Saturday, 31 December 2016

Fish story - Part 1: The pond

I have a fish pond at the farm which doesn't quite look like a pond.  It flows with fresh water from the source through a 3 inch polypipe that I had installed and the water flows out into Sg. Lai at the other end.  When I first bought the land, I noticed that there was a dried stream bed the winds through the land so I used that as the guide and created the fish pond by deepening and widening resulting in a river-like fish pond.  Over the years, I have made modifications and I love how it is turning out.  I am blessed because the farm is located in an area where there is a fresh water source and still uncontaminated - something which I strive to encourage the neighbour to maintain and hopefully no developers will come and destroy it.

I rear red tilapia, lampam and catfish.  Along with the inflow of the river water, I further get river fish and shrimp bounty like bujuk, seluang, eels and haruan.  With the addition of the other fishes, it is a blessing and a challenge as the larger river fish tends to also eat the fish that I put in the pond.  So, it is a balancing act.  The small river fish becomes food for the larger fishes.  I further add greens by planting kangkong and throwing in tapioca leaves which also becomes their food.  From my recycling of organic wastes, I get some black fly larvae which also serves as a protein supplement.  I do supplement with fish pellets but it serves as an addition but it is something that I hope in the near future I can totally remove.  Periodically, we will put banana pseudo stems from our own banana harvesting activity and this serves multiple functions: additional food, water cleanser and places for the fish to lay eggs and rear their babies.  It is a continuos balancing act but it is all aimed at producing tasty, fresh water fish without the muddy or weird smells nor lots of slime.  The water is uncontaminated water and we do not feed it garbage like animal carcasses or chicken innards.  The water is nice and clear and you can easily see the more bright color fish and although ton see the silvery-tone fish takes a bit of work.  As the farm is totally organic, we do not have any chemical elements contaminating the water and the fish.

With the two main elements of food and water in place, the other main element is maintenance and operations.  The fish pond is segmented into 3 areas: the largest is non-cemented base as I try to mimic as natural environment as possible, the second is a temporary holding area when we do our fish sorting and the third is a cemented base processing pond which otherwise is used for rearing our catfish.  Every two months, we will drain the ponds and sort and harvest the fish.  As the larger fish tends to eat the smaller fishes, sorting and harvesting will minimise the cannibalisation.  By draining the ponds, we get to clean and change the water although it is not necessary since water is flowing in and out continuously.    Our latest improvement was to build "retainer" walls along one section that is closest to the farmhouse.  Over the years, erosion has occurred so it became necessary to build one to protect that area.  The plan is to further beautify it with flowering edibles like roselle so it can become another nice spot to rest and relax and where I can fish with a fishing rod when I feel like it.

Besides it being an opportunity for a produce and ensuing products for the farm, it also serves as a
flood mitigation element.  This are has been known to flood especially during rainy season as the level of the river can rise very fast after prolonged rain.  Sg. Lai is fed by 5 other small rivers and streams so the water volume can increase dramatically and it comes with strong currents known to have floated 1m in diameter cement drain pipes like it was a cork.  It also adds aesthetic value and serves as a lounging area hence the addition of the patio where I can sit in the late afternoon and enjoy a drink and fresh air as I watch the fish - utterly relaxing.  The fountain that was created requires no pumps but uses the pressure of the water flow.

I expect in the ensuing years I will probably do more modifications but always balancing between maintaining the environment, natural elements and aesthetics with the underlying aim of producing quality fresh water produce and products as an integrated farm.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Is it really organic versus Organic instead of Chemicals?

A question put forth to me:" I am skeptical that it is organic.  Is it really organic? Or it is organic when compared to chemical?".  Due to this confusion and/or skepticism, that is why I do not really like the term organic but instead prefer natural.  At the farm, I focus more on natural farming.  What is the difference you may ask?  Here's my determining factor:

  1. If you use organic sources such as kelapa saw it, coco peat and rice husks, this may be considered organic but to me, I will avoid using it.  Why?  Simple really, all these items are laden with chemicals during the growing stage from chemical herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers.  So while it is organic, I do not consider it as organic.
  2. If something is grown using hormones, whilst it may be considered organic, it is not something that is my preference because the hormones could be synthetic hormones.  Plus. it is not natural and something that is done more from a commercial perspective.

It is getting more difficult to obtain clean sources because of the widespread use of chemical herbicides and herbicides, not to mention fertilisers.  In order to obtain SOM (Sijil Organik Malaysia), the land needs to be free of chemical pesticides and heavy metal apart from other conditions.  I don't remember seeing any mention of chemical herbicides.  Regardless, at the farm we do not use chemical pesticides or herbicides.  I believe that we can always work with nature and obtain natural sources.

In the production of our enzyme and fish amino acids, 90% of the ingredients used is farm based, when I can be confident of it being free from chemical contamination.   Our water source is clean, natural water taken from the source, running through 3000 m of polypipe.  We have 2 lines: 1 strictly for the fish and the other for other farm and farmhouse use.

When someone asks me  how can I claim that my FAA is organic.  Simple.
First: the fish source ingredient is from the farm.  The fishes' main diet is the small river fish, shrimps, algae, certain leaves and banana pseudo stem from the farm.  We do not use fish from the markets where you can almost be certain that it has been contaminated with chemicals to make it look fresh, smell fresh.
Second: The water used is uncontaminated, clean natural water.
Third: The only external ingredient is the probiotics bacteria and sea salt.  The remaining ingredients are all farm based.
The FAA concentrate is diluted at the rate of 1-2 capfuls per litre of water and watered at the base of the plant.

