Post #10 – Baan Thai Pineapple Plantation

August 1, 2011 – Coming back to Baan Thai from my week long visit to Mindfulness Farm, I arrived with a gift in hand, 36 pineapple plants! When chatting with Pi Nan one day, he told me, there are three fruits that are extremely easy to grow in Thailand, which is Banana, Papaya and Pineapple, and now we have all three.

One day we trekked through the forest, and a river, to make our way to a small nearby village, as Pi Nan wanted to get some supplies for the farm. As we walked, he asked us if we were interested to go to the Hot Springs for a hot bath, so we did, and had a wonderful time and lunch together.

Afterwards, Pi Nan wanted to visit a friend, which was Paw Luang, the village mayor if you will. It so happened that at his home he had his very own organic pineapple plantation right in the forest, a food forest you could say!  Their were pineapple growing everywhere, further we went into the forest, more pineapples appeared, it was simply beautiful, and so natural, opposed to the monoculture plantation fields where all you  can see is pineapple. He gave Pi Nan a full bag of pineapple plants for Mindfulness Farm, and he also gave me one to take home…and it was delicious!

A few days later after our initial visit, I went alone through the forest to visit Paw Luang again, this time to get some pineapple for Baan Thai, he was so generous, and even drove me back on his motorbike to Mindfulness Farm, as he could let me walk back with a big bag of pineapple on my shoulder. In a year’s time, when these pineapple have fruited beautiful pineapples, I vouch to return to thank him for his generosity with one of our vary own pineapples from Baan Thai.

Before planting the pineapple, I exposed the roots, giving the plant a better chance to take root and grow into a strong productive plant. Interestingly enough, pineapples are much like bananas, they only bare fruit once and shoot off several sprouts, which in turn will produce fruit.

Afterwards, I decided to plant the pineapple in five different areas, and for different reasons. One of which is to serve as an experiment to see where they grow best.                                                                                           Another is to have some easily accessible in various parts of the property, so I guess if one is really hungry, and really lazy, hopefully one can just bend down and pick-up a pineapple. I planted some by the existing house, others near the canal with all the bananas, on the mound of the Banana/Papaya Circle, near the mango trees by the main road, and another mound in the middle of the property.

These pineapples are the first addition to the food to be grown at Baan Thai, and Thailand being such a tropical place, the pineapple look right at home. See you in a year to witness the fruit of our labour on this fine day!

Quote: Many a man curses the rain that falls upon his head, and knows not that it brings abundance to drive away the hunger. – Saint Basil


Post #9 – Mindfully Playing in the Mud

July 25 – 31, 2011 – This week was spent at Mindfulness Farm near Doi Saket, approximately 45 minutes North of Chiang Mai city. This was an opportunity to not only practice mindfullness, but also to learn about earth building and organic farming. Our host Pi Nan, who after being a monk for some twenty years, had a vision to combine  mindfulness and living sustainably with the land.

Mindfulness Farm is set in a beautiful forested area, providing an excellent environnment to let go of ones worries and find peace and tranquility with nature. Life here is very simple, adding to the attraction and beauty of the place. After getting up around 6:00am, and having morning tea, we are off for meditation, either by the lotus pond, up on the hill overlooking the valley and mountains, or maybe even in the garden to send loving energy to all the plants growing, that will nurish our bodies in the mounths ahead.

During meditation, Pi Nan takes the opportunity to share some teachings with us on how to live more in the present moment, to be more mindful during our day, and so much more. After meditation, it’s time for everyone to come together to share breakfast, here at Mindfulness Farm, all brothers and sisters live, eat, work and share together.

Then it’s time for learning and work time. During the course of the day we do different things, all depending on what needs doing at that time on the farm. This being an organized workshop, several mornings were spent learning about earth building, which was amazingly simple in the techniques required. Basically you start with a stone or a cement foundation, set some wood post and bamboo together to make a frame, and your set to apply the mud to make your wall…how easy is that.

