Monday, October 31, 2005

Malabar spinach experiment

Bought more malabar spinach from the wet market this morning, cut off the big leaves for soup tonight, planted the cuttings along the fence. Posting it for the record here so that I can see how long it will be before I get my first harvest. Then found a little leftover cutting. Decided to do a little experiment. I put it in a glass of water to see if left like this, the cutting will grow roots. If so, I will replant it in the garden later. Just for fun.

UPDATE: Tuesday 8th November 2005

The cutting has sprouted 2 strands of white roots. Only 1 week. Very fast.

New logo for blog

Noticed the difference? The appearance of the blog has now greatly improved because the text title has now been replaced by a colorful logo. This logo is by courtesy of Franco of The original logo he did was in black and white, but he has kindly added color. Not only that, he helped me put the logo into the heading. Very satisfied.

UPDATE: 5 February 2007: I have migrated to the New Blogger, and the graphic title is no more.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Keeping pests at bay the organic way.

Sometime back, I had tried my hands at growing my own vegetables, but most of them except Malabar spinach (or Ceylon spinach) were attacked by pests. I was reluctant to use chemicals so I feeble attempt at home-grown vegetables was mainly aborted. Perhaps there is a solution.

According to CETDEM, pest infestation is not a problem but a symptom of imbalance. When symptoms appear, one should find out what causes it and remove the disturbing factors (Preventive measures). One can also carry out physical, biological and botanical controls (Control measures).

What are the disturbing factors? They include an imbalanced Agro-Ecosystem (caused by monoculture) and an imbalanced Soil Ecosystem (caused by a lack of organic matter, continuous cropping, use of agricultural chemicals which kill micro-organism). The solution will be, of course , to create a balanced agro-ecosystem and a balanced soild ecosystem

Balanced Agro-Ecosystem

The most important role is diversity and the methods include
  • diverse cropping to increase the diversity of the population of predactors
  • inter-cropping, including scattered planting of insect repellent and medicinal plants like basil, marigolds, ginseng, mint, serai citronella.
  • planting perennial trees to attract insect-eating birds
  • non-use of agrochemicals
Balanced Soil Ecosystem

  • Methods to create and maintain a balanced soil ecosystem include
  • crop rotation
  • regular supply of organic matter like mulch, green manure, compost
  • avoid mixing raw organic matter with the soil
  • non-use of agrochemicals
Physical Controls
  • Hand-picking done by catching the insects and other predactors like snails and removing them
  • Light trap done by putting a light above a container of water so that the insects are attracted to the light and fall into the water
  • Net cover. Covering the crops with a net to protect them from insect attack.
Biological Control
  • Attracting birds (by planting trees) that eat the insects
Natural Pesticides
  • ash
  • tobacco dust or leaves
  • neem leaves and seeds
  • chilli
  • pounded garlic
To control aphids, one can make a spray by soaking 250 gm of tobacco, 30 gm of soap flakes in 4 litres of water over 2 nights, sieve, then dilute with 1 part filtrate with 4 parts water.

Using pesticides, however, is not recommended by CETDEM.

Source: Organic Farming Publications
(CETDEM Organic Farming Project).

Note: Organic Farming courses and training are conducted by CETDEM. For more information, go to Courses and Training

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Nutrient content of Malabar spinach

Since I am planting Malabar spinach, I might as well post some information about the nutrient content found in Malabar spinach for my own as well as readers benefit. The information was taken from which gives the nutrients per 28 gm and per 90 gm for the fresh and boiled Malabar spinach. I have edited the content to per 100 gm for both for comparison purpose.

Table: Nutrient Content of Malabar spinach

Nutrientunitper 100 gm
per 100 gm
Vitamin Cmg36
Thiamine B1mg0.070.06

Malabar spinach is a good source of vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron. (Evaluation of Tropical Leaf Vegetables in the Virgin Islands)

Monday, October 24, 2005


What is mulch?

Web definitions for mulch Any loose material placed over the soil to control weeds and conserve soil moisture. Usually this is a coarse organic matter, such as leaves, clippings or bark, but plastic sheeting and other commercial products can also be used.

