Effective Microorganisms, a beaver dam, and other tales

There was a little bit of confusion about where we were WWOOFING while staying on Ko Pha Ngan. In this post I showed pictures of a luxury resort, but that’s not where we stayed – we were only there for one day. It was simply somewhere to wait and meet our hosts!

The house we actually stayed in was a stones throw from the beach, and it was a bit of a shack. A veranda made up most of the top floor, and there were two bedrooms with their own ensuite (sounds fancy – wasn’t really), at either side, both with a wonderful view of the ocean. Neither of the ensuites had doors, so somebody sitting in the bedroom could easily hear every detail of what went on in the bathroom, right to the last drop. A trapdoor in the veranda led down to a very basic kitchen, containing a portable gas stove, cabinet and fridge. We were told that the kitchen was infested with jungle rats. As of this writing I’ve only seen one, scuttling along the rafters looking pleased with itself, but another telltale sign was twice discovering unnervingly large, dirty rat paw prints on the countertop.

The beach outside the house

The beach outside the house

Morning bathe (sitting down)

Morning bathe (sitting down)

The shack

The shack

A Tokay gecko who liked to hang out in the kitchen

A Tokay gecko who liked to hang out in the kitchen

Imagine a road. Easy. Now imagine that road running high on a hill, with a steep jungle leading down to the ocean on one side, and a jungly mountain climbing up the other. Lovely. The road is where we parked, and the shore is where we walked to get to our shack. It involved a ten-minute descent over boulders, and through mosquito infested jungle. In the midst of this occasionally slippery trek were the bones of the resort being built, and the space where we would be labouring.

The view from a restaurant above the property we worked on

The view from a restaurant above the property we worked on

Our hosts’ dreams and plans were many: building the luxury eco-resort; starting a tour company; starting a men’s fashion label; opening a small business collective of organic producers, stores and sellers, enabling keen people (with a bit of cash to invest) with all the necessary grounding to begin work; upcycling trash and turning it into art, displaying it inside the resorts and having yearly exhibitions; marketing the idea of one square metre permaculture patches… and there were many other small projects. To fund this outpouring of ideas, Guillaume retained his day job as a lawyer.

Everything was focused on sustainability, organic goods, and natural features. The resort homes would have natural air conditioning, be fully solar-powered, and have small, edible gardens using permaculture principles. The clothing range would involve all locally sourced materials and manufacturers. The small businesses for sale were all ideas that would benefit the island and its inhabitants in some way (free-range farmers, free-range butchers etc.)

Our role was varied: we would go grocery shopping a couple of times a week, look after Maja the Jack Russell, and do labouring on the grounds of the resort. We also did the cooking in the evening, as well as all the dishes and sweeping throughout the day, and when our hosts were absent we dealt with the Burmese construction force, paying them in the evenings and relaying orders to them from the top. The labouring hours were 9am to 4.30pm, but since we were doing cooking and cleaning in the evenings too, we tried to take extra breaks during the day. Weekends were free (with the exception of looking after the dog – who was absolutely lovely – and paying the builders on time).

Understandably, the days were full, and that’s why I haven’t posted anything in a while – I simply haven’t had any motivation to sit down and write. In return for our work we were given food, accommodation, and a scooter to get around on. Our hosts – although we didn’t see them very often – were cheerful, friendly, and at times, fabulous.



Maya resting on our bike (a Honda Scoopy that we just call 'Scoopy'

Maja resting on our bike (a Honda Scoopy that we just call ‘Scoopy’). We rode with her on the bike – she loved it

One of our projects was to make a very small permaculture area.

On the first proper day of tackling this garden we screwed up. Guillaume’s dream for the area was explained at length, but we had already been overloaded with information during a tour of the property, and there was an ever-so-slight language barrier (French native). The instructions probably went something like this, and were pieced together internally as our attention faded in and out:

“…and here, what I want… a pathway through this bit… and like a garden here, one metre high… at eye-level…*arms flailing*…permaculture, not been done like this before… slope… a Swiss ski lodge…make it flat…curved like this… build a natural wall.”

We latched on to that last part: build a natural wall. The area was sloped, we knew that much. Guillaume wanted a small vegetable garden at the top of the slope, we knew that much. So we put 1 and 2 together, and built a retaining wall out of sticks, which ended up looking like a beaver dam. If building a natural-looking retaining wall and raising a patch of earth to become level was the intention of Guillaume, then we did a pretty damn good job. Unfortunately his intention was to leave the slope alone, and build three, round, metre square, 1.5 metre high mounds, layered with sticks (the ones we used to build our wall), mulch (which we used to level our stick wall), compost, and what Guillaume called, “Pork manure.”

“Like a lasagna,” he said, in his French accent. A pork shit lasagna.

Since our hosts were often absent, running around town sorting out their many projects, we weren’t informed of our mistake until we’d built the beaver dam. To top it off, not only did we spend the morning erecting a wall that we’d eventually have to dismantle, but I also broke the shovel.

The beaver dam

The beaver dam. Good while it lasted!

The next day we destroyed the dam, and began to level out the area to make our three lasagna piles. The structure for each pile was this:

– A layer of sticks
– A layer of mulch
– Repeat two more times
– A layer of ‘pork manure’

It was difficult to take a picture of our mounds, but if you look closely, there are three piles of leaves that look a bit like giant nests. Eventually, edible plants will be grown on top

It was difficult to take a picture of our mounds, but if you look closely, there are three piles of leaves that look a bit like giant nests. Eventually, edible plants will be grown on top

Before planting, the first step was to learn how to make an EM (effective microorganisms) solution, which is essentially the creation of predominantly anaerobic organisms that assist in sustainable farming. Or, put simply, is a bucket of disgusting liquid stench to pour on plants. (To really get into it, click here).

We visited a local organic farmer on the island to learn how to make our EM, and a 10-litre recipe is essentially this:

– 1 KG pineapple
– 3 KG fish and/or prawn heads
– 1 KG molasses
– 10 litres water

Add it all together, then stir once a week. In three months your EM solution will be ready. The header picture is of our mixture.

Most of the ingredients were easy to come by, and the dead sea-creature heads were given to us by a kind lady at the fish market. Making the EM is the last thing we did before I wrote this, and so a continuation of our permaculture area (as well as the numerous other things we’ve been doing) will come in further posts (if I get time).

Update! I did get time. Here’s the continuation.


Just an ordinary train

2 Replies to “Effective Microorganisms, a beaver dam, and other tales”

  1. I guess it’s like compost tea, but without the exposed genitals.

    Unrelated, I used to work for EFTPOS (Electronic Funds Transfer at Point Of Sale) in the EM (Equipment Managament) team. We didn’t (intentionally) make effective microorganisms, but the job did stink – in the metaphorical sense of the word.

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