Phayao Permaculture Center – Soil Building Strategies (Thailand)
The Phayao Permaculture Center (PPC) is a two acre permaculture design implemented to be the retirement farm for myself and my Thai family. It is located in the wet/dry tropics at 19 degrees north latitude in Northern Thailand.
Having taken the Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course with Bill Mollison on Maui, Hawaii in 1982, it has been my vision to retire on my own permaculture designed land. This came about in 2012 when I purchased land for my Thai family.
The design was formulated and implementation began. Of the many elements designed in permaculture fashion, soil enhancement was a major priority from the beginning as the tropical soil on this property was very deficient of nutrients as is typical of some tropical soils.
We consulted with the local Phayao Province government soil office, explained we were developing an organic farm and had soil strategies to make soil alive and healthy in lieu of chemical fertilization. We took soil samples for them to analyze and they came back with the recommendation to add 20-20-20 fertilizer.
O.K. So they didn’t get it.
Chemical fertilization history
In the 1890s an American scientist discovered that with three major chemicals (NPK) and 10 trace elements plants would grow. He later said he was sorry for discovering this and making it public and advised that chemicals could be the ruination of agriculture.
As a result chemicals replaced animal manures and green manures as a source of nutrients for plant growth. Chemicals make the soil dead and the earth is then used simply as a foundational structure to support the plant(s). Permaculture replaces chemical fertilizers with animal manures which provide a much richer source of nutrition for the plants and therefore the plants are more nutritious, as you know.
Permaculture fertilization at the PPC
The permaculture principle is to have a natural, alive and healthy soil. There are only 3 things necessary for an alive and healthy soil and those are the proper proportions of:
- organic matter.
Microorganisms and minerals are already in the soil to activate and bring to life nutrients for plant health. Soil pH is balanced by a living, healthy soil.
Soil comes from the tree and biomass litter in forests. It normally builds at the rate of 1 inch every hundred years. Applying PC principles, mulching, watering, manures, compost teas, etc. we can accelerate the process and build an inch in 3-5 years.
As Bill taught, we use composting in place at each plant as the major strategy. His slant was that there was no need to create separate compost piles when you can compost in situ. This is simply done by adding elements to the planting area and mulching heavily. This is the process we use here. Elements added include bio-char, wood chips, animal manures, shredded coconut husks with heavy rice straw mulch. In the future we will probably introduce composting to our operation but at this time we are too busy with everything else.
Also, the property was a 4-5 year old rubber tree plantation and one strategy I am implementing is to have the rubber trees replaced by the food forest over time. We are doing this by pollarding the rubber trees and spreading their leaves as mulch and chipping the smaller branches to use as a soil amendment.
Soil building is a major activity in Permaculture and needs to be addressed continually until it has stabilized in the natural process. We here at the Phayao Permaculture Center look forward to increasing soil viability and increasing alive and healthy soils.