in vitamins, antioxidants and minerals.  With this herb, it is addressing almost all our major organs as well as our bones.  It is easily propagated from seeds.
  2. Ruku, with its anise-like flavour, adds the respiratory health elements as well antioxidants and anti bacteria.  With this herb, we are focussing on the respiratory system.  It is easily propagated from seeds.
  3. Kemangi, with its citrus aroma has blood cleanser, antioxidant, anti bacteria as well as heart strengthening element.  With this herb, the focus is our blood system.  It is easily propagated from seeds.
  4. Tujuh bilah is known in the herbal world as being an anti-cancer agent and antioxidants.  It is easily propagated from stem cuttings.
  5. Selasih putih has antioxidant, anti-cancer and anti-bacterial properties and helps in the digestion process.  With this herb, we are focussing on the digestion system.  It is easily propagated from seeds.
All these plants grow in full sun or semi-shade and are easy to care for.  Regular pruning will encourage new growth and maintain a healthy plant.  It can all be planted in pots or polybags so not having any ground to plant is not an issue.  With the exception of tujuh bilah, all are annuals although the life expectancy can be increased with regular pruning.

To further enhance the value of the salad, a serai or lemongrass infused olive oil dressing can be prepared by placing chopped, cleaned lemongrass stalk and leaves at least overnight in the olive oil to allow the flavours and essence to infuse into the olive oil and adding salt and pepper as well as a dash of lemon juice to taste.  This will further add cleansing and anti-cancer properties to your salad as well as nutrients.  So, next time you want to have a salad, try this and taste the flavour of these leaves and reap the benefits.

Why the Super 5 in a tea?

I enjoy blending herbs to create a refreshing tea that I would want to drink any time without thinking of it as a health food or "medicinal".  Somehow we tend to equate healthy drinks to bitter, awful tasting drink but in this instance, it tastes great and not medicinal.  I wanted to create a tea with lots of preventive properties as well as curative properties while maintaining the taste.

The criteria for the tea was that the source of the leaves had to be able to be grown on the farm (read: local and organic) as well as easy to care and maintain.  And of course, had to result in a good tasting tea that can easily be stored and transported (read: either a concentrate or dried tea leaves blend).

I started out with the first leaf selected: the durian belanda or soursop (graviola) mature, dark green leaves.  Many studies have been conducted including by Purdue University, Catholic University of South Korea, Virginia Tech to name a few, have found the the phytochemicals in the leaves and fruits are effective as a cancer prevention (since they kill off cancer cells and we all have them, just whether they are active or not) and also as a curative for cancer with its cancer cell killing properties.  In traditional or herbal medicine, it is also use for hypertension, kidney stones, gall bladder stones, diabetes and other major illnesses.  From my research, 5-7 leaves per day are used.  It should be noted, that to date, there has been no known adverse effect from the leaves.

Misai kucing or cat's whiskers has long been used as an aid to control the blood sugar, treatment of gout, high blood pressure and as a blood cleanser in traditional or herbal medicine.  The flowers are also used in the blend for a subtle floral undertone flavour.  The care and maintenance of this shrub is easy and it is easily propagated from stem cuttings.  From my research a range of 1-2 gm per day is used.

Kemangi or lemon basil is often used in cooking as it emits a citrus herbal flavour.  In traditional or herbal therapy, it is often used for diabetes, high blood pressure , cholesterol, blood cleanser as well as to strengthen the heart.  This plant is easy to care for and propagated by seeds.  From my research about 5-7 leaves per day is used.

Serai or lemongrass has only recently surfaced as being used in cancer therapy.  At the Ben Gurion University, a study conducted found that citral, a phytochemical in lemongrass "causes cancer cells to commit suicide".  A local favourite herb for many of our local dishes, it is also used to create refreshing drinks.  Easily propagated from stem bulbs, it grows with hardly any care required apart from periodic cleaning of old and dried stalks to maintain plant health.  From my research, 1 gm of fresh leaves are use.

Belalai gajah or snake grass is also known for its usage in cancer therapy and high blood pressure in alternative, traditional and herbal treatments.  It is easily propagated from stem cuttings and grows well in sunny to semi-shady areas.  An average of 7-10 leaves per day is used but sometimes more, depending on the purpose of the tea.

Ultimately, I wanted a tea blend that would allow me to eliminate toxins as well as having illness preventive characteristics but yet be palatable.  Amongst the major illnesses that I hope to address in myself are cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, gout, stroke, hypertension, kidney and gall bladder stones to name a few.  To my knowledge, we all have cancer cells and it is just a matter of whether they are active or not.  Thus, as a preventive measure, I hope to kill off as many of these cancer cells. Our modern day diet also introduces a lot sugar, uric acid and fats to our food consumption as we enjoy crustaceans, desserts, steaks, and many other wonderful tasting food.  My aim is by consuming the tea, it will help my body eliminate all the unhealthy by-products from my body such as excess sugar, bad cholesterol, uric acid and the like.  I wanted my blood system to be cleansed of all the undesirables regularly or keep them in check so as not to make me fall victim to these illnesses.

