Living on a farm in Thailand - Our Second Year
Updated: Feb 11
I'm beginning to realise that the saying "years begin to pass quicker as you get older" rings true. This second-year living on our Thailand farmstead has shot passed in the blink of an eye.
As I begin to write about the events over the last twelve months, I'm genuinely flabbergasted where the time has gone. If each year accelerates year upon year like this one, then I'll feel somewhat short-changed.
Never the less, 2019 has been another fulfilling and enjoyable year.
We have also found it testing, relentless, frustrating and exhausting too.
Living in Thailand 2019
Here are some of the highlights and the lowlights of the past year.
Issues being a landlord in Thailand
Not exactly anything to do with farming in Thailand, but here's was the first frustrating part of 2019 then.
Our small village house had been stood empty for several months. This was due to us being unable to find a genuinely interested buyer for the property.
Rather than let it sit vacant and deteriorating, we decided to rent it out. A very reasonable monthly rent of just 1500 Thai baht was agreed with our first tenants with one month upfront and a month's deposit taken.
That was the first and last time we were paid on time!
Toon soon visited the property to nag for the rent and have a quick check on things. The place was a wreck.
It transpired that our tenants sold fish at various markets dotted around the local area.
Basically, they were gutting and cleaning fish on a daily basis. Fish scales, rotten head and guts were strewn everywhere outside the property.
Toon gave them a chance to clean up and said she'd be back in a week. On her return, there was no change in the state of the place. Toon nagged them for the late rent, which they eventually paid.
They then vacated the property without settling the utility bills, so the deposit was retained. Two days of cleaning up, then followed.
A young couple then moved in. Never once was the rent paid on time, and the house was trashed yet again. The tenants were given their marching orders, and it took a couple of months to get the rental arrears.
After this Toon and I decided against any further rentals. We furnished the place nicely as best we could on a slim budget. We now let the property out to visitors to our farm. So far, so good and not one issue to date.
There are few things that Toon and I enjoy more than foraging for food. Usually done on our or neighbouring farms, hunting for crabs, fish and snails, it makes for a fun few hours.
This year saw us go one better. With Toon's little niece in tow, we headed for our nearby river. Our target was clams/freshwater mussels. Luckily we beat the locals in the village, and we hit the jackpot.
The smallest shellfish were stocked into the lake and fish ponds to grow on and hopefully multiply in numbers.
The rest Toon made into several tasty, spicy meals. We had so many we even sun-dried some and sold a few.
I had watched a few videos on crayfish/crawfish that got me interested in trying to grow some of our own. In particular, the Redclaw (Cherax quadricarinatus), also known as Yabbies, looked promising. Hours were spent researching them and the possibility of raising them here in Thailand.
Many people will have you believe that it's illegal to grow yabbies because they are classed as being a non-native species and potentially invasive in Thai waterways.
This isn't 100% correct.
Yes, they are non-native species and potentially invasive here in Thailand, but that doesn't mean you're not permitted to grow them.
We visited our local Fisheries and Aquaculture Department and completed an initial application. Two weeks later four officials visited our farm to check our set up and talk through our plans. An hour later, we were given a certificate allowing us to grow our Redclaw crayfish.
1500 baby Yabbies soon arrived and were stocked into our cement tank. Again, many people will tell you that you can't grow crayfish in these cement tanks . . . well, we have.
There they have stayed growing well and are now ready to be transferred into one of our large grow-out ponds.
We have received several enquiries from people interested in placing orders once we are ready to begin selling, so we're feeling hopeful.
Starting our first website & blog
It was a big plunge and quite daunting, creating our first ever living in Thailand blog/website. As with most things, I like taking a hands-on approach rather than let someone else do it.
I find it an enjoyable challenge, but also a bit frustrating. I don't have as much available time to create new posts as I'd like.
Maybe if we ever get another rainy season, I can crank more content out while it's piddling down outside.
Trying to make money farming poultry in Thailand
Towards the end of our second year on the farm, we had to make a tough decision. Our Khaki Campbell ducks weren't turning enough of a profit to warrant continuing with them. The pelleted feed costs had increased considerably.
We had tried no end in cutting the feed costs by introducing chopped up banana plants, morning glory, rosette water lettuce and rice.
