Isan Farm News

August 2019

 

The family farm is an important part of my life here even though I am only an observer. I take a genuine interest in the cycle of farming activities, which form the basis of work life for Gaun’s sisters Yuan and Bear and their partners Lud and Tham.   

I have always been a city boy and vegetables was what you found at a supermarket. My father started his working life as a market gardener in the UK Lake District, so maybe my interest in Isan farming is in the blood! Whatever the reason, the farm is a place I visit many mornings for a coffee and to see what Yuan is packing for sale at the markets. I have come to enjoy the seasonal changes in crops grown and take a real pride in the quality of produce the family grow.

When I first moved here in late 2013 Yuan harvested vegetables and then sat on a market stall all day until they were sold. These days the crops are mostly sold wholesale to other vendors leaving Yuan and Lud more time to work at the farm.

This post covers some of the activities I photographed during the course of August, a pretty quiet time of year.

That large field we have been following is coming to the end of its vegetable cycle. All the shade-cloth from the rows on the right have been removed and stored. Six rows remaining on the left. This field will remain fallow for a while before being reused.

As always they are super organised. These are the poles that were being used in that field all neatly stacked.

And the shade cloth. Supporting poles in the background.

This is Tham and Bear’s farm. Tham was ploughing this morning and I wanted to show you the richness of the soil.

Tham is a bit older than me and 20 kilos lighter but I bet I couldn’t run that machine the way he does. This is an area that was planted up for corn but the insects were so bad this year that the crop was cut down and given to a neighbour to feed his buffalo.

Tham and Bear’s farmhouse. They sleep here to ensure nothing goes missing overnight. I love these constructions because they are so interesting with a mix of materials and colours. Very Australian rural.

Gaun planted more flowers in this bed this morning she tells me, around 5.00 am. Unstoppable.

The recent rains have encouraged growth and this line of plants alongside the pond are looking healthy.

I was looking for some photos for the farm promotional banner I want made and came across this set I took in the cool season 2016 and thought I would edit them and give them another run. A lovely reflection of both the people involved and the freshness of vegetables grown this time of year (December).

That field I showed you being ploughed is now being prepared for the first few rows of seeding. At this stage building the raised beds is all done by hand. This is a lighter soil so easier to work with. This has all been done this morning and it’s only 9.00 am

Very neat as always.

They make it look easy but moving that amount of soil with a bit of overnight rain must be a good stomach workout.

Yuan surveying her work. I suspect this will be seeded with shade cloth on very soon.

Rice husk mulch waiting to go onto the beds once the seeds are spread.

This is the field we have been following. Lud has turned it over to plough in the leftover vegetables and weeds and it will not be replanted for another couple of months. This field is used for cool season crops leading up to New Year, a huge sales time, with cauliflower, broccoli and Chinese cabbage.

Beautiful timber waiting to be turned into charcoal on a farm close to us. What a waste.

Yuan and Lud do the same on a smaller scale. ten bags so far with another lot on its way.

Adding to the already smoky air. Why not gas? This is ‘free’.

With very little to sell in the way of vegetables currently Yuan was looking for alternatives to make money. She was up at midnight last night hunting grasshoppers and later this morning, after preparing that field I showed earlier, she was picking these small white flowers at mama’s house so that she could sell them at the market for 150 baht a kilo. They are used to make flower garlands and there will be increasing demand for them as we head towards the combined Queen’s birthday and Mother’s Day on the 12th. Gaun was laughing because that’s our ladder and while Gaun stands on the very top to use her hedge trimmer, Yuan very sensibly would only sit on the top to pick her flowers.
As expected that field I showed you yesterday has had four rows seeded already. Coriander and dill I am told. With manual work out of the way for today Yuan is now making flower garlands to sell wholesale at the markets leading up to the Queen’s Birthday. She has seven in the fridge at home and four at the farm with more on their way. She sells them for 50/60 baht each and they are retailed for 100 baht. Gaun is about to head out to help her. They sit, chat and sew flowers. Lovely.

I have no idea when they sleep

These white flowers were picked at mama’s house yesterday. The red and pink ones were bought because Gaun’s aren’t flowering yet.

You thread the flower stalks onto the long needle and layer them. When finished thread is attached to the end and the flowers are slid over that, leaving the needle free to do it again. It is fiddly work but surprising how quickly they get finished (unless I am doing them).

Now that’s a Thai smile. Yuan enjoys this as a break from farming.

I will show you the finished product when they are done.

A new field is being prepared for planting. It is the big Si Bun Ruang Friday street markets today and for once Yuan has almost nothing to sell because the other field of crops cleared so quickly. Demand has outstripped supply.

Lud in his Isan work boots!

Again, beautiful soil. It will be interesting to see how quickly this field is planted up. I will report.

I don’t know why I enjoy taking photos of the buffalo. Something essentially Isan rural about the scene.

A big Isan sky.

