Sunday, 14 June 2020

Walled Street and Stack Exchange.

Every now and then we come across a ‘Walled street’  - narrow streets with walls on either side .  

Interesting looking walls built by skilled hands, placing uneven odd shaped stones perfectly to make an almost smooth faced wall enclosing a farm. Invariably you will find a little ramp from where one can haul stacks of hay or dried areca sheaths or any other bulky farm material directly onto a waiting pick-up truck, thus facilitating easy ‘stack exchange’.

The innate skill of the workers who build these walls is evident in the construction made sometimes of oddly shaped boulders, sometimes with flat tile like slabs of stone, placed so well that stones seem to fit into one another like a jigsaw puzzle. Then the final touch is added when a layer of mossy grass is scraped from the ground and placed like icing on top of the wall.  So that, in effect it looks as though a newly built wall has just been standing there for ages. 

Built with oddly shaped boulders
Built with flat stones.
A Close-up of the same wall.

This wall has just been built to fence in one of our neighbouring farms

Almost all the compound walls here have a narrow gap  -  what I call the ‘Girth Index Calculator’. The locals have no need for fancy stuff like “Body Mass Index” or ‘Body Adiposity Index’ and such like......If you can walk (side-ways)  through these narrow openings in the walls, then all is well in the world....or do need to visit the ....ahem..... a gym?

The narrow opening known locally as a 'Donnapa'

Now do these walls really keep out the creatures they are supposed to?  Our very friendly almost lovable wild boar can jump over it with enviable agility. The cows, though normally  not fond of jumping over walls, if cornered and scared, wouldn’t think twice before galloping over it, as we have observed quite a few times.  We have a couple of cows from one of the neighbouring farms, who true to the adage ‘Grass is greener on the other side of the fence’ had somehow been finding their way into our farm. Banana plants among others, our stack of hay saved for the rainy season and so many other things would get decimated in no time.  We  had no choice but to drive them out. They would lead us a merry chase, avoiding the gate through which they could easily run out and finally jump over some wall and gallop out of sight.

 The snakes seem to love walls as they glide over them peeping into every crevice looking for prey.

In and Out -gliding soundlessly

Our dogs love to sit atop the wall that separates our neighbouring  farm, drooling over their scraggly hens scampering all over their place.

Then there is this wall that we got built when we dug a well last year. The earth moving equipment had made a huge ramp leading into the well. We had to fill up this area with mud, that had to stay put and not fall into the well. The labourer who came to do it was so skilled, it was a joy watching him place the stones. The entire angle of the wall leant away from the well, he packed in mud as the height of the wall rose, and soon the sturdy wall was complete.

We found this so fascinating, that Vivek had to try his hand at it.  The cashew tree  just in front of our house is at a little  height and so is the clump of Bamboo behind the kitchen.  At both these places, each rainy season, some mud would get washed away exposing parts of the roots.  So, using the same technique he built two small embankments that holds in the mud.  Here are pics of his handiwork.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

The Cows are thirsty!

Finally we have a watering hole for our bovine family!

Each day after the cows are milked, they are let loose to graze around, walk around and sun themselves.  These are the Malnad Gidda variety of cows and unlike a lot of other cows who are content to stay the whole day in the stables, our cows get quite unhappy if they are not let loose. They need that exercise and the outing.  They all proceed out in a group and are capable of walking quite long distances. Quite often we have spotted them up the hill,  far from home.  But all of them unfailingly (barring a few incidents) always return home by 3 pm. 

When they return back, they have to wait until we open the gate to let them in.  We have a common gate that leads to our home and the plantation with a small path cordoned off for the cows to walk straight into the cow shed.  Our cows know the routine pretty well and walk down the path to the cowshed un-erringly. They sit patiently in the shade outside the gate and it is always a pleasure to see the content expression on their faces.

All throughout the rainy season, there are umpteen brooks and streams that enrich the landscape, but come summer and all of them dry up.  

