Here In My Home - Malaysian Artistes For Unity

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Growing Your Own Food

I am now watching Asian Food Channel's River Cottage series that chronicles the life of an urban refugee's life in becoming a smallholder in order to grow his own produce for his kitchen and country restaurant. Well the probable necessity to do this hit me when I when groceries shopping yesterday and found that my regular 5% SST local rice was no longer being sold. Instead the nearest equivalent that was being sold at the cheapest price of 29.90 ringgit per 10 kilo pack, and after returning and checking my regular rice price it does not surprise me that it has disappeared from the market as it was previously being sold at even less its list price of 21 ringgit. So there is no way that rice will be able to be sold at the current price range I guess without acquiring approval for a price increase in our controlled market.

Well the reality is there is no way I can emulate River Cottage with our terrace house even though I had purposely left a small portion un-built for a backyard garden. In this case you really have to learn how to maximise your garden and surprisingly this may mean allowing your garden to sprawl wild as it is true that in nature there is a rule of the survival of the fittest. At the moment I have four pots of red chillies planted about a couple of months ago that has given me their second harvest but the recent rain deluge followed by a dry spell is wrecking havoc on new flowering and seeding process. I am now hoping with the weather now improving the chillies will resume their normal fruiting and give me good harvests from now on. The same weather has also affected my Birdseye chili plants similarly but I must say that those growing directly in the ground as compared to those potted has done better. The casualty rate is far better and the flowering rate is definitely better than those in the pots. In fact they are now re-flowering and I have also found some new plants germinating from the unplucked pods left to dry and fall onto the ground. In fact one has all grown up and starting to flower in less than two months. Amazing.

Among others that have germinated and grown wildly are the curry trees and some lime trees that I am not sure of which type as they have not fruited. They are now growing well alongside my planted kaffir lime tree, kasturi lime tree and lemongrass. The funny thing is none of the lime trees has fruited before, so they are currently being used for their leaves instead in my wife's cooking. So you can say in addition to the Malay herbs that I had posted on before, I do have other scented leaves that can be used in the kitchen growing in my garden. Although they may only cost a few cents for a handful in the market, well every little bit does help the budget right. And an added advantage is their scent gives me a nice smelling vegetable garden to boot. Think of the scent of curry and lime leaves mingling in a dish and you get an idea what sort of scent can be smelt wafting through in the garden.

The plant that I have more success in harvesting their fruit is my patch of Pisang Raja banana grove. Pisang Raja is a type of banana that is nowadays very difficult to find in the market and in traditional villages, overtaken by more popular banana breeds in Malaysia though it remains king in Indonesia where they are most popular types of banana used to make banana fritters due to its sweetness. In fact to me they are the sweetest species and perfect for cooking and due to this I have been informed that they are actually grown in plantations and exported to markets like Singapore and also supplied to restaurants where in western restaurants they are an essential part of Chicken Maryland dish. How do I know these facts? Well the forefathers of my banana trees was procured by my regular night market fruit vendor who I believe has passed on, bless his soul, who obtained the young banana trees from his friend's plantation. This was a favour to me as a regular customer of his pisang raja, as it was not long after that his stall closed down, presumably after his death thus stopping my fruit supply except for occassions when I find some scraggly specimens that are export rejects but still good enough for me. Well his good deed has actually been extended far and wide as saplings from the original trees has been taken as far as my Ipoh hometown, my wife's relatives' home at Rantau in Negeri Sembilan, Johor and Pahang as once the banana tree has taken root, saplings has appeared on regular basis that needs to be weeded out in order to maintain the size of the grove to be more manageable. Too bad that the fruits are seasonal as usually it is a twice a year affair only and I have yet to achieve success in staggering their fruiting as plantations are able to. Luckily for me the fruits are now fruiting and I have just harvested a bunch while another is still on the tree. I can't wait for the fruits to turn yellow although this time I only managed to get an average of six combs per bunch. Well I do have another banana bunch to be harvested on the small patch of no man hillside land in front of the house but this only has two combs, a result I guess of double germination because the first time the banana heart appeared it failed to fruit. There I also have a grove of Pisang Abu where one is now fruiting and I think another will also bear fruit soon. I will talk more on this no man's land gardening in a later post as the fruits there deserve their own page.

Anyway due to the limited space available I am now experimenting to plant a Chiku tree in a pot. These are usually large sized trees that once grew in my old family house so I know it will not be suitable for a terrace house if grown normally. But the new species Chiku Subang supposedly can be grown well in a pot without sacrificing their sweetness so I have one specimen now growing in such fashion. It is now covering from its second re-potting and currently sprouting two ciku specimens. If it is as sweet as the first harvest, then I should have years of good chiku supply as these are perennial fruiters and should be available all year round.

Wish me good luck please in my efforts to reduce my food bill with my small patch of a garden. And for you who has been contemplating a similar venture, now is a good time as any to start as you can now save a lot and should be able to recoup your investments sooner. So go ahead, start! I can assure you that this will be a fruitful venture in more ways than one.

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