Bear (Gaun’s older sister) and Tham, who run the farm next to Yuan and Lud, don’t get much of a mention on this page, but they work away turning out vegetables but on a smaller scale than Yuan and Lud. Bear takes her vegetables to sell directly at the local markets, while most of Yuan’s crops are wholesaled.

Gaun is trying out a graft on these climbers. She learn in Chiang Mai but hasn’t done much here.

Bob Sekhon Tony, what she is doing is marcotting. There is no grafting involved here. This entails the removal of a strip of bark and wrapping soil/ compost around the area where the bark has been removed and keeping the soil damp so as to encourage root growth. Once roots form, you cut the branch off below the marcott and plant it out. As opposed to grafting where you patch on a piece of bark with a bud onto the root plant and hope it stays alive and grows.

A clay mix plastered over the graft.

Which is then wrapped in shredded coconut.

Duk Dik has walked out from home to see what’s happening.

Yuan has planted out a lot of cow slip climber cuttings. The climbers themselves in the background.

And sprouting already.

Spring onions are about the only things that will be ready to sell soon.

The grasshopper season continues. 500 baht’s worth here.

We were on the road yesterday and the road crossed over this river (on the way to Phu Wiang) which normally has some water in it, even though I have never seen it in full flood.

How depressing to see it like this two months into the wet season.

Today we picked up the two billboards we had ordered to promote Vansutha Farms and they have come up pretty well. I am not sure if they will end up being just a bit of fun or be used for market days etc. Time will tell. At a cost of 300 baht each including a wooden frame you can see why these boards are commonly used for roadside advertising. How cheap is that! I was budgeting 1,500 baht for two. Ordered and delivered in two days.

How depressing to see it like this two months into the wet season.

The original image.

As always the pride in their work shows. Lud and Yuan with spring onions here.

Fresh from farm to market.

We bought these as dried onions from a farm close to Udon a while back. They are paying for themselves now. Unfortunately a few weeks back Yuan was getting 100 baht a kilo – now only 50 baht. Most businesses would struggle with a 50% drop in price but that’s farming 

The endless task of hand weeding.

Yuan on her own listening to music from her phone. Lud was out delivering an order of vegetables. There is a quiet acceptance of work to be done and rather than be overwhelmed with the size of the task Yuan just sits down and does what needs to be done.

This is formally Gaun’s farm land, but it is being used by her older sister Bear and husband Tham to plant what little rice the farm is going to produce this year. We have had recent rains but too late for large scale planting of rice.

The rice is first planted into seed beds and then pulled up and made into those bundles to be replanted. This ensures the rice is spread out evenly with enough space to grow and produce the best yield.

Water is being pumped from the farm pond to flood these two paddies. Previous to the recent rains, because the soil was so dry, it wasn’t practical to pump water as it was soaked up very quickly. Now we have had some decent rain the soil is wet and holds the pond water better. Tham hand planting at the back watched by Gaun.

And in evidence of the rains as the platform where Yuan and Lud wash vegetables is under water for the first time.

 

Thanks for reading.

Tony

3 Comments

  1. Jim Busby

    There you go you muscle laden Aussie, trying to show up one of your relatives with a Plough off! Those mini photos emphasize what we miss when we go to a market to get our vegetables. The pride of doing things better than others, the HARD WORK, and the final product. I understand your stance against charcoal making, but I love my smoker here in the US. Seriously, with the Amazon rainforest being deforested as we speak, this is something that needs addressing. Plants and all things green are the reason we have O2 to breath. You need to do the Western assessment of time for picking flowers to threading to finished product on a per hourly basis to remind us how fortunate we are in our countries. Tell Lud I used to run the tiller on my dad’s garden in bare feet as well. The feel of the rich tilled soil on your feet was priceless, unless I was to get my toes caught in the tiller’s tines. I think with that many grasshoppers, there is a challenge to keep them from devouring your crops before you can harvest them. Wonder how useful the English parts of your Vansutha Farm sign is to the locals? Gaun looks all rugged up, must have been what, 27C :-).

    Great farming update,

    Jim

    Reply
  2. Greg Carroll

    You captured the rhythm of the farm and season so well Tony. As always a pleasure to read and immerse oneself in rural life in Isan. Many thanks for sharing. Out of interest do you think sweet pea would grow in Isan around December?
    Cheers mate.

    Reply
    • Tony in Thailand

      Thank you for following and adding a comment Greg. I feel a little lost this year as the family have almost no rice growing. That five month cycle was always part of my annual connection with crops and a big chunk has been lost without the planting, growth and eventually the harvesting. A loss to the workers who made it all happen too.

      If sweet pea enjoys a cooler climate then December would be fine. Dry, sunny and temperatures mid-teens to mid to high twenties, if it is a typical year. A lovely time of year in the north. The last few year’s “cool season’ have been warmer than it used to be and I suspect that what started off looking like a couple years aberration has become the norm. It can’t be true of course because climate change is not happening.

      Cheers Tony

      Reply

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