I have always aspired to purchase a piece of orchard land in the rolling countryside. It does not have to be big. Something manageable, maybe 3 to 4 acres, with a section on high ground overlooking the surrounding valley and hills.
The land should not be too far away from my home in the city. Anywhere within one and a half hour drive is manageable. Less than an hour would be ideal.
Whenever I mentioned this aspiration to my wife, she would roll her eyes in disapproval. She has little interest with the outdoors and even less liking towards wildlife in general. Her heart is set in the city and her idea of relaxing is strolling mega shopping malls and sitting in chic cafes. She once told me that we would have to live separately if I really want to live in an orchard when we retire. She sounded very serious.
Anyway, it is not that I plan to leave the city behind and make the orchard my new habitat. I see it more like a passion project which I can escape to when I am less needed in the city. I thought it would be interesting to carve up a plan and manage the orchard based on layout principles that adopt flourishing natural ecosystems.
I would choose a land that has already a collection of matured durian trees, preferably of a few variety. Durian trees take a long time to grow and cultivate. Generally they start to bear fruits only after 9 to 10 years of planting. Love it or hate it, the durians are just out of this world in terms of taste, texture and smell. It is the undisputed king of the fruits in Southeast Asia.
Then for an easy start I should tidy up the land and plant some smaller fruit trees immediately. Fast growing ones that are relatively easier to cultivate are the papayas and bananas. I would also grow some mulberries, which are really easy to care for. Talk about easy wins.
Definitely two to three grafted jackfruit and perhaps also cempedak trees. I just love the sweet, bubble gum like tasting jackfruits. I have a tree beside my house in the city. It has been generous with its fruits and they have brought much joy to our family, friends and neighbours. Cempedak is a close cousin of the Jackfruit. It is a funky tropical delight that is equally as aromatic and special in its taste and texture. Also one of my all-time favourites.
Having a small stream passing through the land amongst big river rocks would be a dream come true. Water source is critical. Without a stream, I would have to tap from natural water flow from another location, which hopefully would not too far away.
Imagine with me – a small brook by the meadow, providing constant source of natural river burbles as it travels along its bed, bubbling over rocks and branches. The sight and sound will sooth the weary souls. The babbling stream will be a wonderful area of leisure and play. A place to relax and wash down after a day’s work or play.
I am not sure how easy it would be to dam up a section of the river and create a natural pond where the water is constantly flowing through. Maybe I can breed some red tilapias worthy for fresh consumption later. I said maybe, as I have no clue whatsoever on handling fresh water fish farming in the first place.
Then it would be lovely to have a dozen of ducks paddling in and lazing around the pond. Ducks can be entertaining and colourful additions to the pond and at the same time they eat up the algae that may overrun the waters. It would definitely be a bonus if the ducks start to lay eggs!
Adding a pair of geese to the orchard would be fun. Being hardy and tough birds, I think and hope they are not difficult to deal with. Though beautiful and elegant, they can be pretty aggressive. I read that the geese can be a good security addition to the orchard as they would guard against presence of snakes and unfamiliar intruders.
Speaking of security, I could adopt two to three dogs from the local animal shelter that houses stray and abandoned dogs. The dogs would roam free in the orchard and they will have their own resting kennels. Obviously I may be overlooking the harmony mix but I hope and assume the dogs will get along with the geese and ducks.
Perimeter fencing may be required to keep wild animals and intruders at bay. They are some options on fencing type but a large piece of land with undulating terrains may be expensive and impractical to fence up. Anyway fencing requirement would very much depends on the land surrounding and setup. There are agricultural land plots that are out in the open and there are also those sold as orchard land parcels within a big perimeter and gate provided by the developer.
Anyhow, some form of fencing may be required, perhaps over a smaller area if I would like to keep a few goats. Somehow whenever I daydreamed about this orchard, there would always be a few goats roaming around looking cute. Domestic goats are known for their curious and friendly nature. I would not raise them for meat or milk. With the goats, I may need to build a simple goat house, amongst the other buildings that I should have in the orchard.
The first structure that I would build is a concrete floor open shelter with washing and toilet annex for visitors. This would be the main hangout area for most of the orchard activities. It would be a place to rest and recover from the toiling of the ground. A place for collection and exchange. There should also be a little work-shed and storage for the equipment not far away.
When the time is right, it would be nice to build a simple but comfortable house for own stay. It should be something practical and manageable. I have not thought much about the size and design of the house but functionality aspects would be most important. Therefore the availability of electricity, water supply and hand phone reception would be an essential consideration when choosing the land.
All the daydreaming is fine and good to share for fun’s sake, until recently when I heard about a friend’s friend who is actually doing it for real. Unlike my plan of working the land as a hobby, he has gone all in to toil the land for a living.
His name is Melvin. I don’t know him personally and I have not met him in person. He is 40 this year, has a young boy and wife in the city, but has left the rat race for the farm. His passion for rural living and growing his own food has led him to plunge his savings into a 2-acre permaculture farm in Lenggeng, Negeri Sembilan of Malaysia.
He chronicles his transitional journey and farming experiences in this informative blog where he shares the joy and challenges in achieving a sustainable rural lifestyle.
Reading Melvin’s journey opened up my eyes on the reality of starting and building a farm. He openly discusses his struggles in setting up the farm and getting it running. He grapples with a lot of hard work and financial constrains in making his farming profession viable.
Blood, sweat and tears are literally needed. He said that farming is very much a 3D job (dirty, dangerous, and difficult), with long hours at the mercy of nature (scorching sun, torrential rain and insect bites). Sometimes he questions why anyone would want to do this.
He wrote on one of his blog post:
Waking up every morning to chirping birds, swaying tall grasses, rustling sound of leaves brushing in the wind, a rooster’s crow, the smell of rain, wafts of smoke, watching a flock of ducks waddle into a pond, freedom of the outdoors, etc. these are all rosy pictures of farming.
However, what many people fail to realise is that all these come at a price. A huge price tag that is. A price so steep, and a barrier to entry so high that it’s beyond reach to most regular younger folks. Whether one makes big money or not in farming, that’s totally not the question here.
I’m not even alluding to the returns. I’m talking about starting a decent small scale commercial permaculture farm. It’s just simply difficult to most regular folks. I’m afraid much emphasis is placed on the returns and the accompanying “prestige” and “privilege” it brings (the “what’s”) without actually addressing the how’s (e.g. acquisition, setting up, product pricing, selling, marketing, distribution, etc.) in the processes involved.
Granted he was working his land to live and earn an income. In his case, farming is a do or die situation. He has no other source of income, all savings depleted and he needed to get the farm up to be able to generate income in the shortest possible time. His livelihood depends on the farm generating sales.
In contrast, I am fantasizing this orchard project from a recreational perspective. I have no plans to milk the land or expect financial profits out of it. Still, reading his struggles made me realised that the process of creating an orchard as envisioned would be tough, nerve-racking and even expensive. It may just be a too slow, painful and draining to enjoy as a pass time.
- How much would the piece of land cost? I would not want to toil on borrowed or TOL lands, even though I am just doing it for fun. I don’t want my blood and sweat go to waste is an unlikely even of eviction. Buying a piece of freehold orchard land complete with utilities and located not too remotely could cost an arm and a leg.
- Infrastructure cost money. Do I need to hire a contractor for earthworks? What is the condition of the access road and how much clearing do I need to do on the land? How about drainage and sewerage? How to even build a workable natural pond that works on the rolling hills?
- How much time can I spend in the orchard? My wife has no interest in this project so I would be but one person. I don’t think I want to live in the orchard just yet. Even if I did, how much can I accomplish alone? Not much really. How much incremental progress can I make by just making weekly or occasional touch and go to the orchard?
- Planting is the easy part. Up keeping the plants and their immediate surrounding would prove to be a high-maintenance endeavour for years to come. Grass and weeds grow very quickly. Keeping them short and tidy over a large area can be a tedious game. How about pests?
- Who is going to tend and look after all the cute animals and ducks? Will they run away or be stolen by intruders? Do I have to worry about natural predators from the surrounding forest? Who is going to feed them and look after their daily welfare?
- I can get a worker to help out. But wait, how much would I have to budget to hire someone legally? Applying for a foreign worker is out of the question for something this small and informal. Can I even find a local to work in the orchard? How much would it cost to get him interested? Can I trust him to be a good keeper? Do I have to build a staff hut now?
- Do I have the technical knowledge? Granted this is something I can learn and pick up along the way. It is a passion project after all. The question is whether I would be passionate enough in soil types and plant health? It takes time to learn from trial and error and with that probably resulting in loss of money and time.
- Everything cost money. Equipment, fuel, travel, food, building materials and what not. How about fertilizer, pesticides and even animal feed? Do I have the energy to make my own composts and fertilizers? I would probably need to get a reliable 4WD to travel in and out with supplies. Can I even accomplish anything worthwhile before my retirement fund runs dry?
There seems to be more questions than answers now. I am starting to wonder whether my little orchard passion project is sustainable even before it starts to take shape the way I dreamed it to be.
Will it bring me solace or headache? At the moment I suspect the latter is more likely to be!