I do not advocate dismissing physician's visit and advise but merely share what has been used for years over the generations.  I periodically go for a medical check-up as a form of motoring my health.  Unfortunately, not much is documented as the traditional practitioners do not carry out documented studies.  I am constantly on the lookout for studies conducted by research centres and universities to further add  my knowledge so if anyone else has information, please share.

I belief that a healthy blood is one of the keys to a healthy body so the blood cleansing properties is also high on the list of the characteristics of the tea blend.  In preparing the tea, I will chop up the leaves to facilitate the release of the nutrients from the leaves.  I tend to prepare a concentrate which I store in my fridge and I have tested storing it for 3 weeks in the fridge.  When I want to drink it, I will add either hot or cold water, depending on my preference at that time.  Personally, I drink it twice a week, mainly for preventive and maintenance purposes as I have other blends that I drink.  So, why not create an organic "tea" garden where you can enjoy the beauty of the plants as well as the health benefits :)

Updated: Aug. 20, 2015
Updates: Aug. 21, 2015

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Just drink it :)

After a conversation that I had with a very good friend, I was inspired to share this. Oftimes we feel lazy to eat fresh "ulam" or find it difficult to find.  I remember my late great grandmother, late grandmother and even my mother have "ulam" at almost every lunch and dinner.  For us nowadays, in the age of technology and processed foods, we have lost this tradition until we get sick and then we scour all over the place for them.  At the farm, part of the aim is to keep the species alive and continue to propagate them.
The beauty of these herbs is that they can be consumed as a drink and done in such a way so that it becomes a regular drink and no longer thought of a medicinal or health drink.  Many can be prepared ahead of time and stored in the fridge, ready to drink or as a concentrate which can later be mixed with hot or cold water to drink.
The can also be easily planted and cared for, and can be planted in containers for those with limited ground space.  As long as the plants can receive about 6 hours of sunlight a day, the soil not left to dry out and planted in a good soil mix, they can produce the necessary leaves and flowers for consumption.  Since we live in a tropical climate, we do not have to worry about planting times as we can plant throughout the year.
Since the purpose is to produce quality for our consumption, I strongly suggest that it be planted organically, using organic fertiliser and pest control and totally avoiding chemical and toxic pesticides.  Basically, we should feel comfortable to pluck the leaf and eat it directly from the plant.
So, here is my top 10 list:

  1. Lemon grass or serai
  2. Lemon basil or kemangi (produces small white flowers)
  3. Cosmos caudantus or ulam raja (produces 5-petal pink with yellow centre flower)
  4. Cat's whiskers or misai kucing (produces white or lilac flowers)
  5. Holy basil or ruku (produces tiny purple flowers)
  6. Pereskia sacarosa or tujuh bilah (produces vibrant pink or red flowers)
  7. Asiatica pennywort or pegaga 
  8. Chinese betel or sireh cina
  9. Snakegrass or belalai gajah
  10. White basil or selasih putih (produces tiny white flowers)

Tujuh bilah
Misai Kucing

Ulam Raja


Selasih Putih

The above plants either on its own or in combination is purported to address may different diseases or illnesses including cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, hypertension, and gout as well as detoxifying your body.  It also includes antioxidants as well as containing many different vitamins and minerals.
It is important to remember that it is the fresh, green leaves that are used and not the old brown, dried leaf.  So, when planning you garden, whether it is in a patio, cemented space or ground soil, why not include these plants :)

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Durian Fest V - Post Mortem

This year's Durian Fest taught me a lot.  This is the first time that I had an open invite and I must say it was a stressful experience for me albeit it has its highlights.  Preparation for the event was already stressful as I had some people upset with me when I declined some of their rsvps.  It was a necessary measure as the response was already large.  Many responded late and some didn't confirm till the last minute so I really couldn't accommodate them. All my previous durian tests was by invitation only so this is the first experience that I had in trying to nail down how many are coming.
The day arrived and true to my guess, quite a few people arrived early, some disrupting the preparations and some quite rude.  This created stress for my crew and I, something which I wanted to avoid.  The paying guests could be categorised into 3 - the good, the bad and the ugly.  Since I always like to know the worst first, let's address the ugly.  The ugly are those that paid RM 10 and know that it is a "eat-at-site" function but yet choose to steal durians in plastic bags or other bags that they brought with them.  These are people that I noted on the registration sheets and will choose to no longer have anything to do with.  Then there are those "uglies" that came and eat without paying.  Again, I will choose to no longer have anything to do with them.  Since they didn't register in, it is easy to avoid them in the future.
Next we have the bad.  These are those that think that since they paid RM 10, they can waste as many fruits as they like.  Over 100 fruits were wasted by these "Bads" who ate a couple "ulas" of the fruit and then left them lying around, and sometimes throwing the barely eaten on the ground.  Guess what, these "Bads" will no longer be welcomed.  There are also the "Bads" who refer to my crew as "kuli" and wanted to order them around.  Guess what, RM 10 doesn't buy you a slave that you can be rude to and threaten to report to me.  The other type of "Bads" complaint about the durian and the lemang, all the while downing the food like there was no tomorrow.  These people also go into my "undesirables" list.
OK, enough of the negativity.  Let's hilight the Good.  There were groups who used this opportunity to get together, laid their mats down, shared fruits and ate lemang and enjoyed the drinks provided, all the while having a good time.  It was a pleasure to see them enjoy themselves.  Then there were others that shared fruits, even though they didn't know each other because they decided that they wanted to try other fruits.  Then, there were those that got there only to find that we had run out of fruits.  Durians are not something that you can simply pluck, and due to the Bad and the Ugly, we ran out of fruits faster than anticipated.  They were understanding about it and I will put them in my "Desirables" list.  Some of them came from as far away as Melaka and first time to the area.  Imagine how bad I felt :(.
My apologies goes to those who didn't get any durians and I will add you to the list of invites for next year's event.  This will be the first and last time that I will have an open event.  I will revert to previous format where we had a closed event by invitation only.  I want everyone to have a pleasant experience, both the guest and my crew, the same kind we had previous years.  A very important lesson was learnt this year: You can only control certain things but there are so many unknowns :).