Why do I say my enzyme concentrate is organic?
First:  All the ingredients used are from the farm including the sugar source for the fermentation (we plant black sugar cane which is the source for the sugar).
Second: The water used is from our clean, natural uncontaminated source.
Third: All the pest control ingredients are also plant-based which is grown at the farm.
This enzyme concentrate is then diluted at the rate of 1-2 capfuls per litre water and either sprayed or watered at the base of the plant.

These two items are the main components in our fertilisation of the plants and trees.  In our fertilisers, we also use calcium, magnesium and potassium as well as other trace elements.  All are from our farm produce.  For example, our calcium source is also from the farm: our farm chicken eggs and certain fruits high in calcium.  Our chicken are not corn-fed to reduce introduction of contaminants.  90% of their food is from the farm.  Potassium from banana pseudo stem and bananas.

Soil conditions are important so soil improvers are also an essential part of the practice at the farm so that we can continue to grow good vegetables and fruits.   I mix the soil improvers into the soil in subsequent plantings in the same soil to ensure the soil remains healthy and fertile.  I also use it to cover non-liquid fertilisers applies to promote the decomposition of the fertiliser as well as in soil used to increase the soil level.

The base of the soil improver is the mulch where the source ingredients are also from the farm.  Again, I can be sure that it has not been sprayed with toxic chemicals.  Hence, I do not use any organic material from kelapa sawit, rice husks or coco peat as although it is considered organic, it is not for my farm.

I do use some vermicompost that I obtain from a source that I feel confident as well as chicken manure although minimal.  I am careful of what is introduced at the farm.  Why do I care so much?  I have a 3 year old son who I hope will grow up in good health without the new age, post GMO illnesses like psoriasis, eczema, respiratory problems, as well a host of allergies and other health issues.  At the same time, I enjoy planting and I do not want to have to worry about getting harmful chemicals on me :)  This is the least I can do to leave a good environmental legacy for my son.

The ability to do all this is because I have an integrated farm and do not practice monoculture so I have the diversity in source ingredients as well as availability.  Whilst it is difficult to determine chemical contamination from sources out of the farm, I try to limit the exposure.  Nature provides a lot of benefits hence our maxim of "Maximising Nature's Bounty" :)

Friday, 4 November 2016

Mahkota Dewa - one of our heritage plants

I have a keen interest in natural alternative therapies hence my deep interest of the various herbal plants and trees that is part of our heritage.  The Mahkota Dewa or God's Crown (scientific name:
Phaleria macrocarpa) is indigenous to Malaysia and Indonesia.  It can be grown in containers as well as in the ground.  I planted my from seed and it took 1 1/2 years before it started to flower and fruit.  I have two of these trees, both sprouted from seeds, but the one that is planted in a container in the greenhouse is doing much better.  I guess it is because it receives more care than the one planted outdoors.

It takes between 10-14 days for the seed to germinate.  The soil used is a mixture of 3:1 ratio of soil and organic matter.  It requires minimal fertilisation - I fertilise it quarterly with an organic fertiliser mixture that also contains calcium and magnesium along with potassium, nitrogen and phosphorous.  It is an evergreen tree and can grow up to 18m tall.  It can grow in full sun to partial sun areas.  The tree in the container is about 1m tall and is already flowering and fruiting.  I use an 18" high polybag with a 12" diameter.  The tree produces dainty white flower clusters which when pollinated, produces bright red fruits when ripen.

In traditional Malay therapy, it is used to treat diabetes, cancer of the lungs,
hepatitis, lower cholesterol levels, reduce high blood pressure and several others.  The fruit has therapeutic properties such as:

  • antioxidant, 
  • anti-tumor, 
  • antiviral, 
  • antibacterial, 
  • anti-hyperglycaemia and 
  • anti-diarrhoea.  
The main part that is used is the ripe red fruit. as well as the mature leaves.    The fruit can sliced and dried for storage for later use.  The leaves can also be dried for storage for later use.

Amongst the side effects of the fruit is headaches and can be poisonous if it is over-consumed.  It is also not recommended for pregnant ladies.  The normal method of consumption is by drinking the liquid resulting from boiling 3-5 fruits in 1 later of water and until it has reduced to 650ml or reduced by 2/3.  It is then consumed 1/3 at a time.  As with any herbal therapy, it is best to consult a herbalist first before consuming this.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Papayas, our local delight with options

Papaya is one of the highest nutrition local fruits, rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, fiber and enzymes including protein-digesting enzyme.  We are blessed to be living in a climate  where papayas can be grown easily with  minimal care.  There are many varieties of papayas and the shape and size differs.  Not all papaya trees produce fruits, there are some that just produces flowers.  To produce healthy papayas, it is important to ensure that it is free from chemical pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilisers.  For me, I avoid GMO papayas as well as the usage of hormones to modify size, taste and texture.  t would be silly to eat something to care for our health when it also contains toxic chemicals.  There is no need to put herbicides to kill off the weeds around the plant and have it be introduced into the fruits that we eat.  Just clear the weeds manually and you can just leave it to dry off or place it in your compost pile.  I also practice salting the ground with coarse salts on a quarterly basis for several reasons.  The type of papayas we grow are less fibrous is texture giving a creamier taste.

It is a great fruit to start the day, having middle of the day and also in the evening supplying us with loads of antioxidants and helping our digestive system.  The fiber in papaya binds with the cancer-causing toxins in our digestive system, keeping them away from our healthy colon cells hence it is a good preventive against colon cancer. The other nutrients in papaya such as the vitamin C, vitamin E, folate and beta-carotene have been found to reduce the risk of colon cancer.  A healthy digestive system further promotes our overall health.