Other times we worked in the garden, either planting vegetables, weeding, watering and applying EM. What is EM you ask, well it stands for effective microorganisms, which is a natural way to improve the quality and fertility of soil as well as the growth and quality of crops, as well as improve soil structure, increase productivity and to suppress both disease and weeds.

Pi Nan showed us how to make EM for ourselves, demonstrating how we can be more sustainable and not dependant on chemical fertilizers to feed and make our plants strong and more resistent to pest and disease. Of course, in an organic garden, we apply many different techniques for feeding our plants and controling pest, such as using compost, attracting the natural predators of the pest into the garden such as birds, frogs and lizards, and many other techniques, thus allowing us to immulate what happens in nature.

Pi Nan also showed us how to build up soil for our garden beds when starting out. By digging out our garden bed, adding freshly cut green grasses and weeds and throwing them into the digged out bed, then adding cow manure, rise husk, and liquid manure/EM, and then covering it up with a thin layer of soil. Afterwards, we added compost and worm castings, some more rice husk and covered the whole thing with a good layer of soil and finally mulch…and voila, a garden bed ready for planting new vegetables in a few weeks time.

We also went into the forest to cut down some trees to build a frame for a new house that Pi Nan wanted to build. In a matter of a few days, we had a complet house framed, and so simple…amazing. On another occasion, a few people even built a chair for Pi Nan from some wood in the forest.

After lunch, the afternoon is time for some time to relax, read, go for a walk in the forest, meditation, or anything else that one wishes to do. If one choose, one can continue to work on any of the various projects Pi Nan needs doing. At mindfulness Farm, it very much the “Freestyle” concept that prevails, meaning that each person comes and goes or does what they want, when they want. Their is no set schedule in which everyone must manitorily participate, everyone is allowed to listen to their own needs.

After dinner together, and a short free period to do as you like, it’s time for the evening meditation, and then to bed around 9:00pm…and that’s all in a day at the Mindfulness Farm.  As far as I’m concerned, I had the best sleeping quarters at the farm, as I was provided the opportunity to sleep alone by the pond and the bamboo forest with all the frogs singing their song, the fire flies, and the stars and the milky way…ah I love being in Nature. The air was so fresh in the evenings, and everything so calm, helping enormously to calm ones mind and state of being, not mentioning for a good night’s sleep as well.

I enjoyed my time very much at Mindfulness Farm, and have learned many things that will be valuable on my journey to live sustainably. However, the most significant aspect of my time hear was the opportunity to meet Pi Nan himself. He is such an authentic individual, who does not take himself only as the teacher, but also as a student. He also includes himself as being on the journey with us, experiencing pain and suffering just like everyone else. I see a friend in Pi Nan, someone in which it is my intention that we become friends, sharing and supporting each other on our journeys, as we share similar interest, including gardening, living sustainably, and living mindfully.

The Mindfulness Theme Song at Mindfulness Farm

Happiness, is here and now.
I have dropped, my worries.
Nowhere to go, nothing to do.
No longer in, a hurry. 

Pi Nan

Post #8 – Banana/Papaya Circle takes shape at Baan Thai

July 20-22, 2011 – Although these days were overcast and cloudy days in Northern Thailand, it certainly didn’t but a damper on our power to co-create our world and our home at Baan Thai. The first element to take shape and to be built is a “Banana/Papaya Circle”. What is a banana circle and what is it’s purpose or use?

What makes a Banana/Papaya Circle work so well

The design is basically a circular swale, and it works well because there’s only one place to mulch, feed and water, which serves many plants. It’s a good spot to put all your kitchen scraps, to use as a handy compost heap, and it can also take cardboard and paper. It can make use of excess water run-off, or if water is scarce, greywater can be directed to the circle so water is reused.

On top of that, bananas grow well in a circle, and bear bunches on the outside. Both bananas and papayas are gross feeders and thrive on nutrients from the decaying organic matter in the central hole.

