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Undone in Udon - A journey into the unknown, by the unknowing...

 
Posts: 38
Location: Udon Thani, Thailand
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June 1st this year meant my 3 year wait to escape Chiang Mai and 'work' came to an end (kind of). All our belongings were either already in Udon Thani or on the back of our pick-up trucks. We had gradually been moving stuff down for the last 9 months and had a small problem of working out how the hell to fit 3 house's worth of crap into a small 3 bedroomed house. Luckily, my wife's bestest friend had a former shop building available for our use, so lots of our stuff is slowly being eaten by termites over there.

But you're not interested in that...

Just over 2 years ago, we purchased 22 rai (8.5 acres) of land with the intention of building a new home and life on it. The land spoke to both of us and seemed perfect for our needs. It had a nice gentle slope along its entire length, down to a small pond. the water table stayed quite high and with a little swaling and pond digging, could be improved even further.

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The raised pond
The raised pond
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Looking over the sugar cane
Looking over the sugar cane
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Side of the raised pond
Side of the raised pond
 
Jason Manning
Posts: 38
Location: Udon Thani, Thailand
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This was early in 2017, so I still had over 2 years to wait.

The pictures above were taken in December 2017, hence its a bit dry (dry season is Nov to Apr here). We liked to visit the land whenever we went home and my wife (Bee) started building relationships with the neighbours. We happily let them graze their buffalo on the land and they in turn said they would look after it (there's an acre or so of eucalyptus on the land that's worth a little money).

Around Easter in 2018, my wife got a call that there had been a fire and our neighbours spent all night protecting their own homes/farms against the blaze. The fire was started intentionally to burn a sugar cane field and burning off the green leaves makes harvesting easier. This is the main reason that the upper half of Thailand is covered in thick smoke for a couple of months every year. Other reasons are burning rice stubble, rice straw, national park forests so locals can go mushroom picking, refuse disposal, etc, etc. Basically, Thais are pyromaniacs.

We were told by the neighbours that this was a one-off and it wouldn't happen again. Not a big problem for us, and it also meant we could get a better look at the land.
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Jason Manning
Posts: 38
Location: Udon Thani, Thailand
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By Christmas 2018, things were looking much better, so we threw a few hundred baby fishes into the raised pond and were happy that there were only 6 months to go!!
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Planting fishes
Planting fishes
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The recovered pond
The recovered pond
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The recovered land
The recovered land
 
Jason Manning
Posts: 38
Location: Udon Thani, Thailand
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Then, in April this year, we got another phone call saying that our land had been incinerated again. While the eucalyptus is basically fireproof, the few other trees growing on our land became even fewer, and more worrying was the fact that this one-off even had now happened two years running.

We have decided to put on hold any plans to develop this plot and will see how things go over the next 3 years. If it keeps getting burned every year, we will sell it. If it stays unmolested, we will see about once again building a small house and growing stuff.

Luckily, not all is lost. We have a plot behind hour house that is large enough for us to kill lots of plants on (1.25 rai or around 0.5 acre). Putting the other plot on the back burner is probably good for us as we can work out stuff on a smaller, cheaper scale before applying some of the lessons on a much larger scale. It will also give me more time to get my carcass into some sort of shape and sitting on my arse for the last decade hasn't done me many favours physically. Working in 35+ degrees heat is #$%!$ hard going and I struggle to get enough water into me to replace the amount lost in sweat. Doing a few hours here and there is the way to go.

The way things currently stand is that we have a funny shaped piece of land that has 2 'new zones' that are more recent additions and the soil is effectively dead. We had to raise the level of the land by a metre or so to match the rest of it. Under New Zone 1 is decent soil with weeds and under New Zone 2 is excellent soil with a felled coconut tree trunk and lots of vegetation - deeper rooting stuff will grow really well here. Unfortunately the top soil is the red clay-like crap that you find everywhere here. We have just thrown a load of stuff at it for now (corn, squashes, Brazilian peanut, normal peanut) in the hope that some of it will grow, even if its just to provide food for later crops.

We are thinking of putting a number of trellis structures in New Zone 1 as there is a strong wall we can use to anchor stuff to. We need to plant a load more fruit trees in New Zone 2 and I will put moringa saplings along the south and west edges to provide shade from the sun for the next few years.