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

All About Durian Fest V

I am happy that we are again able to hold a Durian Fest and this will be our fifth.  We didn't have one last year because the season fell during Ramadhan.  However, this year it seems like we will receive more visitors compared with previous years with the main interest being enjoying "original durian".  I call them as such because these are durians planted from trees decades ago, before we had genetic modified plants and introduction of forced-fruiting, before the drive of commercialization pushed for "standard" fruits.  Our aim is to promote local, original durians and the adventure of eating these durians.  You never know what you are going to get and there are many varieties.  These durians fruit naturally, following their own schedules, not injected with hormones or such items to force them to fruit to meet a commercial desire.

The Durian Fest is held during the area's durian season and we do not collect any durians with names that have alphabets and numbers in them.  Some people call them durian kampung but I prefer to refer to them as the original durian.  They come in all sizes and many different flavours and flesh shades of colour from cream to bright yellow and if we are lucky, we may get the orange ones too.  Part of the excitement is to see what fruit we have when we open one up.

Personally, I love eating durian with lemang made the traditional way.  So, we cook lemang for this event so others could enjoy what we enjoy.  It takes over four hours to cook it, requiring constant care while it is being cooked.  Glutinous rice with fresh coconut milk and a touch of salt placed in bamboo  poles of about 2 feet long, slow cooked over wood fire results in a delicious lemang.

Considering that we are eating rich foods high in sugar and carbohydrates, we serve a blend of misai kucing and durian belanda leaves tea with the hope that it will help re-balance our bodies.  The tea is made with our natural, uncontaminated river water direct from the source.  The tea leaves are grown on the farm so it is organic and natural, no pesticide or herbicides.  With the great water, I think the tea just tastes wonderful, hot, warm or cold.  We feel happy to be able to enable people to being the water home but everyone has to bring their own containers.

After the rich meal, our farm is open for visitors to walk around and see what we have planted as well as see how we plant them.  Through sharing, it gives us an opportunities to exchange ideas and gain
knowledge in a real sense.  Sg. Lui flows through the farm and it is about knee-deep so if anyone wants to cool their feet or sit in the river and enjoy the cool water, they can do so.

Our farm produces fruits and vegetables - all chemical pesticide and herbicide free and on this day, we will have whatever is available for sale along with various other items such as seedlings, mulch, potting mix and fertiliser.  Our principle has always been to encourage organic or natural vegetable and fruit production as well as recycling of organic waste to produce fertilisers.  As such, we will have friends sharing the Bokashi method and goat fertilisers.  We will also have visitors who want to share or exchange seeds or seedlings and we will have a table set-up for people to place items for this.  I am happy that the fest will be an opportunity to share amongst people with like interest.
All in all, this Durian Fest V is my most ambitious fest to date and I hope that we can manage to make it a wonderful experience for all our visitors.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Bananas: Berangan or Emas

I admit it - I still prefer the originals, no genetically modified for me.  The taste you get from the originals are special.  Pisang Berangan is about slightly more than double the size of Pisang Emas and the difference doesn't stop there.  Both bananas are eaten raw but over-ripe pisang emus can be turned into a lovely pancake and also our favourite local cucur - cucur kodok or as the northerners call it: cok kodok.  However, both varieties do not make good banana fritters as they tend to soak in lots of oil.
Just ripen, pisang berangan (left) and pisang emas (right)

Two days later, you can see the difference in the skin colours.

The pisang berangan skin turns yellow as it matures and as it further ripens has a slight orange tint to it.  The flesh is white and has a sweet taste with a subtle sourness to it.  The texture is almost cake-like with a lower water content by comparison and almost melt in your mouth.  Because of the taste and texture, it tastes great when turned into a banana split with chocolate or vanilla ice cream as it balances the creamy sweet taste of the ice cream.
Pisang berangan (left) and pisang emas (right)

By comparison, pisang emus skin turns yellow as it matures but as it further ripens, becomes a golden yellow.  The flesh is slightly yellow and it gets to be a golden yellow as it further ripens.  The texture is more solid and it gets even sweeter as it ripens.  When it is over-ripe, it tends to get slightly watery due to its higher water content making it easy to turn into a mush for pancakes or cok kodok.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Mulching - good choice for recycling

By definition, organic mulch is the placing of organic material around the base of the plant to enrich or protect the soil.  I have found this to be a great practice to improve the quality of the soil as well as providing additional nutrients naturally to the plants.  As the organic matter decomposes, it releases essential nutrients such as potassium, nitrogen, phosphorous as well as other elements into the soil from which the roots of the plants absorb.