The advantages of mulching is the avoidance of water loss through evaporation, increase microorganism in the soil, increase water retention, prevention of soil erosion during rainfall, prevention of nutrient loss, prevention of the soil becoming baked hard and cracked.

The disadvantages of mulching is in excess, it may prevent adequate air flow, encourages pests and fungal diseases, shelter slugs and snails.

Instead of dead materials used as mulch, a living leguminous crop such as velvet bean (mucuna), green gram (mung bean), dhaincha (sesbania aculata), groundnut and soya bean may be grown as a cover crop. The advantages is that there will be no need to collect materials, it is more effective and long lasting, it also provides nitrogen fixation to the main crop and it is a way of using solar energy to produce biomass, a source of soil fertility.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Precaution to take when using dustbin as compost bin

I just noticed one troubling thing - the lip (Note: LIP, not lid) of the upturned dustbin being used as a compost bin collects stagnant water. This mean trouble, that is, aedes mosquito breeding. One will have to drill holes at the lip to prevent water collecting. Will have to do that this afternoon if it doesn't rain. To make clear what I am refering to, look the PHOTOS. The lip which used to be facing downward is now at the bottom facing upward.

(Update: done. Drilled many holes. No water collecting now.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Malabar spinach can be grown from cuttings!

Posting photo of the new leaves sprouting from the freshly planted cutting. Somehow, it is really pleasurable to watch your efforts grow. And it is only 10 days ago when I planted the cutting and it is already grown so vigorously! Looked like I'll have to transplant the cuttings soon. If nothing else, there is one thing I learned, Malabar spinach can be grown from cuttings!

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Saturday, October 08, 2005

Here are the photos I promised

Here are the photos I promosed:

Compost bin converted from a dustbin. The lid has been replaced by a heavy flower vase because our Beagle is too inquisitive and is able to topple the bin if it is only covered by a light plastic lid. Note the numerous holes drilled into the side for ventilation.

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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Bananas from our backyard.

A quick Google search for the term "define organic farming" produced the following: " web definitions for Organic farming: Agricultural production system without or with only limited use of pesticides and synthetic fertilisers."

We have been doing a limited amount of farming in my small garden, all completely without any pesticides or synthetic fertilisers. So going by the above web definition, we have been already practicing organic farming on a limited scale for some time. We have, among others, 2 banana plants in our backyard, planted by our previous Indonesian maid. Some 4 large combs of bananas were harvested a few days ago and allowed to ripen naturally. I must say, the bananas tasted real nice, fresh and sweet, a world of difference from those we purchase from the market, which we presumed were ripened using ethylene gas (carbide). Eating produce from our own backyard, I must say, is sheer satisfaction.

Making compost

This tiny forray into planting the hardy Malabar spinach got me fired up and all enthusiastic. I decided to try my hands at making compost. Taking the idea from CETDEM Organic Farming in Malaysia book, I took a fair size plastic dustbin and drilled holes in its side and lid (for ventilation). Then I used a jig saw to saw out the bottom so I got a truncated conical cylinder with 2 open ends. This I put in the garden upside down so the bigger end is in contact with the earth (the bottom is open so that "mini" and microorganisms can get into the bin to help decompose it).I then filled the bottom with about 4 inches of dried leaves. On top of this dried leaves I put the little bit of kitchen waste that I have, will cover that with more dried materials and some earth when I have more kitchen waste in the bin. I then close the top with the lid to keep excess rain out.

According to the book "Organic Farming in Malaysia" by the CETDEM Organic Farming Project, the ratio of dry materials (dried leaves), wet materials (kitchen wastes) and earth have to be 6:3:1.

Will post a photo when I get my hands on the digital camera. In the meantime, to get some idea of how the contraption look, have a look at this link: compost bin. Mine will be the same except that it does not have that hatch door at the bottom, and it has plenty of holes drilled into the side.

Latest update: I have discovered a troubling fact. Compost bin made in the manner above tend to collect rainwater, which can lead to mosquito breeding. The water can collect in the lid (spelled L I D) as well as the upturned lip (spelled L I P). One should take precaution to drill holes in appropriate places to avoid this dangerous situation. See Precaution to take when using dustbin as compost bin.

