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