Sunday, February 23, 2014

Gardening as a healthy hobby

                                        The Vegetable Garden with Spinach and Sweet Corn
                            Lady's Finger and Cekur Manis constitute vegetable types in the Garden

                                           Indian fleabane ('beluntas') - Pluchea indica
                                              Indian mulberry ('mengkudu') - Morinda citrifolia

                                   Rose cactus ('jarum bintang tujuh') - Pereskia bleo
                                                          'Pecah Beling'

  This article was prepared in response to the questions posed by a journalist of The Star on February 22, 2014, just a day before my 76th birthday.  I have decided to post this on the blog as I feel readers will find useful tips as to the benefits and usefulness in establishing a home garden as a healthy hobby.

1.  How long have I been growing vegetables in my garden?
The whole compound has an area of around 12 000 square feet, purchased in the late 1970s.  The way the development was planned was to have a two-storey bungalow with plenty of space for the garden. . The house was completed in 1981 and the first gardening was concentrated in planting landscape plants and fruit trees.   The garden was developed in stages. The main garden plants were the landscape species of bougainvilla (bunga kertas), royal palm, green shrubs and orchids. The fruit trees were rambutan and mangoes.  At the back of the house I have allocated a big space which was raised up for vegetable cultivation.  On completion of the house and the landscape planting, after staying in the house for a few years, I was transferred to Kota Kinabalu Sabah in 1989 to be the first Director-General of the Malaysian Cocoa Board.  I returned and occupied the house in 2000 and since then I started devoting a little of my time to planting herbs and vegetables.

2.  What are some of the items grown in the compound?
    The herbs that are grown in my garden are: mengkudu (noni – Morinda citrifolia), tongkat ali (Eurycoma longifolia), lemongrass (both the cooking species – serai makan (Cymbopogon citratu) and serai Wangi (Cymbopgon nardus), kesum (Polygonum minus), beluntas (Pluchea indica), belimbing buluh (Averrhoa bilimbi), kaduk (Piper sarmentosum), bunga kantan (Etlingera elatior),  sambung nyawa (Gynura procumbens), ulam raja (Cosmos caudatus), daun kari (Murraya koenigil), turmeric (Cucurma longa),  lengkuas (Alpinia galanga),  jarum bintang tujuh (Pereskia bleo), aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis),  senduduk (Melastoma malabathricum),  limau nipis (Citrus aurantifolia), limau purut (Citrus hystrix), inai (hanna – Lawsonia inermis),  tenggek burung, pegaga (Indian pennywort), pecah  beling, tebu hitam and Sabah snake-grass .  

The vegetables types cultivated vary from time to time- currently I have spinach (bayam), kacang bende (lady's finger), sweet corn and cekur  manis. At other times I have brinjal, sweet potato, tapioca, long bean.  These are the vegetable types that I like to grow as I like to consume them.
3. Why the interest in herbs?

 Malaysia’s biodiversity is rich with more than 1200 plant species known to have therapeutic values as these species contain useful metabolites.   I regard the herbs as natural health food and also they can be used for medicinal and cosmetic purposes. They could be consumed as juice, ulam or processed in various forms such as dried leaves, broth consumed for medicinal purposes. Just as illustration, the therapeutic values of a few herbal species grown in my garden:
        a. Mengkudu - treating cutaneous diseases such as boils, itches; good for arteriosclerosis,  asthma,   diabetes, rheumatism and hepatitis; the fruit pulp can be processed into juice and taken as laxative
        b. Lemongrass - remedy for flatulence, gastric and irregular bowel movement; its tea is said to be good against cancer 

c.       Belimbing buluh – known to be good for cough, rectal inflammation; the poultice of its leaves  is applied for itches, rheumatism and skin eruptions.  I usually dry the mature fruits and use it in masak asam pedas Aceh, which is a regular dish in my house

d.       Kaduk – juice squeezed from leaves is used to treat malaria, coughs, flu and rheumatism. Young leaves are usually taken as ulam

e.       Turmeric (Kunyit) – is used to treat cold, cancer, diabetes, kidney stones, stomach ache, diarrhoea and rheumatism

f.        Aloe vera – treating wounds, skin diseases.  Its gel can be processed into juice and is considered effective in immune stimulation, anticancer and antiviral.   The gel when applied to the face contributes to removal of wrinkles and smoothen the skin

g.       Sambung nyawa – taken as a cure to migraines, constipation, hypertension, diabetes, kidney problem and cancer

h.       Limau purut -  used for beauty care such as hand lotion, herbal bath to eliminate body odour.  It is also used as dandruff shampoo and to prevent premature greying.