The main area behind the house has more settled soil that's alive and we have planted a load of trees here, in addition to the jackfruit, moringa and a couple of other quick-growing woody trees that I don't know the names of. We have planted mango, coffee, cocoa, avocado, longan, pomelo, tamarind, dwarf coconut, rambutan, mangosteen, mulberry, guava, rose apple, pomegranate, Marian plum, date palm, karanda (whatever that is) and some 'jungle plants' that only the locals would ever eat.

Ideally, I would be able to buy another plot of land (labelled 'Wanted!') as this is good soil and leads down to an all year round water supply. It's about 0.75 rai (0.3 acre) in size and would complete this little homestead nicely. We can't buy the bit next to New Zone 1 as its my sister-in-law's land and its unlikely they'd sell it.

You can also see plans for a small guest house with rainwater storage, solar leccy and solar hot water. I think 24,000 litres of rainwater will be enough, but I can supplement it with well water if I absolutely have to.

Our main focus for now is building soil and while we have done a little composting, we will snag loads of rice straw after the next harvest and smother the plot with it, focusing on the 2 new zones.

(Apologies for waffling, but I just want to get this down before I forget anything)
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Homestead plans
Homestead plans
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Composter
Composter
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Main area behind guest house
Main area behind guest house
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Coconut palm - now buried under New Zone 2
Coconut palm - now buried under New Zone 2
 
Jason Manning
Posts: 38
Location: Udon Thani, Thailand
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Bee has been busy planting more stuff (Haas avocado, papaya and some other stuff that my sieve head can't remember) and I have put in a bunch of moringa cuttings (along with another twiggy plant) around the edge of New Zone 2 which will hopefully provide shade, bind the soil on the slope and fix a bit of nitrogen.

Some bits are getting overgrown again, so I'll be getting the strimmer out in a day or two.
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View towards the gate
View towards the gate
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View towards New Zone 2
View towards New Zone 2
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Pa-pa-ya!
Pa-pa-ya!
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My moringa plantation
My moringa plantation
 
Jason Manning
Posts: 38
Location: Udon Thani, Thailand
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Things have been ticking along slowly here for the last couple of months. The grass/weeds need hacking again and the ants are getting more aggressive. We've had lots of rain and once barren patches of soil are starting to get green. Pretty much everything that we've planted (beans, squashes, 'corn'), will be used as seed stock or for mulch, as the soil isn't ready to bear crops just yet. The fruit trees are happy though and some of my moringa transplanting has taken hold.

I built Dtia (our vicious guard dog) a house to shelter her from the rain and heat, but there's nothing to really add here yet. So, I thought I would do my first ever video. After fighting with Adobe's vision of video editing Hell (Premiere Pro), I have managed to cobble together something using clips taken on my phone.

 
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Wow! I'm looking forward to seeing more as you develop your land.

I'll be attempting something similar, but I'm about 10 years away from retiring to Thailand (Mahasarakham). My wife and I already have a plot of land there, but I'm a complete beginner at gardening and permaculture. It doesn't help when I don't even recognize many of the plants you showed and I don't know what benefits they provide. I have a lot to learn. I plan on studying permaculture (just signed up for an online class), but more useful would be some information from people already growing things in the Isan region. Especially about the types of plants, how to raise animals in the tropics and general tips on living in Thailand.

I'm trying to network with people already in Thailand so I can learn a little before I actually go there. I'd like to be able to function a little when I arrive so I don't have to keep asking for help from all the neighbors all the time!

Drop me a line some time, if you have a few free minutes.

Keep up the good work!

Scott
 
Jason Manning
Posts: 38
Location: Udon Thani, Thailand
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Stanley Sterner wrote:Wow! I'm looking forward to seeing more as you develop your land.

I'll be attempting something similar, but I'm about 10 years away from retiring to Thailand (Mahasarakham). My wife and I already have a plot of land there, but I'm a complete beginner at gardening and permaculture. It doesn't help when I don't even recognize many of the plants you showed and I don't know what benefits they provide. I have a lot to learn. I plan on studying permaculture (just signed up for an online class), but more useful would be some information from people already growing things in the Isan region. Especially about the types of plants, how to raise animals in the tropics and general tips on living in Thailand.