In the end, it was too much work for too little profit, and we couldn't justify the hours that egg-laying ducks require each day.
We sold them, the whole lot, all 126 of them. It was at a loss, but one that we felt we had to take on the chin and move forward with a lesson learned.
It's a decision that we don't regret.
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My mum had a lovely month with us on the farm. It was great to have a natter over a cup of tea and to catch up on things back in the UK.
As always, mum took an active role during her time with us. Endless hours gardening and helping out around the place. Her backside hardly touched a chair.
Exploring non-tourist locations in Thailand
We managed to get a handful of days, well more like hours, off the farm this last year. We rarely ventured far, always needing to get back and sort the farm livestock out.
Never the less, we always enjoy what time we can get away from the farm, but we're still glad to get back.
We have two places nearby that we eat out at probably two or three times a month. Both locations offer excellent quality food with friendly service. It gives Toon an evening off cooking, which is great if we've had a really hard day.
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Thailand electrical storms
Thinking back to the storm that hit our farm, and the surrounding area still affects us to some degree. It's times like that you feel small and incredibly vulnerable against the might of mother nature.
Although the damage impacted us emotionally, it could have been far worse. Some of our neighbours were much worse affected than us.
The support we received from our YouTube viewers was genuinely heartwarming. It took us back just how many people supported us. Even our friend Eddie, who we had never met face to face, drove all the way from his home in Chiang Mai to give us a hand.
Injuries on the farm
The worst injury on the farm in 2019 was from a roofing nail. Going through the bottom of my flipflop and into my heel . . . a lesser man would have cried and screamed like a girl.
Tetanus was up to date so no issues.
Toon and I suffered one scorpion sting a piece and took the honours with the only centipede bit of the year.
Fixing our old Kubota tractor
Our ancient Kubota tractor, called CZar, started peeing water all over the place which raised her temperature through the roof.
Toon and I tried to fix her up, but a lack of knowledge around the old girl and the wrong tools saw us get some help in.
A new water pump came in at just 350 Thai baht including the guy's labour . . . what a top bloke.
Just waiting for something that needs ploughing so I can dust her down.
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Setting up irrigation for our bamboo plants
Our Taiwan bamboo has come on leaps and bounds over the year. It would have done even better had the rains come when they had been forecast.
We waited and waited for the rainy season to come. In reality, we waited too long. The bamboo suffered, drooped and many new shoots dried up.
Although probably a month late we installed irrigation pipework from the lake using a small solar system. It worked, but to be fair, it wasn't anywhere near powerful enough to quench our 160 large bamboo plants.
Anyway, it saved the plants, then as luck would have it the rains came the very next week!
We currently aren't irrigating the bamboo, not because of the weather (it's the dry season) but because our hired farm help cut the irrigation pipework about a hundred times when clearing weeds!
Leigh to fix bamboo irrigation pipework is on my to-do-list.
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Cockfighting in Thailand
No, we haven't started cockfighting.
It appears that a guy who sometimes looks after our farm likes watching cockerels fighting. By pure coincidence, two of our best cockerels somehow got loose while we were off the farm.
My favourite rooster, Rod Stewart, didn't pull through. What can you do? We weren't here so couldn't prove anything or say too much.
Treating haemorrhoids with Beijing grass
At one point, this year was a real pain in the ass. Piles to be precise.
By pure luck, I had planted some Beijing grass around the house. Under Toon's mum's instruction, nine leaves together with one piece of rock salt were munched once a day for a week.
The 'Farmer Giles' hasn't been seen since. Truly amazing stuff.
DIY cleansing face mask
As the years go by, I am now being to show my age.
Luckily Toon had a DIY home face pack to reverse the effects of my years of hard work. Tissues, free-range egg whites, organic limes and folk were prepped.
Toon soon had me looking like a new younger husband. I was chuffed to bits. Toon seemed happy too.
Mushroom hunting success
It has to be said that we don't always do well foraging for mushrooms. However, one day saw us hit a mushroom jackpot.
This find wasn't any old mushrooms though. It was a huge uncommon fungus known in Thailand as 'Elephant foot.'
Not the tastiest of mushrooms, but wow, a whopper!
