Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Keeping Boars at Bay.

Oh so delicate - the rice panicles
It is the second week of October now, and the paddy fields are now lush green and heavy with promise. The slender stalks have put forth delicate looking panicles.  Every day the colours change – from lush green to a pale green and then a golden tinge begins to show in places.  Each day the panicles look a little fuller – the grains are growing safe in the tough husk which protects it. 
Changing Colours - now only the grass on the embankment is green
But then this protection is just not enough to protect these fields from the wild boar. O yes, the wild boars from the adjoining forest are making nocturnal sojourns into all the surrounding fields and making a merry meal of the tender grains. And along with it a whole lot of destruction! Surely they could eat their fill standing on the embankment and chomping only on the grains, could someone teach them some table manners please?  But no, they stamp around, roll around when their back feels ticklish, and in general ruin  a sizable area of the field. 
The boar has been here
 The villagers have all taken to sleeping in their fields at night, each field has a neat elevated machan in the middle. Sometimes groups of youngsters pitch in and I guess they party out in the open, you can hear music and then some fire-crackers and loud hoots. And they successfully drive the boars away from their fields, right into ours as our fields are directly in the path back to the forest.

A machan built in one of the fields

So now the only solution is for us to sleep in our fields!  And that is exactly what we did. Since we did not have a machan ready, we decided to use our tent. Our farm-hand Manjunath cleared a small area of the thorny shrubs and weeds which have grown so abundantly in the rains, and we pitched our tent in a little circle of Arecanut palms. A thick blanket on the floor a couple of pillows and blankets as it gets quite chill during the night, and we were ready.  Of our four four-legged companions, we decided to take Johnny with us as he is not fussy about where he sleeps unlike Phoenix and Misty who would insist on snuggling into the tent. And Zuki is like the breeze, you just can’t confine her, she would spend the night wandering around and cry if she is tied. So Johnny it was
Johnny can make himself comfortable just about anywhere.
. We had dinner and armed with a plate and a ladle and torches, made our way thru the farm to the tent – our paddy field is beyond our areca plantation. Walking in the thick canopy of the palms, you suddenly realise how thick the undergrowth is, and not wanting to risk putting our foot on any unsuspecting snakes, we clanged the plate and ladle all the way.   We tied Johnny to the nearest Areca palm and got into the tent. It is fully sealed, so we had no worries about mosquitoes, bugs or even snakes.  And it is supposed to be an all weather tent.  But I guess all-weather does not include Malnad rains!  The brilliant moonlight soon got obscured by a thick cloud cover and soon there was a good drizzle..... gentle to begin with and then heavier by the minute. And it continued the whole night long. we started getting a gentle misty spray of rain into the tent as well. This was rather unexpected and we had no umbrellas even if we wanted to walk back home. So we slumbered through it, lulled by the musical sounds of the night.
The moon glistens,
a silver sheen,
the breeze ripples,
rustles and sings,
an arecanut falls,
with a resounding plop,
And the tent is drenched,
drop by drop!

Johnny did not seem to mind the rain at all and slept curled up. A couple of times we awoke to his low, deep warning growl and sure enough we could hear the heavy footsteps – we clanged the plate loud and long and the boar moved on. It was indeed a good thing that we brought Johnny along.

At daybreak, the rain ceased and we walked out to check whether the fields were safe. Yes they were, and we would have to continue this right until we could harvest the rice.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Blackie goes to Berlin

If you thought we are crazy with our love for animals, our daughters take it a step further.  When we moved to the farm, both of them had to spend long periods of time in Mumbai as Dipika was doing her M.A. at Mumbai University and Divya was teaching in Ruia college. Both of them found the house unbearably empty with all the animals here at the farm and both brought one kitten each home. Kippi was born near the staff room in Ruia college and Divya would feed the mother cat as she looked starved and weak. Soon the mother and kitten started following Divya right into the staff room much to the annoyance of the other staff members.  So while one staff member took the mother cat away, Divya brought the little kitten home and named her Kipchuk – shortened to Kippi. 
 A few days later, Dipika found a tiny little black kitten trailing her from one classroom in the Kalina University premises all the way to the other. It was so soft and lovable, she could not resist, and so Blackie came home.
 Kippi and Blackie got along very well and entertained everyone with their antics. 
Just having fun