It serves as a great way to recycle the leaves, grass cuttings and stems of plants, allowing me to clear these items from laying around the farm.  I will chop up the stems before applying it as a mulch so that it can function as a mulch effectively.  I stay away from grass that have flowered or formed seeds as this will then add additional work for me as I will need to manually weed them out.  On top of that, they will consume the nutrients that I wanted my plants to absorb.  I always stay away from sawdust as timber is treated with chemicals to maintain them and the lumber produced from these timber will contain these chemicals.  I also do not use any lang material that was infected by disease as I do not want to spread it to my plants.  I find that there is no need to wait for the mulching material to dry out before applying in on top of the soil.

For planting bed, I will lay at least 2 cm depth of mulch as this will greatly help the soil to retain moisture especially as the day heats up in the early afternoon.  I also use mulch on many of the plants that I plant in polybags or pots.  Most vegetables do not tolerate the soil drying out and will wilt in the afternoon.  By mulching, water remains available in the soil and allows the roots to absorb them.

For all my external mulch, I will add citronella leaves that have been chopped up to serve as a pest control element to the soil.  It doesn't affect the beneficial microorganisms in the soil so it ensures that I do not kill these wonderful microbes.  For fruiting vegetables, I will added banana pseudo stems as they contain lots of nutrients essential for fruiting.

When the plants have lived their age and taken out, I will till the planting bed, mixing all the mulch, which by now have broken down substantially, thereby adding more organic matter into my soil and improving its quality, ready for the next round of planting.  This is a practice I highly recommend as well as understanding what is in your mulch.  Happy recycling and mulching.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

And I used to think that Chem, Bio and Physics was wasted.....

I used to think that I would never get the opportunity to maximise on my Physics, Chemistry and Biology classes from secondary (high) school.  As I continue on my chosen vocation, I realise more and more the value of all that I learnt.  All the knowledge that I gained then is being put to full use now as I am slowly becoming a practicing technical organic farmer.  It has helped me understand the literature and reading I do on the more technical aspects of organic farming and being able to translate it to practical applications adapted to my farm environment.

I find that my chemistry and biology knowledge has helped me the most in the day-to-day act of growing my vegetables, fruits and herbs as well as in growing the fresh water fish.  When talking about the nutrients necessary for the plants such as Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium, Calcium, Sulfur and Magnesium and marrying it into the biological aspects of photosynthesis and chlorophyll generation, it all boils down to having healthy plants that have good quality yield.

Then you have the soil pH from acidic to neutral to alkaline.  Certain plants prefer acidic soil and certain alkaline and some neutral, it boils down to whether the plant can grow.  Trying to grow cabbages in acidic soil will result in it dying or having poor growth.  In contrast, tomatoes prefer acidic soil conditions.  In practical terms, it means that I cannot grow cabbages and tomatoes side by side since they require opposing soil conditions.

I have learnt to appreciate the beauty of micro-organisms and the role they play in growing healthy plants.  Understanding the chemistry of water and other components ha enabled me to produce my own beneficial micro-organism for use at the farm.

Obtaining my water supply required that I understand the physics of pressure as well as force and speed.  Applying these concepts to practical terms of creating my own polypipe supply line resulting in me understanding how to construct a water tank that is at a higher level than the water coming in and being able to have good pressure in the pipes in the farmhouse and the watering pipes.  At the same time, I have a fountain that doesn't require a pump but simple the application of force and pressure but yet provide sufficient oxygenation of the water.

So, at this stage of my life, I am now benefitting from the knowledge of my younger days and realising the value of it.  I am also thankful that I had great teachers at MRSM Pengkalan Chepa that taught in such a way that I understood what I was learning and not just parroting for exams :)

Monday, 20 April 2015

Balancing with Nature: SHL approach to producing effective micro organisms for farm use Part 1

From the Open Farm Day on April 19, 2015, many are interested in using and/or producing their own effective micro organism solutions. Effective Micro-organisms is apparently a trademark name so I will henceforth use a different terminology. The use of these beneficial micro organisms or friendly bacteria  is really using what is available naturally to improve the farm soil quality and at the same time enabling nutrients and health benefits to our plants and trees.  Being a totally organic farm, we try to utilise what we have to further improve the quality and quantity of our produce.  It is a common saying that "seeing is believing".  We try to promote cost-effective organic produce from fruits to vegetables and one of the ways is to utilise what nature has to offer like what our tag line is: "Maximizing Nature's Bounty".