So you get ample production of fruit, and root crops. You can also plant climbing plants like beans to grow up the banana stalks once they are tall. Volunteer plants like pumpkins and tomatoes are likely to spring up from vegetable scraps in the compost.
Curtsey of the “Permaculture Research Institute of Australia”

Steps to building our Banana/Papaya Circle:

STEP 1 – First was to decide on the best place for our banana/Papaya circle, then proceeded to draw out a 3 meter circle on the ground. Banana/Papaya circles make great overflows for rainwater tanks, washing machine output, or any other waste grey-water that doesn’t contain harsh chemicals.

STEP 2 – Then comes the hardest most labour intensive part of building a banana/papaya circle, digging the large hole 3 meters in diameter and approximately 1 meter deep. Placing the hole soil contents around the perimeter to form a mound. At the end, it all looks like a bit like a big donut.

I also ran a few bamboo poles through the dirt mound at ground level to collect rainwater runoff, alternatively you can dig a narrow inlet at ground level to collect the rainwater runoff. I then proceeded to place stones at the base of the outer rim of the circular dirt mound. Then I cover the whole earth circle with wet paper/cardboard, or banana leaves is good as well.

STEP 3 – Acquire some bananas! Chose small banana suckers that are easy to pull up and are about 1.5 feet in height. You will need 3-4 banana suckers. One doesn’t have to be worried about pulling them out without soil around them, they are very hardy and will take to their new surroundings easily. You will also need 3-4 papaya trees.

STEP 4 – Evenly distribute your banana suckers and papaya trees around the perimeter of the hole at approximately 60cm apart and plant them into the mound of soil you have created, and water them in well adding compost and organic fertilizers into and around the planting hole. You can also plant other things on the sides of the ridge, such as pineapple, herbs, ginger, tomatoes, beans, etc. In the inside of the circle you could plant water loving taro or ginger.

STEP 5 – Fill the centre hole with rough mulch material, including kitchen scraps, any vegetation you can find, such as course twigs, leaves, straw, decaying logs, rice husks, etc. Today I pruned the mango trees and filled the banana/papaya circle with the branches and leaves…two in one…what efficiency!

Add scatterings of manure, ash, lime, dolomite or other fertilisers. Overfill into a dome; it will sink down over time. Mulch really well around the bananas too, so that in the end you can’t see a difference between the raised mound where the bananas are planted, and the hole.  Keep plenty of mulch in the hole always.

STEP 6 – Empty as much water into the hole as you can. The bananas and papaya will suck it up and grow according to how much they get! Put all your kitchen scraps, garden vegetation, etc into the banana circle. They use it as fertilizer.

Each banana plant will give you one bunch of bananas. It will never fruit again afterwards, so cut it down at the base, mulch all of it up, and feed it back into the hole. Each banana will throw suckers as it is growing. Cut them all off until it has fruited. Once it has fruited, allow one sucker per plant to grow. Decide which direction around the perimeter you want your bananas to grow (it doesn’t matter which way you go, but be consistent with all the plants) and allow one sucker per tree to grow.

When your banana bears fruit, leave the bell on the plant and pick the bananas as you need them. Put the green bananas in a brown paper bag with an onion.  This will ripen them. If you take the bell off, they will all ripen at the same time and you may have more than you can handle.

As I was leaving Baan Thai, a beautiful butterfly crossed my path and landed next to motorbike, it was amazingly colourful, and had such a striking pattern of colours…take a look at this beauty!

Quote: You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude toward what happens to you, and in that, you will be mastering change rather than allowing it to master you. ~ Sri Ram

Post #7 – Property Boundaries and Biota Grid Map

July 17, 2011 – Today was an opportunity to measure out the property boundaries for Baan Thai, so that when we draw our conceptual design, we can do so to scale to the best of our abilities.

We also took this time to make other measurements to allow us to draw a “Biota Grid Map” of the property to facilitate the inventory of all the plant life on the property. This was a job make a lot easier with two people, so Lori Ann and Ricky took the necessary measurements and enjoyed the time simply being in this most beautiful of place’s. After it was time for us to “Sabai” or relax, so we did just that on the deck of the shelter, looking at the beautiful natural scenery, eating fresh fruit and good mineral water…good for health and body, mind and soul.