I'm trying to network with people already in Thailand so I can learn a little before I actually go there. I'd like to be able to function a little when I arrive so I don't have to keep asking for help from all the neighbors all the time!

Drop me a line some time, if you have a few free minutes.

Keep up the good work!

Scott



Hi Scott,

For us, because we also know very little, we try to stay 'local' as much as possible by taking cuttings/seedlings from neighbours (sometimes even asking first!), buying from local growers and getting info & seeds from Isaan natural farming Facebook groups. For all of these events, I rely 100% on my wife. Its usually a case of trying to work out what the hell the collection of twigs are that she's just procured before sticking them in completely the wrong spot, but only the strong survive...

If, like us, you have had to raise land with the sterile red soil, then you'll need to get as much organic matter into it as soon as possible. We got a few truckloads of rice straw. It breaks down really well during the rainy half of the year, but we didn't get nearly enough. After the next rice harvest around Easter, we will spend a week or so solely on bringing rice straw until we have a layer about 1' thick over all the red dirt areas. It'll break down in 3 or 4 months along with the brave weeds that are currently struggling on it at the moment.

And lastly (at least until my morning cuppa kicks in), by all means get yourself a nice, shiny pickup truck so the missus can look good in front of family and friends, but also spend another 100k or so on an old single cab shit box which you will use a lot more than your pride & joy. Give it a thorough service, hand paint it with rustproofing paint if needed and bung a new hi-fi in it and you'll have a great little workhorse that should last for years.

Here's my shitbox!

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Shitbox
Shitbox
 
Jason Manning
Posts: 38
Location: Udon Thani, Thailand
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Time for an update!

Not much has been happening since I last posted. Most things except weeds have given up the ghost, but the few that did hang on in there have produced a little to eat. We have some beans and a few pumpkins. We planted waaaay too early, but just needed to get stuff in.

The rice has been harvested (I said Easter above, but I woz rong) and we have bought a load of straw for around $1 a bale. We got 400 bales so far, which should be enough to put a thick layer where needed.



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Its alive!
Its alive!
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The bigger area
The bigger area
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My Hero!
My Hero!
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A struggler
A struggler
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Hanging in there
Hanging in there
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The thin area
The thin area
 
pollinator
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Jason, thanks for sharing and the pics. Looks really exciting and more work than anybody can imagine!


Cheers,
Rufus
 
Posts: 9002
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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When you have a combination of bad soil and heat, it can be nearly impossible to have success with traditional row crops. If I had land like that, I would work on getting a canopy of fast growing trees over all or almost all of it.

I don't think you can burn down a moringa tree. They are like the cabbage of trees. If you can get those and similar useful trees up to the point where you are working in shade, work will be more bearable. They can reach 40 ft tall in 3 years and are easy to eliminate when necessary.

There are many good choices of nitrogen producer that could be evenly dispersed. Then it's just a matter of providing every mineral that is lacking, so that your forest can build its own soil. You may find that rice hulls  or peanut hulls, bagasse or some other agricultural residue is available for free. I could see the straw getting expensive if you're trying to do the whole place.

If only 10% of your land were planted to edible things, that would be more than enough to sustain your family. If it were all planted to edibles , I would expect almost 100% losses, to heat, drought and fire.
 
Jason Manning
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Location: Udon Thani, Thailand
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Hi Dale.

Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Yes, I agree regarding the moringa trees - I have put some in around the edge and will add more when the rains return after Easter.

The thin area is going to be shaded with shade netting before next season's planting as the walls and the long, narrow shape of that plot lends itself quite nicely to doing that.

We have bean plants, peanuts and Brazillian peanuts growing all over in an effort to fix nitrogen and will leave most to either seed themselves or use the crop mainly for seed for next season.

Good shout on trying to find alternative agricultural waste - rice husks should be easy to get around here. I'll get the wife on the jungle drums.
 
Jason Manning
Posts: 38
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I did some research into finding 'waste' products to use as mulch and none of it is available for free apart from the rice straw. Unbaled, the straw is too much work to transport. You don't get an awful lot in the back of the truck, so need to make numerous journeys. Its not worth buying my own baling machine, so I'll continue to purchase bales of straw once a year until not needed any more.