So, how do we produce our organic beneficial bacteria solutions.  First, we use pesticide-free and herbicide-free ingredients as our base organic matter such as fruit peels and vegetables waste from our farm which will provide the beneficial bacteria and enzymes.  For the ladies, I am sure you are familiar with fruit peels that provide beneficial enzymes for our skin cell renewals, well the same principle applies for our plants and trees.  Remember our biology lessons from school  - bacteria can be easily killed by toxic chemicals and the chemicals do not distinguish between friendly and harmful bacteria.  Common sense tells us that if we start with organic waste that have been sprayed with pesticides, they will tend to remain on the peels and skins.  It doesn't take much to kill these bacteria which you cannot see with your eyes.

Next element is the food for these friendly bacteria to feed and multiply.  They like simple food - unprocessed or unrefined sugars such as molasses, raw sugar or cane sugar.  An option for us, going local, is gula nira or gula melaka.  We are encouraged to stay away from refined sugars but instead go for unrefined sugars - same principle here.

The third element is water and this item is just as critical as the first two.  Everyone is aware that our water is treated with all kinds of things to kill bacteria and it remains in the water.  As our "tap" water sources are often contaminated, all kinds of other things are added to "clean" it which will remain in the water.  Check your tap water - is it "crystal" clear? When you leave it for long periods of time in a container, is there a sediment?  Is there an odour to it?  All these things tell you that the water is not healthy.  If it is good, there would be no need for people to buy water filters or water filtration systems costing thousands of ringgit.  You need good, clean water free of "introduced" chemicals such as chlorine.

Now that you have the ingredients, the ratio most commonly used is 3 parts organic matter to 1 part sugars to 10 parts water.  Place it in a closed container, out of sun and allow the gases produce by this fermentation to escape daily initially and then 2-3 days interval followed by weekly, depending on the amount of gases produced.  Allow three months for the fermentation process.  If you do not release the gases regularly, your container may "explode" or burst from the gas build-up.

And there you have our recipe for producing beneficial bacteria for use on your plants.  The dilution we use from this concentrate to create the spray is 1:100 or 10 ml per litre of water and the water we use for dilution is also good, clean, "introduced chemical" free water.  Always remember we are using beneficial living organisms so do not kill it when you want to use it by using the wrong type of water.  Happy "using beneficial bacteria" in your gardens :)

Part 2 will be all about increasing the value of your beneficial bacteria solutions and in shaa Allah, will be written in the near future.  The experiments continues.........

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Open Farm Day: I must be crazy :)

This year, for the first time I started the farm, I am having a open to public farm day on April 19th,  2015.  Am I anxious? Yes. Am I excited? Yes.  Am I scared? Yes. Am I loving having the day? Yes.  Talk about mixed emotions.  When I bought the farm, it was a jungle, nothing like what it is today.  I went my own route, approaching it like a major project with project timelines, tasks, resources, etc. - old habits dies hard.  I spent several months thinking about it and planning starting with what my vision was, what my goals were and what outcomes I would like.  Some thought I was crazy to leave a high-flying corporate lifestyle to become a farmer.  Some thought I was weird to have a farm concept different from everyone else.  Some thought I was wasting my education and talents.

Having this Open Farm Day where it is open to the public and having people who I have never met as well as some that I know come over to see what I have done is nerve-wrecking but I love challenges. I will get to hear what people think of what I have done.  I am sure that I will get comments of what I should have done and I always leave an open mind when I hear this kind of comments as I never know when I might hear something that would work wonderfully at the farm.  At the same time, I get to hear other people's perspectives and learn.  The farm is a continuous work in progress as I strive to improve the quality of the produce whilst trying to improve efficiency in having an organic environment.

What is planned is a sharing of what I have done and how I have done it, from fertilising to end produce; from balancing nature to getting the desired outcome; preserving our botanical heritage.  In essence, people get to see what I have done, me, a person with no agriculture or aquaculture knowledge prior to having the farm and with an idea of my own of how I want to do it.  To me, it is all about the journey of love and passion and mistakes have been made but I love the challenge of learning from it and doing better.  I am still a long way off to what I want to achieve but each day brings new experience and more practical knowledge.

Throughout my journey, I have met and talked with may people who are knowledgeable in specific areas but not one who is doing what I am doing.  The farm is all about me, from what plants and trees were selected to be planted to the sectioning of the area, to the design and how the farmhouse was built.  My challenge is there is never enough time to do all the things that I want done but I give it the best that I can.  So is it perfect?  Of course not :) I have always been a maverick and I guess, it is in my nature.  I am really looking forward to this day as it will be a test for me.  Still, I hope all my guests have a great time and we all share our experiences.

Why garden? Why farming?

I won't say how long I dreamt of having a farm before I actually started one.  Let's say it was before I was 10 years old.  Along the way, pleasing my parents and family, conformity, social norms, etc. happened.  Now that I have been doing this for more than 5 years, I began to evaluate what I have gotten out of it.  Can't help it? Corporate habits die hard!  So, here we go:

