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 :)