Going back to basics – Grow your own grub

Sarjit takes us on a gardening journey on a Little Farm on the Hill in Janda Baik. With a zero-base knowledge in this green line, she found the workshop enlightening. Here, she shares her experiental learning imparted by her gardening coach. A perfect nature getaway for urbanites with a penchant for gardening, she says.

Sarjit Kaur | Roti for the Soul | Asia Samachar | 9 Feb 2016 | 


A Little Farm on the Hill. That was our destination that Saturday. It was a pleasant morning drive from Kuala Lumpur to Janda Baik, passing through Tanarimba. We were pleasantly greeted by green pastures and bubbly monkeys. A timely link; as we usher in the year of the monkey for the Chinese Lunar Year.

Bentong ginger comes to mind at the mention of this nature town [Bentong is a town in the state of Pahang]. Every sundry owner would claim its finest quality! Boiled with lemon grass bulbs and mixed with honey, it becomes a delicious detox drink to flush out fats and toxins.

“Why do you need to grow your own grub?,” asked our coach, Harbir Singh. Grub here is taken to mean food. Several reasons. With a garden of herb within your compound, these condiments are at your easy disposal when needed for cooking. No more last minute drives to the grocer! Secondly, when these plants are there, it gives you an excuse to rotationally use them in your cooking. Chefs usually plant a repertoire of herbs in their home area to provide that distinctive taste and flavour to their cooking. Like, no other!

A Little Farm on the Hill

Pete and Lisa own this majestic farm. By background, they assume completely different professions than the one they have committed much time to. And yet have leveraged on their diverse background to craft this farm with a refreshing perspective. Lisa is an architect by profession whilst Pete is a musician and a film maker. Lisa grew up in this farm environment and lived in a wooden house that her Dad built on the hill, which explains her passion! This high rise structure was a dramatic sight from the workshop area.

The farm area is bordered by a river streaming through where calm sounds of water were visible. It is situated on an elevated area surrounded by tall trees, which included our all-time favorite durian tree! The high range helps naturally combat humidity to a certain extent, explained Lisa.

Tranquil lotus plants filled the pond. There were rows of vegetable plots such as cabbage, tomatoes, french beans, angled beans, okra and cili padi. A variety of herbs with medicinal properties which included basil, peppermint, sage and thyme were also present. We had an aerial view of the farm from the high stilt wooden structure filled with glass panel that was architected by Lisa. This space hosted our one-day workshop.

Lisa had a kitchen that was well equipped. The wafting smell of freshly baked scones and muffins and brewed coffee and tea travelled to our workshop zone. From the balcony of our workshop terrain, we could see her cheerful helpers cradling herbs plucked fresh from the farm for our soulful lunch!

Green Fingers – A Myth

“Most people believe that gardening is about having green fingers. It is but a myth”, our gardening guru reveals. The secret was unveiled to 20 of us newbies and seasonbies attending the workshop entitled ‘Grow Your Own Grub’.

A number of us had zero-base knowledge in gardening, which included me! One couple had invested in a 7 acre land in Italy and was going to embark on a new chapter as urban farmers. The rest were serious planters who continue to seek knowledge and experience to refine this art over time. I must salute them for their sustainable efforts and endurance.

Have a Relationship

“You must have a relationship with your plants and compost. Tender, loving, care or TLC! You must touch them, smell them, talk to them and understand them. Because, heck, they are living beings just like us! Call them aliens if you wish,” he said to the burst of laughter amongst us. One participant shared that she plays meditational hymns to her plants as part of the communication process. Another had speakers around her garden to connect and feed the very soul of her plants. This was a revelation to many of us!

Harbir has been planting all his life, since he was a boy back in Port Dickson. He was constantly surrounded by his mum and grand mum who were his gardening gurus. He is into the media production line but appears to be reliving his planter career from his past life… He was oozing with knowledge and passion for planting!

 Harbir Singh (middle) showing how composting is done.
Harbir Singh (middle) showing how composting is done.

The Secret

So, what is the most important element in gardening? The secret lies in a four letter word. Its – S O I L. Just as food is to human, so is soil to a plant. It nourishes its roots and brings nutrition to the stalk, leaves and fruits. Compost is the best soil amendment and it is absolutely free.