For adults, this fruit is a great fruit to eat as protection against rheumatoid arthritis based on a study that was reported in the Annals of the Rheumatic Disease.    So great for women who tend to suffer this as we age.  For men, in a cancer study reported in the Asian Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it was found that this lycopene-rich fruit helps to reduce  the risk of prostate cancer.  The nutrients in the papaya also helps to inhibit the oxidisation of the cholesterol, protecting our heart.

So, with one fruit, you get to cover your digestive system, bones, heart as well as immune system, it is definitely sitting high in my list of fruits to eat.  I get easily bored or tend to "forget" to eat it if there is only one way of eating them.  There are many ways of eating papaya and still get the necessary nutrition so it makes it easier to incorporate into my daily diet.

We are most familiar with eating the ripe papaya raw but we can also eat the unripe papaya in many ways.  It can be fermented to make it into a probiotic-rich  food.  The fermented green papaya can be eaten similar to sauerkraut or turned into a salad or our local kerabu.  The free papaya can also be skinned and cut into pieces and turned into nutrition soups or used in cooking savoury dishes like curry.  A simple soup is to brown shallots and garlic, add water and the cut pieces of green papaya and bring to boil and allow it to simmer until the pieces are soft.  You can add salt and other condiments to taste.  This soup can be dressed up with other ingredients such as chicken, beef, seafood or other vegetables.

The ripe papaya can also be turned into nutritious drinks like milk shakes or added with other fruits and vegetables to create a healthy drink.  It can also be turned into a healthy, nutritious and delicious snack by dehydrating them.  The dehydration process removes the moisture and it is best to dehydrate it to contain less than 15% moisture as this will inhibit the growth of bacteria that will result in the dried papaya to spoil.  When dehydrating papaya pieces, it is best to use the ripe papaya of good quality and not spoilt or mushy papayas that has already started to spoil.  The end result is a great snack that has minimal loss of its nutrients and ready to be enjoyed at any time.  It is also easy to store them and does not require refrigeration and lasts for months (although you will find that you consume it much faster).  What I do is to pack them in serving sizes as this means that I do not expose the dried papayas to the environment unnecessarily.  The thickness of the papaya pieces will determine whether you end up with crispy pieces or slightly chewy papaya chips.

With its nutrition and health benefits along with its versatility, why not go local and consume our papayas :)

Monday, 17 October 2016

Now I almost know what I have : Plants et al

Over the years I have bought, been gifted and propagated many types of plants and trees.  I finally have decided that I need to know what I actually have at the farm and to plan for their care and maintenance as well as continuity.  When trying to catalog them, at times I have difficulty in trying to classify them so I put them in the category of how it is used most often.  I broke them up into 5 categories:

  1. Herbs
  2. Fruits
  3. Bananas
  4. Vegetables and
  5. Others.
Basically the Others category is what I couldn't fit into the remaining categories.  For a plant that fruits but is mainly used as a herb, then I categorise them as Herbs.  Many can argue over the classification but the categorisation is from my viewpoint :).  I may have missed some but after compiling this list, now I know why I never seem to have enough time...... 34 herbs, 24 fruits,  21 Banana varieties, 35 Vegetables and 10 Others - each type has multiple plants for a total of 124 types.  Amazing what you can fit on a planting space of less than 1.5 acres.  Still more work ahead in documenting them - and there is always something new to add :)

All these are currently at the farm.

  Bahasa Malaysia English Scientific Name
1 Bangun-bangun Indian Borage, Mexican Mint Plectranthus amboinicus
2 Bebuas Premna foetida Reinw Premna foetida Reinw
3 Belalai Gajah Snakegrass Clinacanthus nutans
4 Bunga Tasbih Canna Lily Canna
5 Cekur Aromatic Ginger Kaempferia galanga
6 Halia Bentong Ginger - Bentong Zingiber officinale c.v. Bentong
7 Kadok Piper sarmentosum (Wild betel) Piper sarmentosum
8 Kantan Ginger Torch Etlingera elatior
9 Kari Curry Murraya koenigii
10 Kemangi Basil, Lemon Ocimum citridourum
11 Ketumpang Air Peperomia pellucida Peperomia pellucida
12 Kunyit Turmeric Curcuma longa
13 Kunyit Hitam Black Turmeric Curcuma caesia
14 Lengkuas Kecil Small Galangal Alpinia galanga
15 Limau Perut Kafir Lime Citrus hystrix
16 Mahkota Dewa God's Crown Phaleria macrocarpa
17 Misai Kucing Cat's Whiskers Orthosiphon stamineus
18 Oregano Cuba Cuban Oregano Mentha x. villosa
19 Pandan Pandan Pandanus amaryllifolius
20 Pegaga Asiatic Pennywort Centella Asiatica
21 Pudina Mint Mentha spicata L.
22 Rerama Christia vespertilionis Christia vespertilionis
23 Selasih Hitam Basil, Holy Ocimum tenuiflorum
24 Selasih Putih Basil, White Ocimum citriodorum
25 Selasih Thai Basil, Thai Ocimum basilicum var thyrsiflora
26 Serai Lemongrass Cymbopogon
27 Serai Wangi Citronella Cymbopogon nardus
28 Sireh Betel Piper betle
29 Temulawak Javanese turmeric Curcuma zanthorriza
30 Tenggek Burong Eudia lunu-ankenda Eudia lunu-ankenda
31 Tujuh bilah Pereskia Sacarosa Pereskia sacarosa
32 Ulam Raja Cosmos Dianthus Cosmos Dianthus
33 Spearmint Spearmint Mentha spicata
34 Hemilang (rumput beremi) Wild Purslane Portulaca oleracea


