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A new guest cottage at Mae Mut Garden

Those who have visited our place in the last couple of years know that this project has been on for some time, and was almost but not quite finished for a while. We pushed on last winter to host a large sleepover organized by Lisa at Thai Freedom House.

After that we completed the last small decorating and plumbing jobs and the cottage is now ready for use, there are two large bedrooms, one bathroom with solar hot water and a large verandah on two sides with an outdoor living room space. The cottage is set in the garden’s orchard/food forest, surrounded by mango and lychee trees, coffee, limes and bamboo.

We are thinking about a medium/long term rent option, we love to host people here who can join with any of our activities if they want, but also just hang out or work on their own stuff, while being close to nature, breathing clean air and eating healthy food.

We prefer to connect with people by word of mouth and don’t advertise of Facebook sites or other similar platforms, so if you know of someone who is looking for this type of situation, please share this with them.

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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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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

Maemut Garden – A young but thriving farm

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Our good friend Thomas Lim of Edible Garden City Singapore has written a post about his visit to our place last January. Thank you Thomas for the kind words, we look forward to keeping in touch and finding ways to work together again in the future.

INTO THE ULU

The last stop during our Chiangmai trip was a 10-acre piece of land about an hour southwest of Chiangmai in the village of Maemut. To get there, we rode along the beautiful valley into the mountains, leaving the urban areas behind us. We saw a motorbike crash right in front of us which really reminded us of the dangers lurking behind the enjoyment. We passed by some touristy venues like river rafting and elephant riding without stopping.

The family house in the middle of everything The family house in the middle of everything

A young family lives at Maemut Garden. Marco is a humble Italian who speaks Thai. Nok is the reason Marco turned his short Chiangmai trip into a permanent stay. They have a two year old baby daughter Serena who entertains us with her budding talent in traditional Thai dancing. Pi Hom is a Thai lady that helps out with everything and made the farm what…

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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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First steps on the path towards self reliance

A popular quote by Bill Mollison, one of the originators of the concept of Permaculture, talks about making the switch from consumption to production. This is of course viewed from a “developed world” point of view, in the developing world most people already produce more than they consume (although it’s gradually changing here as well), 70% of the world’s food is produced on farms smaller than 5 acres, often by women. Even in the West, the switch from production to consumption is a relatively recent event, at least for the majority of people.

To be clear, we are not preppers or survivalists, but we believe that we should leave behind a better place than we found and also that most food available in supermarkets and shops is not safe for consumption.

In tropical climates the switch (back) towards self reliance can be effected more easily, provided water is available the growing season can be almost 12 months long and the limiting factor tends to be too much heat rather than not enough sun. In January of last year we had our first meal made entirely of home grown veggies, it felt like a milestone then and I was very proud, nowadays it happens often, especially in the winter season. Another milestone we passed this winter is a financial one, for the first time since we started the income we are generating from selling produce from the farm plus that from guests, residents and interns is enough to pay all of our costs and make a small nominal profit, I will write more on this in a separate post.

rice field 2014

RICE. The first step we took was building our house using natural building techniques, in that same rainy season we planted rice, which we have continued to do every August, last year we used a smaller plot and we got more than enough for us and all the animals, approx 450kg. We are getting better at it, especially in terms of reducing the labour required, every year we make less mistakes. I made a rough calculation and I think we managed to produce a good quality organic Jasmine rice for less than what it would cost us to buy a standard rice from a wholesale merchant. So that’s a start.

PERENNIAL EDIBLE GREENS. These are just some of the perennial greens in the garden this morning, the morning glory in the photo is not strictly speaking perennial, but it’s very easy to grow in all weathers and there is a perennial variety that leaves in or near water. I could probably go out and take another ten photos of edible greens that we often eat, but this is enough for the point I am trying to make and most of the other plants don’t really have english names anyway. We also have a lot of cassava planted around the edge of the site, which we go and dig up anytime we feel like a potato type starchy thing.

ONION, GARLIC, PEANUT AND PUMPKIN are very easy vegetables to grow, they can be stored for a relatively long time and, especially with onions and peanuts, they are harvested in one go, dried briefly and put away for later use without need for further processing. During the last few months we have also been growing okra, eggplant, cucumber, tomato, sweet potato, carrot and various salads as well as the usual Thai veggies like winged bean, yard long bean, mustard greens, amaranth etc. These have a shorter growing season and we are learning to grow them together in mixed beds, interspersed with chilli, marigold, lemongrass and various Thai herbs that help to keep the insects away.

BEANS. We have started growing beans to dry and store, this winter we planted eight beds of red lima beans and cranberry beans, thank to seeds from the good people at ECHO Asia. The lima beans are definitely more suited to the climate and grew well, the cranberry less so, but they are really delicious and we intend to persevere and increase production. In total so far we have harvested around 20kg of dried beans and there is still a bit more to come, 500g of beans per week for the whole year should be a good starting point.

Everything is grown without using chemical fertilizers or pesticides, we make our own compost with cow manure purchased from local farms and biomass from our garden and from neighbours, various fertilizing microbial juices and teas, including liquid calcium and liquid phosphorus and our own natural pest repellent from herbs grown on the land. We are slowly closing the loop, we would be ideally set up for rearing half a dozen pigs and that would mean we would produce almost all the required manure, but we do not feel up to killing animals and have instead opted for a vegetarian lifestyle.