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Marcel brings a drone (MaeMut Garden from the air)

Our friends Marcel and Ning came to visit this week and, along with many treats from the city, they brought a drone to take some aerial shots of the garden These four photos give a good idea of what the site looks like.

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View from the top

This view shows the current volunteers’ house in the bottom right hand corner with our (watery looking) rice field and the house, dining area and workshop in the centre. To the left of the rice field, below the forested area, two ponds are visible, the square more muddy looking one was dug this year, before the rainy season.

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View from W

The photos were taken at around 7am, the sun is rising over the hills, Mae Mut village is nested under them about 1km to the east of us.

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View from N

This view shows the road leading from the village to our place, the garden terraces slope down from N to S. At the bottom of the garden, close to the forest at the top of the picture, runs the Mae Tian river.

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View from E

The Mae Mut valley runs from W to E, to the W the mountains rise to gradually reach over 2500m above sea level towards Doi Inthanon, the highest peak in Thailand,  which in this photo is obscured by the clouds on the left.

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Natural building workshops reviews

With the experience gained over the last four years of building, this latest job has gone very smoothly so far. We have developed a schedule that takes into account the different seasonal weather patterns. During the winter, Nov to Jan, we prepare the bricks, this is the most physical part of the job and it’s good to be able to do it when the weather is dry but cool and the sun is not strong. Before the rains come we prepare the foundation and the roof and we can move the bricks under cover. This allows us to work throughout the rainy season in comfort. Working under a roof has many advantages, and I would strongly advise this as the most convenient schedule and one that allows work to start and stop at anytime without worrying about sun, rain,etc.

During August we hosted three four-day workshops, with twenty two participants in total. We found that eight people is the maximum number we can have at one time and still be able to give everyone a meaningful hands-on experience. The work has proceeded well and it feels we are ahead of schedule, if there is such a thing.

All the kids who have been passing through while we have been building have had a good time playing with the mud and various homemade paints, Serena and friends also come and play sometimes.

These shots were taken yesterday, the work has advanced well and the quality of the workmanship of the volunteers is overall of a good standard. The rest of the job will be completed by our usual crew who have taken care of their seasonal farming jobs and now are free to come and work here for at least a couple of months, by which point the job should be done or very close to it.

Just as importantly, we have got to know many great people and shared many good moments together. We hope to see everyone again here at some point when our paths cross once more. Here is what some of them have said about their time here.

 

REVIEWS

Our time at MaeMut Garden was short but full of great experiences and knowledge. Marco is such a great teacher with a laid back philosophy and character. Although short, we learnt all of the fundamental skills required to build a earth brick home. It was great to take part in a course where you are actually helping to build a house from the ground up. The small group of 8 lets everyone have time to get their hands muddy. The whole experience exceeded our expectations. The food from P’Nok was diverse and delicious and the accommodation spacious with amazing views of the surrounding mountains. We would have stayed for a month if there was time. Thanks you so much Marco , P’Nok and the beautiful Serena.

Kai and Jackie from Singapore (and other places)

 

I was lucky to participate in a natural building workshop at Maemut Garden over the course of 4 days in August 2016. Nok and Marco have created a wonderful permaculture farm in the North of Thailand and it was a wonderful experience to see how everything can be done and what amazing results can be achieved. The place is simply beautiful and a big source of inspiration.
The course itself was well executed and I learned a lot during the days. We came around all of the major parts of building a house using adobe bricks, from making the bricks themselves, how to mix the mud, plastering, putting in doors and windows, making corners, decorating, final plaster, coloring etc. etc. I feel well equipped to begin experimenting myself. Marco did a good job of explaining everything and best of all: we all got a lot of time to try out the different techniques ourselves. The group of 7 people was just right and it didn’t feel too crowded.
The practical details of the course were also smooth – we had delicious food and fine sleeping arrangements. The atmosphere of MaeMut Garden was warm and hospitable.
I can highly recommend!
Martin from Denmark (and Pai)

 

I really enjoyed attending Marco’s and Nok’s five day earth building course. I think Marco has successfully managed to take the unnecessary complexity out of sustainability and tell you plainly, simply and honestly how to build an earth house, based on his own experiences. I arrived hoping I would acquire the right information and confidence to pursue my own earth house project one day, and when I left, I felt I had obtained what I needed and could build on these useful and insightful experiences.

We worked through soil type selection, making of physical bricks, methods for mud brick formwork, suitable mud recipes for this region, production of bricks, how to correctly layout walls, doors and windows (making sure items are straight and plumb), how to place bricks for different functions, grouting bricks, general plastering and final plastering.  The course is hands on where we learn as we actually construct an earth house, which someone will eventually live in. Marco patiently mentors you through the process. It’s useful to make notes and sketches during the stay, so you don’t forget things.

