One Morning in an Isan Village

September 2019

 

It is the ad hoc nature of life here that gives me so much pleasure. Today was a great example with an unexpected visit to a neighbouring farm and a couple of other topics I hope you find interesting.

Building in Thailand eBook

When my wife and I bought some land in Isaan, which is a region in the north east of Thailand, and then started to build our house I wanted to record the daily events of construction life. For twenty six weeks I wrote a weekly blog update about all the aspects of the build and included as much detail as possible for others who might be thinking of going down the same path. I was surprised by the number of readers I attracted as a result of writing on this subject, many of whom followed the entire build from beginning to end. 

Based on this continued interest I thought I would revisit my original words and bring them all together under the one heading in the form of an eBook. Included in this process has been some extensive updating and expansion of many of the original posts and the addition of the many comments, which are designed to expand your knowledge and save you time or money or both!

Read more HERE and find out how to obtain the eBook.

I am loving your book – just on my second read at the moment, to make sure that I didn’t miss anything first time around (which actually it turns out I did!).  

Just a note of thanks at this point ……. I am a fairly methodical sort of bloke, but there are many issues which your book highlights which I just wouldn’t have thought about – or if I had, I may well have assumed they were “standard” building practice [U-bends, drain positioning, barge-board alignment] – if it hadn’t been for your excellent descriptions!!  I will probably still “miss” something – that’s the nature of building/design – but thanks to you, it shouldn’t be anything too mission-critical.

The income from my eBook pays for the upkeep of this blog, which is otherwise commercially free unlike so many others.

Many mornings after a strong wake-up coffee for me at home we head out to the family farm to see what activities are happening there and for me to have another coffee, while maybe floating on the pond in my homemade sala (hut). Very restful. Today we were on the way when we saw Gaun’s younger sister Yuan and husband Lud on their way into the village. It turned out they were off to a neighbouring farm to buy some seeds and we were invited to join the expedition. 

We were just about to head out with Yuan and Lud when a neighbour pulled in on her way to the Si Bun Ruang Friday street markets. Farmers always have time to check out other people’s crops and this was no exception.

Very early cabbages. Yuan is only now planting seeds for hers. Long beans too.

Gaun and Yuan ended up buying six bundles of something (i have no idea what), which is going to be boiled up and turned into something very sour, to be eaten with chillies of course. 5 baht a bundle.

I thought long beans were over but evidently they can be grown now up to the cool season, which is Oct/Nov.

The Farm

It is always interesting to see what other farmers are growing and how they run their farm so I was pleased to have a break in routine. This was a particularly good alternative to check out. The farm is owned by a young guy called Tong, who is the brother of Tam, the head of the building team that built a lot of our house. I have been there before and knew he used irrigation so wanted to see how that was working for him.

This farm has a broader mix of activities than Yuan and Lud with some ducks and a few cows.

I have never seen papaya being grown in mass before and these were a very impressive example. Tong heavily fertilises the plants and as you can see they have a drip watering system. Unbelievably these were planted in January this year. How’ that for growth! They are cut down after a year. Papaya in bulk like this sells for 10 baht a kilo.

Beautiful.

Even at ten baht a kilo there’s a bit of money on that tree. As always there’s always time for a photo opportunity. Yuan here.

Irrigation again, not that’s it’s been needed more recently. These are eggplants, but have already been harvested three times. Tong is going for a fourth but is quite resigned to not getting one more crop from these old plants.

Guava. 50 baht a kilo. Heading to the Si Bun Ruang Friday markets happening this afternoon.

I had a reader ask whether the guava was similar to a quince. I don’t know the technical answer to that but from a nutritional point of view go guava!

Garlic drying. Almost ready to sell. Between 100 -120 baht a kilo.

This is what Yuan and Lud came to buy. These seeds produce a yellow flowered plant that is often then ploughed back into the ground as a good source of nutrients. Called ‘green fertiliser’ in a generic sense. Sold in the market for 45 baht a kilo. Yuan got hers at friend’s rates. 8 kilos bought.

Update 21 September: Thanks to the occasional usefulness of social media these seeds have now been identified as sunn hemp:

Crotalaria juncea, known as brown hemp, Indian hemp, Madras hemp, or sunn hemp, is a tropical Asian plant of the legume family (Fabaceae). It is generally considered to have originated in India.

