Updated: Nov 4, 2021
It's been a long time coming but we've finally devised something that approaches a plan.
The thing with a plan, as with almost anything as I've come to realise over the years, is rather than thinking how to start, it's best to just start. After that things will either work out, or they won't, and then you try again, or you don't.
The problem we've had since coming here is where to start. We have more land to play with than we've ever had, and at times that's made it hard to imagine what we can do. We came from decent-sized balcony in Bangkok to around 15 rai - about 6 acres - of land to work with. We've got into a different kind of 'gardening'.
But over the last couple of months here you realise that 'where do we start?' is not the right question. The thing is, we already started as soon as we dug the first foundations, and planted the first tree. The question is simply 'what do we do next?'
One of the most challenging aspects we've had to face up to recently is that there is no time to switch off. No time to relax and say - ok, we've done that, or we've finished that. Everything you do has a consequence, and it may imbalance something else that was previously ok. Sometimes you fix one thing, but it just causes a problem somewhere else in the chain. This can be another form of paralysis, as it's easy to overthink what you are doing.
At the same time, we are trying to think ahead, especially when planning infrastructure. There is time and money to be saved by thinking about what you want in the years to come, although this can present some cultural challenges. In Thailand people are often more focused on now, rather than 4-5 years away. Explaining why some decisions are made can take a lot of energy, and even then I'm sure some still think I'm a bit mad. I'm hoping that one day, in a few years time, just one person says 'ah, now I see it!'
The things you dream about, eh?
Adaptability, resilience and inquisitiveness have driven our thinking behind our plan. There are lots of things we aren't ready for yet but we hope by approaching things with a look to the long-term we prepare ourselves for future possibilities. Through various maintenance jobs around the house we've already seen that fixing or preparing things for now just means that we have to re-fix it or re-mould it sometime soon. Hopefully we put an infrastructure in place that is ready for what is to come.
Will it be perfect? No chance. But it should give us a good starting point that we can build on.
The first thing we've done is split our land into smaller, more manageable areas. Our main focus for the next few months will be Zone 1, Zone 2, and Zone 3.
Rice is still maturing and should be harvested in the next month. This will be the rice that feeds us so it's pretty important to assign enough land. What else are we going to eat? Safe to say this part of the planning was the easiest.
Looking at one of our rice fields from above
This includes the house, and the surrounding area. If you've been reading for a while this is the area we've already started work on. It's pretty much our garden, and the fruit trees we've planted in the area are already being supplemented by herbs and vegetables we use on a daily basis. Spring onions and mint for Nam Tok, a house favourite; Thai basil, morning glory (or water spinach), chilis, coriander - a trip to the garden is becoming more common at meal times, and even fresh herbs just elevate the food a little.
Artists impression of Zone 1 ;)
We'll create more herb and daily vegetable beds, and some of our trees are starting to bear fruit. Our small 5x2m nursery will be doubled, at least, and we'll build a compost to feed our garden.
zone 1 in the foreground. Zone 2 & 3 are currently hosting old sugar cane. Zone 4 is the ploughed field on the left.
We've also bought heavy stones to build a path around the house, and work on a car port and work/store room have already begun. People generally ride bikes and drive cars wherever they like, so we are blocking off a couple of areas to manage where they can go. Shade for the car and for any work will also make a big difference as we move into hot season.
It's likely that we'll turn one rice field into a pond to hold water and also keep fish. This means we'll have a good source of fresh fish as well as keeping water for the land.
There is a little space in the bottom left hand corner that remains free. Not quite sure what to do with that land yet. A lot of water collects there when it rains but this may change after the car port is built. Keeping our options open for now.
Building work will not end with the car port.
This particular piece of land has been given to us by Hana's mum, and in return we are building her a small house just across from ours. She's sleeps in our spare room at the moment and spends her day tending the garden and she's loving living in the fields, so it makes sense to give her a place of her own. It also frees up our spare room for visitors, if anyone can find us!
We’ll build a house like this - with walls of course! A large balcony and one room for sleeping, with an outside toilet and kitchen area.
Our water is not as I'd like it - this well is too far from the house and the more I discover about how it's been set up, the more it confounds me. We have two water tanks that are basically redundant - long story, worth it's own blog at some point.
We still have to fix the water issue but zone 2 has the highest point in our land so it's possible we may drill another well and store water there. It will also mean it's next to our largest vegetable area and space we've set aside for animals, when we get them.
The vegetable area will be something like a market garden, and we'll mix with fruit trees both for shade and soil health. Not something I've seen much here but I've read enough to tell me this approach generally works. It's hopefully going to be one of those 'ah, now I see it!' moments!
This area also sets aside a decent sized area for livestock, whether its chickens, cows or even goats. That's one for the future.
Cows need grass, and chickens need room to roam, so zone 3 starts with an area of grass land interspersed with trees. The further we go from the house, the less we need to visit. This should help water management more efficient and also make sure we have a manageable area to work in.
Animal feed is also expensive, so feeding them from our own land as much as possible is essential.
The entrance to the land, and the furthest piece of land from the house, already has some trees, including my favourite teak tree. We'll add more trees and fruit trees as in time this will keep the land cooler from the morning sun, and hold more water as it drains - zone 3 is lower than zone 2.
We also have two other pieces of land. A relatively smaller square just next to our land, and another long, thin piece of land similar in size to our current spot. Let's call these zone 4 and 5.
Zone 4 has just had cassava planted, and we should make a small profit from that in a few months. Half of zone 5 also has cassava, and the other half has teak, rosewood and other tree saplings planted. We'll worry about what we do there when zones 1-3 are on their way.
zone 4 - two rai
Most of zone 5 - another 7 rai
Our plans have been run by the family so they know what we are thinking, and can also advise us if anything looks ill-advised. So far we've had full buy-in.
Now the work starts!