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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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Foolproof method for cutting glass bottles.

We are getting ready for the workshop, preparing all the materials that we want to use.

Glass bottles are often used as decoration in adobe building, in the right position they can also produce some neat light effects at certain times of the day. We also use them, even though we are nowhere near as creative and polished as more experienced builders. I also tend to prefer a more streamlined style and simple designs, which are not so time consuming, my focus here tends to be the garden much more.

Preparing the bottles for use as in the examples above is very simple. We score the bottles using a standard diamond tipped glass cutter, we fix the cutter to a work bench and make a cradle for the bottle, so that we always cut the same size. In this case  we are using two bottles to make the width of one standard brick, so we cut them 10cm.

We heat the glass using a candle at the point where we scored it, once the glass is hot, we dunk it into a pot of cold water for a few seconds, after which with a gentle tap the bottle will crack at the desired spot.

The bottles are then washed and dried thoroughly to make sure there will be no moisture once we tape them together. Only the ends need to be clean, the rest of the bottle is not visible, so no need to scrape off the left over bits of label.

That’s it, ready to go.

IMG_3667

 


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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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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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Collecting Indigenous Microorganisms the Korean way. Update

A quick update on the IMO collection work, since lately a few people have randomly been looking at the original post from last year. Just want to show how we followed up after the bacteria were collected and give further information about the whole procedure.

Interesting to see how different the colonised rice trays looked after just a few days, there were marked colour variations, I assume as a result of different predominant bacteria. The rice was mixed with molasses and then left in the container for a week, after which it was diluted in water and bottled for later use.

The details of the procedure were recorded by Grace, the resident volunteer at the time, who happened to be a chemist by trade.

Materials

  1. Clay Jar (approx. 10-12 in.
  2. Freshly cooked rice
  3. Bamboo cut lengthwiise
  4. Paper and a piece of string or a rubber band
  5. Wire mesh (to protect from rats and other animals)
  6. Plastic sheet (to protect the culture from rain)

Procedure

  1. Freshly cooked rice was placed inside bamboos cut lengthwise.
  2. The bamboo was covered with paper, sealed with a string on each end
  3. Wire mesh was secured around the bamboo
  4. Three bamboo cultures were prepared. Each bamboo was burried 2-3 inches deep in the soil where lots of dry/decomposing leaves are found (underbamboos, under a tree, in the forest).
  5. The bamboos were covered with dried leaves and plastic sheets were placed on top to protect from rain.
  6. The bamboos were left for 3 days.
  7. The bamboos were collected and white molds in predominance were observed on the surface, this is the IMO 1. If white mold is sparse, burry it back in its place and wait for another 2 days.
  8. IMO2 was prepared by mixing 1 part IMO1 to 1 part molasses in a clay jar.
  9. Stir the mixture throughly. Sugar slows down microbial activity and food for the microorganisms.
  10. The jar was covered with paper and sealed with a string or rubber band. Leave atleast 2/3 of air space in the jar.
  11. The mixture was left to ferment for 7 days in a cool and dry place, away from direct sunlight
  12. After 7 days, the mixture was diluted with water (1 part IMO2 : 3 parts water) and stirred well. The liquid was drained.

Storage

  1. Cover the clay jar with paper, sealed with a string or rubber band
  2. The IMO2 prepared can be stored for 1 year in a cool and dry place

Usage

  1. Mix IMO2 and water at a ratio of 1:500, use with a watering can or with a sprayer.
Note

A more professional post, with lots of good information on this and other similar procedures can be found here. Following an online conversation with the author of the post, when extracting liquid calcium, I have tried using kombucha instead of vinegar, as a homemade and cheaper alternative, with good results.


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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.