4.  What fascinates me most about gardening and planting vegetables

     Foremost in my consideration is that gardening is a good exercise. One bends down, stretches and sweat profusely whilst cultivating, tending the plants, manuring, pest control.  It is a labour of love – love for living things such as the herbs, the vegetables and the landscape ornamental plants.  One gets the most satisfaction when one sees the crop growing and finally harvesting the crops of  one’s sweat.  The first thing I do each before doing anything is to have a glimpse of the plants I have planted.  The green plants around you is also good for the eyes.  The other great thing is getting the herbs of one’s choice fresh and not contaminated for your own consumption.  I start my breakfast with a health drink – herbal or fruit juice which I formulate myself.  The other thing is the ‘beauty’ value around your environment that enhances the happy atmosphere around you.
5.  Some people think that it is difficult to plant vegetables. My thoughts on this.

  In anything one does one has to have an interest in it. Start with having a simple philosophy of one’s own – why gardening? Health and getting fresh greens for one’s kitchen. This will stimulate one to take the necessary action.  I have an advantage – the fact that my educational background is agriculture.  This does not have to be.  Once one is interested then one will get the necessary exposure such as reading, learning from gardening friends to get to know the growing of plants – from land preparation, getting and sowing the seeds, weeding, manuring, watering, pest control.  Once one gets started and see the results and satisfaction of doing it, one gets addictive and wants to do it again and again.
6.  What are some of the easiest vegetables to plant in our climate?

   I have not considered any undertaking like growing vegetables as an easy task.  This also applies to the selection of types of vegetables.  The more challenging thing in gardening and growing vegetables is getting the land suitable for growing plants.  The garden that I have right now was terraced hilly land planted with rubber.  There is hardly any soil.  It was covered with hard rocks.  It took considerable effort in getting outside soil in and then adding organic matter to make it suitable for planting herbs and vegetables.  My consideration as to types of vegetables  easy to grow takes into account the ease to care for it, problem of pest and one’s choice of the vegetables for consumption.  I like brinjal, it is easy to grow but I have problem with a group of monkeys that prowl the secondary forest at the back of the house as the young brinjal fruits is their favourite.  The same is true with the tapioca where I love to harvest the young shoot for ulam.  But the monkeys have been digging the tapioca for its roots even before the tubers develop.  Pegaga, my favourite herb for juice and ulam is difficult to grow as snails just love them.  Once they discover its existence they will devour whatever plants around and before you know it the plants you have painstakingly took the trouble to establish are gone.  Lady’s finger is perfect as ease to grow. Sweet potato and cekur manis are another. I have always been successful with maize. However, for some reasons, I have failed in growing successfully chillies and tomato – chillies will get the onslaught of viral disease and tomato the fungal rot disease.
7.  What are the benefits of planting your own fruits and vegetables?

  I have never considered financial gain as to my involvement in gardening. The aestatical and exercise values far surpass the monetary consideration.
8.  How many hours do I spend tending my plants?

  Except for glimpses of the plants particularly of those just planted and the watering and pest inspection which I do daily, I spent around one hour looking around.  However there are days when I spent two hours in the morning and equally that long in the afternoon when I need to prepare the land for new planting -  removing the weeds, tilling the soil,  enriching the soil with burnt soils and incorporating it, building beds, sowing and mulching.  In this dry weather i need to water twice daily – once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
9.  A few simple recipe of my herbal juices.

  a. Mengkudu concentrates – take 3 fruits of mengkudu, remove the skin, split it open and remove the seeds.  Boil them with enough water just to cook it.  Mash it and then mix with one fruit of mango.  With sufficient water blend the mixture in a blender.  The mango is to mask the offensive smell and taste of the mengkudu fruit.  Keep the concentrate in the refrigerator. Take an appropriate portion of the concentrate, dilute it to taste when taking it.

  b. Belimbing buluh – take 3 florescents with young fruits and flowers, clean it.  Place it in a blender. Add half a green apple and sufficient water.  Blend the mixture and dilute it to taste.  The drink is high in anti oxidants and excellent for detoxifying the body.
c. Lemongrass juice – take a lemongrass stem, clean it.  Cut it in small pieces and put in a cup. Add hot water and allow to simmer for around 15 minutes and then drink it.

d. Pegaga juice – take 3-4 runners of pegaga stem, leaves with roots  and after cleaning, chop them into small pieces and place in the blender. Add half a fruit of green apple and water.  Blend the mixture.  The concentrate can be kept in the refrigerator and taken in portions, dilute to taste and drink.  

Hashim bin Abdul Wahab
23  February 2014