We finished the five days with a brief overview of permaculture methods, as we walked around the surrounding farm with Marco. I look forward to visiting Mae Mut Garden again sometime in the future, and I wish them continued success.

Duncan, architect at Solarei

 

I would like to let you know that I really enjoy your workshop. With the reasonable and fair price I got such a great hands on experience and all the techniques in every detail I need to know about adobe house building.  And Marco is such a great teacher. He never get tired of explaining every single thing I asked and always willing to share his own experience. Thank you for your patience and being attentive to all students. Beside, I really enjoy local food freshly cooked by P’Nok and also lovely accommodation. Little Serena also make me smile everyday..I miss her soooo much..I can say that I get more than I expected from this course. I definitely would love to go back to Maemut Garden and enjoy a sustainable and peaceful life again in my next holiday.

Kim, director and star of Along Way Home

 


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First workshop and update.

We have hosted our first workshop and it went very well, more progress was made on the building than expected and everyone was satisfied with the work and the learning experience.

We managed to give everyone the opportunity of a hands-on experience of all the main aspects of the project, building, setting windows, using glass, first and second plaster coat and  and we had time to discuss all the construction basics, foundation, roofing, plumbing, electrics, etc.

The next two workshops start on Aug 11 and Aug 25, we hope to have all the walls done to a finish by the end of September.


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The hardwood forest third birthday and a (incomplete) tree list.

This blog’s regular readers, all four of them, may remember that three years ago we set aside around half an acre to plant with a mixture of indigenous forest trees and shrubs selected by our friends Sakchai and Gatai from Wanakaset Chachoengsao.

In total we planted around 1200 seedlings and/or roots of approximately 100 different species, on the day they arrived they all fit in the back of a standard pick up truck, it took us two days to plant them all out, the planting holes having been prepared a few days before.

The forest’s third birthday was some time during May this year, some of the fastest growing trees, like teak, are now about 5m tall, most of the other hardwoods are at least 3m, some of the forest mangoes are even fruiting and the wild grasses that grew when the ground was cleared are slowing down as the shade begins to cover the “forest floor”.

These pictures were taken this morning roughly from the same spot as the old ones. As the forest gets established it requires less and less work, this year Thailand suffered the worst drought in 65 years and the weather was very hot during April and May, but the forest survived very well without any help from us after the first year.

Next year we should be ready to add a layer of ground cover species and a layer of climbing vines and some more roots. Another interesting aspect is that birds are beginning to nest on the larger trees and therefore they will be in a good position to take over the “planting”, or at least that’s the idea.

In no particular order here is an incomplete tree list, most of the larger trees are listed first.

Dipterocarpus alatus, Hopea odorata, Dalbergia cochinchinensis, Heritiera javanica, Afzelia xylocarpa, Fagraea fragrans, Irvingia malayana, Dracontomelon dao, Lagerstroemia floribunda, Tectona grandis, Shorea roxburghii, Swietenia macrophylla, Pterocarpus macrocarpus, Dipterocarpus obtusifolius, Dipterocarpus tuberculatus, Acacia mangium, Scaphium macropodium, Knema globularia, Wrightia pubescens, Terminalia chebula, Terminalia bellirica, Diospyros decandra, Acacia catechu, Litsea petiolata,Diospyros mollis, Careya sphaerica,  Sapindus emarginatus, Cinnamomum camphora, Persea kurzii, Diospyros malabarica, Phyllanthus emblica, Aegle marmelos, Ardisia elliptica,  Cinnamomum ilicioides, Flacourtia indica, Tarena hoaensis, Caesalpinia sappan, Glochidion, Melaleuca alternifolia, Cratoxylum formosum, Oroxylum indicum,  Eurycoma longifolia, Maniltoa grandiflora, Cinnamomum loureirii Nees, Cinnamomum verum, Garcinia cowa, Melientha suavis, Averhoa bilimbi, Mansonia gagei, Mammea siamensis, Mesua ferrea, Dolichandrone serrulata, Dolichandrone spathacea, Curcuma longa, Phyllanthus pulcher, Zingiber cassumunar, Piper sarmentosum, Tacca chantrieri, Strobilanthes nivea, Schefflera leucantha, Alpinia conchigera, Boesenbergia rotunda, Kaempferia parviflora, Thunbergia laurifolia, Elephantopus scaber, Clausena wallichii, Calamus caesius.

 


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A mixed income model.

 

The first five years. I have written somewhere before about our original intention to find a quiet spot outside Chiang Mai where to spend a few months every year, learn the ways of the countryside and see what came after that. We never intended to take responsibility for such a large piece of land, it sort of happened over a couple of years and with little Serena joining us we are not going anywhere anytime soon….

