Our Progress So Far – 2019

So we are planning to expand outside of Facebook, generally I posts our updates on our Facebook page, but only 20% of our customers get to see them. Welcome to our blog!

July 2019 is the real first month of wet season for us. We have had rain now for 4 days. Off and on, mostly in the mornings, late afternoons and late evenings. It’s kind of a funny thing in Phayao. Generally the storms originate from Chiang Mai, work themselves around the mountains, head south around the lake and then rain on the town. That said, the weather maps had shown this year the rain has come up from the central areas and Bangkok.

Building The Garden Beds

So the plan for this month is to get more garden beds into place and prepare for late wet season/early winter planting. We are transitioning through garden beds at the moment, this means we have more empty beds. It’s a great time to add compost/manure, reshape and over prepare.

I had a motto for this month: “Rip up the lawn and grow veggies”

This basically pushed me through a very difficult period which involved a significant amount of physical labor removing the lawn (with hand tools), digging trenches to trap water, moving a large amount of soil, tiling and laying gravel. While doing all this in 30+ degree C temperatures and 80%+ humidity.

Clouds over the Phayao range. They look beautiful as they pass over. The rain from Chiang Mai generally stops by the mountains first, swings sound around the southern part of the lake and back towards the town. 

Khwans sister watering the plants. We had started dumping soil while removing the grass from under the shade cover. This soil was mixed separately for the lawn and contained sand and organics. 

The very first thing I did was place cardboard and hay over a 2m x 2m part of grass. This helped kill back the grass and start the composting process. 

That same bed with numerous layers of organic material and soil. The footpath will have plastic underlay and gravel for a footpath.

What I discovered when removing the grass, was the organic material was totally used up leaving sand ontop of hard clay. The roots couldnt penetrate the clay so it died back. Even with watering the clay was still very thick and difficult to work with. The initial topsoil for the grass I created myself using rice husks, potting mix, charcoal, sand and some topsoil. It lasted about 1.5 years.

I layered the beds using rice hay, soil, sand and manure mixed together. I had mulched corn from our first harvest into our beds as a trial to see if it composts well. The aim is to get thick rich black soil. We still have lumps of clay in the soil. Im hoping the rains will break this down.

The final size of these new beds along the side and front are:

10m x 1.5m – Has at least 7-8 hours of full sunlight a day (morning-afternoon) (15m2)
3m x 2m – 6-7 hours of full sunlight a day (afternoon) (6m2)
3m x 2m – 5-6 hours of full sunlight a day (afternoon) (6m2)
2m x 2m – 5-6 hours of full sunlight a day (afternoon) (4m2)
7m x 0.75m – 4-5 hours of full sunlight a day (afternoon) (5.25m2)
4m x 0.5m – 4-5 hours of full sunlight a day (afternoon) (2m2)

So roughly 39m2 of new grow space for veggies/fruit.

A very tedious process of pushing back the lawn. Some of it was like carpet..others just misery. I dug a small line to lay a 1/2 inch pvc water pipe to feed the back irrigation. That was covered with dirt and gravel. 

The beds with a layer of rice hay, topsoil and manure mixed in. Its a start, I’m still concerned it may be still too hard so another layer of compost maybe added at a later stage. 

Watering and Drip Irrigation

I’ve found the biggest time consuming part of our urban farm is watering. I have to automate this process to some success. A system was set up where I open valves and let the pump run for 15 minutes. This moves roughly 1-1.5m3 of water through the garden beds. I believe this is the first stage of a more complex design.

The drip irrigation system is in the process of being built at the front. I have it half completed. The mud and the rain is hindering completion a fair bit. The idea is to ensure every bed on the right hand side has at least one drip/dribble line.

I have the option of using black agri plastic to manage weed pressure and water evaporation. The alternative is rice hay but ultimately the weeds (mostly grass) will push through.

Figuring Out What To Grow

In the evenings I built a basic spreadsheet outlining what veggies I could plant and some level of success with. From my research the months from August to February seem to be a lot more forgiving. March to July is still fine but I’m limited to a select few vegetables (okra, beans, corn, mulberries) that can withstand high temperatures and dry spells. This year we had water outages that inhibited real plant growth and no rain (two late night tropical storms over 4 months).

The side beds before the toil/manure mixture was added. The hay also kept the grass from returning in some spots. There is a gravel pit between the beds. Im hoping to capture some of the runoff from the roof. The metal C-span pieces are there as frames till I install the bamboo. 

Our five back beds, all mulched, organics added and almost ready to go. Our big white rooster in there scratching up the bugs.

The Costs 

Here is the total costs if you’re interested in building garden beds yourself.

  • Top soil (moderate quality) – 300 baht per m3
  • Mix cow/chicken manure – 25 baht a bag
    (roughly 20kg per bag, I purchased 30 bags delivered to Blossom Farm. Ive used 17 already).
  • Rice hay, 25 baht a bale ( roughly 1m x 0.5m x 0.5m)
  • Sand – 400 baht for a half cubic meter.
  • Blue gravel – 1000 baht per m3

Soil Ratios

What ever soil I could recover went into the beds first. I mixed it with composted rice husks and chicken manure. The collected soil was mainly sand, dust and remaining organic material.

As for the topsoil,  tried to keep it consistent 5 shovel loads of topsoil with one large shovel of sand. This was mixed in the wheelbarrow. Once the bed had enough soil, I place 40 – 60kg of organic matter into the beds and tilled the soil and organic matter into it. They are technically raised beds as I can’t work with the clay underneath.

Top soil and sand mix. This load was a bit darker then normal, which is fine and I have a fair bit of new topsoil left over if I need to mix more in. 

The Outcome

Well,I’m planning to have it finished once the rain stops and the soil dries a bit. Weeds are already shooting through. I’m not too concerned because the weeds loosen the topsoil. They are like the pioneer plants that first discovered the garden bed. The softer the beds, the better off I will be in the long run.

The plastic flooring and gravel will need to be laid next and then the bamboo edging. This is quite simple. Split bamboo in half and use it as edging to stop the soil from spilling over onto the footpath. It also stops our dog from walking on the beds. It doesn’t stop the chickens though.