Update: Here is the photo I promised:

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

First attempt - planting malabar spinach

Although I have said that I am putting off organic farming for a while for the dengue fever outbreak to blow over, I decided to try to plant the Malabar spinach, yes that maintainance free plant, as it will not involve me spending much time in the garden. As mentioned in my previous post, I have been trying to get my hands on some malabar spinach berries (or seeds), without much luck. This morning, I decided to try my luck at the wet market to see if I can get some seeds, also because I heard it can be grown from cuttings (vegetative propagation). Couldn't get any seeds, but the vegetable seller confirmed it can be grown from cuttings. So I purchased some (RM1.60 or about USD0.60 worth). I have cut off the leaves and planted the stems into pots. Time spent in the garden - 10 minutes. Will put up some photos when I get my hands on a digital camera. In the meantime, if you are curious how the Malabar spinach looks like, plus a brief description, follow the link below:

Malabar Spinach or Indian Spinach - basella alba, b. rubra, b. cordifolia

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Dengue fever outbreak in Malaysia

My plan to do a bit of outdoor gardening has now to be put on the backburners for a while as there is a dengue fever outbreak in Malaysia currently. There have been 752 reported cases of dengue fever last week, 50 percent more than were reported in the last week of August, triggering emergency measures to prevent the disease reaching epidemic proportions. Health Minister Chua Soi Lek told local media 1,000 reported cases per week would constitute an epidemic. He said: "if this trend continues, it will not be long before it reaches 1,000 cases and an epidemic is declared." A total of 70 people have died in Malaysia of dengue fever so far this year. I don't want to be the 71st.

Maybe I'll do a little composting in preparation for the days when the dengue fever outbreak is brought under control.

Latest as at 4/9/05: "The number of suspected dengue cases have risen from 752 to 1,023 last week. The nationwide death toll now stands at 73, as compared to 62 fatalities in the same period last year". The Star

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Why using artificial fertilizers is no good.

Artificial fertilizers contain nitrogen, phosporus and potassium (NPK). Nitrogen occurs as nitrites, nitrates and ammonium. The nitrite form is very toxic and if taken in by humans in drinking water or in food, enters the bloodstream where it interferes with the ability of the blood to carry oxygen. Nitrites can also form compounds that is carcinogenic (cause cancer). Nitrates, though less toxic than nitrites, if taken in by cattle, young animals and children, may be converted to nitrites in their stomachs. Also, if there is too much nitrogen in the soil, it is absorbed into the vegetables in the from of nitrates which may be converted into nitrites under certain conditiions. When one eat these vegetables, the nitrites are digested and converted into nitrosamines whcih can cause stomach cancer.

Organic Farming

What is organic farming?

Organic farming is a crop production systems that generally exclude the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals. To the maximum extent feasible, organic farming systems rely on crop rotations, crop residues, animal manures, legumes, nitrogen fixation, green manures, off-farm organic wastes, mechanical cultivation, and biological pest control to maintain soil productivity, to supply nutrients to plants, and to control weeds and pests. Organic farming uses renewable resources by recycling by-products from household, agricultural and other human activities.

Why organic farming?

Organic farming does not use poisonous pesticides or artificial fertilizers and produces safe, nutritious and tasty food. By working in harmony with nature, one is contributing towards human and environmental health.

Why grow our own vegetables?

By growing our own vegetables, one can be sure that the food we put on are table is safe and free from pesticides. Homegrown food is cheap, nutritious and truly fresh. You will save money.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


This will be my little experiment in organic farming under tropical Malaysian conditions in my little home garden. Will be reporting here my progress and whatever relevant here as I go along. Be patient as this may take some time as I am doing this only as a hobby and for the moment, will not be of high priority.

BTW I used to have a very hardy plant in my garden - Malabar spinach, which need practically no maintainance as it is not subject to any pest attacks. Further, the leaves and stems is tinged purple, and probably have tons of antioxidants and other components which is expected to be healthy. It is great for making soup. Unfortunately, it is no more and I am now looking for the seeds to plant again. If any of you visitors have the seed and can spare some, do let me know by leaving a message in the comments section.