And this June when Dipika got a scholarship to study in Berlin, the first thing she said was “I am taking Blackie with me.”  A cat all the way, when there are so many restrictions, so many regulations, and the uncertainty of the availability of pet-friendly accommodation - ...oh the hassles and the tensions. But no, she had made up her mind and went about the whole thing with a dog-headed or should I say cat-headed determination.  First the formalities for taking the cat; and then the formalities for bringing the cat back into India on her return a year later. Everything was based on the identification of the cat – and no, a simple description of a black cat with a white star on its chest would not do.
Don't forget to put in the colour of my eyes.
 So you had to get a Micro-chip embedded under Blackie’s skin, which could be read electronically by a special Micro-chip reader.  Our veterinary doctor had neither done this before nor did he know where a micro-chip would be available. So began the hunt for a vet who could do this. A flurry of phone calls to friends and animal lovers in Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai followed – Dipika was willing to take her cat anywhere in the country to get it micro-chipped. Finally we got the contact of a vet in Mumbai itself who could do it.  So in the first week of July, Blackie got a little injection on the nape of her neck and she was Micro-chipped. Then followed the vaccinations, as prescribed by the Pet-travel regulations.  The European Union (which is Rabies-free) is not satisfied with just the vaccinations, you need to make sure that your pet’s immune system has generated the adequate number of antibodies in response to the vaccines. So precisely a month after the vaccines, you need to send a blood-serum sample to the lab – wait, not just any lab, only a EU-approved lab, to get it tested. Now EU-approved labs are present only in the EU itself or in US /UK.    So then began the hunt for a courier service which could carry a ‘Biological Sample’. DHL, TNT, BlueDart, Fedex.... all of them refused. Finally UPS was the only one ready to accept a ‘Biological Sample’ provided it was accompanied by  a certificate from the doctor stating what the contents were and a letter from the EU approved lab stating that they would  accept the package. Both the letters were not a problem, the sample was packed in a double leak-proof container set – the serum sample does not need refrigeration, and it was sent.

 A week of tense waiting before the results came by email – ........All Clear .... now Blackie could actually enter Germany.  But wait, we are not done yet – The Animal Quarantine Authorities in India had to check everything and certify that she could leave the country and that she could enter back after her little mistress was done with her academic year.  So the little mistress who hates doing ‘paper-work’ and dealing with such official work, actually took Blackie and all her documents and went all by herself  to the Animal Quarantine Department which is located in KoparKhairnare and dealt  with all the government paper-work  and came home with the work complete.  In the meantime,  the last hurdle which needed to be dealt with, was getting an airline approved pet-carrier in which Blackie could travel in the cabin of the aircraft and not in the luggage- hold.  We did have a carrier of appropriate dimensions, but it was a hard case, and anyone who has carted one around with a cat in it would know that it is quite unwieldy. The perfect carrier was a soft, flexible bag with a small mattress inside which could be replaced and a lot of thoughtfully provided features.  But, the company would not ship it to India.  Finally after a lot of search, Dipika found another brand which could be shipped to India, and the case arrived. With a little flexi-bowl to provide water or food to the occupant, a small opening to slip in your hand and comfort the little traveller and a plush interior for total cat-comfort.  Blackie loved it at first sight and claimed ownership over it right away. 
The D-day finally arrived and we waited outside the airport with apprehension till Dipika and Blackie were through with all the formalities.  Fortunately everything went thru smoothly; I guess the authorities are used to plenty of people carting their pets across the world.  Blackie behaved herself when she had to be taken out of the carrier and put back in during the baggage scan.  She was quiet during the journey and enjoyed all the attention at immigration in Berlin.

So as of now she is enjoying the onset of the Berlin winter and making the most of the elusive Berlin sun!

Monday, 24 November 2014

Rice Transplant!

Some folks transplant rice for wages,

but I have other reasons.

I watch the sky, the earth, the clouds,

Observe the rain, the nights, the days,

keep track, stand guard till my legs

are stone, till the stone melts,

till the sky is clear and the sea calm.

Then I feel at peace.

A Vietnamese poem after my own heart!

