Friday, December 19, 2008

Grayson's Bamboo Raft

So, as if swimming at the resevoir wasn't awesome enough, Grayson got the bright idea to build a raft that we could float around on and jump off of and such. It worked so well!

okay, no more pictures, time to swim!


Mushrooms are a very popular ingredient in thai cuisine--so we are growing our own straw mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and shitakes. We get the spores in bags like this one. Each bag can be used to grow one mushroom at a time, and you can pile them up into a whole wall. A very clever system!

We are also taking the bags apart in order to propagate more of the spores and produce larger quantities. Here we are spreading out the mycellium and layering with rice straw, chopped banana trunk, and manure in one of our garden beds.

Then we create a bamboo hoop house to protect it and shade with banana leaves.

In a few weeks, there should be lots of mushrooms to harvest... and mushroom soup for dinner!

Chiang Mai

So, I've been in and out of Chiang Mai several times during my stay. It's a sort of homebase for the folks at Pun Pun when we need things from the city. It's easy for us to get in and out because a truck carrying vegetables and supplies goes from our small village of Mae Jo into Chiang Mai and back each day. Besides, it's also interesting to ride with a load of dragon fruits, chili, fish, and bamboo wrappers. Anyways, here are some of the photos I've taken while being in Chiang Mai.

the view down the street from my favorite guest house
the Night Bazaar

farm friends dress up

bugs for sale!

the King's birthday

Long live the King

comic decoration around every turn

Grafting & Propagation

Now that we've got great plants going, we need to learn how to continue their genetics and preserve their heritage.
Pun Pun is very focused on saving seeds, but we are also learning how to propagate plants through cuttings. Here we just cut foot long sections of mulberry and keep them in the nursery.

Less than one month later, we've already got new shoots forming on the stems.
Another technique involves stripping off a one inch piece of bark from a branch on the main tree.
Then we cover the bare spot with soil and wrap a little plastic around it to hold moisture in. In a few weeks a new root and shoot should form and we'll be able to cut the branch from the main tree.

The final technique we learned was grafting where we are selecting choice varieties of avacado to graft to a variety with a stronger root system. We are also grafting the shoots of female mango branches to male trees so that more of the mango trees on the property will bear fruit.

Here, we make a slice in the bark, insert the new shoot at a angle that matches up to two cuts and cover with plastic. Within a year we should be able to cut off the old branch and let the new desired branch to grow in its place.
How fun!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Thanksgiving in Thailand

Several of us had been missing American food and starting to feel homesick as the holidays approached. So we managed to aquire an enormous bag of wheat flour, brown sugar, and a few other spices... which led to an all-day baking event in the earthen kitchen! We ended making 5 pumpkin pies, two pecan pies, 5 loaves of banana bread, oatmeal raison cookies (oats are extremely special here) and tamarind jam.

Cooking over fire and using a cob oven took a little getting used to.

We had a humble and mindful dinner at our place, with one of the loviest rounds of expressing gratitude I've ever attended.

Then we invited the neighboring permaculture farms over for pot-luck desserts and had a proper feast.


My own little garden

As part of the internship, we each get to practice the techniques we are learning on our own little garden plots. To prepare the bed, I pulled the weeds, turned the soil, and used a fair amount of Bokashi Compost and charcoal mixed in. Then I transplanted kale, tomatoes, and peppers, and covered these with rice straw mulch. Then I also sowed mustard greens, radishes and corn from seed. I also planted morning glory from bits of other ones around the property and gave them simply cow dung over top. I'll add pictures to this post as the garden grows... So far so good!

intern garden area - before

intern garden area - after planting

my plot

my plot - 2 weeks later

my bed - one month later (super kale!)

Lai Ga Tong Festival

One of the first cultural festivities here was the Lai Ga Tong Festival or festival of lights. It symbolizes rebirth and to properly celebrate, every makes little boats out of sliced banana trunk, covered with banana leaves and flowers. Then we forgive the world for all the bad things of the past year and set them free down the river in the nearby village. What a creative and beautiful way to start the new year!

Then the party begins! And there is a parade of young thai beauties, one from each small village in the area and each with their own float and pick-up truck loaded down with speakers playing her music. It's quite a scene! I felt like I was at the fourth of July celebrations back home. There are also a lot of vendors selling yummy snacks, most of which are chopped hot dogs or meatballs deep-fried on a stick. There are also these amazing fresh marshmallow crepes, which I'm not sur how else to describe. The woman makes a small crispy crepe and then tops it off with beaten egg whites, then curls it off the griddle and sprinkles with brighly colored flakes. Delicious! Especially considering I was not that into trying the fried pork. Music continued late into the night and eventually the 'francs' (white people--of which we were the only ones there) had to call it a night.
The other amazing thing that defines this festival are huge paper lanterns that are lit and let lose into the sky. As they float, they get smaller and smaller until they just seem to disappear. We definitely had to try a few of our own. These continued to be present in the night sky for a whole week following. I wish I could have photographed them floating away. Truly beautiful experience!