After we walk around, and gazed upwards to the giant banana stocks, they are most likely 6 meters/20 feet tall, they are big boys and girls, of course no surprise as bananas thrive here in the tropical climate of Thailand.

Quote: ” Life is not meaured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away”  

Some people call themselves “Tree Huggers”, but on this find day, I guess you could of called me a “Banana Stock Hugger”. I LOVE bananas, and seeing many bananas growing here at Baan Thai, is simply an illustration of how Mother Nature provides in abundance for all that we need…including food to nourish our body to health.

Walking around the bamboo clumps, we also uncovered some bamboo shoots growing. They general come out at this time of year, meaning rainy season. The Thai people eat the bamboo shoots, we haven’t had the opportunity to taste them yet but I’m sure that the opportunity will present itself one day.

Quote:  ” Be who you are and say what you  feel because those who mind don’t matter      and those who matter don’t mind.” 

We also discovered some other creatures which agree that this is a good place to call home…and they are many of them…they are so excited that they buzz with joy…you guessed it…BEES!

Post #6 – Manifesting our Conceptual Design

July 15, 2011 – Today was all about manifesting a conceptual design for Baan Thai by conducting a “Zone Analysis”, and determining the appropriate placement for the various elements of the design and how they connect  to and support other elements.

The focus was “Zone 1”, which consist primarily of the Kitchen Gardens, Herb Spiral, Nursery and Shade House, other than the house. Other elements that support these elements include the compost heaps, green manure patches, mulching trees and grasses, and banana/papaya circles. Elements that allow us to work together with the wildlife in our natural environment at Baan Thai include the predator pond, bird bath, bird and butterfly attracting plants, and perches for the birds. Other supportive elements include water tanks, water faucets, trellises, and pathways to get from one place to the next.

Zone 1 is about providing the basic needs, including shelter, food and water. We are aware of the importance of providing “Food Security” for ourselves, which is why in zone 1 we have a sunken terraced garden which in the practical sense will allow us to capture any rain that will fall on the land during the dry season period, as well as experience and benefit from the rich terrace culture of Asia. We will also have raised container wicking garden beds, as well as a container “Patch Garden” for vegetables such as cucumber and pumpkin which like to spread around. This is also where we would have our perennial asparagus patch.

Beside growing different vegetables and fruit horizontally in the ground, we will also encourage and provide the opportunity for things to grow vertically, maximizing the use of space. Such examples include the “Herb Spiral” which has rows slowly going up and around, providing different micro-climates for different types of herbs. Herbs which prefer or that can handle drier conditions will be planted on the top of the spiral and facing the summer sun, such as oregano, rosemary, and thyme. While the herbs that prefer moist conditions, will be planted near the bottom of the spiral facing the softer morning sun, some of these include coriander, mint, and parsley. Other great means to grow vertically include the use of trellis to grow various climbing vegetables and fruit.

Some plants can be planted directly into the garden beds, but others are best grown as seedlings in the nursery before making their way to the garden. That is why we want to have a nursery and shade house close to the garden, so we can plant out our young seedlings, propagate new plants from cuttings taken from other plants or trees, or by division. Many plants propagate easily, so with a little time and energy we can grow all sorts of plants, all while saving ourselves time and money of going out shopping for plants.

As another important element, having a continuous supply of good quality water is of the most importance, both for humans, animals, and plants. So beside having access to grown water through a water well, we will also harvest rain off the roofs of buildings at Baan Thai, and have water tanks to store the water for further use, such as for drinking, household use, or irrigating the garden. We will also have large clay pots in various strategic areas throughout zone 1 to allow quick access to provide a much needed drink of refreshing water  to a much needing plant on a hot summer day.

These are some of the elements found in Zone 1, helping to provide a sustainable lifestyle for us all…and in the process being empowered by our ability to create a happy and healthy life for ourselves!