Even the ‘Holle’ that roars past our farm leaves not a trace behind.  So this means that the cows have no water to drink until they are let into the cowshed.  We  keep quite a few buckets of water for them, but they push each other to get to the water first and often overturn the buckets.  So we had to find a  solution for this, to provide ample drinking water for them. And we found it on one of our trips further south.  We were returning from a trip to Vitla and spotted a Plant nursery on the way.  We stopped to check it out.  It was really huge - lots of fancy plants and /saplings with fancy price tags too.  After the first few rows of roses, chrysanthemums and colourful hibiscus, all with perfect flowers, there were rows of indoor plants and colourful crotons. Then came the saplings of the large trees.  This was interesting as we could buy some for the farm and the forest.  We picked quite a few of these.  Then at the very end, I spotted a whole array of pots and planters- mud pots, plastic ones, hanging ones, name it and this nursery had it!  And in one corner I spotted a huge stack of giant tubs –just the type that I wanted for the cows’ drinking water.  They were meant to make fancy lotus ponds to place in the foyers /lobbies of buildings and hotels.  They had all the apparatus to make an artificial fountains and a mini water fall as well.  But the tub was all that I wanted, and we got it.

Back on the farm, we decided to install it just outside the gate, so that not just our cows, but all the ones passing by can quench their thirst.   

The Tub

Preparing to install it

Finishing touches  - all natural elements used.

Shabari is a bit suspicious- hey! that was not there when I left this morning....

Anandi is curious.....and Thirsty!

Hey that's for us to drink!!!!!

So there it is now, a watering hole for the cows. Watch them make a beeline for it when they get back after their daily jaunts.  

Friday, 17 April 2020

Cat's Whiskers


Is not a colour

I associate with a crow’s egg.

But there it is

A porcelain blue shell

Cracked just so

It wasn’t me that did it

But the nasty ‘other’ crows

The yolk is bright yellow

And clings to my whiskers

As I leap off the window sill

My whiskers stiffen

And the crow smell lingers

Long after I have licked them clean.

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Perks of Farm Life!

Life on the farm-  work and more work as far as the eye can see.  The calves are having a merry time though!

COBOL - Sometimes you just need to sit down and stare!

Along with the hardships of a farm life come the perks – the perks of having a meal that is almost completely grown on the farm.  

Meet the players on our lunch plate today:

Red Rice – Starting its journey in the first week of June in a protected Rice nursery, then being transplanted in the first week of July under lashing rains out in the open fields, and then growing for three whole months. 

Protected Rice Nursery.
Rice tillers

The Rice grains

And here it is today cooked to perfection, ready to be accompanied by the Palak –dal.

Palak – This is a fast growing variety of local spinach which the locals call  ‘Bombay Basle’  where as the  Malabar Spinach is called just Basle. 

Local Spinach

I  can harvest  a reasonably sized bunch every other week.  Today it finds its way into a simple dal with a jeera tadka.

Raw Jackfruit.  The tall jackfruit trees are laden with green prickly bunches.  There are way more than we can deal with if we allow all to ripen.  So tender jackfruit is one of our favourite accompaniments at lunch. 

Would you like to carry some home ?

Today it is steamed and then stir fried with a dash of white pepper powder.  White pepper is the inner kernel of our normal black pepper.  So it is much spicier than it looks.

Ripened berries of Pepper from which  we get  the white pepper.

Ghee – Is any Indian meal complete without a dollop of ghee?  We have a choice of two varieties of ghee here – Golden yellow Cow ghee and the white Buffalo ghee.  Starring on our plate today is Buffalo ghee – made laboriously by collecting the cream from Madhubala’s milk, fermenting it, churning it to get the butter and then melting  and clarifying it with fragrant leaves – Betel leaf, Curry leaf and Tulsi.  All these make the ghee most fragrant and delicious. 

Madhubala -  Is this angle right - Don't I look prettier this way?

So here it is- our meal for today   

Red Rice, Palak-dal, Tender Jackfruit stir-fry  and a dollop of ghee.

Simple yet  delicious!


Tuesday, 10 September 2019

The Tiniest calf

Saraswati and Kalavati – born just 4 days apart are almost identical – rich brown coat and a white spot on their foreheads.  Sometimes it is difficult to tell them apart. 

Both of them had grown up into graceful young cows and seemed in pretty good health.  Kalavati had a bad bout of Foot and mouth infection and had spent several weeks in isolated quarantine.  But she had recovered her health well. 

