Samui Wining & Dining
A Growing Concern

Improving upon nature at Samui’s expanding hydroponic farm, Hydroboyd.

 

21Back to nature. In harmony with nature. Nature’s bounty. Natural living. The list is endless. Over the last ten years the word ‘nature’ has been welded firmly to the idea of health and is now perceived as desirable. Which is conveniently glossing-over the other side of the coin, of ‘nature red in tooth and claw’. The fact is that Nature is not always kind. Even when it comes to growing plants, natural laws dictate that some won’t be healthy but the rest will pull through regardless. Which is why so many people are now turning to Samui Hydroboyd. It’s an oasis of plant perfection and you won’t see a brown leaf anywhere!


Hydroboyd is located on Samui’s north coast in Mae Nam and is already Samui’s foremost hydroponic farm. It’s a comparatively new venture and hasn’t seen a first birthday yet, but already it’s made a splash. Folks are forming lines outside. And many of the island’s top restaurants and chefs are beating a path to their door. Or should I say to their ‘beds’? Because that’s what you’ll see when you emerge from the track leading to the farm; row after row of raised aluminium-framed beds, covered in a sea of green.


And it’s the sheer ‘greenness’ of it all that’s the first impression. As you wander amongst the beds, from the seedlings to the mature plants there’s a vibrancy and intensity to the colour. It’s hard to remember when you last saw a green that was so vivid (with the exception for the red lettuces, of course, and even they are positively glowing with health!).


But when you pause to think about it, it’s not really surprising. In nature, plants grow in the soil. Soil can be acidic or alkaline. Soil is full of micro-organisms, including harmful bacteria and also insect parasites. Different plants need different combinations of nutrients and then leach these out of the ground, making it sterile. Nature, in fact, gives plants a hard time. But growing these same plants in hydroponic conditions bypasses their natural struggle to survive. The nutrient solution contains all the oxygen, minerals and trace elements necessary and avoids soil-based pests and bacteria. It’s actually a substantial improvement upon nature. And that’s the first thing that the owner, Khun Phatphong Jeartrawanich, will tell you when you meet him.

Khun Phatphong is a friendly and modest man. His visiting card doesn’t proclaim him to be ‘Owner’ or even ‘Managing Director’ (although it could), but simply reads ‘Farmer’. And when you talk to him you’ll discover that he’s more inclined towards co-operation than competition. Originally from Bangkok, he’s been around on the island for over a decade and has been involved with various successful business ventures during that time, including real-estate. And it was the economic recession a couple of years ago, and the subsequent dip in this market, that led him to where he is now.


I started from scratch,” he told me, “getting the basics from the internet and then leaning by trial and error. It took quite a while until I knew what I was doing, and I’m still experimenting with new ideas of my own. It’s hotter here, in the south of Thailand, than it is in the north. Fruits, such as tomatoes, don’t like it and have to be shipped all the way from Chiang Mai. But I’ve devised a unique split-roof system that uses the wind’s natural airflow to lower the temperature. And I’m building a water-cooled closed-bed system so that tomatoes, melons and cucumbers, for example, can be grown here on the island.


It’s been a problem on Samui for a long time – not being able to grow these essential foodstuffs locally. The more-temperate region around Chiang Mai is about 1,000 kilometres away. Shipping goods from there to Samui is costly and time-consuming. Not only that, soil-grown produce is inevitably cropped at root-level and spoils quickly. But hydroponically-produced items are sold with the entire root-system intact and can stay fresh for around a week. Currently there are six different varieties of lettuce being grown at Hydroboyd and a variety of herbs, including the spicy and sought-after rocket-leaf, and there’re plans in place to expand this range soon.


If the proof of the pudding is in the eating then the proof of Hydroboyd’s standing is its list of regular customers, which includes star names, such as: Four Seasons Resort, Six Senses, Centara Grand Beach Resort, Melati Beach Resort & Spa, Nora Buri Resort & Spa and Chaweng Regent Beach Resort, amongst many others. Even one of the island’s leading suppliers of imported foods, Colibri Food Supply, regularly places orders. Sébastien Meunier, Executive Chef at Red Snapper, the signature restaurant of Chaweng Regent, confided to me that, “… the quality is always perfect, it doesn’t need to be used-up immediately and one phone call gets me what I need in a very short space of time.” Which just about sums up why Hydroboyd has already become so successful on the island.


But the unassuming Khun Phatphong is a storehouse of other ideas, too. Already on the drawing board are plans for a drop-sided mobile shop which will tour around the island’s festivals and ‘walking streets’ selling snacks and ‘veggie-burgers’. And when you see samples of what’s he planning to offer, it’ll certainly make your mouth water.


It’s rare to find an ecologist who’s able to speak without using buzz-words such as ‘sustainable’, ‘conservation’ or ‘organic’ on every breath. But not Khun Phatphong – it seems to be a ‘natural’ part of his outlook. You’ll notice pungent crushed garlic and lemon-grass scattered everywhere to keep nocturnal pests away. And to reveal just how instinctively close to nature he is, ask him about his staff. He’ll say that he has six official and 20 ‘unofficial’ staff: the latter being the spiders and their webs. He doesn’t like the idea of pesticides and, anyway, the spiders take care of the flying insects and their nasty egg-laying habits!


It’s all about control. Eliminating all the natural pests and problems that traditional farmers have to cope with. Creating an environment where all the growing things get the best that nature has to offer – and with no downside. Nature itself just isn’t nice enough to do this. It needs a helping hand. And that’s where Khun Phatphong comes in. He’s gone one step further and, at Samui Hydroboyd, has actually improved upon nature.

 


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