Soldier-turned-grower reveals secrets of lime orchard in Lao capital

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Sommalath Vongkhounsy says lime trees need a mix of soil, rice husks, manure and chopped coconut coir to grow properly. These materials need to be mixed well, covered with plastic and left for at least 10 days before the young trees can be planted. vientiane times

SOMMALATH Vongkhounsy worked as a soldier and a mason before he realised that his real love was farming, and he now owns a lime tree orchard in Hadxaifong district, Vientiane.

“I worked for years until I became successful at cultivating lime trees, although I don’t have a degree in agriculture. I learnt from other successful farmers and through hard work,” said Sommalath, referring to his successful Vongkhounsy farm.

Now in his early fifties, he tried his hand at several jobs before he turned to farming. He lives in Natham village with his wife, son and daughter.

Many people think growing lime trees involves a lot of hard work, including caring for the plants which can be affected by certain diseases. This is why most people choose to buy limes from the market.

Limes are a key ingredient in most Lao kitchens because of their sharp taste and fresh aroma, and are an important part of dishes such as papaya salad and various kinds of meat salad.

“Some years the price of limes goes up quite a lot in the dry season because of the poor harvest at that time. I thought it would be a golden opportunity to earn more money, especially if I could have good yields all year round,” Sommalath said, referring to the brainwave that inspired him to give the project a try.

Sommalath got lucky when he met the owner of a successful lime plantation while visiting his son-in-law’s hometown. He learnt the best ways to grow the trees and then put this knowledge into practice.

Good yields in dry season

He also adapted other measures to suit the local environment and began growing limes full-time in 2013.

“If you know the nature of lime trees, it’s not difficult to grow them and to get good yields even in the dry season,” he said with a smile.

Sommalath told Vientiane Times that lime trees need a mix of soil, rice husks, manure and chopped coconut coir to grow properly. These materials need to be mixed well, covered with plastic and left for at least 10 days before the young trees can be planted.

“These materials generate a high temperature, which can kill the trees, so we must wait until the mixture cools down,” he said.

The mix is then put into sections of concrete pipe with a diameter of 80cm and a height of 50cm and then a lime tree graft is planted in it. The pipes should be kept on a concrete floor because placing them on the ground will make it difficult to calculate the proper amount of fertiliser needed.

Sommalath uses grafts of lime trees instead of seeds because they bear fruit more quickly.

Growers should leave a space of 3.5m on each side of every tree. “Lime trees need some water but not too much. We water them once a day in the dry season and skip watering if there is some rain. They need fertiliser once a month,” he said.

It’s also important to watch out for diseases and insects that can kill the trees.

Sommalath has planted more than 200 lime trees in his 2,400 square metre orchard, and earns enough money to meet all his family’s needs. In 2014 the household was named a model family of Hadxaifong district and his main income now comes from selling lime tree grafts.

People from Vientiane and the provinces come to buy lime tree grafts from him and to learn about his growing methods, which he passes on for free.

Sommalath also grows papayas, guavas, mangoes and bamboo. “I continue to develop my farming skills and I plan to grow some orange trees because I think there’s a good market for oranges in Vientiane,” he said.

“I grow lime tree not only for income but because it keeps me healthy. I don’t use chemicals on my plants and my daily work is like exercise. I will continue this work until I no longer have the energy to do it,” he said. Vientiane Times/ANN