  1. Reduced stress level and better health. No doubt about it, the level of stress in my life has dropped dramatically although there is stress when things do not go as planned or when challenges arises but it is manageable.  I enjoy what I do and at then end of everyday, I get the satisfaction from doing something that I feel is worthwhile and beneficial.  Moreover, it is what I enjoy doing so I derive a lot of pleasure and satisfaction from it.  A plus for increased mental health. 
  2. No need to pay for oxygen therapy.  Working in or out of the greenhouse during the day, with all the plants and trees, there is a good amount of oxygen produced by them from their photosynthesis and I get to reap the benefits of loading in the oxygen.
  3. Gym? The whole farm is a gym.  There is always a lot to do in an organic farm that requires physical activity from weeding, making planting beds, composting, clearing the area, carrying things that weigh 10 kg or more, constant movement, etc. etc. etc..  Weight training, cross-training, aerobics, you name it.  Basically you get a total body workout with rewards, not only a stronger body but good food.
  4. Paying top ringgit for fresh organic produce?  Is it really organic? Why? You are already
    producing it and you can be sure that it is organic because you are producing it.  Since I am also against GMO,  at least to a certain extent, I can control the food that we consume and be assured of freshness.  There is the saying "Pay now, or pay later" and where my family and I are concerned, starting with good quality food is a great place to start.  Plus, nothing beats eating what you have grown, somehow it tastes better and you get a great feeling of satisfaction.
  5. Rushing to get somewhere to enjoy nature? Nature is all around you and in my case, with the
    clean rivers, forests, hills, greens, animals - I think that about covers all aspects of nature and I get to enjoy it all the time.  You can choose what you want to plant according to your preference and create your own piece of "heaven".  Peaceful environment.
  6. improving my level of patience.  Nature has its own pace.  You cannot seed a plant and expect to enjoy the benefits immediately.  You adjust to the pace and learn to be patient.  I also learnt to apply this to my son - he will start walking when he is ready, he will start talking when he is ready.  He has his own development rate, I can nurture, provide guidance and love.  It led me to dealing better with people and not to get upset or angry easily.
  7. Learn when to let go and when to take control.  You learn your limits, learn when you need assistance and when to act.  I understand myself better and strive to continuously grow and view each challenge as an opportunity.  However, there are times when in spite of all I do, the outcome is not as expected so I learn from the experience and move on.  This also led to a reduced stress level.  I learn when to affect changes and when to of with the flow.
  8. Appreciate the importance of balancing with nature and not harming it. I live in  world with easy access to toxic items and it is my choice whether I want to introduce it to the environment and destroy it or learn to live with it in a better environment.  I learn about what herbs and natural resources can be used to combat pests or to improve the quality of living things.  Water is a scarce resource and I strive not to add contaminants to it as it will affect my animals, my plants and trees and ultimately myself.  This appreciation also led me to a wider appreciation of all life forms including the human race and how it is important to nourish and not harm.
  9. Retirement planning.  Working in a corporate world has a life span after which you are asked to retire.  I thought about what I will do when none wants me in the corporate world.  I definitely didn't want to wait until the choice was out of my hands, to the extent that I can control it.  Now, I have something to do for the rest of my life which is generating income - will not make millions, but I do not need millions to live in old age, I hope.
  10. Strengthening my religious belief. I am a Muslim and every day I marvel at what Allah s.w.t. gives us, from sunlight, rain, wind to all the other things and count my blessings.  As I do things at the farm, I am presented with opportunities to zikir.  I am sure, no matter what your spiritual belief it, it will have an impact on you spiritually.

More and more, it is hard for me to imagine returning to corporate life full-time and facing traffic jams every day as well as the high pressure, high stress days.  It is a risk, but one that I feel will ultimately pay off for me, in more ways than I can imagine.  Some may look down on me because I am a farmer and not being materialistic ( designer clothes, deigned accessories, expensive cars, etc. etc. etc.) but my quality of life has improved.  After all, there is more to life than chasing money.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Alternative beverage: Calamansi, Misai Kucing and Soursop Leaves

I always find it fascinating when you can blend different leaves and fruits and obtain a delicious beverage whilst being able to reap lots of health benefits.  I always try to go local, what we have had traditionally and rediscovering what our ancestors knew but didn't have the science to back it up.  My latest concoction is the mix of fresh calamansi juice with tea  from a blend of misai kucing (cat's whiskers) leaves and flower and soursop leaves.  I add a little bit of sugar - sometimes pure cane sugar, sometimes rock sugar and sometimes just regular sugar and serve chilled.  The end result is a delicious refreshing drink that quenches my thirst whilst providing me with lots of good stuff - definitely not medicine-tasting.

So, what plants do you need in your garden: calamansi (lima kasturi), cat's whiskers (misai kucing) and soursop (durian belanda) - all three grow well in our weather and flourishes when grown organically.  The soursop fruit is also prized so you can get double benefit by planting this in your garden.  The soursop tree can get to be tall but growth can be controlled with pruning.  The misai kucing is a shrub with beautiful lavender flowers (another colour is white flowers) so can be located almost anywhere and can be used as a border shrub.  Pruning it to shape it also encourages new growth and more flowers.  The calamansi tree grows to about 3-4m tall and regular pruning would encourage new shoots and flowers as well as allow you to shape the tree.

To start with, harvest the leaves and flowers and chop them up and dry.  Get soursop leaves, preferably from the fourth leave from the end of the branch which are mature and a dark green in colour.  This contains the most nutrients.  Chop them up and dry them.  You can then mix the two to provide a blended tea, the proportions of it depends of taste you desire.  If you are making your own, it is great to experiment the ratio mix to your taste.

