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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

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.

 


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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.