  Bahasa Malaysia English Scientific Name
1 Abiu Abiu Pouteria caimito
2 Alpokat Avocado Persea americana
3 Belimbing Buloh Bilimbi Averrhoa bilimbi
4 Betik Eksotika Papaya, Exotica Carica papaya v. Exotica
5 Cempedak Cempedak Artocarpus Integer
6 Cermai Malay gooseberry Phyllanthus acidus
7 Delima Pomegranate Punica granatum
8 Duku Duku Lansium domesticum
9 Durian Belanda Soursop Annona muricata
10 Gajus Cashew Anacardium occidentale
11 Jambu Bol Malay apple Syzygium malaccense
12 Jambu Madu Java apple Syzygium samarangense
13 Kelapa Pandan Coconut, Pandan Cocos nucifera
14 Kelapa Pandan Gading Coconut, Yellow Pandan Cocus nucifera
15 Limau Bali Pomelo Citrus maxima
16 Limau Kasturi Calamansi Citrofortunella microcarpa
17 Limau Nipis Lime Citrus aurantiifolia
18 Manggis Mangosteen Garcinia mangostana
19 Mata Kucing Longan Dimocarpus longan
20 Nangka Jackfruit Artocarpus heterophyllus
21 Pulasan Pulasan Nephelium mutabile Blume
22 Rambutan Rambutan Nephelium lappaceum
23 Roselle Roselle Hibiscus sabdariffa
24 Sukun Breadfruit Artocarpus altilis

I know I have missed some so I will just have to add as I remember :)

  Bahasa Malaysia
1 Abu Batu (Nipah)
1 Abu Bunga
2 Awak
3 Berangan
4 Emas
5 Embun Rendah
6 Embun Dingin
7 Embun Wangi (Bunga)
8 Jari Buaya
9 Kapas
10 Lemak Manis
11 Lidi (Rotan)
12 Nangka
13 Raja
14 Rastali
15 Susu
16 Tanduk
17 Udang
18 Ruai
19 Raja Udang
20 Berangan Kampung
21 Telor

These vegetables are in various stages - some seedling, some growing, some producing :)

  Bahasa Malaysia English
1 Asparagus Asparagus
2 Bayam hijau Green Spinach
3 Bayam merah Red spinach
4 Bendi Okra
5 Brokoli Broccoli
6 Cili Akar Hot Chilli
7 Cili Api Bird's Eye Chilli
8 Cili Benggala Merah Red Bell Pepper
9 Cili Kuning Hungarian Yellow Wax Pepper
10 Cili Putih WHITE CHILLI
11 Jagung Corn
12 Kacang buncis French beans
13 Kacang Panjang Long green beans
14 Kailan KAILAN
15 Kale locinato Kale Locinato
16 Kale, kerinting Curly Kale
17 Kangkong Water spinach
18 Keladi Hitam Yam
19 Keladi Kemumu Yam
20 Kelo Moringa
21 Kobis Cabbage
22 Labu Pumpkin
23 Labu White scallop squash
24 Labu Dingin Winter melon
25 Peria Bitter gourd
26 Peria katak Bitter gourd
27 Pucuk Manis Star gooseberry
28 Pucuk Paku Vegetable fern
29 Sawi Chinese Mustard Greens
30 Terung  pipit Turkey berry
31 Terung bulat hijau Round green eggplant
32 Terung Telunjuk Green finger eggplant
33 Terung unggu bulat Round purple eggplant
34 Tomato Tomato
35 Ubi kayu halus Tapioca

All these are currently planted.

  Bahasa Malaysia English
1 Bunga Telang Blue pea
2 Jering Jering
3 Pagoda Pagoda
4 Pinang Areca catechu
5 Surian Suren
6 Tebu Hitam Black Sugar Cane
7 Ubi Kayu Merah Tapioca
8 Ubi Kayu Pulut Tapioca
9 Ubi Keledek Sweet potato
10 Vanila Vanilla

Suria Helang Lui: 7 years later Part 4: Behind the scenes

Suria Helang Lui is a family farm, not a large corporation farm.  It took me 10 years to find the right piece of land for me.  As far as possible I wanted to get a piece of land that hadn't been developed or worked on for a while.  The main reason being that it meant the exposure to chemical pesticides and herbicides would be minimal.  Having the basic infrastructure is important.  The basics are access, water and electricity.  Another important factor is the distance from my home to the land had to be within commuting distance which also meant not far from K.L.

When I bought the land, it looked like a jungle so the first few months, I spent time with my parang
and weed cutter to check the lay of the land to figure out how I wanted to design the layout of the farm.  I already had road access and electricity was near so nothing major to be done in this area.  The water supply to this area was by Syabas and they used a 1 inch polypipe to supply the water to the area which meant that the water supply would be insufficient for what I wanted.  So, I decided to lay polypipe to bring water to the farm.  Three years later, I decided to lay a second water supply line strictly for the fish pond.

The farmhouse was built on a as-I-grow basis so it started out with a storage room/rest room and then I added a square structure of 24 fee by 24 feet and it was connected to the rest room via a walkway.  This has evolved to what I have now: a 3-bedroom, 2 bathroom, 1 bookworm, 1 prayer room, living room, dining/work area (where the walkway used to be) and a large kitchen.  The kitchen area is an open concept kitchen with plenty of work areas and storage all to support the operations of the farm.  To date, I have still not completed the outer exterior - still have details but I hope someday I will get around to it as it is not high on my priority list.  I had started out with a design that allowed for growth and additions so the farmhouse took a few years to be the way it is now.  Each time we did an addition, we didn't have to knock down walls because I didn't want the headache of debris removal and I didn't want to waste money unnecessarily.