We were first taken on an insightful tour of the farm by Lisa, where she explained the nature and labour involved for each plant. Harbir then filled us in, on the essentials of gardening through his lively and pictorial multimedia presentation. Thereafter, he walked us to the compost area in the farm and demonstrated hands-on, how we could make our own.

Brown and Green – Up, Close and Personal

The ratio of compost mix is 3:1 combining brown to green materials. Brown is the carbon component whilst green is nitrogen. Brown materials comprise dried leaves, cut or mowed grass or saw dust. Where can you get these materials? Harbir would visit posh housing areas as they are generally endowed with ample and good quality dead leaves and grass, he shared with a wink! His 11 year old daughter is his loyal accomplice.

Green materials represents kitchen waste from fruits, vegetables and flower scraps, eg banana and orange peel, vegetable stalks, crushed egg shells, tea leaves, coffee grounds, fallen hair etc. You could also add manures from animals that consume vegetables e.g. cow dung.

Harbir placed a layer of brown followed by green, another brown and then green and repeated this sequence in a bin or basket filled with holes. Layering was the technique. It was similar to him making a kuih lapis or Indonesian layered cake, layer by layer with TLC.

Tropical Haven

For the compost to take shape, it needs air, water, carbon dioxide and nitrogen. Hence, in a hot and wet environment like the tropical countries, compost can be made very easily.  Green or brown when placed in plastic bags and tied, releases gas, which aren’t healthy. It is best to leave them in the open. Our coach got us to feel a compost that was formed after 6 weeks. As we put our hands in the compost bin, it felt warm. Akin to the warmness of a living being! “They sure are alive”, he said.

Malaysia has a unique geographical environment, with the most ridiculous amount of rainfall and humidity, he explained. Care must be taken in knowing which grub grows on local grounds and which one thrives on foreign or four-seasoned land. Ginger, turmeric, pandan leaves, curry leaves and lemon grass are the first level plants which can grow easily.

The okras, aubergine, tomatoes and potatoes are second level plants requiring more care and knowledge. So, be mindful to take baby steps to keep the inspiration going.  Also, grow what you can use, not what you don’t eat eg kangkung or water spinach”, to the amusement of the audience!

Mimic Nature

What is the second most important factor in planting? Mimic nature, and everything will just grow. Copy what nature is doing, don’t reinvent the wheel, he affirmed.

Pesticides can be naturally made. Simply pound red chilies, garlic and ginger, add them to your spraying can and sprinkle on your plants. Pesticides cannot take the pungent smell of garlic and ginger and the heat from the chilies drive them away. Turn to the label of your purchased pesticides and you will be surprised at the exact ingredients! Alternatively, you could mix neem oil with a little non-toxic hand wash to emulsify the oil, then add to your spraying can. Neem has a pungent smell which works its magic with these undesirable creatures. Lemon grass and marigold are plants to grow to keep bugs away, he added.

Once you have your compost, you need worms to help break down the particles. Now for the optimum soil mix and layering. The recipe involves 2 portions of compost, 1 portion of sand, 1 portion of coco peat or coconut husk, some cow dung and worms. Fill your pot with pebbles, then sand and finally this soil mix. Anchor your plant with the roots buried, sprinkle some water, have a heart to heart conversation and there you go. She is ready to breathe life and face the world

An Enlightening Journey

So there you go folks, the secret to gardening really lies in the quality of the SOIL. It thrives best when made from natural compost and given lots of TLC. In the process, your green fingers will naturally surface, like a gardening Hulk. As you can see, it is not the reverse.

It was an enlightening and therapeutic experience for many of us, walking down the path of Mother Nature and going back to basics. Planting your own grub. Just like good old days. We always have to ‘travel’ the world, only to come back to where we originally started, wiser and nobler! That’s life.


Roti for the Soul is a column on life and its quirks. Sarjit Kaur is a wife, mother and an official at the Malaysian stock exchange.


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  1. Good idea but not many may be interested. A simple way would be to plant daily needs in pots instead of just green leaves.
    Examples are tomatoes, rad/green chilies, curry leaves, tom yam leaves, putna [mint], All can be in pots which can be kept just about anywhere and do not need much space. They can also be kept in balconies.
    All these plants provide green and other colors.
    If there is more space then also can plant brinjals, ladies fingers both of which can be grown in pots.
    Best wishes