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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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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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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.


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A movable greenhouse

The cold night fog that envelops the Mae Mut valley during the winter does not suit the apparently delicate tomatoes we are attempting to grow, last year we made a plastic roof, which can be seen in the background of the first picture, out of materials we had laying around, this year we are trying to go one better to help the tomato plants in the winter and have a sheltered area in the rainy season where we can grow stuff that does not like constant rain.

The idea behind the movable greenhouse is to devise an effective crop rotation system in the newly established garden beds, which would include mountain rice in the rainy season at least every other year and incorporates all the different vegetables we would like to grow, as well as green manures. This is the first stage in our attempts, if everything works as intended we plan to build one more in time for next year’s rainy season. The ultimate aim is to find a way to grow rice for home consumption within a no-dig gardening system.

The structure was made by one of our friends in the village, the total cost including steel, plastic and labour came to around 200USD for approximately 55sqm of covered area. The posts rest on concrete feet that are partially buried, enough to provide a level of stability, we plan to remove the plastic and roof structure around March until the hot season storms are over.

During this winter we are growing peanuts, onions, garlic, okra, some indian purple eggplants, a few beans for drying and eating all year round, two kinds of sweet potato and a few different tomatoes, to hopefully find a good tomato for making sauce with, as well as all the usual Thai veggies.


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Rice planting 2014

We have experimented with the SRI method of rice planting for the last couple of years, we are gradually finding tricks for making the job easier and more efficient, there are still many improvements we can make. Having said that, the quality of the planting this year is quite good, the seedlings were very healthy and we made a conscious effort to plant in very straight lines, to make the weeding easier this year we have a new tool, manufactured locally from an Indian design, that requires straight planting.

The first series shows the preparation of the seed bed, where a mix of soil, organic compost and cow manure is applied over a bed of banana leaves, the seeds are broadcast and then covered with soil and kept watered for ten to twelve days, this year we probably broadcast the seeds a little too tightly, but apart from that it worked very well.

One of the benefits of the SRI method is that the seedlings are not damaged as much by the planting process and they recover much more quickly than in the traditional way, where 30 day seedlings are ripped from the ground and replanted in clumps of five or six. Planting single seedlings instead of five or more also means that the seed bed can be much smaller.

The planting took place on Aug 6, the seedlings have been in the ground ten days and have started to send out new tillers in the last couple of days, this method does not require as much water as the conventional method, in a few days we will apply a dressing of compost and aged cow manure and a week or so later we will let the water in and mix it with about 20 l of homemade fermented fruit juice and home made EM.