The development of the farm is self-funded hence I have the freedom to develop it any way I want and no reporting needed.  After all, I had done my share of reports in my previous life in the corporate world.  As such, every major development is properly planned to reduce wastage and unnecessary investment.  I would say I went to the University of Life as I develop the farm as my idea was different than what I had seen other do.  All the farms that I have seen are focussed on a produce be it vegetables, fruits, chicken, fish, etc. and followed what has normally been done.  Through it all, many have often remarked that what I was doing was wrong and that if I didn't focus, it would not be commercially viable.  All the produce we have now are from what we planted or started and it takes time for them to be productive.  I am happy to say that we are now moving into the black though I do not foresee being a millionaire from it in the near future but what I gain from it is ultimately worth a lot more.  I could have gone into the black earlier if I experimented less but I wouldn't have gained all the knowledge that I have now.  On top of that, I am my own employer, doing what I love and I do not have to worry about what I will do when I retire.  I continue to experiment, do research and learn.  This keeps my brain alive and I do not have time to be bored.  It is through all this that I have been able to move the farm from being a purely raw goods producer to multi types of produce and products.

I am not from an agricultural background but I have never let that stop me from experimenting and researching as well as learning from practitioners.  I cannot do it alone hence having a solid right-hand man who shares my vision for the farm is essential.  From time to time, I add helpers for specific projects - mainly when there is building to do or preparation of area for planting.  It is not a matter of throwing bodies but having the right people with the right mindset and attitude.  Currently there are 3 of us - Azis, Lia and I.  We each have our roles but help each other out as needed.  

Farming is not a 8-5, Monday to Friday job.  We are dealing with living things, nature and life.  When it rains, we have to work around it to get things done.  If the river otters or wild boars decide to invade the farm at night, we cannot just ignore them and let the dogs deal with them or we may end up with our plants destroyed or the fish gone.  It cannot be treated as a job but more as living.  Hence it has to be a full-time commitment.  It has to be a team sharing the same vision of making the farm succeed to be successful.  In every task we do, we have to do it to the best of our ability and not just say a task was done.  I do monitor that members of the team get enough rest so at times outsiders may find that I have people sleeping in the afternoon or resting.  It is not because they are lazy but more of the fact that they were taking care of the farm until dawn.

I am very much hands-on and am involved in every aspect hence I continually need to increase my knowledge from farm practices to marketing.  One of the most important tenet is that we only sell what we will eat or use.  Each week as we prepare for market, the question that I remind my team is "Will we eat it?  Will we use it?".  If the answer is no then we don't sell it.  I care about our brand: Suria Helang Lui.  It has taken us years to build our reputation and it is important that we maintain the trust and confidence from our customers.

While it may be hard work, it is infinitely satisfying and I know that what we produce are good and something that I would feed my family and friends.  Pursuing my passion has given me a lot of pleasure and sense of accomplishment and a future, in shaa Allah, until the day I die.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Pisang Embun Wangi a.k.a. Bunga - fragrant delight

One of my favourite bananas to eat raw - either on its own, in a banana split or in my greek yoghurt
with honey - all natural, no hormones or chemical pesticide or fertiliser, non-GMO with a fragrant honey sweet taste beats the GMO, often with chemical inducements commercial Cavendish hands down.  In size and shape they are similar to Cavendish.  In the age where we have a choice, I choose Pisang Embun Wangi over the Cavendish any day.  The Kedahans also call it Pisang Bunga.  In Indonesia, it is called Pisang Ambon.

The plant itself grows quite tall, about 5m so it does need a bit of room to grow in a home garden.  However, if you love fresh bananas, this tree might be your choice.  The inflorescence (jantung pisang) is bitter so it is not eaten.

The taste is similar to Pisang Emas and Lemak Manis although the texture is softer but not mushy.  This banana ripens with a light yellowish-green  or pale yellow skin so if you are waiting for it to turn fully bright yellow, you would probably end up with an over-ripe, mushy brown/black skin banana.  As with most local bananas, it is best stored in a basket or fruit bowl, not on a cool surface like ceramic tiles.  When stored in the fridge, the skin will turn brown-black even though it may still be good to eat.  It is funny how many are still tuned in that for a banana to be ripe, it must be yellow.  There are many varieties of banana which ripen with a green skin so it is best not to "judge the book by its cover".  The flesh is also a cream color with a pale yellow tinge in the centre.

This banana is best consumed raw and is not suitable for turning into banana fritters because it tends to "soak" in the oil.  However, it is also good when roasted with the skin still on or turned into smoked bananas (pisang salai).  Another option is to use it to make cakes and pancakes especially when it is overripe as it tends to be mushy to mashing them up would be easy.

From a nutrition standpoint, as with other bananas, it is high in fiber and also contains vitamin A, C and calcium.  In traditional medicine, this fruit is eaten when you have a fever and the pseudo stem is heated and used to treat sore muscles.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Suria Helang Lui: 7 years later Part 3: From produce to products

When I first started the farm, I was more focussed on producing produce: fruits, vegetables and fish.  I felt and even more strongly belief now, for the continued sustainability and economic well-being of the farm, it was essential to not only have "raw" produce but to also have a range of products based on the farm outputs.  All our products have to live up to our principle of being affordable to the masses.

I began to experiment and delve into the world of producing healthy food in the firm belief that the underlying basis for good health is good food.  Personally, I am not into processed supplements so my concept it merely to facilitate the consumption of good food.  From the herbals, fruits, leaves and flowers, I began experimenting in producing drinks that could be consumed as part of my daily beverage intake.  I had to belief in the benefits as well as it had to taste good.  So, I am always the first guinea pig.  I wanted to be able to produce health supporting drinks, that are preventive as well as curative.  So, many of the plants at the farm serve a multi purpose.