Polyculture Farming

Here at Pun Pun, almost every inch of land is used to grow something useful. Passion fruit vies grow on trellaces covering the walkways and Citronella surrounds the meeting hall. Terraced garden beds are sculpted on contour and are filled with dozens of different vegetables and herbs. There are also many plants with which I am totally unfamiliar. For the most part their thai names escape me, but we refer to them as 'calcium plant' and 'protein tree' and many that just plain tasty. It's really great to see the things we are growing served in the dining hall. The connection of food to the land feels wonderful.

So far, I have been able to list the following fruits and veggies growing on the property:

passion fruit, papaya, bananas, guava, kefir limes, mangoes, avacado, mulberry, jujube, pineabpple, dragon fruit, pomelo, jack fruit, star fruit, jam fruit, watermelon, cashew, kale, chinese cabbage, tomato (currently 28 varieties), peppers, chinese chives, basil (sweet, spicy, purple...) morning glory (wonderful edible greens), yard-long beans, pumpkin, squash, macademia nut, sticky rice, loufa, tuneric, celery, coriander, mint, dill, and i keep learning about more. Many things have fruits which I can't identify. Every plant here is edible, except for the leaves of the cassava, so it's great to go around and try all sorts of leaves and veggies.

A food forest is also underway, in which bananas (not actually a tree, but the largest herbacious plant) is used for shade and 'chop and drop' mulching, which is turn providing the appropriate climate for the young jack fruits, mangoes, and longan trees to get a hold. We take showers, do laundry and often make our compost piles right in the midst of this area.

The pictures below show are area at the highest point on the property, which had a cover crop of black sesame through the rainy season and we are now turning into productive beds.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Welcome to Pun Pun

Welcome to Northern Thailand! Here now, I am staying put for a couple of months to learn about organic farming and earthen adobe building. So far the place has been simply wonderful and new experiences have been walking into my life in all sorts of ways.

I am living in a simple bamboo hut with three very large spiders. This took a while to be comfortable with, but I now see them as my protectors from all the other bugs. My daily schedule starts with yoga every morning at 7am. It is a very mindful practice and a great way to wake my body and set an intention for the day. Then we have breakfast around 8am. For me this consists of fresh papaya and bananas and homemade soymilk with barley and brown sugar. We have two work sessions throughout the day, 9am-12noon, lunch, and 1:30-4:30pm, these are dedicated to gardening and building. We each have our own garden beds and will be learning about seed saving once they are grown. The building project is a two story house for Peggy and Jo, the founders of Pun Pun. It’s a really beautiful design including a main circular form and rectangular extensions of from that. We will doing all aspects of the project with few resources, so there is a lot too learn, even for the experienced builders like myself. Once a week we have an Appropriate Technology Practicum, where we’ve been split into different group to build projects around the farm including rainwater catchment, UV water filtration, solar hot water production and testing the effects of Bio-char on garden beds. An amazing amount of information and practical application! We have a bit of free time before dinner where we can go swimming in the village reservoir (twenty minute walk through the village Mai Jo) or grab a pineapple coconut shake at the You Sabai Cafe on the neighboring property. You Sabai is a beautiful, peaceful place to read, contemplate, or meet with friends with a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains and daily sunset. Lunch and dinner are always healthy and delicious, we usually have brown rice with a soup full of organic vegetables or sticky rice with a spicy thai sauce and raw vegetables to mix with it. This is by far the healthiest eating I’ll have ever had for a prolonged period of time. It feels great! The evenings we usually have free, but on Monday nights we watch movies, mostly documentaries of current global concerns (my favorite!) and on Tuesdays we have a discussion group on globalization or on food production. We have lots of reading to do in preparation for these discussions, but so far I have learned a lot from them. I had no idea this place was going to be so academic. Other evenings we have been blessed with festivals in the local community and parties for birthdays of the folks in our group. There is nothing better than a chocolate cake when you haven’t had any sweets for a week.

Most of what I am learning here is actually about living simply and finding inner peace, which I am grateful to be able to focus on at this point in my life. Pun Pun provides what we all seem to be calling the perfect life-doing the things we love while learning how to be a conscious and productive part of today's world.