Our rice nursery, after its tryst with  a bunch ofbovine grazers, still survived and after 4 weeks is now ready to be transplanted into the main field.  These little,  baby rice plants, lovingly protected so far are now ready to venture out into the big world!

So D-day dawns with a clear bright sky.  It has been raining quite consistently but the field is only wet and not yet waterlogged.  So our irrigation channel has been opened up and the water is flowing into the fields.  Ganapati is ready with his bullocks and plough at 7 am. 
Ganapati, with the pair of beautiful beasts! 
 This is something new that we learnt – just tilling the land is not enough, you have to ‘muddle up’ the land to a fine squelch now!  As the bullocks walk through the field, the plough churns up the soil with the water .  Up and down, over and over again, till the mud looks like brown porridge.
Muddling up the mud to a fine squelch!
  By 9 a.m. one section of the field is done and the 6 women have arrived for the actual transplantation. They walk over to the nursery, their sarees tucked up to avoid trailing in the mud. When they near the nursery I hear an audible cluck-cluck of sympathy.  “What is it?” I ask them.  “Oh these saplings are so small – You don’t put fertilizer is it?  You should have,  the saplings would then have been this high” one of them explains holding her hand a good 6 inches above our saplings.  It is alright I explain – Fertilizer is not good – it will ruin the soil I say, but their blank look seems to say “Oh these mad city folks”. 

Anyway, they start pulling up the saplings.  Their movements are smooth and swift, they work with both hands – a fluid movement akin to churning buttermilk with a rope wound around the churner. When the bunches in their hands reach a particular size, they bind them with  a couple of saplings and toss them aside.  They find it very amusing when I do the same, gingerly, not wanting to hurt the roots of the delicate looking plants. But a swift brisk movement is what you need to uproot the saplings and with a little practice I get it right. 
Geeta (leftmost) is amused at my slow, gentle tugging of the saplings.

Bundles of Saplings lined up swiftly.
By mid morning, all the saplings have been uprooted and tied into neat little bundles. 

A short break with a meal of idlis, chutney, a sweet potato patty, some tea and it is time to do the transplantation.  Squelch, squelch , the mud is unbelievable soft and squidgy – all you do is pull out 3-4 saplings from the bunch and push them deep into the squidge. The trick is that when you pull your hand out, the saplings should stay in and stand erect.  Mine looked pathetic at first but soon I learnt the trick and could do it almost as well as the others, though not at that speed.  And definitely not for that long.  My back was already beginning to sing a different tune. The others continued until the entire field was covered with neat rows of saplings.    

Ohhhh, this sad looking lot is mine.

Experienced hands - see the difference?
 The evening sun reflected on the still waters in the field and the little saplings  revelled in their new found space.  Have we really made a mistake by stubbornly refusing to use chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  Will our home-made mixes of Jeevamruth andPanchagavya work?  Well, all I can say is Wait, and we will soon find out.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Rice Nursery.

It is now more than a month since we got our paddy area prepared to a fine tilth.  We had purchased one sack of rice seeds, which is actually rice with the husk itself.  The only available variety was a local variety called MTU1001, so we brought it. When I opened the sack, there was a small sachet double wrapped in a plastic with an instruction sheet in Kannada. I asked Manjunath about it, he said it will help the seeds to grow better. Now I better check this I thought, and tried to decipher it, without much success. But the last sentence helped me figure out what it was.  It said  in Kannada ‘Poison - Wash hands after touching’.  so obviously it was some pesticide.  So I kept it aside to discard it appropriately, as we had planned to do everything organically.

Rice Seeds for the Nursery
 Preparing a seed-bed for the rice nursery is indeed an art.  The seeds are strewn around, artfully does it, in a small patch of land.  If you get it right, then the shower of seeds looks well spaced, you cannot have clumps and heaps of seeds in any spot.   About 20 kgs of seeds were strewn around and then Manjunath demonstrated the method of picking the soil with a large spade and hurling it over the seeds. The soil is picked in such a way that it creates a neat channel around the border of the nursery.  The soil hurled onto the seeds raises that level a bit. And there - you have a neat raised seed-bed with a well-defined channel around it, through which we can release some irrigation water.  On the third day a pretty green carpet could be seen on the seed-bed , our rice saplings had pushed their pretty little heads above the damp soil to see the sun!
The rice nursery at the far end of the field