Kalavati in isolated quarantine with all four feet bandaged.

It was Saraswati who started looking week and skinny for no apparent reason. 

  The vet was called and he prescribed some medicines and she slowly started regaining her health although she still looked thin.  Kalavati on the other hand had started looking plump and we guessed we would soon have a little calf  on the farm.  Probably Saraswati would be late in conceiving and calving due to her ill health we thought.

So it came as a complete shock when we went to the cowshed early morning and saw a teensy weensy calf lying next to Saraswati, who had a miserable dis-interested look around her and was not doing the usual nosing–nudging-cleaning routine that all cows do to their new born calves.  It is nature’s way of ensuring that the new born calf’s body temperature is maintained, the blood circulation is improved and the young calf gets perky and tries to stand up within an hour or two of its birth.  But none of that was being played out here.  Was the calf even alive?  Yes there was life in the  tiny cold limp body.  We rubbed it vigorously with gunny sacking , tried to get Saraswati to nuzzle it, but she seemed caught up in her own misery.   The usual trick of sprinkling wheat bran and maize powder onto the calf which gets the mother to lick it vigorously failed .  We tried milking her to get some precious colostrum  into the tiny calf, but her udders were dry.  We had a premie on our hands – a premature birth – Natures cycle of the full gestation which ensures an abundance of rich colostrum to protect the new born from all the vicious infections of the outside world had been cut short and the baby would have to struggle to survive now.  I held the tiny darling on my lap and rubbed its cold feet and bundled it up in layers of cloth and yet it shivered. 

I got a bottle of warm milk and tried to get the calf to drink.   Slow erratic gulps but slowly the shivering stopped.  

The vet arrived to check on Saraswati.  He confirmed that it was indeed a prematurely born calf and the chances of survival would be very slim.  The mother would need a lot of attention and some tonics and extra calcium was prescribed for her. We were to feed the calf every two hours and keep it as warm and dry as possible.  We carried the calf into the house.  The worst of the rains were lashing the whole of Karnataka at this time and the stormy damp weather was not a nice time for the little calf.

So tiny!

Her tail - smaller than our cat's tail!

Soudamini I named her. A big name for a little calf.  A musical sounding name.  But Soudamini means lightening – and indeed she came and went like a flash of lightening.  Illuminating our home for a brief period of 13 days during which her health and our hopes see-sawed.  One day she would be perky and running all over the place following me all over the house and the next day she would be lying listless, needing to be coaxed up to even drink the warm milk that she had gulped down in the previous feed.  A rash on the skin that erupted and spread all over, a runny nose that made her breathing sound laboured, the chills, the terrible stormy weather and the never ending rain and the consequent dampness all took its toll and on the 13th day I knew she had given up the battle.  It is heartbreaking to watch an animal die and specially one who had a promise of a whole life ahead, but   that is the way it is.  When I tried to coax her to drink some warm milk, she let out a terrible bleat – the first and last sound that she ever made.  I knew that I had to let her go.  We sat with her until she slipped into the other world – a world where the meadows are always sunny.

Soudamini – you will be remembered with love.

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Horsegram (Kuleeth) Cultivation

Horsegram seens to be in the news these days - the almost forgotten wonder legume!

After our Rice Harvest we had been trying out various Leguminous Crops for their beneficial Nitrogen fixation ability.   For those who have forgotten the high school Biology lesson – Legumious Plants are Natures Wonder Workers – they absorb the Nitrogen from the air and convert it into a form that returns back to the soil.  All this while producing the beans that provides food for humans and stalks and leaves that provide fodder for our bovine family. Amazing isn’t it?

So last year we planted 4 different legumes in each section of our land.  Each measures about 1/8th of an acre.  The cultivation manuals presume that you are a Big Time Farmer and provide the seed rate per Hectare – so after some head scratching and calculations, a Seed Rate of 2 Kgs for each section of the land was decided upon.  So we got Mung (Green Gram) , Udid (Black Gram) ,  Cowpea (White beans with a Black eye) and Horse Gram (Well – it is Reddish Brown just in case you think I am choosing based on colours!) All 4 are Legumes and promise to do the Nitrogen Fixation equally well.

