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One Tree Festival of Water

This time of the year is the hottest part of the year. It’s not uncommon for 40c days – even nights can be in the 30s.

It’s also Thai New Year, and as days hit their peak temperature, Thais celebrate boiling hot days in probably the best way possible: throwing water over each other.

It really took the edge off hot days in years gone past, but obviously the last few years have put an end to high contact events. Close contact and throwing water over each other have been definite no-no’s

The pandemic has prevented the usual celebrations for the past few years, and who knows what will happen to Songkran in the future if climate change takes a grip and we begin suffering from critical water shortages.

Bringing greater stability to our own water supply was the reason The One Tree Farm had our own little water-related festival this April, and it’s kept us busy doing a lot of work to develop our land so we can start farming, rather than gardening.

In north-eastern Thailand we have no problem with one of our major natural growing elements: sun. For pretty much the whole year we get a consistent 12 hours of daily sunlight to power the growth of our plants.

Water, on the other hand, comes in huge quantities for around six months, then almost never at all for the other six months. The last significant rainfall we recorded was on October 19th last year. Now, at the end of April, we are ready for rain.

There have been the odd showers and quick, passing storms during the last couple of months, but if you’d taken a nap and slept through it the land would likely be dry as a bone when you woke up. The heat doesn’t give water much chance to settle.

This has obvious consequences for a farm where the majority of fruit and vegetables will grow between September and April.

It was pretty clear that we needed a water plan.

About a year ago we drilled a well and that’s served us pretty well so far. At the end of last year we made some improvements, adding a water tank for our pumped water, meaning we had one tank for house use and another for garden. However, if we want to have full use of the land we won’t be able to rely on our well alone.

We need to make use of the water that falls on our land. How we are able to store rain when it falls and use it when we need it, rather than letting it all wash away through the land in a flash.

We needed to bring in the heavy diggers!

First up, we focused on zone 2 - this is the area next to where we built the small house for Yai Ma and Yai See - our two on-site septuagenarian garden staff (mother-in-law and aunt-in-law).

There is a one rai piece (1600 sq m) of land next to their house which we think will be perfect for growing fruit trees and vegetables, and we decided to make it into an ‘island’. That is, there is a 2-3 metre wide and 3 metre deep channel/canal dug that almost completely surrounds an isolated piece of land in the middle. We plan to use the island to plant medium height fruit trees (2-4 metres) and use space between trees to plant vegetables and herbs that grow up - everything from sweetcorn to green beans and tomatoes, things that grow on ground level - like lettuce and pumpkin and maybe even pineapple, and root vegetables.

The fruit trees should eventually provide extra share from the harsh sun, hold more water in the area when it rain using their leaves and roots, and balance nutrients in the soil.

The canal will be used to store excess rainfall when it really falls hard, as well as storing some water we pump from our well. It’s also placed in the highest part of the land and we hope it will reduce the amount of water flowing down past our house, both making our place a bit more secure in the event of very heavy rain, and preventing soil erosion and loss of top soil.

Mango trees waiting to be put in the ground

The second change involved converting a rice field into a pond. We’ve dug this in one of the lower parts of the land and any additional water will run into this pond.

Being lower, we hit the water table when we dug this pond and there is already a healthy amount of good fresh water filling up the pond.

As well as using direct rainfull to fill it up, we have also connected drainage from our house roof and garage roof to feed rainwater into the pond. Work is currently underway on connecting all our drainage before expected rain at the end of the month.

Throughout the year this pond is more likely to be filled than the first pond. It should also attract more animal life, and it’s quite likely we will also fill it with fish. That should give us a nice few meals!

You never know, by this time next year using rice from the fields, veg from the garden and fish from our pond, we may not need to go shopping quite as often.

We designed the pond to have two circles each of a different depth, connected by a single channel. I’m sure I read somewhere that this is good for fish, along with an aerator. We’ll see in the future. Most ponds we see here are rectangular in shape, so at the very least, we’re trying to make it look a bit more natural.

Lots of possibilities with this pond, as we could build a little Sala next to it and it would make a nice place to sit, keep fish, or just use it as a water storage area. Time will tell.

We dug a third canal on our second piece of land, more for future planning than anything else. It’s a single canal and no fancy shapes, but it’s already filling nicely with ground water. The neighbour is using the water to keep his cattle cool and hydrated so it’s already being put to good use. I don’t expect we’ll have a use for it for another year or so.

Sometimes its quite daunting making a lot of major changes to the land as we are still very much in novice stage, but I think the work being done now has given us a bit of confidence that we are on the right track. As you can imagine, after a digger spends a week on your land there’s a lot of interest in what you are doing, and that’s prompted a lot of visitors. So far none have laughed or called us crazy, and we’ve had a few nods of approval.

We also enlisted the help of the village head, who is also a relative in one form or another. As well as giving us advice on how to execute our ideas, he’s also helped organise labour. He’s a very connected guy! This also caused a problem - as he meets a lot of people he also caught COVID a couple of days into our work starting, so that delayed us by a week or so.

All the digging has now been done, and work on drainage and water flow is now happening. The next stage is planting.

We’ve already planted around 30 mango trees around the island, and set up a drip water system. As we start scaling what we do we will need more automated support systems to help us do daily jobs and let us focus on thinking of new ideas, working on other areas of the land, or simply take a rest.

As we’ve found already, this first time you set something up doesn’t mean it’s finished. It just means you have a template to see what works and what doesn’t, and it gives you a chance to learn what needs to change.

The last month feels like a big step has been taken. It feels like we’re building a solid infrastructure that will give us the right start to see what we can grow and to what scale. The aim has always been to feed ourselves and provide food for people around us, but if this goes well who knows what we can do?

Watch the video for a better idea of how it looks

It’s scary having a machine this size so close to the house. The operator was really skillful.

Before groundwater filled her up

A regular visitor at the moment - a male purple sunbird

kids enjoying holiday games by the pool (pond)!

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