Updated: Feb 25, 2021
As the house build moves on to the steel structure for the roof, attention now turns to our land.
And the question may not be how does your garden grow - what does your garden grow may be more accurate.
It's no secret that we don't have a reputation as farmers, or even growers, so it's a huge learning curve, or more like a steep learning hill, that we have to overcome.
It's fair to say our reading and viewing habits have changed significantly, and in truth YouTube has become a great resource for learning about soil, what to grow, what conditions plants like, and a whole lot more. It can easily be overwhelming but in truth, we are just raring to get into the country and start trying things out. We can't wait.
Our next task is to start planning what we want to grow.
One thing we know is that we have too much land. That is, too much for us to work with now, as it would take a huge investment in time and finances. We have a total of around 15 rai, a Thai land measurement which is equivalent to 6 acres. We expect a lot of failure in the first couple of years, and 6 acres of failure a year is an awful lot of failure!
Our total land area is outlined in blue and purple. The front of our house faces south, which is a straight line to the bottom of the picture. In our first year we're focusing on the yellow area, which is an 800 m2 patch where we will test our ideas, plant with abandon, observe and learn.That should be more manageable while giving us a chance to see what the possibilities are for our second year and beyond.
Thailand doesn’t have garden centres, unfortunately, but it does have garden districts, and each district specialises on specific products. Last Saturday we headed a couple of hours north of Bangkok to the fruit tree district to see what was on offer, and the answer is ... everything.
Mango, lime, durian, rose apple, rambutan, pineapple, mangosteen, jackfruit, papaya, coconut, guava, avocado, custard apple, dragonfruit, lychee, roselle, orange, passion fruit... and that's only the ones we can remember now. The choice is huge, and prices vary between £1 and £5 depending on the size of the plant. We figure we'll need about 80 - 100 trees for the first year while we see what grows best.
We're pretty confident most of that list will do well as they generally grow here anyway. It’s mainly down to the soil and how we care for them. In addition to fruit trees we also plan to plant a variety of vegetables, flowers and non-fruit trees.
We're aiming to create a jungle-like area which mixes lots of different plants. Tall trees to provide shade for shorter plants. Long rooted grasses and trees along with root vegetables.
An inspiration for our thinking has been Sepp Holzer, an Austrian farmer who has successfully cultivated a productive farm 1500m high in the Austrian Alps while land owners around him have increasingly struggled to grow spruce trees. His philosophy is simple - let nature be nature, and only intervene to guide it to work in harmony, which, when done correctly, will provide an abundance of food while naturally deterring pests and a support network for plants by plants.
The nutrients one plant rejects, another will need.
At one stage in his early life he went to college to study farming, but "very soon I began to realise that conventional farming would only create higher costs, more work, and plants that are dependent on constant care". So he devised a system that would later be known as permaculture - permanent agriculture. He believes he can get better yields with less work. That sounds appealing!
In the first book we are reading he has a few examples of where he has applied his approach around the world, and two of the locations are Scotland and Thailand. Clearly the Thai example has more relevance to us, but since he has also visited Scotland it gives us, and Thai-Scottish couple, a nice coincidence to reflect on.
The thing is, there are all sorts of names for permaculture: regenerative farming, no till farming, etc, but the most surprising thing to us is how widespread it appears to be. Far from being the only people in the world choosing to rethink our lives, it looks like we are just one couple in a world full of idealists!
Over the next few weeks we'll have a clearer plan of our first patch of earth and when we visit the house to check progress just over a month from now we'll be stopping by the fruit tree district to pick up our first trees. If we plant them at the end of March, about 4-6 weeks before the rains begin in earnest, they should have enough time to bed in before heavy rains and strong winds come in June/July. Until we get there one of the extended family will come and provide care, attention and lots of water to our first trees, and in the months ahead we will be able to enjoy the fruits of their labour - literally.
So how does our garden grow? We're not sure yet. But wait a few months and we'll show you.