Getting in an excavator to dig an irrigation canal
When the rains finally arrived, it dumped a lot in a short space of time.
This highlighted two things.
One, the palm nut trees became flooded.
Two, we needed to retain as much water on the land as possible and for as long as possible.
The topsoil on our farm is almost devoid of humus. This means water in, water out. It just can't hold moisture.
To counteract this, we had a ditch dug all around the outside of the lake. It incorporates where water flow enters our land and exits it. Now when there's heavy rainfall, the palms keep their roots above the water levels, and when the drier months are upon us, we still have water available.
A bonus is that we now have somewhere to collect thousands of wild fish that become stranded in the ditch each dry season.
Growing organic produce in Thailand
We are pleased to announce that we have now completed a whole year without the use of chemicals on Porpeang farm.
This actually stretches further back than a year, but it's our first entire year without touching the horrible stuff.
One thing is for sure, while there's a whole in our backsides, there won't be any more harmful chemicals used on our farm.
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Composting organic matter
It's taken me a while to get my arse into gear and begin composting. To be fair, I should have started ages ago.
I had a go at eighteen-day hot composting. Wow, they aren't kidding that it's hot!
These days our composting setup is playing an ever-increasing role here on the farm.
It's one of my missions in life to regenerate our soil.
Mr Box collaboration YouTube video
A few weeks after publishing 'The Chicken and the Somtam' movie, we received an intriguing email.
The email was from Mr Box, titled 'Careful what you wish for.'
For those of you who aren't familiar with Mr Box, I have always been impressed by his short videos on YouTube and his impressive editing skills and humour.
We struck up a rapport over several years chatting in the comments sections on our YouTube channels. One comment I made was that I'd love it if Mr Box would work his editing magic on some of our farming footage.
Well, he did us proud.
I must have watched his 'From farm to folk' video twenty times by now. The bloke has some impressive skills.
Thanks, Mr Box, you're a YouTube legend in my book.
Free garlic chives rhizomes
We only really get to hear about the undesirables these days.
But here's another example of there being so many great people online.
A fellow YouTuber, who I have watched for several years, kindly sent us a batch of garlic chive rhizomes.
I had been trying to source some for an absolute age with no luck.
I have never got to meet Paul in person, and yet here's a wonderful example of some of the good eggs that have emigrated over to Thailand.
Thanks, Paul, you're a top bloke.
Python & Water Monitor Lizards in Thailand
It was scary at times on the farm this year. Snakes were hiding in tyres, large Water Monitor lizards stealing our poultry eggs and frightening the life out of the dogs.
BUT the huge python was a whole new ballpark. At over 3m in length and stealth that be belied its size, it made short work of one of our prized adult geese.
The doomed goose still had a say in what followed though.
Due to the python's enormous appetite, it couldn't sneak back out under the fence. Its stomach was the size of an oversized football!
Thankfully, Toon's two older brothers were visiting at the time, so the goose was retrieved (somewhat tenderised), and the snake was removed.
A fantastic goose curry feast helped to make up for our loss.
Goat farming in Thailand
Those of you that have been following us here on the farm, you will know all about our beloved goat herd.
Initially, we purchased just three young females as a fun way to help clear weeds and create free manure.
We weren't expecting for us to fall head over heels in love with raising these fantastic animals.
Three females soon became six. Then we added a billy we called Mr Tumnus (Toon's favourite film is Narnia.) After this, we acquired an additional three older females.
The end of 2019, our first kids were born on the farm. Two in December and then a set of twins in January.
We are so focused on developing the goat business that we have now begun to streamline other things on the farm.
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Biochar & livestock integration
If there was one thing that I had to cherry-pick that excited me the most in 2019 (apart from the goats), it would be discovering Biochar.
I began learning what it is, what it can do, how to make it, and how best to integrate it on our farm.
Quite simply, it's incredible stuff.
It has the potential of being a fantastic soil amendment and helps to combat harmful greenhouse gases.
We source all the timber for free from our farm and nearby. It's bonkers the amount of dead timber is just laying around unutilized.
By using a simple cone-pit technique, no purchasing of a barrel or rocket stove is required to create an endless supply of Biochar.