Quote: “A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself”.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States of America

Post #5 – Living Soils and Placement of Elements

July 12, 2011 – Today was yet another early morning in Baan Thai, and the first item needing attention was the planting of that little Papaya Tree seedling. I decided to place this little tree with its other two friends in front of the shelter, considering that the other two are growing nicely, I concluded that this one should like this area as well. So I dug a hole, loosed the soil to make it easier to spread and establish its roots, gave it a little water and covered it up with soil, finishing it off with some mulch.

Considering the fact that we will be growing all sorts of food on this land, it would be wise to have an idea of what type of soil we have to work with. Once we know this, we can take the necessary measures required to make it fertile to grow good healthy food. Healthy Soil makes Healthy Plant, which in turn makes Healthy People! After all…”You are what you eat”! Oh yeah, as I was walking around on the property, I came across the “Creation of Soil”…yeah, soil in the making, with the help of Fungi.

So that is why we want to do a “Soil Analysis”. In doing so, I observed that the soil is a nice dark blackish colour, has lots of organic matter and plant roots in the top 5-7 inches in the proposed location for the vegetable garden. With respect to compaction, the soil is by no means a hard compacted soil, in fact, I was able to push a bamboo stake 18″ into the soil with my hands. The soil has a nice earthy odour and has good moisture, I was also able to roll a handful of soil into a sausage. I dug a small hole some 6″ deep and poured approximately a cup of water into it, it took about two minutes for the entire water to evaporate into the soil.

I took my Asian hoe with me today in order that I could clean up the area which had all the glass, plastic, foil, etc. As their were broken glass and small pieces of foil scattered in this area, I choose to simply use my hoe to clean it all up, especially considering that it’s in the middle of where the proposed vegetable garden would be. Also, we wouldn’t want anybody walking bare foot and benefiting from “Earthing” themselves to cut themselves either.

Finally, I walked around the property getting a sense of the land and where certain elements may be best placed in relation to each other, considering certain factors as the topography of the land, the exposure of the sun, to reduce any unnecessary work and to felicitate ease of access to the home garden’s vegetables and herbs. With my little walk about, I now have valuable information that will serve us in pondering the possibilities for the placement of elements as part of our “Zone Analysis”. for Baan Thai.

Quote: Let thy food be thy medicine, and thy medicine be thy food.
                                                       Hippocrates, the Founding Father of Medicine 

Post #4 – Uncovering the Plant Life

July 10, 2011 – Today on my ride to Baan Thai on motorbike, I could see the mist rolling between the nearby mountains, and to my left, the huge pond was as calm as a mirror, with the exception of an occasional fish coming to the surface to feed on the insects. The air is cool and fresh, it’s 7:00 am and cloudy, the heat of the day has not come upon us yet…but it will.

Today my focus was to complete the “Existing Plant Inventory” of the property, which I was able to accomplish. Having done this preliminary work, I was able to identify 237 Banana Stocks, 39 Mango Trees, 3 Papaya Trees, 6 Galangal Clumps, 5 Bamboo Clumps along with three other clumps of grass that have just started to grow.

In addition, I was able to identify 22 Frangipani Trees, some palm trees, and different varieties of clumping grasses, including Vetiver and Elephant Grass. Whit this initial work accomplished, we will now be able to get input from other individuals to identify particular trees, grasses and plants to finish the Existing Plant Inventory. Two that are of particular interest in determining what these plants are, include a tree with a red tear drop shaped fruit with an orange flesh and green slimy seeds inside, as well as a tree with a bark with thorns.

Afterwards, I identified the banana stocks that are going to bear fruit in the near future. This also provides information into the management of the banana clumps, as once a banana stock has fruited, it shall never bear fruit again, so once that it has sprouted a new shout to replace it, it can eventually be cut down and thrown to the ground to provide plant food for the other growing banana stocks.

I then finished my day walking around the property taking photos of various plants and trees. The photos will serve as a kind of historical record, as well as allow us to see the before and after of our efforts through time.

Another great morning at Baan Thai in the splendour and beauty of Nature!

Quote: Adopt the pace of nature, her secret is patience.
                                               Ralph Waldo Emerson