The top of my list are the Bentong ginger and turmeric combination, Misai Kucing leaves and flower, Soursop Leaves,  Mangosteen and Roselle.  I did research on the nutritional value, the health properties as well as the use in traditional and alternative therapy.  All the source is planted at the farm and grown organically.  Some of our drinks are seasonal whilst others are available year round.  In line with trying to produce healthy products, we do not use any colourings, preservations or flavourings - it is all natural.  Some of our drinks are sweetened and we use brown sugar; no white sugar is used.  At this stage we only do direct selling to the customer as I do not feel that we are prepared to go beyond that yet as our produce is not mass-produced.
I do not want to outsource production of the ingredients as it then goes out of my control and I may wonder if short-cuts are taken.  The basic principle in our products is "If I do not consume it, then I will not sell it" - the same that applies to our fresh produce.  With the production of these drinks - in concentrate or ready-to-drink - it has allowed us to add-value to our produce.  At the moment, the packaging is simple as I focus more on what is inside the bottle than the appearance.  However, I know that in the future the packaging will evolve but the key consideration is still affordability to the masses.

Over the years, I have developed our own liquid fertiliser concentrate and there are 3 types:

  1. Enzyme fertiliser with pest control targeted for flowering and fruiting plants
  2. Enzyme fertiliser with pest control targeted for foliage
  3. Fish amino acid fertiliser
These concentrates are made from produce from the farm with limited addition from outside such as molasses and sea salt.  The ingredients from the fish for our Fish Amino Acids (FAA) are also from the farm as we do rear fresh water fish.  In this way, I am able to ensure that there is negligible introduction of toxic matter into the fertilisers.  My 3-year old son "helps" me out at the farm and one of the things that he loves to do is to spray the plants.  I do not want to have to worry that he may be negatively affected.  These are all used at the farm and we now sell it.  It is a concentrate and is non-toxic making it easy to use and affordable.

I also do seasonal products like tempoyak from quality kampung durian so we have these when durians are in season and until our stock for that season finish.  We do not add any preservatives or colouring to it and it is done naturally.

Sometimes, when we have a bit of time, we will also do fermented green papaya which is a good source of probiotics and the enzyme papain.  I enjoy eating this either as a salad or turning it into a topping for fish similar to the Thai mango topping for fish.

We rear fresh fish, namely catfish (keli), red tilapia and lampam in our fish ponds.  We pipe our own water from the source specifically for the fish ponds ensuring a 24x7 flow of fresh water through over 3000m of polypipe.    This is a separate supply line from the pipeline for the rest of the farm use. Although the actual distance to the source is less than 3km, due to the route we have to take, it takes that length of polypipe.

This is one of the most worthwhile investments that I made on the farm as it results in us having a clean fish pond that requires no artificial aeration and brings with it additional food for our fish in the form of the small river fish and shrimps.  An aesthetic value added to the fish pond is our fountain which doesn't require any pumps to function, merely the application of the law of Physics.  (Note: Took me years to see firsthand the application of what I learnt in Physics in secondary school).  The water comes in on one end and exits the pond into Sg. Lui on the other end.

The fish pond also serves as our flooding prevention measure as this area can flood when there is a lotof rain for a period of time. Our fish also feed on the banana pseudostems, tapioca leaves and kangkong so it also enables us to have another use for our produce "wastes".  The banana pseudostem also have the added function of cleaning the water in the fish pond.  From time to time, I also feed it with the black soldier larvae, which is a by-product in the production of the enzyme fertiliser.  We do also feed them fish pellets but with all the other food that the fish feed on as well as the clean water, the fish produced does not have a "muddy" smell or taste.  Whilst we do sell fresh fish, we also will do smoked fish (ikan salai) which we first  marinate with our own farm produced and blended herbs.   It is a time consuming process but well worth it in producing a quality fish product thereby adding value to the raw produce.  No artificial additives or "smoke" flavouring used and alhamdulillah, whenever I bring them to market, it is always sold out.

Because we produce organic produce, I am currently experimenting with producing more probiotics food products.  This will be a new chapter in the farm development with an eye for the future.

The last and final part of 7 years later is : Behind the scenes which will cover the infrastructure as well as human resources.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Tomatoes, oh Tomatoes: You love TLC

I love vine-ripe tomatoes that are grown organically.  If you find them in supermarkets, they are expensive.  So I grow my own.  To those of you who have tried growing them, you know how trying it is.  First, they are susceptible to pest especially aphids and white flies.  These pests basically suck the life out of the plant.  If the pest is not controlled, you end up with a dead plant which leads to a major disappointment especially if you started with a healthy seedling.  Over the years, I have had many plants died on me so I continually experiment with the mixture for pest control.  After many iterations, I have finally come up with one that I can live with.

You can produce it yourself by creating an enzyme solution from organic wastes (such as fruit peels, vegetable discards, etc.) with citronella, indian borage and ginger fermented with a sugar source (molasses, gula nipah, gula melaka, etc.) and unchlorinated water for at least one month. though I tend to ferment for 3 months.  What will be produced is a liquid filled with beneficial enzymes and microorganisms as well as nutrients with pest control properties.  This is a concentrate which you then dilute at the rate of 10ml or 2 tablespoons of concentrate to 1 litre of water,  Just spray the plant including the underside of the leaves twice a week.

