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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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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


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Lebanese style mulberry syrup

Preserving food is a skill just as important as growing the stuff in the first place, as with everything else here, this is a new area for us. Experimenting and tasting different recipes is an activity that is best performed with people around to help and share knowledge. Different seasons bring different harvests and therefore different products. In our situation it is important to add value to whatever we grow in the garden, whenever possible, and find an outlet for our products where we can connect directly with the end consumer, thereby keeping the quality high and the price reasonable. We have the opportunity of testing new products and recipes thanks also to our farm stay guests and volunteers, we always try to improve the quality of everything we grow and make here.

Mulberry syrup, or for a more exotic sound, Sharab El Toot, is one way of dealing with excess mulberries, a problem which will only get worse in the years to come! Here we used three kilos of ripe mulberries, harvested easily over three days, the trees are full of berries now and will be producing probably for another two weeks or more.

The recipe comes from here. A variation in the recipe using honey instead of sugar can be found here, will try this next time.

At the first attempt it took about two full hours’ work to produce four bottles of syrup, so some labour saving strategy is definitely in order, but it’s very hot now and I have not much else that I want to be doing in the afternoons, it’s a nice job to do in the shade, under a slowly turning fan.

This syrup is really excellent, diluted in water and ice with a few mint leaves and a squeeze of lime. After testing the fruits of today’s labours, imagining myself on a sunny terrace in Beirut looking at the Mediterranean sea, it was time to get back out in the garden where, in a quick twenty minutes, we harvested a further kilo of ripe berries, now I just need to go and find some more old bottles from somewhere and do it all over again in a couple of days.

 


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New Year’s Mountain climb 2014, by Sam

 

DSCN1613On January 3rd, all the volunteers, guests, and then some joined the countryside pilgrimage up to a mountain shrine. We set off around 6:45 to take part in this New Year’s tradition. The sun opened its red eye through the morning haze as 15 of us pushed up the mountain packed into the cabs and backs of two trucks. A mountain chill kept everyone wrapped in blankets or jackets. When we arrived at a Royal Project site about an hour later, muscles were eager to be stretched in the sun that was beginning to reach out to warm us. Scattered all around the site, more ambitious folks than us were bustling among a myriad of tents and stoves. A pack lunch was handed out to everyone and we soon set off, somewhere near the end of a long line of travelers, all starting when they felt like it.

The hike itself was no walk in the park. Starting with a moderate slope through sloping gardens, the trail soon entered the jungle. The path snaked its way past a towering vine encased tree and then steepened up towards the peak. Rarely, a bamboo rail would aid our leg muscles on a particularly sharp incline, but for most of the journey, we had to rely on  internal perseverance alone. The folks walking along included rambunctious boys scurrying past adults, weathered monks robed in orange and stepping with a persistent metronome pace, us foreigners laboring through with our hiking boots, and even a man blazing down the trail in bare feet. When anyone stopped for a quick rest, they were never alone or hungry. Inquiries to health were made in Thai and English and oranges or hard boiled eggs from the lunch goody bag were offered as soon as a breath sounded a bit too ragged. This was a group event, and everyone intended to make sure all made it to the final destination.

And what a destination it was. When we finally reached the monolithic peak (about three hours total and one false summit later), it was well worth the aching calves. Located just across from Doi In Thanon, there are two pillars of rock that shoot up into the mountain air. On the northern one, hundreds of people gathered near a small stone shrine. Everyone took in the place as they saw fit. Young daredevils scampered across a thin bridge to the other pillar. Monks perched like statues on ledges to meditate in the clean air. Everyone ate and reveled in the beauty with each other. Some prayed, some laughed, and some even snored. All around was open air leading to neighboring mountains and farther out, only a mist that shrouded whatever lay beyond. Clouds and smoke from incense rushed below, above, and through all of the pilgrims. Removed from the world below, we were left to simply be.

Eventually, one by one, people and groups pulled themselves away when they felt the time was right. Legs moved faster on the way down. Back at the Royal Project site, there was food aplenty for the weary travelers. Noodles, oranges, ginger tea, waffles, and oranges were doled out to any who wanted to eat. The lush green lawns of the garden made for excellent temporary beds until we piled back into the trucks to head down. The warm golden sun made for a sleepy ride back for some, and in the late afternoon we pulled back into the farm pleasantly tired and ready for a new year to begin.

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