The saplings grow at an amazing speed and within a week the saplings were rippling in the breeze and looking taller.  But we were not the only ones admiring them.  a group of local cows had noticed them too and one morning I found a whole herd of them merrily chomping on the tender greens.  I whooped and yelled and drove them away.  But something needs to be done! Maybe I could make a make-shift fence out of old clothes and sarees.  I spent a good part of the day doing it, my sewing machine happily humming a tune after a long hiatus.  Towards evening I picked what looked like a small mountain of coloured strips of cloth and carried it to the rice nursery.  The entire length of what I had stitched did not cover even one complete side of the nursery!  And it had taken me so much time.  So I had to think of a better option.  The Jute and Plastic sacks in which we buy the cow-feed!  Yes they would do fine, I had to cut open two sides of each bag, shake the remnants of husk, bran and whatnot out and then join them together.  My sewing machine was not very happy with this rough course material which left a layer of grit and lint all around, but it still complied.  The next day, we rigged up the fence around the entire nursery.  I was worried about the saplings that had their heads shorn off, but Manjunath was confident that they would still grow. 
The makeshift fence of jute and plastic sacking in place, but you can see the gaps where the cows have munched.

We kept at our schedule of spraying Panchgavya on the saplings and hoped they would turn out well.  The majority of them looked quite ok, though there were patches of pale and short saplings in the nursery, which might need to be discarded later. 

Another week, and we will be ready for the transplantation!  The plants seem to be thriving and the cows are casting longing looks at the green feast that is now cordoned off for them.


Sunday, 2 November 2014

Puzzle Mania

What is it about these perfect little coloured bits that has us in such a grip?  
May be because of all my childhood toys, the one that I loved the best was a little cardboard ‘States of India’ jigsaw where every state could be fitted into its slot.  We  have always been enthralled by Ravensburger puzzles ever since we did our first 500 piece puzzle way back in 1993.  Vivek  had got one for the kids on one of his trips abroad, and given the size of the puzzle, it had remained unopened for several months.  Until one rainy, floody day when Mumbai came to a standstill and we were cooped up indoors, we opened the puzzle.  And we were hooked!

We have moved on from the 500 piece puzzles onto 2000 piece ones.  And we have maintained the tradition of opening a puzzle only when it rains too heavily and we are stranded indoors.  So this time in the first week of June, Vivek was away in Mumbai and the skies threatened to open up, I got out my very favourite ‘School of Athens’ puzzle.
A painting so fascinating, you could look at it for hours.  It is one of the most famous frescoes by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael, depicting nearly every Greek philosopher.  It was painted between 1509 and  1510 and adorns one of the walls in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.   Little must Raphael have imagined that 500 years later, copies of his painting would be painstakingly rebuilt piece by piece by puzzle lovers the world across, including two in a remote farm in Chitrapur.

So how does this mania take over?  First we sort out the edge pieces.  The table which is normally cluttered with our laptops, books, manuals, notes, plates of drying mace and nutmegs and other odds and ends, miraculously gets cleared to make way for the pieces.   The stage is set and the border starts taking shape. Every spare moment is spent poring over the pieces. Sorting them is essential, so plastic  containers, baking tins, bowls find their way to the table to hold a shade of purple or green that you know has to belong to this or that corner of the puzzle.

  Bit by bit the figures evolve, the rich tapestry on the walls comes alive, your eyes start noticing the ever so subtle differences in the shades of brown  that make up the robe of   Euclid and Plotinus or the blue streaks that highlight the robes of Aristotle and Diogenes.
Plato and Aristotle
The sculptures on the wall depicting Apollo,  god of light, archery and music, holding a lyre  and  Athena, goddess of wisdom, take shape out of the million shades of cream and beige.  The arch above the group of figures which is a classic Greek ‘meander’ a motif made with one continuous line gets done as we match each line for its thickness and colour. 
 And so on it goes until we are down to the last 50 pieces and then it is a race to the finish.

