Home Har­vest

Grow your own veg­gies at home with min­i­mal fuss for health and bud­get ben­e­fits

Expatriate Lifestyle - - Contents - Words by Karin Chan Photo by Ci­ty­farm Malaysia & Plant Car­tridge

We’re all about good food in Malaysia, but have you ever thought about where it comes from or how fresh it re­ally is? Fresh toma­toes are great…at least, they’re great un­til they’ve had to sit in an air­plane’s cargo hold and rat­tle around in the back of a truck to get to a market near you, by which time they’re prob­a­bly not so great. And let’s not get started on pes­ti­cides or other chem­i­cals; ‘buy or­ganic’ is the com­mon re­frain here, but that gets ex­pen­sive and how cred­i­ble is the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion any­way?

Here’s a novel idea: why not try grow­ing your own veg­gies? If you’re imag­in­ing back­break­ing work till­ing soil un­der the hot sun, sweat­ing un­der your rice hat, let me stop you right there. Farm­ing tech­nol­ogy has pro­gressed in leaps and bounds; the ur­ban farm­ing move­ment is fast gain­ing ground in cities as peo­ple look for ways to solve food sup­ply and pro­duc­tion is­sues, or want more con­trol over what they eat. With just a lit­tle bit of ef­fort, you could be a part of the so­lu­tion and have de­li­cious greens to show for it!

EASY MUNCHIES Hy­dro­pon­ics seems to be the way for­ward for farms in the city due to the rel­a­tively sim­ple setup, which doesn’t re­quire a lot of space or main­te­nance. There now ex­ist in­no­va­tive ur­ban farm­ing so­lu­tions in Malaysia for both the in­di­vid­ual and the cor­po­rate sec­tor, all of which recog­nise the ur­ban­ite’s de­sire for min­i­mal fuss and max­i­mum yield.

In­spired by the plug-and-brew con­cept of the Ne­spresso ma­chine, Liang Chan Ning founded Plant Car­tridge, which works along the same easy-use prin­ci­ple – but with plants. Lo­cated in Bangsar, Plant Car­tridge’s ba­sic setup in­volves a Leev Home Kit, which comes with a set of eight plant ‘car­tridges’ and nu­tri­ent-rich ‘plant food’. Putting it to­gether is a fivestep process: fill the con­tainer with 3.5 litres of wa­ter, add in the plant food, plug the car­tridges in the des­ig­nated holes, peel off the tabs and leave to grow. That’s it! You can even ex­pand the sys­tem if farm­ing re­ally catches your in­ter­est.

Ci­ty­farm Malaysia, founded by a group of friends who aim to make it the one-stop shop in Seri Kem­ban­gan for all things ur­ban farm­ing, of­fers every­thing from large-scale ver­ti­cal in­door farms with LED lights and wa­ter pumps to smaller wall and bal­cony mod­els (most pop­u­lar). A lit­tle more work is re­quired here: you might have to do some pip­ing and elec­tri­cal work de­pend­ing on the size of your farm. Grow­ing-wise, you’ll need to ger­mi­nate the seeds in a spe­cial sponge in a wa­ter-filled con­tainer, trans­plant them to the ac­tual setup and oc­ca­sion­ally mon­i­tor the wa­ter and nu­tri­ent lev­els. This is to reduce the ‘down­time’ of the farm for those who want quick har­vest turn­around times.

More of­fer­ings are on the way from these fledg­ling com­pa­nies, so ex­pect greater di­ver­sity in so­lu­tions in the months to come.

Ur­ban farm­ing is meant to be easy for city peo­ple. Most of it is au­to­mated and low main­te­nance. You only need to mon­i­tor it” Looi Choon Beng, Ci­ty­farm Malaysia

EAT YOUR VEG­GIES So we come to the im­por­tant ques­tion: what ex­actly can you grow us­ing the hy­dro­ponic method? We’re told that lo­cal leafy greens – choy sum in par­tic­u­lar – do best as they’re al­ready used to the weather con­di­tions in Malaysia. You could have your first choy sum har­vest in as lit­tle as 28 days! Oth­er­wise, other leafy greens such as rocket and but­ter­head let­tuce are also fast grow­ers at 30-odd days, though they may re­quire slightly more care.

Nat­u­rally, herbs are also ex­cel­lent hy­dro­ponic can­di­dates – every­thing from sweet basil and mint to co­rian­der and English pars­ley. Imag­ine be­ing able to just snip off a sprig just be­fore cook­ing! How­ever, while herbs grown in Ci­ty­farm’s wall setup can gen­er­ally last in­def­i­nitely, those grown in Plant Car­tridge’s kits should be re­placed every few months when the roots start to over­crowd the con­tainer.

At time of print, both out­fits were in the trial stage of grow­ing creeper plants such as toma­toes, pump­kins and melons. These will gen­er­ally last a few months and can pro­duce mul­ti­ple yields, with the first har­vest ex­pected in around two months de­pend­ing on plant type. How­ever, these plants re­quire some­thing to climb up on, so sug­gested so­lu­tions in­clude ty­ing ropes to the ceil­ing and let­ting them dan­gle straight down above the plant so it can use them as sup­port. Bear in mind that they can climb up to six feet!

CARE­FUL CON­TROL While both out­fits try to min­imise the level of skill needed to get into ur­ban farm­ing by pre-set­ting the wa­ter­ing and nu­tri­ent con­di­tions, light and weather are slightly more dif­fi­cult to con­trol.

The ideal lo­ca­tion for a Leev Home Kit is in a shel­tered area that re­ceives sun­light at least a cou­ple hours a day – even by a sunny win­dow is fine. Leav­ing it out at the mercy of the el­e­ments is not, as the plants can die if bat­tered by a trop­i­cal thun­der­storm. Though the ger­mi­na­tion process is sep­a­rate in Ci­ty­farm Malaysia’s setup, it’s still best to have the out­door bal­cony model un­der a shel­tered area that re­ceives sun­light un­less you’re ex­pe­ri­enced enough to know how to ad­just to the con­di­tions.

You can pur­chase LED lights for both mod­els to re­place ac­tual sun­light if you keep them in­doors. While this grants you more pre­cise con­trol over their growth, it also means that you may in­cur a larger in­vest­ment and elec­tric­ity bill, so keep that in mind. This op­tion may be best for apart­ments that don’t get as much sun­light on the reg­u­lar.

GET PLANT­ING Why do ur­ban farm­ing at all? Be­sides nobly help­ing to solve the world’s food and en­vi­ron­men­tal woes, you’ll also have more con­fi­dence in what you’re eating. Over time, it may also work out to be cheaper as you won’t have to worry about sea­sonal price fluc­tu­a­tions or hav­ing to fin­ish the greens be­fore they go bad and throw­ing them away. You can keep it fresh by just cutting off what you need as it grows! Plus, qual­ity pro­duce also means you use less to achieve the same rich flavour in a dish.

Here’s your chance to play farmer on easy mode, save the world and eat great food while you’re at it – what’s not to like? Get grow­ing now! EL

I won­dered if there was a bet­ter way to help im­pa­tient ur­ban peo­ple with­out green fin­gers get started with­out the steep learn­ing curve. Ur­ban peo­ple don’t want to play with soil. They just want it to grow!” Liang Chan Ning, Plant Car­tridge

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