It is now widely grown throughout the tropics and subtropics as a source of green manure, fodder and lignified fiber obtained from its stem. Sunn hemp is also being looked at as a possible bio-fuel. It can be an invasive weed and has been listed as a noxious weed in some jurisdictions.[3]

It bears yellow flowers and elongate, alternate leaves.

More information HERE

Coffee time. I love these sort of friendly visits because although there may be a reason for them it turns into a time for a chat (for the locals), a coffee and a look around to see what’s happening. There’s no schedule or rush involved. The only stress with Isan-time is if you create it yourself. I don’t look too stressed do I 🙂

Gaun took this photo, not so much of me making coffee, but because the only access to hot water this farm had was by boiling a kettle. This is a concept that many young people would never have seen before and would probably have to Google the instructions

I walked over to the edge of this part of the farm to take a long-shot of where the guava was growing, which is on the left right in the distance over rice paddies.

In typical Isan friendliness, if you make the effort to take an interest locals will mostly be delighted to go out of their way to show you around. Tong and Gaun turned up and next thing we were walking through the paddies so that Tong could show me what he was growing on the other side.

Irrigation pumped from the farm to flood these paddy fields. Not enough rainfall to do that in our part of Isan.

Bore/well water used otherwise this rice would be sitting dry and then the weeds take over.

Tong has a mix of crops at the far side of his farm. This is bamboo in very early stages, which will be left for years to grow into large sizes and sold as a cash crop.

This is where the guavas came from. Young ones are protected from insects by being wrapped in a small plastic bag.

A bag being added to a guava fruit.

To the left of that track is being grown coconuts, lemongrass, more guava (12 months old), bananas, peanuts and eggplants. Teak trees at the back.

Gaun checking out one of the 12-month-old guavas. It has fruit developing already.

A new teak tree planted.

Tong and teak tree. 14 years old this one (the tree not Tong!)

The view from the very back of the farm looking to the front. The farmhouse is in those trees in the very far distance.

Sprinklers again with water pumped all that way from the main farm.

Peanuts. In typical city ignorance, I thought they grew on branches. Duh. As all of you most likely already knew, they are a root crop.

You don’t get fresher than that.

Heading back. I mainly took the photo because of the terrific clouds this morning. It looks as if it is building to a storm but mostly likely will never arrive.

One more cloud photo.

More mature bamboo. Grown for sale not for looks.

And a decent sized tamarind tree. The fruit will be sold in season.

MEXICAN CREEPER

or as most of you will know it antigonon leptopus! BTW if you haven’t seen my hint on identifying flowers and plants using Google Photos look back through my posts. It is brilliant and So easy and useful.

This is the front of our house and the main pergola area in-between those two shrubs is covered with a Mexican creeper. Not only are the flowers just stunning, it provides heavy shade and the bees absolutely adore it.

Beautiful blooms that last for a long time.

Unfortunately you need to climb a ladder to get the best view!

It is a very vigorous creeper and will take over the world left to itself. It is super easy to grow as you will find lots of seedlings underneath. Here it is heading up into a mango.

I love having a coffee underneath this pergola and the the air is filled with the sound of hundreds of bees hard at work. Perfect.

This is the seating area underneath. Regular readers will recognise it as it is one of my favourite views of the ‘old’ garden.

This Mexican creeper is in the new tropical garden. Taken from a seedling it has now covered a dead tree trunk on the left and is well established after maybe six months.

Another view.

And this has nothing to do with creepers. I was taking the last two photos and walked back through this area and it just asked for a photo. What can be achieved in 20 months.

 

Thanks for reading.

Tony

8 Comments

  1. Greg Carroll

    Thank you for the link to Issan Record Tony. Very much appreciated as part of furthering our knowledge of Thai agriculture. We’ve been talking a lot about bees and how they have become part of our plans for the alphabetical food forest we’ll be planting so having this sort of information is gold (no pun intended). We now know there are some great resources available locally, so once again many thanks for the information you put in your blog pages.
    We were up at the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers Festival yesterday https://www.tcof.com.au and one of the highlights for me was a display by apiarists from the Darling Downs. We came away with very firm ideas on how many hives we will have, and what sort of plants we’ll be growing to keep them fed. There is apparently a tropical Lavender variety that handles humidity quite well and makes sensational honey.
    BTW apiarists have the same problem here with insecticides, drought and bush fires and an overall decline in hives. Sobering to contemplate what the future holds.
    As always the photos of the garden are a treat. As such, we’re looking forward to the next eBook, ‘Growing a Tropical Paradise’ by Guan and Tony

    Reply
    • Tony in Thailand

      I have a couple of other readers who are bee oriented so let me know when you want their details. As I mentioned I have heaps in the garden because of the quantity of flowers we have, which must be a relief after the barren bee-friendly wasteland of the village. That resource HERE should be a must-have bookmark Greg. A brilliant site for Isaan readers.

