Laboratory Soil Analyses

Despite a long blogging silence, the land is still in good order. The trees are growing and cared for by our neighbors while I am at university. Currently, I am beginning my thesis research, using our land as the focus of my research. Soil samples were taken from the soil horizons at 6 key locations. 3 on the PermaPai property, and 3 from the surroundings. The idea is to provide a comparison of topsoil quality over a variety of land uses. In collaboration with the Geoscience laboratory of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, we are conducting the following soil tests: pH, bulk density, cation exchange capacity, organic carbon content, potassium, nitrogen, phosphorus and a soil particle analysis.

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Above are the preparations for the cation exchange capacity tests, which require 3 days preparation. These tests will be finalised on Wednesday.

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This fancy 25,000 euro piece of equipment above is a LECO EC-12 Carbon Determinator, which burns the carbon in the soil at 1000 degrees C. The CO2 produced can be measured using infrared sensors. By multiplying by a factor of 1,724 we can convert the CO2 gas to the soil organic carbon content.

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Here we see the preparations for the pH tests with the pH meter in the background.

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I look forward to sharing the results with you soon!

Return after 10 months absence

After 10 months absence due to family and studies abroad, I returned to the land hardly recognizing the plants we planted just 1 year before! In the tropics, the rainy season can be an intense growing period. In our case, most plants doubled in size!

Here’s just a quick look at how much things have grown:

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Banana Firebreak

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Coconut Palm

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Terrace of the Food Forest

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Coffee in the Shade of larger legumes and productive trees

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The Swale – a passive water harvesting ditch on contour

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Cassava – an edible root crop

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Stubble after our first rice harvest

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Star Apple

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Pondside Plants (Papyrus and lemongrass)

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Flower in the Ginger Family used for shampoo

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Aloe vera and Brazil peanut groundcover

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Moringa oleifera – a superfood, every part of the tree is edible and rich in vitamins!

The Bare Necessities: Electricity and Running Water

A bit old this post, but a year ago we finally got electricity and running water.

This has been a consistent problem due to local bureaucracy. The stream bordering our property divides the districts. The village is on the other side of the stream, therefore in another district.  For this reason, we can not connect to the village electricity or running water.

Luckily, Sailin, our local manager/caretaker bought the property opposite the stream from us.  So we have hooked up to his electricity and running water with permission from the village chief.

This was an interesting endeavour.  First we strung a metal suspension cord across the stream. To this we tied the water pipe.

From this we get water from a natural spring above the village. This we use in the house for cooking, showering and cleaning.

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For irrigation, we have a pump that pumps water from the stream into the tanks at the top of the property. This is an electric pump, since we are no longer living here (due to work and studies). The electric pump is easier to maintain in our absence.

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Electricity we also hooked up from Sailin’s house. After years of refusing to hook up to the grid, we have now done so for convenience sake and it has been worth it.  The small investment of electricity used helps us to use electric tools for other sustainable projects (most recently a thermosyphon solar hot water heater) and irrigating the food forest, which mitigates climate change. We have considered the costs and benefits of hooking up to the grid and in this case it has been worth it.

Ducks

Our newest addition to the PermaPai team!

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These little guys will grow to poop, fertilising our food forest and pond. The snails in their diet means this fertiliser will be rich in Calcium, a key component in many reactions in the soil.  And most importantly, they are adorable to look at. Daily entertainment!

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Bathroom

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Our new bathroom, how exciting!

The walls were made weaving muddy rice straw through bamboo.

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Rice straw was mixed with a mud mix, before being woven through the vertical bamboo poles.

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This technique is most applicable in tropical climates, since the thin walls provide little insulation. Here, in Thailand it is a quick, cheap viable alternative to other more complex, time consuming or expensive techniques. And the results are beautiful as well of course!

 

Snake Soup Converts Vegetarians!