On a more positive note, we've started building the workshop part of what I call the 'guesthouse'. I have my Master Blocklayer working hard.

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Master Blocklayer
 
Jason Manning
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It's been pretty much a year since I posted pictures of the land and its quietly doing its thing. The soil is gradually developing, most fruit trees are getting comfy and we are making progress on the build. We have also just acquired a breeding pair of ducks.

It will soon be time to smother the soil with more rice straw. We'll get 600 bails this time. We didn't put any raised beds in this year, but grew some greens & corn by the main house. We did manage to finish the shed.

Here's what it looks like today.

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Jason Manning
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Addendum:

The original 8 acres of land mentioned in the OP has been left to its own devices for the last 4 years. We are currently putting a fence around it, using the eucalyptus we have growing on the land for all the posts needed. It'll just have a simple 4 wire barbed-wire affair, and we will plant baby eucs between each pair of posts as they will become the living fence posts when the cut ones get eaten by termites in 3 or 4 year's time.

We will then plant local hardwood trees (teak, rosewood, mahogany, etc) all over the land. I guesstimated around 1600 trees will fit. This will be my gift to my yet-to-be-born grandchildren. Each hardwood tree is work in the region of 100,000THB (3,200USD) in today's money, and will do good work for 30-odd years.

Last piece of news is that we have purchased around 3 acres of land on the edge of Khao Yai National Park. It's at around 550m above sea level and has a cooler climate than where we are now. The land is currently used to grow cassava and the soil is dead and has a predilection to be washed into my neighbour's ponds. Today's plan is to retire here and build a nice house, plant trees, grow veggies and play thrash metal until I'm sent up a chimney before becoming one with nature.

It's the band of darker green in these photos.


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pollinator
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Jason Manning wrote:It's been pretty much a year since I posted pictures of the land and its quietly doing its thing. The soil is gradually developing, most fruit trees are getting comfy and we are making progress on the build. We have also just acquired a breeding pair of ducks.
Here's what it looks like today.



Thank you for posting updates and pictures - it's been enjoyable seeing the progress! So no more fires on your property? And what about the fish that you put in the pond? Are there many now?
 
Jason Manning
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Annie Collins wrote:

Jason Manning wrote:It's been pretty much a year since I posted pictures of the land and its quietly doing its thing. The soil is gradually developing, most fruit trees are getting comfy and we are making progress on the build. We have also just acquired a breeding pair of ducks.
Here's what it looks like today.



Thank you for posting updates and pictures - it's been enjoyable seeing the progress! So no more fires on your property? And what about the fish that you put in the pond? Are there many now?



Hi Annie. Thanks for the kind words.

The first property that had the 2 years of burning was fine this year. There has been pressure brought upon sugar cane processing factories to not accept canes that have been burnt, due to all the air pollution the burning causes. I'm hoping this will continue to grow and quickly be the norm. This will mean the threat of fires getting out of hand should become a thing of the past (and 1600 young trees won't get cremated!). I will probably wait another year before I start planting them.

The fish are another matter! We cannot see them in the pond, so they've either all ran away or they've been massacred by predators (aka neighbours). Its no big deal. If someone, man or beast, enjoyed them, then that's OK.

I will hopefully visit there this week, so will try to take some photos, but not much has changed there since we bought it.
 
Jason Manning
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Here are a few more photos of the land next to our house (as opposed to the larger 8 acre plot).

We attacked the compost heap and chipped all the smsll branches that were all over the place. Its very brown on top, but black & rich underneath. We'll leave it alone for now, but will probably end up planting veggies into it in a year or so, when it will have all but disappeared.

Getting the tool shed finished has made our lives so much better. I don't have all my man-toys scattered around the house, and all the gardening equipment is in the garden.

I posted earlier about getting a 'shitbox' to use on the land. Well, I bought another one, as my old one won't last forever and its noisy and uncomfortable on longer journeys. Ford had a deal on some of their new trucks, so I bought one. They didn't want to give me the advertised price so I gave them a hard time until they relented. I had always intended buying another long bed single cab in a few year's time, but this price was too good to miss ($15,000).

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