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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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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.