About David Kane Miller

I live north of Chiang Mai, Thailand, in the village of Huai Kaew on one rai of land with my wife Nam.

The path to the coffee patch

6:30 Sunday morning — I’m expecting the end of the rainy season anytime now but an early morning downpour is putting my usual work schedule on hold. Hopefully the rain will let up later so we can make a run to the Sunday Mae Fak Market. Last week we went in for shallots and garlic and ended up buying some plants including an avocado. We’ve got one avocado Nam started from a seed but that is a very slow way to produce the desired result. Here are the two plants side by side:

We arranged with the garden stall vendors to order some plants that they will bring for us next Sunday, today. Two rambutan and two coffee plants. We have all the space that was devoted to Chiang Dah plants to fill up with a selection of plants.

Nam has been moving the baby plants that our large banana trees send out into the periphery. They are good soil builders and could be replaced by other plants if we desire later. We have about 20 bananas now. Two are producing bananas that are ripening and one big flower is starting a fresh batch.

I’ve got this urge to see what coffee plants are like although I understand we don’t have ideal conditions.

As part of the plans for that area I’m creating a walk path that will go down the center of our property to the end and make a loop. It will be about a meter wide, which will let me roll the lorry along it. Nam foresees a path shaded by intertwined mulberry branches and I’m intrigued to find out how she lines the path. She is thinking about the possibilities of having a two tiered layout of large plants covering an understory of plants that like shade.

It’s a pleasure to explore tropical plants after having a Pacific Northwest garden. I would never have expected to be growing a black pepper plant. One delightful addition to cuisine here is a sprinkle of twigs of green, unripe, peppercorns. Our pepper plant is young but beginning to produce:

In house we made a welcome addition to the kitchen. I had put together a work table made up of a piece of plywood supported by the handy modular plastic fruit crates. It was funky, couldn’t be moved, and was sitting directly on the floor so it couldn’t be cleaned underneath. We replaced it with an aluminum framed cabinet fronted by glass doors. Nam loves it.

I took the plastic boxes and plywood and created a better workspace in the workshop sihlamb.

The previous layout was being covered with sawdust from the industrious ant population working on the bamboo frame.

My aesthetic practice of successive approximations has certainly been put to the test in the construction of the sihlambs. I understand there are methods of producing bamboo that is longer lasting by soaking the bamboo in minerals but I think in my next iteration I am just going to switch to metal poles.

Nam picked up some young bamboo at the market on Tuesday and produced Spicy Curry with chicken and bamboo shoots. Too die for.

Nam thinks we should make a second bedroom out of part of the screened in porch. I think it is perfect as is. Her daughter Khim uses the table there to study.

The rain has let up and the ground is soft. Time to take the pick and work on the path.

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Dogs and mulberries

We get about 100 families going by our property every day on their way to work in their gardens, go fishing or live in isolated, rural houses. Of the fifty percent who travel on motorcycles, half of them have dogs trotting along with them. Dogs and humans are matter of fact partners. The dogs converse with our dogs.
Our dogs spend time each day out on the road and they can be annoying to drivers by. Our middle aged dog Nom Sot was lying in the road the other day when a car approached. Nam was watching and yelled for her to move but she was too lazy. The car hit her in the rear and she has been unable to walk for 10 days now. She is slowly recovering but we don’t know how far that will go.

Nam has made some stupendous mulberry jam. I don’t find the taste of an individual mulberry piquant but perhaps because Nam reduces a large quantity of berries to produce the jam the resulting taste is superbly rich. She uses very little sugar and no pectin.

I’ve made three batches of flat bread (we don’t have an oven) and I introduced Nam to peanut butter — she likes the mix.

Nam has joined a Facebook group that shares pictures of food they cook. Her latest efforts include a PaNang Curry (with pea eggplant Solanum torvum) :

and a Ping River fish, steamed and covered with spicy herbs and lemon :

We’re also enjoying coconuts. We happened to be shopping at our small, local Huai Kaew market when local people brought in a load of coconuts to be sold on consignment. Since they were the bargain price of 10 bahts each (30 cents) Nam snapped up all nineteen. We had to get the lorry to bring them all home. We are eating two per day. Heavenly.

Banana chips and guacomole, pavers and pesto

We’ve harvested another bunch of bananas, still green, and Nam makes chips by thinly slicing the solid bananas and then frying the slices in oil. They are excellent snacks for movie watching. I introduced Nam to guacamole recently but we didn’t have any chips. How about banana chips?