Tomato plants love water but cannot abide soggy soil so the soil mixture had to be able to retain water but not drown the roots.  Water had to be accessible to the roots so by having a richly organic soil, the soil remained moist throughout the heat of the day, keeping the plant "fresh".  The plants love the sunshine and does best in full sun in the day but if there is a lack in moisture, the plant can wilt and may not recover.

Now that I got the pest under control, and the soil mixture with drainage done, the next step is to encourage flowering and fruiting.  Most organic fertilisers are general purpose and doesn't provide the full support for flowering and fruiting.  I conducted some experiments and found that liquid fish amino acids (FAA) with sea salts and liquid calcium concentrate worked best for me to encourage flowering and fruiting.

I produce the liquid FAA by fermenting 500g of fish wastes, 100 ml of probiotic liquid (such as from probiotic drinks or yogurt drinks), 100 ml of liquid molasses or 100gm of molasses with 1 later of unchlorinated water.  The mixture is fermented for at least 1 month.  I use fish wastes from the farm fish as I can ensure that it has not had any contaminants introduced such as chemical preservatives that are often applied to fish from the market.  Fish wastes include the innards of the fish, the gills and the bones.  Instead of molasses, I have also tried using gula melaka.  

I also produce the liquid calcium from eggshells from the farm eggs (which are from free-range organic chicken) fermented with vinegar for at least 1 month.  For the sea salt, I will dissolve 500g of sea salt in 1 litre of unchlorinated water and leave it overnight before making my FAA concentrate.  The difference before and after the application of this combination is tremendous.  Now I am even more motivated to plant more varieties of tomatoes :)

Before application, 1-2 fruits per bunch
Before application, few flowers

After application, average of 5 per bunch

After application, increase in flowers

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Suria Helang Lui: 7 years later Part 2: Vegetable and herbs

The farm is designed with the concept of every thing grown at the farm is either edible and/or have therapeutic values or in support of the farm produce.  Hence vegetables and herbs are integral.  Most leafy vegetables require more care and with the farm size of 2.5 acres and the multitude of content, I needed to have a way of growing it with the least amount of time and effort required and lowest cost possible.  The objective is to produce quality vegetables for the family and to support our market stall, making it affordable to many.  This is where the producing our own fertiliser and pest control helps as well as having the greenhouse.

The vegetables selected are based on what I like - after all, what is the point of growing things that you don't like?  My favourites are tomatoes, cabbages, kale, kailan, choy sum, spinach, french beans, long green beans and broccoli.  I also like other vegetables so we have an assortment of them planted.  Some are planted in the greenhouse - those that require more care like tomatoes and cabbages - and others are planted outdoors - especially the ones that require a trellis or climbing support like the beans and cucumbers.  We rely on organic methods for fertilisation and pest control and I am continuously experimenting on formulas to improve the quality and yield as well as to protect my vegetables from the damage done by pests.

Another aspect that I continue to experiment is growing vegetables in polybags.  As more and more people tend to live in apartments and condominiums whereby they do not have the land to grow their plants, container gardening is the only option.  As the greenhouse has a size limit, I can simulate growing vegetables in a small space - the soil composition, water and drainage, fertilisation, pest control and light requirement.

The seeds we selected are all non-GMO and some are organic.  In the last year we have started to produce our own seeds to support our continued planting cycles.  This will help reduce our seed costs as well as reducing our dependence on commercial seed suppliers.  We have started to sell some of our seeds but this is not a focussed activity.

Part of the learning process is understanding the soil composition for the various vegetables, pests that love it and how to control it as well as water and fertilisation.  A key component is to keep the soil healthy and alive by regularly introducing beneficial microorganisms and enzymes as well as encouraging the earthworm population.  For me, one of the best decisions I made was not to bulldoze the land hence I retained the top soil that took years to build.  All the vegetation wastes are recycled back into the soil which further adds to the quality of the soil over time.

Going organic has also made it more of a challenge in controlling pests but ultimately, it is worthwhile for the quality of vegetables produced.  Having access to quality water free from contaminants also makes a difference.  Chlorine kills microorganism hence their use in the water purification process.  This in turn may also affect the beneficial microorganisms in your soil.  In promoting the natural health of the soil, this can adversely affect our efforts hence our reliance on natural river water that we have piped down from the source.  Whenever someone asks me what to look for when buying a piece of land, I always says it is important to have a good natural water source.

One of my interest is the role of food as a source of promoting good health and prevention of diseases.  So apart from having nutritious vegetables, I also love to plant herbs and spices.  Over the years, I have been building and studying the herbal plants that we plant at the farm.  I focus more on our native plants and gather information from practicing traditional herbalist.  The various herbs can be used in cooking as well as in drinks.  Amongst the plants we planted are turmeric, Bentong ginger, small galangal, ginger torch, lemon grass, citronella, and misai kucing.  I began this collection about 5 years ago and continue to build it as I study our traditional therapies.  I focus on what is found in Malaysia as I hope to build a heritage collection at the farm.  Some of the produce is sold in its raw form and some are used in the production of our drinks and concentrates which is designed to make it easy for people to add to their diet and consume as part of their normal diet.  In order to ensure perpetuity, we also work on propagating the plants.

Apart from human consumption, my herbals also serve as source materials for my pest control formula.  There are many herbals that can serve as pest control such as citronella, Indian borage and ginger.  So, these types of herbs serve a dual purpose at the farm: for humans and for pest control.  By growing them at the farm, I can be assured that they are free from chemical pesticides thus it prevents the introduction of toxic chemicals into my farm system.