To BroadCast Or Not?

Well,  in todays age of twitter and podcasting  – is Broadcasting still used ?  You bet!  We need to announce to the Soil – Look here come the seeds for you to nurture...and they in turn will nurture and enrich you. 

So after the tractor did its job of tilling the soil, we walked around the field ‘broadcasting’ the seeds.  Small portions of seeds flung evenly over the tilled land and then seeds are covered by a final run of the tractor.  And we were all set.

Now for the irrigation.  Unlike the Rice plants which are completely rain fed, we would have to run the pump in order to irrigate the fields now.  Vivek had designed a grid of removable pipelines with sprinklers.  We worked late into the evening  fixing the pipes and the sprinkler heads.  

It was a pleasure to see the warm earth soaking up the water that fell in a gentle misty spray from the sprinklers.

Very soon the sprouts were visible.  And guess who invited themselves for a nutritious breakfast of sprouts?  Well the Health Conscious Langurs would sit around the field each day at dawn and pull out the sprouts, shake the soil off it and munch them with enjoyment.   Inspite of all their feasting, the fields were covered with a green carpet (sparse though).  The langurs stopped coming when the plants grew beyond the 2 leaf stage.  

Soon the flowers started appearing and turning into interesting looking pods – sickle shaped ones of horsegram, rod like bunches of black and green gram and thin long beans of the cow pea.  Just when the pods started looking full, the peacocks started making their rounds. They feasted on the tender green pods sometimes leaving the pod shell intact but empty. In all this, we scarcely noticed that the monkeys and peacocks were partial only to the green gram, black gram and cow pea.  The Kuleeth in comparison to the other plants had been looking quite scraggly but surprisingly the pods were intact!
Soon  the green fields started turning yellow and drying up.  Time for harvest. The green and  black gram yields were not worth mentioning at all, but the horsegram yielded quite a good harvest. 

So this year we decided to grow Horsegram in the entire paddy area.   

Shortly after the rice harvest, we got the tractor to till the land.  We used the broadcasting method on all 4 sections of the fields.  The irrigation pipes were laid down again.  The irrigation needed daily monitoring.  The far corners of the fields would remain dry when strong breeze carried the fine mist of water away and we had to manually water those sections.  

Very often the sprinkler heads would stop functioning and on taking it apart we would find small stones or sometimes a dead fish that had somehow got past the filter. 

We also had to interchange the positions of the sprinkler heads depending on the throw of water from each one.  Sometimes we had to coax an unwilling frog out of the ‘Capital’ which is the holder into which the sprinkler head fits.  All in all a busy busy time.

  And soon it was time for harvest! The damage caused by the wild life  was surprisingly less than that caused to the rice harvest. 

The horsegram is harvested by pulling up the entire plant which comes up quite easily.  The plants are piled up across the field to allow them to dry out and then carried to the threshing area.

  Our front yard was all cleaned up and the harvest was spread out.  The traditional method of threshing is by beating with a flat wooden stick – a method that had worked fine the previous year when we had a very small crop of  horsegram.  But this year, looking at the humongous pile, I wasn’t sure that was a good idea.  

No one around us had any better idea – and I found the answer in some online farming videos where the horsegram is threshed by running a tractor over it!  Now our front yard is too small for a tractor to come in, but our little Alto could do the job just as well!  So here is what we did

First gear – forward, turn,
Reverse gear – backward, turn.  
First gear – forward, turn,
Reverse gear – backward, turn. 
First gear – forward, turn,
Reverse gear – backward, turn. 
and on and on in the little yard.
Then stop the car, get out and turn over the horsegram , shake it a bit and loosen the clumped up bunches.  Then  repeat!

The grains would fall to the ground while the stalks and empty pods could be bunched up and kept aside.  Not all the pods would break loose, so a second and third threshing on consecutive days was needed.
The car was covered in a thick layer of dust by the time we were done.  Then the actual winnowing and ‘separating the grain from the chaff’  was done!

And finally we have our lovely harvest of horsegram all ready!

Our meals are pepped up with Stir-fried horsegram sprouts, soup and of course the traditional  Saar-upkari! 

Come, join us for a delicious but simple meal of home grown rice and Kuleetha saar!

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