Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Colours of Harvest

The endless variety of farm produce never ceases to amaze us.  The first year that we were here was a real learning experience for us.  We made countless ‘Farm-visits’ to well established farms to learn more about managing such a farm, browsed the net and read thru pages and pages of ‘Cultivation  Manuals’  gleaned great information from the websites of the Spice Board of India, TamilNadu Agricultural University(TNAU) and so many others. We learnt to manoeuvre  the long ‘Harvestor’  (which is a basket with a blade tied to the end of a pole) thru the branches and tug at the ripe fruit. It needs more skill and strength, than we imagine to neatly hook the fruit and pull it off without damaging the unripe ones near it. But we are slowly getting good at it.
The Harvestor at the end of a 15 feet long bamboo

The cashew needs to be plucked as soon as it ripens or else it falls to the ground where the fruit is eaten by the cows during the day or the wild boars at night. The nut which contains a very abrasive, acidic oil is slit open and eaten by the porcupines – probably the only animal who eats the cashewnut. Even the monkeys throw the nut, eating only the fruit. So apart from plucking the fruit from the trees, we have to check the ground below to pick the nuts. The fruit is then separated from the nuts. Bucket loads of the fruit which in Goa would have been converted to Feni, is given to the cows. Oh what joy to see them slurping and chomping on the juicy tidbits, they just love it!
The Cashew fruit with the nut on the outside

We learnt how to make Organic fertilizers like Jeevamrut and Panchgavya which have shown fantastic results – for instance we had four really tall  Clove trees approx 17 years old.  The Clove Cultivation Manual had stated that cloves buds appear on the trees in January and need to be harvested (hand-plucked) before they flower. Clove is valued only when it is dried in its bud stage and has the globular tip (remember Promise Toothpaste ads?).  Of course we scarcely notice this when we dunk cloves into the frying pan while cooking.  So well, the first year that we were here, the whole of January had me scanning the trees to see if flowers had appeared.  No luck!  Finally our farm hand Manjunath sheepishly admitted that these trees had never produced any cloves all these years.  Well........ Anyway we kept up with the Jeevamrut and Panchagavya spray all through the year.  And surprisingly this Jan we had a great harvest of cloves. 
Clove buds just harvested
Sun drying the clove buds 

The majority of the farm produce is harvested in the hot summer months, nature’s great timing at work so that we can sun dry most of the produce and store it for the  whole year. So as you can imagine, the work multiplies multifold.
Fresh Kokum fruit (Garcinia Indica) 
 Kokums need to be cut open, the seeds extracted and the outer peels are sun dried.  The pulp surrounding the seeds  has a lot of juice which needs to be  squeezed out.  Each evening, the partially dried kokum peels are soaked back into this juice, to be squeezed out next morning and dried again.  4 to 5 days of this treatment and the kokum is ready to be stored in bottles. This method imparts a really rich lovely colour to the peels. The seeds are dried separately and used for making Kokum butter – a product which has been used since ages in India and is now gaining popularity in the western cosmetic world.


Basket loads of Vatamba

The ‘Vatamba’ , used as a souring agent , a fruit that I had never seen or heard of before, grows abundantly. The first time I saw it, our farm hand Manjunath explained that it needs to be sliced thin and then sundried. He had harvested a basketful and I took half of it to the kitchen. It was far tougher than I thought and by the time I finished slicing the pile, my hands were quite sore. I went back to the outhouse to see a staggering pile of harvested vatambas. How on earth was I going to slice all of these?  But Manjunath  was prepared with a very sharp traditional cutter ‘Adli’ and sliced his way through the pile merrily chomping on his betel leaf&nut mix.


All sliced and out in the sun

As for some of the other items that we get from the farm, see the pics below.

Nutmeg (Jaiphal) with its red, delicate outer aril which is the exotic spice Mace (Jai-patri)

Nutmeg and Mace being sundried

Stacks of freshly plucked Betel Leaves
The worlds largest 'Sprout' - Coconut sprout a rare delicacy. We were lucky to get a couple of these when the stored coconuts got drenched in a heavy shower resulting in some of them sprouting.


Sunday, 13 October 2013

Farm Visits

A large part of our ‘learning’ about agricultural practice has been through ‘farm-visits’.

Shy little kids watching their father take us around his farm

  There is quite a Green-Organic movement here and most local farmers are very willing and happy to share their knowledge and experiences, the language-barrier notwithstanding. They happily explain in kannada as they take us around their farms and the visit always ends with the curious question “Why did you leave a city like Bombay and come here?”.  

Taking us around the farm

The Organic farmers mostly use the standard composting method since they invariably have a small herd of cows. 

The compost pit behind the cow shed just topped with a layer of dry leaves

 The variety of crops grown is also similar across this area – Arecanut and coconut intercropped with Black pepper, Bananas, Pine-apples and the occasional Vanilla.

 Yet each farm visit shows us something different, opens our eyes to things which we never knew before and could never hope to find even in a million google searches.  The hardiness, perseverance and resilience of these simple folk is worth admiring. While we lament about small inconveniences, these people take daunting events in their stride. One farm that we visited was located in the forests enroute to Sirsi.  About 12 kms from the tiny village of Katgaal,  the young lad Vishwanath who helps his dad to manage the land was enthusiastic about our visit.  As he took us around right to the edge of his farm which was several levels lower than where we had begun, I noticed all the pineapple plants looking battered. The ground too was much squelchier in the lower level. When I asked him about it, he pointed to a swiftly flowing beautiful stream just beyond the boundary of his farm.

Swiftly flows this stream

He explained that after every heavy rain the water in the stream rises and floods his land.  The arecanut plants are not too badly affected but the smaller ones are.  And hence he could not use the lower levels of his land for any other intercropping.  It was sad because there could have been a good source of income  from the intercropped plants.  I asked him about his education – he could only study till 4th standard as the closest school offers only that. Beyond that, he would have to either move to a relatives house or shell out almost 25 rupees a day - bus fare for the 30 km journey - something that they could ill afford. Yet his sparkling humour and happy nature shone through. I asked about the bus connectivity to his farm.  “Like Doctors medicine – 3 times a day – morning noon and night” he laughed. His knowledge about vanilla cultivation, medicinal plants and herbal pesticides was amazing.    We returned with a wealth of knowledge and a large collection  of plants, saplings and cuttings for our farm.

 The other noteworthy visit was to a farm in the fairly developed village of Sorab near Sagar (of the Jog Falls fame).  Here the father and son duo manage their farm without any outside help and have been mentioned in local Kannada newspapers as the “Ideal Organic farm”.  The 72 year old father is one of the first to convert his farm to totally Organic. He is passionate about Jeevamruth – the best fertilizer for plants and agreed to explain the procedure on condition that we actually put it into practice. “I am fed up of people coming and asking me out of curiosity and then totally forgetting what I have said” he lamented.  But I was ready with  my notebook and pen and had a most interesting biology lecture on the merits of helpful soil microbes, and  creating the perfect liquid fertilizer which allows these very microbes to multiply exponentially thus enriching the soil and eliminating the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides. As we discussed I was amazed to know that he had attended one of Masanobu Fukuoka’s Lecture Demonstrations and also read his book “One straw revolution” which has been translated into kannada.  As we walked around his farm, we understood the true meaning of ‘Sustainability’, how a sprightly 72 year old who has seen his land turn fallow with chemical fertilizers succeeded in turning it around into a green Organic-Certified Wonder!
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