The whole puzzle is done and adorns our table for some days while we admire the painting  and the precision with which the pieces fit into one another. and then it is time to  take it apart and put it back into the box until the next rainy season, when hopefully we will have another masterpiece from Ravensburger.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Why I am not on WhatsApp

Blinding lightening followed almost instantly by a deafening crash of thunder! The lights go off  as if struck by ..........what shall I say .... Lightening?  We race around the house unplugging all our electrical devices – we have to do this – after our modem blew up three times when we forgot to unplug it during such storms.
I have never witnessed such storms in Bombay, I have never seen sparks flying out of the electric sockets each time the sky lights up in a brilliant flash.  The wind whips up a frenzied song in the trees and the rains lash the tile roof, the swaying trees and everything around. But the time lag between each successive lightening and its accompanying thunder increases – signalling that the storm is racing over the landscape at a tremendous speed. 
Within  a few moments it has passed, adrenalin levels are back to normal, the dogs are out of their hiding places with the expression “Afraid of the thunder – aww come on – not me!” and the cat gives a bored yawn as if to say “Lets get on with my meal – shall we ?”  
Of course I am not scared, I just like to sit by the candle.
How can you let a storm upset our meal-times?
So everything continues except for the current – which we yet do not know; will show up only tomorrow evening at 6 pm.  The lightening has struck a massive tree about 250 metres from our house and it has come crashing down pulling down a whole lot of wires – electric and telephone along with it. 
So no current, no phone, no internet. 
But we are used to it now.  Mobile signal too is weak and messages sometimes go several hours after we have pressed the ‘Send’ button.  And we are trying hard to conserve the battery since we don’t know how long the blackout will last. And mind you this has been a common occurrence all through the past 4 months.
And we were managing just fine ..... until I got onto the WhatsApp bandwagon.  The current would come on for about an hour, the wifi would be switched on and my phone would start turning somersaults trying to assimilate the slew of messages in all my groups.

Hi’s,  hello’s,  pranaams.............

Jokes, limericks, one-liners.............

Emoticons, emoticons and more emoticons..........

Birthday wishes, Friendship day wishes, Fathers day wishes......

.....and some more emoticons.....


Ooooooooooooooooh!   blink blink blink   My phone battery is draining out faster than a ‘Kiwi-drainexed’ clogged drain.

 Zzzzzoinnnnkkkkkkkkkk.  And my phone is knocked senseless – dead to the world and all its messages .....    And yes, by now the current has gone off too.  Looks like another few hours of blackout.

Don't tell me you need that huge flashlight to see in the dark!

So then folks.... please don’t mind, will see you all on good old FaceBook!

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Chitrapur Station

We live in a ‘one-horse town’ sorry, a ‘one-train town’.  
Our really  quaint Chitrapur station boasts of one train halting here twice a day. It is the “Mangalore – Madgaon Passenger train” .  Shaking off its sleep at 6 am at Mangalore station, it chugs its way slowly stopping at each and every station enroute.  By the time it reaches Chitrapur, it is well past its scheduled time.  The very first time that we went to the station was when hubby had to travel to Goa to catch a flight.   It is a very convenient connection for us when  need to travel at a short notice.   I had to drop him to the station and we reached well ahead of its scheduled time.  The ticket counter  was closed and the small waiting room was locked as well.  And the single platform was completely deserted. 

 A long wait and then almost half an hour after its scheduled time, the ticket-booking clerk, the waiting room attendant, the ticket collector and the cleaner,  all rolled in one, walked up, opened the booking office, dusted the entire place, swept the floor, opened the waiting room, put fresh flowers and lit incense and then finally turned his attention to us and asked us our destination.  By then a slow trickle of people had started walking in. 
 A couple of rickshaws drove in to wait and soon the loudspeaker crackled to life announcing the arrival of the train at Bhatkal station.  There is no separate announcement for Chitrapur.  10 minutes later, the train chugged into sight. 
 A liesurely 5 minute halt, passengers alighting and embarking without any pushing/shoving, no coolies yelling into your ears, no  vendors shoving their wares into your face.....just a gentle breeze and a quiet murmur of people and then the train makes its way onward to Murudeshwar station. The booking clerk walks out and locks the office and the waiting room, puts the key into his pocket and walks home whistling a tune.  
 And the station goes back into its somnolent state until 6 pm when the same train halts here on its return journey.  I walk out to the ‘car-park’ where our car is the sole occupant, showered with a generous layer of golden yellow blossoms, and drive back home. 

