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 :).