As we begin to understand how much work we can actually take on, we try to design uses that are not so labour intensive for some parts of the plot.
We have given over to a couple of our neighbours the area that is closest to the river, cannot plant any trees there, it is furthest from the house and it sometimes floods in the rainy season, they plant corn there and rice in the wet season, maybe in the future when the rest of the place takes care of itself (we want to believe it will happen!!) we might take it back and find a way to use it, but we are not in a rush to add any extra work.
Last week with the help of Sakchai and Gatai, a couple of experienced agroforesters, we planted an area of about 1 acre as a mixed forest of indigenous hardwood trees, pioneer legume trees, wild fruit trees, perennial vegetables and medicinal herbs, they had come to see us in February and put together a list of about 100 different species that should thrive in our climate, from very long lived, very large trees down to bulbs and creepers to populate what will be the forest floor.
We had dug tons of planting holes in preparation, once all the seedlings had been unloaded and sorted we proceeded laying out the seedlings, starting with the ones that will grow the highest and live the longest, ironwood, yang na, takian, siamese rosewood, makha, tembusu, all these trees grow to 30 to 40m, are prized for their wood and as a result are endangered species in their natural habitat.
The next layer is formed with hardwood trees that will mature more quickly and reach 20 to 25m, teak, phayom, mahogany, padauk, etc. needless to say most of these are also endangered species, mixed in with some fast growing legume trees and wild fruit and medicinal trees.
The lower layers comprise shrubs, vines, creepers, bulbs and roots, as well as small trees that won’t grow past 10 m, most of which have parts that are edible and/or are used in traditional thai medicine. I am in the process of translating the complete planting list and I will make it available should anyone be interested.
Some of the trees will grow very quickly and give shade to the shrubs and herbs underneath, some will take thirty to fifty years to reach maturity, some will be ready to harvest around the time baby Serena turns twenty, they are her education fund, as it were, and in the meantime we will be harvesting fruits, vegetables and herbs without having to do much work and the forest will also provide a host of traditional natural remedies.
When talking about permaculture as a design alternative to conventional farming/land use, often emphasis is placed on appropriate technologies and overall garden design, these aspects are, of course, fundamental. In my view, however, knowledge of plants and their uses, as well as their growing habits, is not talked about enough in PDC’s in tropical locations. This is a problem that we come across also when we search the internet for bits of information, as most of the permaculture literature is related to temperate climates, there are few teachers with experience of tropical weather, or at least it looks that way.
That is why we were so fortunate to come across Sakchai and Gatai, with their encyclopaedic knowledge of native thai species, it would have taken a long time to compile the tree list and even longer to find all the seedlings. We also had a great time with them while they were here and are planning to go and visit their place sometime this winter. Gatai is a brilliant cook and not bad at washing up either….