Our neighbor Sailomjoy, Shan musician and chef extraordinaire, kindly offered to cook us a meal. How could we resist? Especially when we had just caught and killed two edible snakes (nguu jing) on the property!

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The result: Tom Yum Ngoo. Tom Yum is the traditional, delicious Thai spicy soup, most commonly cooked with shrimp.  Ngoo means snake.

The snake was killed with a quick nail to the head. It was then gutted and roasted over a fire, so it wouldn’t go bad until we cooked it the next day.

Next day for lunch, our snakes were chopped up in tasty morsels for the soup (with a machete of course).

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Mmmm Tom yummy!

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People had to concur, it did indeed taste like chicken..

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Even the vegetarian had to give tom yum ngoo a go! The event was properly documented..

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Food is one of the best ways to surmount cultural differences. It brings everyone together, even Thai-yai snake killers/eaters and vegetarian westerners. So hooray for tom yum ngoo!

“The Hungry Bear Doesn’t Dance” – A Turkish Proverb

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As luck might have it, our current volunteers are excellent chefs. We would like to pointedly thank Mother Marie and everyone else too for the delicious home-cooking we have been enjoying around here.

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Such as grilled fish..

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Fresh salads

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Yummy curries

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Chilli Pastes and Condiments

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Millet and Greens

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Impromptu Deserts

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Bread for Breakfast

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Experimental Breakfasts..

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Good company

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Good campfires

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Good laughs

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Thanks everyone!

 

Chickens and Compost

Now with all the new chickens, they need a home; hence our bamboo chicken coop.

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They are quite comfy in there with nooks and roosts to sleep and lay eggs. The coop is also an excellent place to collect poop for fertilizer.

And to add to this fertile atmosphere, we made a fairly large cold compost behind the coop using organic matter from neighboring fields which would otherwise get burnt!

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We used fresh cow manure, banana leaves, corn husks and cobs from a neighboring farm, and chopped legume (nitrogen fixing) branches and leaves. Important is to layer your greens (nitrogen: fresh manure and leafy greens) and your browns (carbon: dried organic matter such as old leaves, dried corn husks, straw, hay. etc) like yummy lasagna.

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And remember to water every layer and at the end. Parched microbes simply won’t do their job.

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House Update

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December to February is the cold dry season here in Pai – the best time to build. So we have been working on our earth house. Our goal is to move in by March.

We have finished plastering our walls. We have two layers of earthen plaster: a base layer and an infill layer. These two layers are followed by two finish layers which we painted on. Our finish layer had a ratio of 2 clay : 2 sand : 1 tapioca (1 part tapioca flour : 6 parts water boiled until a gelatinous texture is reached). We added water until we had a creamy soup texture easy to apply with a paintbrush.

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We used the clay from an abandoned termite mound on the land.

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We have also been building up our walls to create beautiful designs using found objects.

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Another exciting aspect of earthen building is the absence of furniture shopping. Just do it yourself!

Below, is a bed made out of earthbags. The middle is filled with plastic garbage that was lying around and dirt from the land. Our place of repose is quite literally also our landfill.

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Plastering the bed..

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Satisfied..

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Our sofa is also made out of earthbags.

Before

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After

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For best results, let the ladies do all the work.

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And let the boys hang out and drink beer..

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To facilitate plastering the earthbags, we nailed fishing netting onto the earthbags.

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Then we plastered on top of the the netting.

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For the armrests we simply used earth bricks.

We’re looking forward to our earthen floor next and we will keep everyone updated on our progress.

Return after 5 months absence

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After a 5 month absence, we returned to our property in December excited to see all the changes. We were happy to see our earth house in the making successfully survived its first rainy season.

We were greeted by many new blooming flowers.

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And delicious fruit..

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Guava

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Hog Plum

Delicious herbs, like basil..

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Yummy flowers, like butterfly pea..

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17 new baby chicks..

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And a pregnant cat..

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Altogether a most joyous homecoming!

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