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

 
Posts: 30
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
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Looking over the sugar cane
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Side of the raised pond
 
Jason Manning
Posts: 30
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: 30
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
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The recovered pond
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The recovered land
 
Jason Manning
Posts: 30
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
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Composter
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Main area behind guest house
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Coconut palm - now buried under New Zone 2
 
Jason Manning
Posts: 30
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
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View towards New Zone 2
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Pa-pa-ya!
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My moringa plantation
 
Jason Manning
Posts: 30
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
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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
 
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