She liked the guacamole OK but has a real fondness for pesto. I found a jar of pesto made in Italy at the Rimping Market in Meechok Plaza and splurged. I also bought my first bottle of wine here (290 THB/$8.60–a red Australian), some pasta and a loaf of bread. They also had some soft, smelly cheese on sale because it was running out of time. I enjoyed the hell out of the pesto/bread/pasta/wine/cheese extravaganza — I’ve had farang food less than five times since I arrived here 3 and a half years ago.

Nam continues to create great food. She has been experimenting with tapioca. She made a tapioca cream desert with logan-lamyai fruit from our trees.

She has made some fried khanom kip morsels by wrapping a spicy filling with rice paper wrappers that she also uses to make spring rolls. Now she is wrapping the filling with tapioca beads and then steaming them.

Nam spends a lot of time gardening. I try to keep her in the kitchen by spending more time keeping the yard prettified than would be my wont. I never imagined becoming a man with a big yard to mow, but I spend some time every day trying to keep the grass trimmed.

We recently redesigned the front steps to make a place to clean your feet, now that the porch has become part of the house interior. We’ve started our long discussed use of pavers with this project.

Nam made the rock design in the concrete but the heart was my idea. K&k stand for Khim and Khing, Nam’s children.

Inside the porch we put a concrete table and benches. I thought it a remarkable bargain at 1300 THB ($30) delivered with the pavers (5 THB/less than 2 cents each). Nam and I sit here at night and play Thai checkers and I teach her the rudiments of chess. Our two kittens, Tung Tong and Tung Nuun, live on the porch until they are old enough for outside life. They yellow male is already sneaking out when he can.

Around and about the yard the Mango Tree garden area grows more luxurious:

If you zoom in you can see some of the many tiny chili peppers on the volunteer plant produced from seeds in bird poop.

My black grape is alive but the rainy season has not been kind to it.

But over at the fish ponds the passion fruit is kicking into gear.

Our mulberries are also paying off.

Nam wants to make some curving flower borders and I laid out a trial using some of the pavers near the path to the door.

The sihlamb near the mango tree is now an effective if not aesthetic shelter for the motorcycles.

More flowers and basil.

I’ve completed the cataract operation on my second eye and it is a pleasure to see everything plainly.

Landscaping

Perhaps we should call our property Anchaleephorn Park. With the arrival of our own weed whacker our ability to keep the grounds manicured increased exponentially. I started clearing a path to the end of the property to move the lorry easily and one thing led to another. We had been pruning the bottoms of the Logan trees because we liked the look better and it made it easy to clean out the weeds.

In front of the house four logans were reduced to one.

A reddish bush orients you looking north to the house and then east to the long axis of the property.

Below if you look closely to right rear you can see a very dense, very dark green long bean plant that is producing like crazy. We’re reaping beans and nearby cucumbers by the handful every day.

We were ruthless in the chiang dah garden area. It had been a jungle.

We left 10 chiang dah and 10 logans. I’m standing next to one of the remaining logans that has been very, very carefully pruned so that the red ants that live there bite me as little as possible.

Now you can really appreciate my cairn.

The passion fruit vines have taken off and are covering the trellis I built around the fish ponds.

Also near the house is one of many bougainvillea in the foreground, and then two egg plant bushes middle left and a mango right, in front of the banana trees. The egg plant bushes seem to be perennials that just keep pushing out product.

So now we have a new area to populate. We want to choose plants that will grow without needing chemical sprays. One problem with the logans was their need for a range of treatments. Our 30 mulberries are exemplary.
Nam is leaning toward more bananas since their parents are supplying us with lots of baby starts, she feels the plants improve the quality of the soil, she loves to eat bananas, AND you can sell them. I’d like to bring in a wide range of banana varieties. I’m partial to coconuts but I’ve learned that here you can only grow the kind that provide water. The upside is that they don’t grow tall and threaten to brain you with coconut bombs. I’d advocate for more cashews but we already have four trees growing.

15 minutes of work

Our new battery powered weed whacker runs 15 minutes before it needs to be charged.

An early start to the rainy season has brought with it an explosion of ground cover — weeds, vines and grass.

I am caught up in a continual round of lawn maintenance.

The whacker is very light and Nam can use it to cut the portion of lawn around the house where she cares strongly about appearances. For instance the area near the mango tree and the new pond.

We’ve added more banana and bamboo plants and flowers keep erupting:

And a black grape:

Our first bananas were used to prepare a dish for a celebration at Wat Phra That Chom Kitti. It was in honor of the Thai New Year and was held on our birthday, May 21.

The banana (gluay) is cut in half, coated with a mixture of sticky rice, sugar and coconut milk, wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed.

