One of the Design Critera was to be Off-Grid as far as possible for food production. Surin is one of the 20 provinces in the northeastern region of Thailand, known as Isaan. The soil in Isaan is extremely poor and as a result, so are it’s people. The soil is a very heavy clay that sets hard as concrete in the dry season and turns to porridge during the short rainy season.
We added organic matter to the land behind the building plot to improve the soil as we want to grow food here. This was started when we first raised the land for building.
Rice straw is one thing that there seems to be quite a bit of in Surin
Using a backhoe – gardening Thai style.
Some “top soil” was added to the land behind the house and a tractor made it flat.
Sacks of dried cow poo wait to be added to the land.
We purchased a chain saw
Also a Chipper/Mulcher/Shredder from Buriram Builders Merchants They delivered both to Surin and showed us how they worked.
The Chipper sitting in a sea of cow poo and wood chippings.
We ordered some burnt rice husks – a waste product in Biomass electricity production. Unfortunately the builders have spilt a great deal of water on the driveway and the truck got stuck in the
7 tonnes of burnt rice husks goes on top of the wood chippings
2 x 1,500L water tanks filled by the Solar well pump and then a small AC pump gives access to water to water the land. We can start planting.
A few fruit trees to test out
The bugs are probably very happy that they have something to eat now, whether we will have something to eat from this first attempt is another question.
The land was originally a teak tree field, we have tried to save as many as possible on our land. These teak tree are about 10 years old, but only grow in the short rainy season.
This was a leafless stick until we started to water and mulch it.
First of the farm toys!
“Yellow Dwarf” a dwarf tomato with fat yellow cherries. The first veggies from our land. Uncertified organic but I know that they have only had grass fed cow poo and well water from 40m below our land. They taste delicious. I am looking forward to spending more of my energies on the garden and less on the house build.
It has been difficult to work on the food farm while we have working so hard on the house build. In fact we are not living in the house yet, but in a rented house a few minutes drive away. I have been asked why I am not composting yet and the answer is, we have nothing to compost – no food scraps etc. We did take some time out of a busy schedule to make some Thai potting mix to use when we plant new trees. Thai’s use what they have available and so the ingredients are: mix equal quantities of coconut husks with burnt rice husks (a bi-product of biomass fuel) and then add 10% by volume of dried cow manure. Apparently it is best mixed by hand!
We are starting to get a little more efficient with the watering, by using one of our solar well pumps to drip irrigate. The system will eventually be several hundred meters of piping
A bit of “Chop and Drop” Teak trees having a few limbs removed to help them grow straight and tall. The chopped leaves act as a mulch as would happen naturally in a forest. The house was built on a field of teak trees and we tried to save as many as possible. They have certainly responded well to year round watering. I see them primarily as a form of carbon sequestration, capturing and holding carbon. Teak is a hardwood and is very valuable so will not end up as firewood. They are a cash crop, but I will not be around in 70 years to collect.
A bit of fun with the seed trays, made more exciting as Froggy, my girlfriend, forgot what seeds she planned where!
Guava fruit introduced to Thailand by Portuguese traders 400 years ago is called Farang in Thai, which is also the Thai name for foreigners. So Farang grows Farang and soon Farang eats Farang!
We now have 14 banana trees planted around the pond. Their roots will help to stabilize the banks.
Three Bin composting project during lock-down. I ordered some used pallets on Facebook MarketPlace and some assembly items on HomePro DIY store OnLine, then went to the Surin Store to collect them the next day.
We added Plastic “Chicken Wire” Netting 1M X 30M ฿255 to prevent the soil falling through the gaps in the pallets, which was attached using a Heavy Duty Staple Gun.
Shade Cloth Project
Fish Farm Project
We have replaced the netting sitting in the water with a double layer of higher grade netting. We have also added netting above the water to prevent eagles from taking the fish.
I have made a great many mistakes gardening in the tropics, that is despite doing a great deal of research. The problem is there is so much information and so many opinions that it is difficult to know what is important. You really can only learn from your mistakes.
My first mistake was thinking that there was such a thing as “top soil” in Surin province. I was persuaded to buy Thai top soil for the land – it proved to be just more clay. So now I am working hard to add organic matter to the soil.
Another mistake was thinking that I could just plant fruit trees and as long as I watered them they would grow. This is the tropics and most of my early planting got scorched.
I am strong believer in Permaculture, which replicates what happens in nature rather than Monoculture, which is planting a single crop and adding chemicals. A good video that explains the concept of the “Food Forest” is this one by Geoff Lawton: https://youtu.be/hCJfSYZqZ0Y
I came back to watch this video again after many failed attempts and it made so much more sense. This is why I am now planting for shade as well for food.
We recently planted 10 Mahogany Trees to supplement the 36 Teak trees we have on the land. These trees will establish our high level tree canopy and provide shade for smaller trees. Here is the first one going in:
Tree audit as at July 2020:
Teak trees 36
Mahogany trees 10
Fruit trees 42
Flowering trees 8
Other trees 8
Total trees 104
Jungle Regeneration over one year:
We have decided to plant a row of “umbrella” type trees down the middle of the main block of land behind the house as they are a fast growing tropical tree that provides a great deal of shade. They are from the genus terminalia. This genus gets its name from Latin terminus, referring to the fact that the leaves appear at the very tips of the shoots.
They look a bit sad now, but only cost ฿300 / $10 each and will eventually look like this:
With all this tree planting, stakes now purchased 40 x 4m @ ฿5/ $0.16 each
New Greenhouse/shade house for seed trays bought at DuHome for ฿2,700.
New raised beds made with artificial wood planks (cannot be eaten by insects)
New Hut for relaxing by the pond ฿6,000
Concrete rings normally used for septic tanks. In this case will be used as raised beds ฿140 each
The rings were filled with good organic soil and planted with lime trees
We added electrics to the far end of the garden.
Power also added to the little hut
We added a 500 watt submersible pump to the fish pond, so we could use the nutrient rich water on the plants.
Bean Trellis Project:
27 6m galvanized steel posts at ฿140 each. Black & Decker Workmate (like the one my Dad had 40 years ago) ฿1,990
200 amp arc welder ฿4,000
Drilling post holes
22 small concrete rings ฿90 each. One for each upright post for the climbing plants.
Visit to the Biomass electricity plant to buy some burnt rice husks, which are free for domestic use. The last time we ordered 7 tonnes delivered, but we had to pay for that. Garden centers will sell it for ฿80 per sack. On the way bought 20 empty sacks for ฿100. It is self service, bring boots and spades.
On the weigh bridge we found we had 440kg
Back at the house.
We mix it together with coconut husks; dried cow manure and wood-chips to make potting mix. It is left to sit for about a month and then it is ready to add to the garden.
Some random pics from the garden:
An alternative to drip irrigation is to use sprinkler fittings with drip irrigation piping
Concrete rings ฿60/$2 each
Fish from the pond giving an extra income for the family
Just bought 53 “trees” for ฿2,500/US$80 Phone number if anybody is near Surin Province.
One new project that I have supported was a new Cow House for the family. They had a small wooden cow house for many years but it was not well planned and it did not make efficient use of space. Now the cows are in the dry with close access to food and water when they are not grazing in the fields. There is a place to store straw for when the fields are closed for growing rice and space to dry and store the cow shit, which sells for 30 Baht a sack. What do I get for my generosity you might be asking – well I get shit! – as much as I want.
The straw in the picture above has all been used in the garden so we purchased some “old” straw that a farmer had left in the field for half price only ฿15 per bail
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