Apart from herbals, we also plant honey bamboo (rebung madu) and it also have multiple purpose - provide for rebung madu (honey bamboo shoots), the bamboo to use in create supporting stakes for the plants , bamboo rod to harvest fruits and source material for creating a trellis.  At the same time, it can also provide me with an impromptu fishing rod.

The basic underlying tenet is still to do no harm to the ecosystem and continue to retain the balance.  It is a holistic approach with care and thought given to all at the farm.  Hence our tagline: "Maximizing nature's bounty".

Part 3: Our products for continued sustainability of the farm.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Suria Helang Lui: 7 years later Part 1.

Time has definitely flown by since I have started to focus on the piece of land that I bought in 2007, whilst I was still working on the corporate world.  At that time it was a jungle - you can play Tarzan and swing from tree to tree from the long vines that hung off the trees.  The first 3 years I spent the time developing the land with minimal soil disturbance, widened and deepened a dried-out stream to make my fish pond, studied what vegetation was there that I wanted to keep and what I wanted to remove and to figure out what I wanted to do.  Although many thought that I was doing things the hard way since I didn't just bulldoze the land, I feel that it is the right decision since we retained the topsoil that had taken decades to form.  This provided a good base for the soil condition for planting.

After 1 year of studying the contour of the land, I had a fish pond created that flowed from one side of the land out to Sg. Lui, which allowed for me to have an inflow and an outflow as well as a flood control measure.  We "pulled" our own polypipe (2 sets) : 1 for farm use and 1 for the fish pond.  This allowed for us to have a constant flow of water coming in one end of the pond thus making it more like a river than a fish pond.  The end result is our fish pond has constant fresh water incoming, no aeration needed for the fish and no smell as well as river fish and shellfish coming in which provided food for our fish.  We maximised what nature has and try to minimize impact to the river system.  The water fountain we have requires no pumps or mechanised units but just the application of physics.  All this enabled us in rearing fresh water fish that didn't have a "muddy" smell with a natural sweetness.  Subhanallah.  I tried rearing various species over the years but in the last year, we have narrowed it down to 3 species: Catfish (keli), Tilapia and Lampam.  We do have other species in there such as Kelah Daun, Seluang, Tilan and various other types of river fish that are the norm in the rivers in this area.  Over the years, we have made some modifications and adjustment, to suit with the water flow, fish production operations as well as to ensure we have sufficient protection, in shaa Allah,  from sudden rise in the river water levels.

My father used to say that my farm was like a village as I had all sorts of plants and trees.  I didn't focus on one or two types of plants like most commercial farms,  Being in the heart of the local fruit area - durian, mangosteen, cempedak, jackfruit and duku langsat - many thought I should focus on one or two of these fruits.  My concept is different: ultimately I wanted the farm to be able to provide for a complete food diet - fresh fruits, vegetables, proteins and carbohydrates hence the idea of a self-sufficient integrated farm.  It is definitely a different concept because I envisioned that some day, we would be able to do end-to-end and by choice, be independent of suppliers and to be able to produce not only raw goods but processed products - all done free from toxic chemicals and as naturally as possible.

I spent the first 3 years experimenting why grows best, how to grow it better, how to care for the land and how to strike  environmental balance.  Today, I have lost count of how many types of plants and trees we have although I do try from time to time to catalog what I have but I have to admit, it is not high on my to-do list.

Apart from the fish pond, we have a greenhouse.  Many have asked me: "Do we really need to have a greenhouse and why?".  I built the greenhouse for a few reasons:
  1. To grow vegetables that require more care
  2. To have an area for me to propagate plants especially in creating new seedlings
  3. To have an area that I can still have an activity on those rainy days
  4. To be able to experiment in a more controlled setting
Part of the joy of farming is to be able to experiment and find ways of doing things that are more attuned to nature and minimising damage to the environment.  I also call this my oxygenation room as when I work in the greenhouse during the day, the plants in there are actively producing oxygen as a by-product from photosynthesis (remember the biology class).

From a fruit production perspective, I try to make it so that we are able to have fruits year-round hence we have seasonal fruits like mangosteen, jack fruit, cempedak, jam madu as well as non-seasonal fruits like papayas and bananas.  At the farm, at last count we have over 25 varieties of bananas - all non-GMO, hormone-free and local.  Hence week-to-week, the banana variety produced from the the farm varies.  I view our collection of banana plants as part of the preservation of our heritage.  Each variety has its unique qualities from the inflorescence, pseudo stem, leaves and fruit.

From the experiments and taste, we have narrowed our papayas to three varieties: the "orange" flesh exotica, red exotica and red "sekaki".  I chose these because they are the tastiest and sweetest for me and it seems that our customers enjoy them too.
In the beginning, we only had a few plants and weekly have a few fruits.  We also had to work on scheduling planting so that we will have fruits weekly as there comes a time when the papaya tree is no longer viable and will need to be replaced.  Hence, we now produce seedlings twice a year from our own seed collection.

This farm is chemical pesticide and fertiliser-free.  In the beginning, I depended fully on commercial organic pest control and fertiliser.  Over the years, I conducted my own farm-based research and experiments and now we are 70-30 on our own fertilisers to dependence on commercial products for our needs.  We now produce our own liquid concentrate for fertiliser as well as pest control and compost soil.  The ingredients used are farm-produced with the exception of raw sugar, molasses and sea salt.  Recently, we introduced them as our ORGME line of products.  These are the same fertilisers that we use at the farm in conjunction with 2 other types of commercial organic fertilisers.  The target is in the future, we can produce all our own fertilisers and making the farm in control of our fertilisers and independence from manufacturers.

In Part 2, we will relate our vegetables and herbals - the underlying produce of the farm - without compromising on our values and principles :)