These bananas were sweet and big; the first of our three species to ripen. The second crop is in the wheel barrow.

When we got back to the house in the afternoon we splurged on a large, lustrous, wooden couch. The sellers were guys from the province of Issan who drove up to the north with a truck full of furniture to sell. We bought the 6 foot by 20 inch wide couch for 3900 Bahts, about $115.

Another look at Anchaleephorn Garden

My step-son King has loaned me his camera so I have something to post about again.

Nam is off to a funeral for a neighbor. She was hit by a car on the canal road where the bridge meets it as you go to town. The car was going fast and clipped the rear of her motorcycle. Thailand traffic is frightening. There are 36.2 accidents per 100,000 inhabitants, versus 10.6 for the US.

I am making a day of using our new weed whacker. It’s a 24V battery operated Greenworks line trimmer. One charge only lasts about minutes. We had a man coming in mow the place and it took him about 3 hours so you can image how much longer I need.

I’m making my second pass through the property and starting to clear each section as I whack of large rocks and sticks. In a year I hope to have a gentle field I can mow.

Here’s how things are looking after one year of work by the Nam/David team.

When you enter the gate you look forward to house.

On the right is a planter of flowers.

On the left a planter next to a logan tree, near the mango tree.

Nam wants to make the mango tree a focus point of flowers, including orchids, with a fish fountain and a table.

I’ve finally got the nearby sihlamb in shape and, my choice, a black grape in front.

I’ve got a lot of rocks here and Nam has the idea I could build another cairn and put a table on top. Hmmm.

The gravel walkway to the house:

The vegetable garden is thriving with it’s second succession planting.

One year is enough for new banana plants to start producing. The banana flower’s outer leaves fall away to reveal a ring of bananas. After the last is revealed you can eat the flower. Nam eats lots of bananas and has started producing fried sliced banana chips.

The heavy pruning of the tamarind tree encouraged new foliage. Nam likes to plant flowers around the bases of trees.

Nearby is the workshop sihlamb that I’ve made water resistant with a heavy duty tarp.

The cairn is practical and I like its looks.

Now we’re down to the chiang dah part of the garden where the fertile ground means the weeds grow fast.

Nam keeps bringing in more plants and I dig the holes to plant them. We’ve planted almost 20 lemon trees along the south fence.

Lately we are finishing off the day with an episode of my favorite detective, Inspector Montalbano.

On the rocks

All of our topsoil seems to have been washed into the low lying section of the property where the Chiang Dah grows. The remaining ground is very rocky. It took me a long time to realize that I could never rake a section smooth — the best I could do was rake off the fist sized rocks. The only solution is to bring in a truck load of top soil to cover big pebbles and the bumpy next layer.
I’ve cleared areas free of brush (for a very short period of time), carted away the rocks and leveled them off a bit however. I’ve tried to think of ways to use the rocks. I’ve humped lots of wheel barrows full to an out of the way area. Out of the way until I started working there again.
I’m rebuilding the Old Sahlamb — again — and I’m waiting for the arrival of 50 sticks of long bamboo. Pottering about, getting ready, I cleared the fence line under the sahlamb and looked down the fence, south. There was the huge pile of stones I dumped next door on my first pass through and along the fence a jumble that was probably a result of spoils being dumped when a pipe was laid along the edge of the road.
Looking west along the fence you see my new tidy pile of rocks, a low mound of rocks and the old sahlamb.

Nam calls this a dragon:

What to do with all these rocks….

Sometimes I sing while I work:

I was beavering away (can you ‘beaver’ with rocks?) when the word ‘cairn’ popped into my head. Thank you Mr. Subconscious.

I made a base and I’m going to store rocks in it and see how high I can go:

I’ve been ignoring the injunction not to work after the cataract surgery and have cleared the fence line:

Nam wants me to make a walk way all the way around the perimeter of the property for an evening stroll. I’m growing into the idea although at the start I just wanted the weed whacker to be able to be effective.

This month we splurged on plants, filling the lorry twice. I’d been waiting for the annual Mae Jo University flower sale (it’s an ag school) and we bought some plants for me — a black grape and three coconuts — and the start of a rose garden.

The local Buddhist Wats are having celebrations one after the other. The big wat with the large white Buddha, Phra That Chom Kitti, celebrated the half way point in the construction of a long stairway that celebrates the snake, the Naga, that protected Buddha during a storm.

We have a lot of banana plants but we are still one year from eating any. We CAN eat the banana flowers however. They provide a lot of roughage for Nam’s vegetarian meals. Our 20 odd mulberries are a lot quicker: