Week Ten: 10/4 – 10/9

Last week was a busy week! I spent a lot of time in the field, which was greatly appreciated. I’m going to see how I can structure my work so that I spend more time out of the office. Given the work that Lors Thmey does, I think it is very feasible to be out of the office a few days per week.

After getting back to Phnom Penh on Monday night, I was back on the road Tuesday afternoon. The COO I am working under was busy the rest of the week, so Tuesday-Wednesday was the time that we could reattempt our trial of the solar pump. I spent most of Tuesday morning making sure the solar pump worked. I borrow the electric motor from the second pump, and to my delight, it started whirring as soon as I plugged it into the solar panel.

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The broken motor

There wasn’t enough sunlight in the shadow of the iDE building to run the pump, so I had to take some faith that when I put the electric motor to the pump wheel everything would go as planned.

Around 2 pm, the COO, a regional agronomist, and I loaded things into a pickup and headed to Prey Veng province. On the way, we stopped by the roadside to see if the pump would work, and to our delight, everything started spinning as expected. We weren’t actually pumping water but were one step closer to verifying that this thing would actually work.

We planned to install the pump at the farmer’s plot that evening and return in the morning, but we arrived later than expected and so just scoped out the area. We headed back into town, had dinner, and got some shut-eye.

After a breakfast of chicken and rice, we headed back to the farm.

The farmer’s plot is about 300 square meters, so a little less than an acre. They were currently growing sugar cane and bitter gourd in the drip system. We set up the solar pump system and, at long last, it worked!

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Our water source
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Close up of the Sunflower pump

After connecting the intake pipe to the nearby lake, we started taking measurements on the flow rate. I won’t bore you with the details, but the pump performed well in full sun, though the flow rate was a bit below what the manual said it should produce at full sun. The measurements done, we moved the pump closer to the plot and connected it to the drip irrigation system. I don’t have pictures of the drip system, so will be sure to include them in future posts.

After measuring the flow out one of the drip holes, we determined that it would take roughly 40 minutes per day to achieve the 3 liters per square meter of irrigation necessary for the crops. We plan to perform  the pump trail on 700 and 1,000 square meter plots, so the 300 square meter was a good benchmark, but we will likely perform another test on a larger plot. There was a noticeable drop in the flow rate when connected to the drip system, so we need to verify that the flow rate will still be sufficient on a drip system 3x larger.

Having finally successfully completed our test of the sunflower pump, we headed back to Phnom Penh. Once we returned to the office, the regional agronomist who went with me to install the pump invited me to join him in a visit to a few greenhouses in Takeo province the next day.

On Thursday around 6 am, I took a tuk tuk to the office and hopped in a car to head south to Takeo province. We stopped quickly to get some steamed buns for breakfast and continued south. The greenhouse still needed to be planted, so we stopped by a field of Chinese Kale to pick some to transplant in the greenhouse.

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The field of Chinese Kale (or Kailan) on the left and flood waters on the right

It took about 1.5 hours of picking to fill the three large baskets we brought . The field was starting to flood from the lake next to it, so I had to be careful where I stepped. I enjoyed getting my fingers dirty.

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You can see the village at the edge of the water.

When the baskets were full, we loaded them onto a boat and were invited to hop in to head back to the village. My boot got soaked in the process of getting into the boat, but it dried surprisingly quickly, which bodes well for the remaining months we have left of the rainy season.

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This isn’t our boat, but we took a similar one back to the village.

We loaded baskets of Kailan and headed off to the greenhouse. When we arrived at the greenhouse, we unloaded the plants. The drip irrigation beds still needed to be prepped and weeded, so the Chinese kale will be planted by the farmer once that happens.

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Hello Mr. Ox, or he could be a Zebu.

I didn’t take any pictures of this greenhouse, but I did snap one of their cow. After unloading the kale, we took off to check in on another greenhouse. The second greenhouse was located across the river and the fastest way across was the ferry.

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Another ferry. Think it’s big enough to fit a pickup truck?

Admittedly, I was pretty confused as we were approaching the river. We drove onto what I thought was a dock where we would wait until the ferry came. Low and behold, we had already boarded the ferry! The ferry was a surprisingy small boat to carry a fully pickup. I was a little nervous as we made our way across the river.

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Go diesel engine, go!

So our pickup and 6 motorbikes headed across the river. It was a somewhat nerve-wracking experience, but we made it and it only cost $2.5.

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I enjoyed seeing a fully planted greenhouse. The farmer was growing tomatoes, which I sampled. We is doing a good job. :) I describe the details of the greenhouse in more detail in other post.

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Veggies headed to Phnom Penh.

On the way back to Phonm Penh, we passed several trucks carrying vegetables into the city. There were also farmers on motorbikes loaded to the brim with bananas. I didn’t get any pictures, but it was something to see. These farmers were cutting out the middlemen pictures above. Apparently, the middleman can be predatory with their pricing. The prices of products seems like an interesting problem that I may think more about.

Upon getting back to Phom Penh, Tasha and I headed out to dinner to celebrate my birthday!

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We found a good spot to celebrate :)

We had a really lovely dinner of tapas at “The Lost Room”, which we heard was difficult to find; we had no trouble finding it. Phnom Penh traffic did give us trouble, though. In the evenings, it can be hard to go anywhere because there is so much traffic. It happened to be raining, so walking was out of the question, though it probably would have been faster.

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I’m a bit older than the single candle indicates.

Tasha was sneaky and told the staff that it was my birthday, so they played the Happy Birthday song and sang to me. I was very surprised and only a bit uncomfortable. I don’t thrive on attention, but I did my best to enjoy the song. I think Tasha knows this about me, which is why she enjoyed it so much.

Friday was a lower-key day. Tasha and I worked from home and then ordered some take-out for dinner. After the traffic from the night before, having the food brought to us sounded like a better idea.

On Saturday, Tasha had arranged for us to take a cooking class as a birthday present. We visited a local market and were showed all the ingredients we would be cooking with. Then we went back to the classroom kitchen and put on our aprons! Over the course of the next few hours we made mango salad, fish and chicken amok, and a dessert of bananas and gelatin. For the fish amok, they taught us to make the curry paste by chopping up and grinding various spices in a mortar and pestle.

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Fish Amok. The picture isn’t of our fooed, but it looked the same. We put the curry in a banana leaf bowl and steamed it.

The next day we put our newly acquired shopping and cooking skills to work. We went to a local market nearby and found ingredients to make the curry paste. The market was something to see and at times a little overwhelming as the smell of raw fish and meat hung over many sections of it. After a few trips around the market, we got what we needed and headed home.

 

That evening we chopped all the spices and ground them up to make the curry paste. Tasha was on chopping duty and I got to sit on the floor and pound away on the mortar. The curry paste combined with some coconut milk made our stir fry especially tasty that night.

 

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