Why do I like the this beverage so much? From my research I found that amongst the benefits are :  from the misai kucing, I get the blood cleansing, sugar regulator, high blood pressure therapy, acids like uric acid cleansing; from soursop leaves, the main thing I look for is the cancer preventive properties and from calamansi, all those great vitamins.  By growing this at the farm in an all organic environment, I do not have to worry about the introduction of toxins to a delicious, healthy drink.  For a low-cost, power-packed drink, this is a great option for me.  This is simple enough to make that I think it can go on everyone's drink list.  I hope you will be inspired to try it :)

Friday, 20 March 2015

Suria Helang Lui Farm

Suria Helang Lui was born out of the vision to create an integrated organic farm maximising nature's bounty.  It is located near Kampung Paya Lebar, Batu 23, Sg. Lui, Hulu Langat Selangor. with Sg. Lui cutting through the land.  Development of the farm which is 2.5 acres in size started in 2009 with the construction of a utility room and purpose-specific area clearing as well as the creation of a fish pond.  With the availability of water within the surrounding area, polypipes were laid from the water source to provide water supply to the farm.  In 2012, a second set of polypipe was laid for the specific purpose of providing water for the fish pond to improve the water supply.

Currently the farm is comprised of various types of fruit trees, vegetables section, greenhouse, fish pond, chicken run and the farmhouse.  There is always room for improvements hence we have a dynamic nature, always with the vision in mind.  Amongst the fruit trees that we have planted are bananas (at last count 17 varieties), rambutan, pulsar, cempedak, manggis, nangka, lima kasturi, jambu madu and a few others.  In addition, we have two types of tapioca as well as sweet potatoes.

We operate a fully organic farm hence all the vegetables planted are organic using either rain or the fresh water source.  The vegetables are planted in the greenhouse and in our vegetable section.  Amongs the vegetables planted are aubergines, tomatoes, cabbages, kailan, pak choy, choy sum,  bitter board (peri a kayak), long green beans, speckled gourd, spinach, kangkung, cucumbers and several others.  Basically, it is all the vegetables that I want to eat as it is our principle to not sell what we do not want to consume.  In the beginning we relied on commercial organic pest repellants ut in the last few herbs, we have developed our own for use at the farm based on produce from the farm and it has worked well.  We use commercial organic fertiliser as well as produce our own E.M.

Our fish pond resembles a small river, passing though the farm with one end of the water source from the piped water and it flows out to Sg. Lui.  Hence, water is flowing 24 hours through the fish pond resulting in a fish that does not have any "muddy" door or taste.  The fish are fed with produce from the farm and supplemented with fish pellets.  To further ensure that we have good quality water for the fish, we use certain plant-based produce to further act as a cleansing agent.  With the incoming water, we also have lots of small river fish and shrimps as well as snails (siput) that come in with the water, further enhancing the productivity of the fish pond.

The greenhouse has a dual function.  Apart from being an area where I can grow the more vulnerable vegetables, it is my testing site for vegetables.  It also serves as a place where I can start seedlings.

I also love herbs, both as a seasoning as well as for adding to salads and creating teas.  Amongst the herbs we have are misai kucing, holy basil (ruku), lemon basil (kemangi), ulam raja, kadok, turmeric, galanggal, ginger torch, lemon grass, citronella and various other plants that have traditional therapeutic values.  As the soil composition of the farm varies form area to area, the plants are planted on areas suitable for it.

The farmhouse is a simple house aimed at supporting the functions of the farm.  Hence it has all the basic amenities along with a big kitchen - the area where we prepare our produce for market.

No integrated farm would be complete without some farm animals so we have the kampung chicken, which provides eggs as well as organic chicken for cooking. As we continue to evolve, I am enjoying this adventure which I hope to enjoy for as long as possible.  For regular updates, please visit our FB page under Suria Helang Lui.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The Cabbage Saga

I first wrote about planting cabbages 2 years ago and have since learnt more about it.  It still remains in my top 10 favourite vegetable, not only for the taste but also for the versatility and nutrition.  I still depend on commercial cabbage seeds as I haven't figured out how to get my own seeds but this time around I am keeping one plant and letting it grow to see what happens as an experiment.  Cabbages are notoriously slow growers especially in comparison to other leafy vegetable like the choy sum or pak choy. It takes about 4 months before they produce a good head of cabbage.

I found that space area for a growing cabbage is important in the resulting size of the cabbage.  I experimented growing the cabbages at different length of separation of the stem and also in various sizes of polybags.  I get best results when the planting space between plants is at least 2 feet or 60 cm.  If there is a lack of water, you can see the leaves wilting but if you water it as soon as possible, you can see them perk up after about 1 hour.  So, this is a good gauge for me to see that the plants have enough water.  As with many other plants, it doesn't like soggy soil so I make sure that the soil mix I use has good drainage but yet remain moist and I achieve it by using sufficient organicc matter in the soil mix.

