The rainy season has come to an end and there has been a lot of activity at the Grace Garden! Here is a brief rundown of what has been happening on the land these past few months:
Swale Maintenance: Over the rainy season the swales partially filled with sediment and weeds took over, threatening to choke out the planted NFTs and vetiver grass. First, we slashed all the weeds. Second, we dug out about a half meter of sediment from the swale and buried the slashed vegetation. Third, we covered everything with rice husk as a protective layer to suppress the weeds for a bit, provide organic matter, and also shield the soil from the sun and keep the moisture in. One swale repaired, one more to go.
Weed Whacking: In preparation for building the classroom and kitchen, an area approximately 30 meters by 30 meters was cleared. In the process of cutting back the 5 foot tall prickle bushes that had taken over the land, we uncovered and liberated many teak trees! The process was demanding on our equipment and we had to re-handle our machetes multiple times. The re-handling process involved trekking through the jungle to harvest the appropriately aged bamboo, fashioning it to the proper length and end thickness, attaching the tool head, and finally securing it with a nail. I must say, there is something deeply satisfying about swinging around a machete and attacking weeds.
Material Accumulation: Ponchai, aka Miracle Man, has been a wizard in gathering materials for Grace Garden. One day we mention a need for rice husk and later that afternoon we traveled to a nearby town and collected 18 rice bags worth all for just 200 baht, the price of the bags. Another day we mention an interest in gathering cardboard, Ponchai promises to inquire in town, and later that afternoon we are carrying a truck load up to Grace Garden with the knowledge of a reliable local source of cardboard. We have also made friends with our neighbor who keeps a heard of cows and now have an endless supply of manure. Lastly, as the cold season begins, we have been diligently collecting the newly fallen teak leaves to be used in mulch, compost, etc and as soon as the rice harvest concludes we plan to buy another few truck loads of rice straw.
Water Spigot Construction: As the dry season is underway, we have added a water point next to the nursery with easy access to the nursery, compost pile, and vegetable garden space. First, we dug up the water line at the approximate location we wanted the water spigot. We then cut a portion of the pipe out and inserted a T joint. We cut the pipe again a few inches downhill of the joint and inserted a ball valve so we will be able to shut off water to the house and direct it instead to the spigot when needed. From the T joint we ran another section of pipe off to the side to where we wanted the spigot. A few elbow joints, a tap, plumbing tape, a stabilizing post, and some zip ties and we’ve created the spigot. We placed rocks and chunks of concrete at the base to prevent a muddy mess when it inevitably leaks. The 30 meters of soft pipe reaches all the way to the bean fence. Perfect.
Bean Fence Maintenance: A beautiful curved bamboo fence was built near the staff house with a few beans planted to wind up around the fence. It had since fallen into disrepair and the beans, and weeds, had gone wild. To bring the fence back to its former glory, first, the weeds were slashed along the fence. Second, new bamboo posts were strategically placed to support the listing fence and force it upright. Third, we retied each fence joint with bamboo ties. This last step involved trekking thought the jungle to harvest some bamboo, cutting it up into the proper strips, and finally using the strips to secure each joint. Using the word “tying” is misleading; to secure joints with bamboo strips, you simply wrap the bamboo around the joint and then twist the ends to together until it twists in on itself and becomes a sort of knot. The next step will be to mulch the area and plant some new beans and other vine plants to crawl up the fence.
Tree Rehabilitation: An integral part of a forest garden are trees. The trees planted near the upper south swale by the water tanks were being choked out by weeds. To give them a leg up we mulched an approximately 3ft x 3ft area around each tree. This involved slashing the weeds, watering the ground, then circling each tree with cardboard, watering the cardboard, covering the cardboard with rice straw, then watering the rice straw. For much of the watering we took water straight from the 2 in diameter black hose that connects to the well and solar powered water pump. In the process, Jobwa got more than a little wet.
Land Survey: Dave, a recurring BGET volunteer, spent another few weeks at Grace Garden. During his brief visit he was able to survey the land and create a 3D map of the property. The survey was conducted with very simple tools: two equally tall bamboo posts, a tape measure, a compass, and a scope. A data point included the distance between the two posts, the degrees from north from point A to point B, and the vertical angle from point A to point B. After these measurements were taken and recorded, the post from point A leapfrogged point B to a new location, point C, and the measurements were taken again, this time from point B to point C. A single survey ran full circle back to the initial position for quality control. In all we recorded over 200 data points over three days. The data points were converted to a 3D map via some trigonometry and fancy computer programs. We will use this 3D map to design and build the classroom and dorms and also for designing other systems, such as additional swales or a catchment pond.
Volunteers: We had two volunteers, Kwan and Tudtoo, come help out at Grace Garden for three days in October. Kwan and Tudtoo did a fantastic job helping with the swale maintenance. They also donated many seeds to Grace Garden. In addition, they spent time at Blessed Home conducting afternoon activities for the kids including coloring, story telling, playing games, leaf painting, and singing songs.
There has been a lot of activity here at Grace Garden and more projects are in the works!