It has been two years since we broke ground at Project Merbok. The site was once a windswept hill covered with lalang (Imperata cylindrica) without any trees. The landowner wanted to do up the place as a retreat centre for his employees. A small house would be built, and behind the building there were to be fruit trees, vegetables, livestock, and fish ponds, all grown organically. To fulfill this vision, we did some earthworks for the ponds and vegetable terrace, brought in lots of compost, and planted many trees. Today, the landscape is much different from what it was two years ago. It’s like a little green oasis in the open grassland. We would like to share some photos and what we learnt.
A little green oasis in the open grassland
We previously posted that creating a windbreak was one of the most important tasks. The site is a hilltop and the highest point for a good distance all around. Without the windbreak, most of the fruit trees and edible plants would suffer. Despite being planted on the harshest area with the poorest soils, the Casuarina (Casuarina equisetifolia or Rhu) have been growing rapidly and doing well. The Eugenia (Eugenia oleina, or Syzgium campanulatum) are growing as well, but definitely slower. In some areas, we had to help them with competition from creepers and tall grasses. As our windbreak trees grow, they will slowly create a micro-climate more conducive for the other plants.
The tall Casuarina trees (left) provide wind and sun protection for the other trees (right).
View from the front, where the building will eventually be. Casuraina planted on the ridge line.
Two rows of casuarina trees.
Eugenia (left) getting competition from creepers and other weeds.
We came up with the initial design for the 10-acre Project Lombong after a couple months of deliberation. The first thing that we implemented was earth-shaping for water and access. The heavy machines would need to do their work before we start planting. After that it would be difficult for the machines to maneuver freely.
Lay of the Land
The highest point of the land is on the eastern corner at 49m elevation (top center on map below). From there, it slopes down to the west, ending at the western corner at 26m elevation (bottom left on map). The slope is mild: averaging about 6 degrees, with a maximum of 11.3 degrees. The shape of the slope is a ridge; there are no valleys.
We planned for roads to run along the boundary. They will be 5m from the edge to allow space for a hedgerow. Due to the heavy rains here, the earthworks contractor double-cambered the roads (highest point in the middle, sloping down to the sides) to help drainage. Some of the water will be diverted into swales to soak into the soil.
After digging the mudtrack, Kevin’s 4-wheel drive got stuck on the road once during a rain. He then decided to put gravel on the roads to help with traction. We were very lucky that the earthworks contractor found some spots on the land with red gravel. Those gravel will be excavated and spread on the sloping roads. These spots would then become ponds. That would save lots of money. Local experience is so important! Continue reading
During our stay at Maejo Baandin in Chiangmai, we met a couple who have been staying there for a while. Po is from Bangkok and Shiran is from Israel. They are both musicians and met in India when they were there studying classical Indian music. They have a small white dog that they adopted from the streets.
The entrance from the main road
They had recently bought a piece of land around Maejo village to – as Po puts it – retire on. Po was a music producer and had been in the music industry in Bangkok since he was a university student. He eventually became very jaded of the superficiality and commercial aspect of the industry that he moved to a remote island in Thailand. He has traveled around quite a bit and was even a forest monk for a year. Po might seem very old from my description but he is only in his early 30s. He laughs readily and his humour is eccentric. When offered an ice-cream by a young boy, he exclaimed: “No I can’t eat that, I’m a rockstar! Continue reading
A family friend has asked me to help start an organic farm in the premises of a timber factory in Johor Malaysia. I am calling it Project Nanas because nanas means pineapple in Malay. The location of this factory is at Pekan Nanas which literally means Pineapple Town. This place used to produce the most pineapple throughout Malaysia! Interestingly, many European languages (including German, French, Norwegian, Hungarian, Greek, Finnish, and probably more) call pineapple “ananas”.
The objective of this farm is to provide employees with fresh vegetables and also green up the premises. The factory is currently expanding and constructing a warehouse. A long and narrow strip of land that is sandwiched between this new warehouse and a river is where the farm will be. Continue reading