For the majority of rice farmers in the poorer North East of Thailand (Isan Province) rice can only be grown once a year. Life in an Isan village very much revolves around the timetable of the rice growing season. Sometimes there is a lot of work to be done whilst for most of the year rice farming involves doing very little.
Planting Starts in May
In Isan the rice growing season starts in May with seedlings being cultivated in nursery paddies like the one shown below. This is one of the busy times.
Transplanting the seedlings
The next stage in the rice cultivation process is to transplant the seedlings to the main paddy fields. The reason that this is done is that the young rice plants need to be separated at the root. This increases the yield of rice by allowing each plant the space to grow. This process of transplanting the seedlings normally occurs mid-June time, give or take a few weeks depending on the weather. Rain is normally needed to fill the paddy fields.
Preparing the Paddy Fields
Before the seedlings can be transplanted the paddy fields need preparing. The big job is to plough the paddy fields to make the mud below soft and get rid of any weeds. For a long time this job was done by water buffalo pulling ploughs. Until maybe only 20 years ago nearly every family in rural Isan owned water buffaloes, now you rarely see them. The reason is that most families now use machines, like the one below, to plough the paddy fields.
Planting the seedling is back breaking work
Once the fields are ploughed the back breaking work of planting the seedlings starts. On bigger farms they use machines, for smaller plots it is done by hand. It is back breaking work as you are bent double all day planting the seedlings into the mud. The separated seedlings are planted roughly 20 cm apart in rows.
At this time of year everyone in the family comes to help out. It’s a big job and even people who work away in Bangkok or the resorts in the South of Thailand will normally come back to the Isan region in June to work on the family farm. This includes me, as you can see below, and my wife.
Maintaining the levees in the paddy field
The work doesn’t end there. During the ploughing and planting it is common for for the mud banks or levees to start breaking. This is bad because it means the water will flow away and leave the newly planting rice seedlings venerable to birds and dehydrated. Mending the levees is a manual job done with a hoe.
Not much to do until harvest time
Towards end of June the job of planting the rice is nearly done and there is little to do until harvest time around the beginning of December. This gives a Thai farmer plenty of time to get on with other tasks. My family have a shop and raise pigs (with varying levels of success).