Readers' Submissions

Living in the Garden of Eatin’



Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

I may possibly have a talent or two, but I am definitely no Master of Agronomy. If I ever have a green thumb, please rush me immediately to the nearest hospital, because I must have a severe case of gangrene setting in! That’s not to say that I have a black thumb either. Plants don’t simply curl up and die at my tender ministrations. It’s just that gardening, when you come down to it is hot, sweaty work…not to mention dirty and hard on my tender knees and back.

So how is it then that our garden here in Lampang is a virtual cornucopia of tropical fruits, vegetables and flowers? The answer is simple. I married the proverbial farmer’s daughter, straight from the hinterlands of Buriram. My darling may have a degree in computer science, but as the old saying goes, “You can take the girl off of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the girl”! In my wife’s case truer words were never spoken.

Over the past decade whenever we’ve visited her village, you can count on her at some point gleefully wading through the rice paddies, planting green shoots like some kind of piece of human farm machinery. I was once cajoled into trying it myself. Once was more than enough! It wasn’t standing in the black ooze that offended me. Hell that is kind of soothing. No, it was the stooping that did me in.. I’ve never been all that flexible, even in my misspent youth. Back then I did attempt to do a set of yoga asanas daily, but was never able to sit in the Lotus position. Things have certainly not improved over the years. At this point I can only look wistfully at the “India Rubber Man”…or Gumby. Ah, the mind is willing (sort of) but the flesh indignantly tells the mind to go fuck off and leave the body the hell alone!

How Thai farmers do all that bending, and the rest of the daily grind that makes up their lives under the blazing sun is beyond this poor mortal. My tee-rak likes to quote an old Thai proverb that describes the life of a farmer: “Face to the earth, back to the sky”. I once volunteered to help with the family rice harvest…until everyone told me to sit down and get the hell out of the way!

Back in Massachusetts when we first started contemplating moving to Thailand, my wife and I used to daydream about going out to our hypothetical back yard and enjoying a fresh green coconut from out very own coconut tree. If we had any sense we might have fantasized about winning a few hundred million in an upcoming lottery, but our dreams ere much for humble, not to mention realistic. Before my first visit to Thailand I never new how utterly delightful the juice of a fresh coconut could be. The Gods on Olympus can have their Ambrosia, I’ll settle for nam maprow any day!

Long before we began thinking of moving here, my wife was obsessed with owning land…lots and lots of prime farmland. After a whole lot of subtle (and not so subtle) arm twisting, I gave in and let her purchase a sizable piece of land near her family’s farm. Don’t ask me how many rai. I haven’t a clue. All I know that it takes a major bit of hiking to walk around it. Currently it is producing a bumper crop of sugar cane. We’ve taken care to fertilize and supply plenty of water, so our yield has increased yearly. It is nice to receive some supplemental income, and if things really do go to hell in a hand basket, we won’t starve.

When we built our home here in Lampang, we weren’t in a position to purchase a large piece of land. It turned out that not owning a lot of land was not a serious obstacle to having a large garden. We simply needed to do things “the Thai way.” Immediately behind our home is an enormous tract of land belonging to the Lampang municipality. Apparently it has sat there untouched forever. So, in typical Thai fashion we helped ourselves to a fair chunk of it. Hey, even in Thailand, “possession is 99 % of the law!” Since then we have planted whatever we like. I think we actually performed a public service by clearing away a whole lot of ugly scrub, and turning this land into something lush and lovely. Our neighbors often comment on the flowers which grow in profusion, and are happy to accept gifts of fruit and vegetables. Hell, most of them have planted gardens of their own there!

Running along one side of this strip of land is an irrigation canal. During much of the year it is full of water for the taking, providing you are willing to haul it out by hand. I don’t think you will be surprised to know that this not my idea of a good time. My wife, in typical Isaan fashion has cut in half a gallon plastic bottle and mounted it on a long pole for vigorous dipping. Moi, the “lazy” farang is content to reel out our garden hose to do my watering. I am a dedicated watering fool though. Even in the middle of the dry season, when everything around is brown, our yard stands out as a green oasis.

At this point I should introduce my mother-in-law into the picture. This formidable woman lives with us on and off. My wife may dabble as a farmer, but her mother is the real deal. Even though she is older than I am, she thinks nothing of digging for hours under the hot sun with hoe, rake and shovel. She is also a true believer of what I refer to as The Darwinian School of Horticulture…that is to say. Throw everything but the kitchen sink in the ground and let every species “duke it out” for survival! It may sound absurd to have flowers, chilies, pumpkins and eggplants all commingling among the fruit trees. It may look like something straight out of a painting by Hieronymus Bosch, but despite the seeming vegetable incestuous of it all, we do seem to grow enormous quantities of produce for our table. Besides the above mentioned vegetables, there are tomatoes, green onions, lemongrass, ginger and a variety of Thai vegetables and herbs that I have no name for.

Then there a myriad of fruit trees growing, both in our yard, and outside. I am amazed at how fast all of them have grown since we first planted them. These couldn’t qualify for the term saplings. They were barely more than twigs when they went into the ground (my wife being notoriously tight with a baht). But today most of them have not only grown and matured, but are bearing fruit. Thailand is blessed with an ideal climate, with plenty of sunshine and rain. Unlike my former home in New England, the growing season is 365 days a year. Virtually everything you plant shoots up towards the sky like Jack’s beanstalk. We have an active composting system in place to help fertilize the soil.
Insert Picture: Compost

How we started composting is a story in itself. For the details please refer to a previous submission, Talking Trash.