By going organic and not using any growth hormones, my cabbages are not big but its leaves are tightly packed and the cabbage head weighs anywhere from 400-600 gm each.  I fertilise it with organic fertilisers (Vermicompost)  and also use an EM spray (home-made).  As the cabbage grows, I will periodically remove the old leaves at the bottom and top up the soil with some organic matter mixed with vermicompost.  I know it is time to top up with some soil when I see fine white roots at the soil surface.

I find that the biggest pest to the cabbage is the ulat bulu and the caterpillars.  They can really much their way through the leaves.  I have yet to find a fool-proof organic pesticide or pest-deterrent so I check the plants often and pick off those crawlers.  However, handle them carefully and I find that touching them bare hands causes an allergic reaction to me -  the skin gets irritated and itchy.  I find that spraying them at least once a week with the beneficial bacteria mixed with serai wangi also helps control the leaf-eating pests.  Remaining organic is important for me as I love eat these vegetable raw and since the leaves are what is consumed, using any chemical pesticide will remain on the leaves, even if it is minute amounts.

The cabbage can be harvested when the lower leaves have turned into a dark green colour whilst the cabbage head remains a lighter green.  You can also notice leaves starting to sprout from the stem below the main cabbage growth.  The baby cabbage leaves are also edible so don't throw them away.

Once the cabbage head is harvested, the stem with the roots can be replanted and you will get baby cabbages growing off the side.  Whilst you may not get a cabbage head again, these baby cabbage leaves can be harvested and turned into a vegetable dish.

There are so many ways to eat cabbages: raw cabbages can be made into sales, coleslaw and as ulam; cooked cabbages as a vegetable dish, stir-fried, in a soup or sayer lemak, to name a few.

There are purported to be many health benefits to eating cabbages:

  • It is high in vitamin K and anthocyanins that help with mental function and concentration by preventing nerve damage and improving your brain's defines against Alzheimer's disease and dementia.
  • Low in fat and high in fibre which will help in your digestive system.
  • The high content in vitamin C and sulphur helps the body to remove toxins such as free radicals and uric acid.
  • Purported to have cancer preventive compounds which inhibits cancer timor growth.
  • Has antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.

Hence it is a good vegetable to add to my vegetable menu selection.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Round purple beauties: Aubergines

Another versatile vegetable fruit is the round purple aubergine.  This plant is a perennia and can be propagated from seeds.  I use dried seeds as this allows me to select the seeds that I feel will germinate and produce strong plants.  What is my criteria? Simple, they have to feel hard and have a nice yellow colour to them.  If the seeds feels "crispy", then they will probably not germinate or produce strong plants.  I seed them in small polybags filled with organic soil mixture.  From my experience, it germinates between 7-10 days.  During this period before you see any leaves, it needs to be kept moist but not soggy wet.
Once it germinates, I will wait until 4 leaves have appeared before transplanting them to either a big poly bag - at least 12" in diameter or into the ground.  Planting in polybags requires more care and attention to water and soil content than in the ground.  The leaves feel velvety and have very tiny hairs which can cause you to have an allergic reaction if you inhale it - to me sometimes I experience a sinus reaction to it so I prefer to plant them in outdoor open areas so I have less chances of inhaling them.

It takes about 2 months before they start to flower, producing lovely small purple flowers. At this point, the plant is about 18" or 0.5m tall, so it is a nice small shrub-like plant.  By keeping it pruned, you can have a nice bushy shrub.  So, if you want to have an edible garden but yet want a flower garden, this plant may be an option.  Allow a diameter of 2' or around 0.5-0.7m at the base of the plant clear of other vegetation. If you want to plant a row of them, space them about 1m or 3' apart as this will allow the plant to bush out.
At the farm, we use a liquid mixture of fermented cow dung, organic matter and vermicompost to fertilise them and they seem to love it, producing lots of flowers.  We started fertilising them fortnightly starting from 1 week after transplanting.  It is important to have strong, sturdy plants as the fruits can be quite heavy, weighing 300-500gm.  As with many fruiting vegetables, pollination is important hence be sure to remove old, yellowed leaves to allow easy access for the pollinating insects.
I like to keep a clear ground area of about 2 feet or 20cm diameter clear around the base of the plant.  I will build a little circle dam around this,  By doing this, it allow me to do a few things: less area to keep weed free, allows for the plant to be the main consumer of the fertiliser and allows the water to be trapped in this circle giving time for the water to seep through the ground to the roots.  We water it once a day unless it rains, and depending on the rainfall, we may not water it for a couple of days.  This is a hardy plant and can be a prennial, lasting over a year with the right care and attention.

It is easy to know when it is time to harvest, it is when the fruit is a nice purple colour.   The fruit is prones to attacks by insects which lay eggs and the larvae then feeds on the aubergine, making holes in them.  I use an EM+ spray as an organic pesticide.   If it is heavy with fruit, you will need to provide support to the plant as the fruits can get to be heavy - 250-400 gm each - straining the branches.
 Now that you have the fruit, what can you do with it.  So many options: grilled with olive oil, salt and pepper, turned into a dip, cooked a curry with it, do an eggplant parmagiana (slices coated in breadcrums) and lots of other dishes.  I have never seen it eaten in sweet dishes though who knows, someone may one day create a sweet dish out of it.  Happy trying to plant this gorgeous plant :)