Since we started we have done quite a bit, building a number of structures, planting a fruit orchard/food forest and experimenting with vegetable and rice growing, while at the same time understanding what we can and cannot do, hosting visitors and volunteers, running a few small workshops and getting the hang of community life.

 

 Where we are now. With the experience of the last few years behind us, we have established some basic guidelines about the way ahead, flexibility and diversity are key to the design of the garden and the various income streams. We want to maximise the diversity of our activities, in order not to be too heavily dependent on any one aspect, be it food production, tourism or educational and volunteering work.

The garden is beginning to produce a surplus, especially lime, mango, passion fruit, soursop, papaya, dragon fruit and more, some we sell, some we preserve, some we give away, in the future we will have to address this more professionally. The avocado, lychee and macadamia trees will also be producing in the next couple of years and, as the orchard gets more shaded, coffee will also become part of the design.

We envisage a small community of three or four permanent residents with their own activities on the site, as well as accommodation for independent travellers and volunteers&interns, we are deliberately not featuring on any volunteering websites and have only a small presence on airbnb, so that we can have also some quiet times.

Every year we run one natural building workshop during the summer and plan to offer a space for other educational activities, especially for schools in the area.

We are now ready to begin a regular vegetable production on a small scale, we are interested in beans for drying and tomatoes for sauce making, as well as asparagus and the more usual tropical vegetables, we have learned how to grow most of the food we eat, with perennials an important part of our diet, especially greens like katuk and chayote.

 

 

Our wishlist. Nothing happens without the right people around, so our future plans can be better described as a wishlist, we know what we want to do, but we only do it when the circumstances are right.

There are already a long term resident (and one on the way) and a regular seasonal resident and we hope to expand this aspect when the opportunity arises, we do not advertise this and prefer this kind of stuff to happen by word of mouth.

As far as animals go, this year we will build a egg laying-chickens and fish yard with a pond in the middle, with ducks and bantam chickens free to come and go, the nutrient rich fishpond water will be used for veggie growing.

Producing our own drinking water is also high on the list, further in the future we aspire to a large water storage masquerading as a natural swimming pool, we just found out one of our former volunteers has been studying this subject, so we have high hopes for this too.

 

 


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Food forest understory layer (first stage)

The understory layer of the food forest is beginning to take shape. The process has a number of different stages, beginning with identifying various species, finding seedlings or seeds, planting to see what environment they like best, and finally planting out a meaningful number of specimens in one spot. Some plants like the shady environment, like coffee for example, others adapt to it. For example we have found that pineapple does quite well, in fact it produces very delicious fruits, if planted in shade, without any care whatsoever. If planted in full sun like commercial planters do, it will grow quicker, but requires more attention, especially watering which we cannot do in a food forest setting. A selection of plants we have begun to introduce contains various medicinal roots of the turmeric (Curcuma) and ginger (Zingiber) families, as well as some plants used as herbal teas like ไผ่จืด (Pogonatherum paniceum),ใบเตย (Pandanus leaf) and กระเจี๊ยบแดง (Hibiscus sabdariffa).

We have also tried common perennial vegetables like ชะอม (Acacia pennata), ผักแคร์ (Synedrella nodiflora) and ผักหวานบ้าน (Sauropus androgynus) and fruits like pineapple and coffee.

We often try the same plant in different areas and see what happens, an application of the 1st principle in permaculture, Observe and Interact, and we hopefully learn something. When we understand where some of these plants grow best, we are ready for planting them out in larger groupings, which are easier to care for and to harvest.

We are currently trying out a larger selection of medicinal herbs and roots, which will be the subject of a future post.

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Deluxe Chop ‘n’ Drop Mulch with an IMO Sauce

One lesson learned over these first few years is that it’s often best to let circumstances dictate what work needs doing when. In this case we have had access to a large quantity of corn stalks right at the beginning of the rainy season, we decided not to compost them but to use them as mulch instead.

The first place we have used them is in our small macadamia orchard, where three year old trees are interspersed with leucaena and pigeon pea which we routinely use as chop and drop material. This time we went for a more complete approach and started by cleaning thoroughly at the base of the trees and gently loosening the soil, applying water,  some aged cow manure and some diluted IMO juice.

We put back all the old bits of semi composted debris from last year’s job, we chopped down a lot of leucaena branches that were shading the trees, just leaving a few here and there and added a 30cm thick layer of chopped corn stalks. The nitrogen in the leucaena, cow manure and corn stalks will help brake down the old stuff, the mulch will prevent weeds and will allow us to leave the area alone for quite a while.

Now the trees are a bit taller we don’t need to cut the grass often anymore, with the help of the spreading pinto peanut and thanks to some more shady environment, we can reduce this tedious and time consuming job to probably once a year at the end of the rainy season.

the finished look

the finished look