We usually have 6-8 Banana trees growing at any given time. Banana trees, grow quickly, but don’t live forever, so we are always replanting from time to time. My wife, among other things makes fried bananas that better than anything you’ll find at the market.

On one side of our house are two guava trees. Guavas, or to give them their Thai name, “farang” don’t really have much flavor as far as I’m concerned, but sliced and dipped into a mixture of dried chilies, salt and sugar, they become quite tasty. On the other side of the house are two Chinese Gooseberry trees. The fruit they produce grow in bunches like grapes, are one of the sourest things I’ve ever eaten. Luckily I am an aficionado of all things sour. In Thai fashion I dip them in salt. These things will pucker your mouth like you wouldn’t believe, but somehow I keep reaching for one more…again and again!

On the opposite side of the flavor spectrum, we currently have four Jackfruit trees, all of them producing enough of the sugary fruit to send you into a diabetic coma. They are actually too sweet for me, but everyone else in my family likes Jackfruit. By the way, did you know that Jackfruit is the Word’s Largest Fruit? Or is it the heaviest? I forget. I have no idea how these massive things, much larger than a watermelon, manage to grow without falling to the ground.

We have one Pomegranate tree, which presently is chock full of fruit. While in my humble opinion the Thai variety is not as delicious as those that come from the Mediterranean, they are still tasty.

We have one tree, whose name I believe is Sapodilla. The fruit look like a small elongated Kiwi Fruit, and has an unusual taste that is hard to describe.

Up her in the North, the climate seems especially fine for growing Longan or Lom Yai. In Lampoon, on the way to Chiang Mai, they have a big Longan Festival ever year; complete with a parade and of course a lovely Longan Queen. We have a few Longan trees whose bountiful fruit should e ripening in a few weeks. Our little boy sam especially loves Longan, and would happily stuff himself with it if given the chance.

We have Lychee and a Rambuttan trees which hopefully will bear fruit in the coming year. Rambuttan has to be one of the strangest looking fruits, but is delicious none the less. Before coming to Thailand, the only Leeches I’d ever had were of the tinned variety at the end of a meal in a Chinese restaurant. Not surprisingly, the fresh variety tastes a whole lot better.

We have two Lime trees which are doing quite well. I can never have too many limes! There are also a couple of lime leaf trees for use in curries and in Tom Yom Koong.

Alas we have only one mango tree! We harvested our first mangoes this year. They were good, both eaten green and ripe. These trees grow to an enormous size. If I live long enough, I just may be able to sit in the shade while devouring a mango or two. In the meantime, I have a dedicated young apprentice to bring me a ripe mango from time to time

I have one lemon tree, which believe it or not I started from a seed. It is quite tall, but has not yielded any fruit. According to my know-it-all German neighbor, it will never do so unless I do some grafting. Who knows? I take everything this so called “expert” says with more than a grain or two of salt.

About four months ago we planted two new trees. One is a Pomelo, which is a “cousin” I suppose to Grapefruit. The other is a Marion Plum, whose fruit is delightfully sweet and sour. It will be a few years before we can enjoy ant fruit from these, but like all good things will be worth the wait.

My wife, who is a thrifty gal has started planted the tops of some grapefruit near our back gate, and damn it if they aren’t actually growing. Fresh pineapple straight from the vine? Oh, yes indeed!

We have a couple of Champoo (Rose Apple) trees, and a few Sugar Apple trees as well. The fruit from the later are strange prehistoric looking things, with green “scales”.

Much to my regret we have no Mangosteen trees! There are my single favorite Thai fruit. I’ve looked high and low, but have never found any gardening store that sells them. My wife claims that they don’t grow here, but I can’t imagine why.

We don’t have any Star Fruit, Dragon Fruit or Tamarind trees growing. My wife isn’t crazy about the first two, and there is an enormous Tamarind tree growing down the road that produces enough sticky fruit for everyone in the neighborhood.

I did have a large and health Avocado tree, that would have been providing me with fruit to supply all my guacamole needs…if only my wife hadn’t had her mother take it out of the large pot it was growing in, and stick it in the ground. “Leave the damn thing alone” I insisted! “It’s doing so well. Don’t mess with success!” One afternoon while I was out the deed was done. The poor tree immediately died. It is impossible to find any avocados in Lampang. I have to go to an expensive market in Chiang Mai if I’m in the mood for guacamole.

When we planted our nine coconut trees, they were nothing more than green shoots poking out of some cracked coconuts. My how they have grown!

To date we have not had any coconuts, I hope that this will be the year! I can hardly wait to fulfill my dream of cutting one down and enjoying its sweet, refreshing nectar! In reality it will undoubtedly be my much younger wife who will be doing the climbing and cutting. She does have the knack of expertly wielding a machete. That’s one of the myriad and useful skills you pick up “down on the farm”. Ah, I can just picture it now, me reclining comfortably in my hammock after a long, hard day at school. My smile wife presents me with a cool green coconut with a straw sticking out of the top. After the last drop has been sipped, she whacks it down the middle, hands me spoon, and I enjoy the tender succulent flesh, savoring every bite. Some folks fantasize about winning the lottery. My dreams are much more modest, not to mention realistic. Just let me settle down in our very own Garden of Eatin’ and enjoy the good life.

Stickman's thoughts:

I recognise that garden! Even having visited, I never realised you had so many different types of fruit growing.