I now make a fresh batch every two weeks.
For best results, you shouldn't apply raw Biochar to the land (it will rob the topsoil of the few nutrients that are in it.)
A simple inoculation or charging process is required to unlock and maximise the Biochar's potential.
We do this by crushing it then applying it on the ground under our livestock areas. Not only does this supercharge the Biochar, but it also soaks up excess urine from the goats and keeps odours down.
The goat urine also adds additional nitrogen, so it's a win-win for us.
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Setting up a Vermicomposting system
I only just started keeping worms in the last month.
I have constructed a tank for them in the chicken house but had failed to source a supplier of proper composting worms (not all worms are equal in vermicomposting.)
As luck would have it, a kind chap called Chris, knew a 'worm lady' in his local village. Within a week a box full of wrigglers arrived and were introduced into the tank.
Currently poultry manure, fallen leaves and Biochar are being added regularly. The soil is gradually turning into worm castings, and we are beginning to collect our first bottles of worm leachate (worm pee).
Old foreign men marrying young Thai women video
2019 saw our YouTube channel hit a high of over 24,000 views for just one video! It was a video that covered a contentious issue regarding why Thai women often marry much older foreign men.
Needless to say, it caused quite a stir online. Thankfully, the vast majority of viewers enjoyed Toon's personal take on this sensitive issue, and the video continues to grow.
We also got the video reviewed on Thailand TalkBack Livestream . . . praise indeed.
It's just a shame that Toon's strong language (commonly referred to as potty mouth) prompted YouTube to restrict the ad revenue initially.
Oh well, maybe next time we have a hit we'll make a fortune!
i131 - Radioactive iodine treatment for hypothyroidism
Without a doubt, Toon's radioactive treatment for her thyroid condition was our most testing time over the year.
Toon had been suffering badly from low energy levels, mood swings and weight gain. Although she covers things up well, she had been at an all-time low for well over a year.
Thankfully, we managed to get her referred for i131 or iodine 131 treatment.
During her radioactive treatment, it gave me time to reflect on how fabulous Toon is and to recount a story from her early years.
Once I began to write the words started to flow, and I found it quite emotional to recount one story that Toon had shared with me years before.
It's not every man who can stake a claim to marrying a woman who had qualified for the student Olympics.
Although heartwrenching at times, I felt it would make a great video and something totally different from what we would usually publish.
Numerous people who watched the video said it should be made into a film. Others have asked for us to write a book about Toon's life.
We'll see, you never know.
Thailand Farmstead visits
This last year saw our first visitors to our farm. These have been people who have watched us on our YouTube channel, followed us on Facebook or discovered our website.
It's sometimes tricky to juggle our time to accommodate farm visits, but on the whole, it's been great to put faces to names.
It's enjoyable to have a natter over a cup of tea or a cold beer and share our experiences of farming in Thailand.
Missing the UK living in Thailand
So two years have now been completed living on our Thai farmstead.
Q: Am I missing the UK?
A: Yes, but only a smidgen.
Missing family members is the only major thing that comes to mind.
The other things are just minor bits and bobs, for example:
Proper fish and chips,
Watching Liverpool football matches with my sister and brother in law at the local pub,
My mum's Sunday roast dinners,
and finally, family Christmas day festivities.
Conclusion and looking forward to our third year on the farm
It's been a hectic year, no doubt about that.
Toon's medical issues were our biggest hurdle and quite a worry. Thankfully, in true Toon's style, she's bouncing back well.
The storm we experienced rocked us for some time before we rolled our sleeves up and got on with things.
Losing a few Thai baht on the Khaki Campbell ducks was initially hard to take, but a lesson well learned.
We now find ourselves entering into our third year. We anticipate that we will be able to start selling bamboo shoots once the rains return.
The palms and eucalyptus are growing well. We should see a spurt in growth with the next much needed rainy season.
Hopes are high for our crayfish venture with the view to increase their numbers considerably over the next twelve months.
We're excited to begin the remodelling of the goat island on the lake and creating fishing platforms for visitors to the farm.
Above all else, we are most enthusiastic about the goats and our plans for the future.
If we had to choose just one thing to farm, it would definitely be the goats (it's not even close.)
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