      Oh, you brought back happy memories with the festival of food and wine aspect at Toowoomba. Not something I will enjoy here. I am far more geared to western food, and the wine of course, than Thai offerings. Some make the switch, and good on ’em for that, but for me it isn’t part of the attraction of Thailand and ends up on the ‘minus’ side of the balance sheet. Tropical lavender sounds lovely. I must say now you mention it I haven’t seen lavender here, but it must be around.

      Thanks for your encouraging words and that book may make an appearance one day.

      Cheers and hi to Yuri.

      Reply
      • Greg Carroll

        Many thanks for the link to The Issan Record Tony. Both Yuri and I will get considerable enjoyment and value out of this site.
        Cheers…Greg

        Reply
        • Tony in Thailand

          My pleasure.

          Reply
  2. Jim Busby

    Lots of Green Papaya Salad from those trees. I don’t think those are rapeseed seeds, which are very small round in structure and only about 2mm in diameter. The flowering plants don’t resemble a mustard plant which is the rapeseed family. Let’s hope you were careful pouring your coffee, and not spilling it on the poor unsuspecting dogs beneath the table. OK, Tong’s a tree hugger, and so am I. Save our planet. That is interesting to see those peanuts growing so well in a clay soil. When we grew them in our garden we always mixed in a ton of sand from the lake for increased drainage and to break up the soil. Of course, our clay was so hard, you could make bricks from it. More great garden views as always.

    Best wishes,

    Jim

    Reply
    • Tony in Thailand

      Yes. I have been impressed with the output of a single tree but to see them in mass like that was definitely worth a few photos. You are right. They aren’t rapeseed. The advantage of social media is that sometimes you are able to tap into other people’s experience. It turns out these are sunn hemp:

      Crotalaria juncea, known as brown hemp, Indian hemp, Madras hemp, or sunn hemp, is a tropical Asian plant of the legume family. It is generally considered to have originated in India.

      I was able to master the complexities of the ancient kettle and not burn myself or any sleeping dogs! The disadvantage of growing in the clay is that it sticks to the peanuts. Gaun had a couple of rough tries to clean them before I took the photo but they still had a lot of soil on them. I suspect they are individually cleaned maybe as Yuan does for her mushrooms with a small wire pad! I will have to ask.

      We have a day off our normal strenuous activities (even Gaun says she’s waiting for her legs to determine whether any action will happen in the garden) so there could be some more stories appearing (or not!)

      Thanks Jim.

      Tony

      Reply
  3. mark

    Thanks Tony for the enjoyable read. I do get interested in seeing what can be grown. I’m often thinking about what I could grow when my time comes. I honestly thought them peanuts grew on a tree, I’m snacking on some now along with my shiraz. I see you mentioned bee’s. Stupid question, have you seen anyone keeping bee’s for honey whether commercially or for private use? In retirement it is something I would like to look at.

    I’ve been meaning to download your ebook on building in Thailand, I know I can find it on your website. Just a heads up, at the top of this page, and the last couple of stories the click here link to go to the book doesn’t work for me. Not sure if it is just me or others too.

    Keep living the dream.

    Reply
    • Tony in Thailand

      Thanks Mark.

      No, I haven’t seen formal bee keeping here but there’s lots of Thai honey for sale, genuine or not, so there must be some sort of industry happening. Even Tescos sell Thai honey of various types. The villagers just sell the honeycombs collected from the wild.

      I am updating the eBook (slowly) but want to have it ready soon, so issues like that will be fixed I hope. Even if you buy it before the new version is ready the update will be available free for existing readers.

      Cheers mate.

      Tony

      P.S. Mark. In a funny coincidence I came across this article HERE after I wrote this reply, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

      Reply

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