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Pining for Pineapples

A green rosette of pointy leaves, a bright reddish purple centre and you know that a pineapple is beginning to grow.  As the flower  grows, you notice that it is not one single flower but a cluster of small purple flowers – indeed the pineapple is a set of multiple coalesced berries. 

And some maths-buffs claim that what is more amazing is that the eyes of the pineapple are arranged in two interlocking helices that are Fibonacci’s numbers! (Fibonacci’s series is a series of numbers where each number is the sum of the previous two ... so it is like 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21 ......and so on) 
I spent a great deal of time counting the eyes but cannot say for sure that all pineapples adhere to this formula.
Well numbers apart, after a whole years wait, what we get from each plant is a just a single pineapple.  That is how rare a pine-apple is!  And do the monkeys and wild boar love it?  Oh yes! they do. They don’t mind eating it even before it ripens fully.  The first year after we moved to the farm, I saw with dismay that every pine-apple was plucked and savagely eaten before it ripened.  We managed to get about 8 or 10 in the entire season. 
Was there nothing that I could do to save them?  I tried camouflaging them with dried banana leaves and managed to save them from the marauding monkeys. But the minute they started ripening, the smell would attract the wild boar and they would make a feast of it.  (Now you might just wonder, why don’t we simply drive them away? For one - the wild boars come during the night – the dogs do bark if they wander very close to the house, but it is really not practical to go hooting and making a racket to drive them out, besides, by the time you do it, the pineapples would be eaten anyway.  And the stories of wild boar attacking humans after being startled are many and gory.).

So I have been racking my brains and trying to read up on every bit of information about wild boars. One thing is sure, they are actually very wary of humans, and according to our farm hand, if you keep out some fruit as bait to trap them, they shy away from it since they can smell the human touch on it.  Why not use  this to our advantage, I thought.  I pulled out all the old clothes kept aside for discarding,  cut them up and put them around each pineapple -  a prickly and laborious  task.  So each pineapple is now wearing a shirt sleeve or a bright kurta piece like a poncho. 
And since they are hidden from view, I need to lift the cloth (.. and leave the scent of human touch)  and check them every now and then to see if they have started ripening.  The idea seems to be working because  last season, we could save about 55 to 60 pine-apples.  Fortunately, they all did not ripen at once, so we had a steady supply of pineapples for the whole of April and May and then a last batch that ripened in June. And we had pineapples for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Jammed, stewed and sundried.  And you could spot visitors to our farm carting back a couple of the prickly fruit (if they were willing).

So the next time you have a craving for pineapples, you know where to head for.

Friday, 13 June 2014

A Fine Tilth....

Land Preparation :  Clear out the weeds and plough the land to a fine tilth................reads the manual on Rice cultivation. 
Five years before the previous owner sold the place to us, he realised that rice cultivation was not commercially viable.  And he had stopped it . It is now our third year on the farm, so in effect our  paddy area has been lying barren for the past 8 years. 
The paddy area overgrown with weeds
 But this year we felt we must go ahead and try our hand at rice cultivation. 

So a few days back, I heard about a new tractor which is available for hire in the village.  Apparently some enterprising fellow from TamilNadu is travelling across villages and tilling for the willing.  i.e those willing to pay his steep charges of Rs. 1000 per hour.  Well, we decided it would be worth a try – for two reasons – First - because our land was untended for so long, it would be really rock hard;  and would take much more time to get it done by bullocks - probably cost more as well.  Secondly, the new tractor could apparently work even if the tough weeds were not removed. 
 So Saturday afternoon at 4 pm, Ponarasu – the tractor driver who spoke no Kannada and just a smattering of English , drove into the farm on his monstrous vehicle.  After assessing the place, he asked ‘ one or two?’ meaning one round of tillage or two?  We agreed for two as we wanted the land to be done really well.  And there, the noisy monster rumbled around raising a huge cloud of dust, pulverising everything in its path.  Its huge rotor blades cut through the weeds and churned them along with the mud. 
 I walked in its wake to see how the mud was churned up. The soil below the surface had a rich moist feel.  And I could see scores of white thick grubs that were disturbed from their homes, scurrying about. In a few moments a couple of white egrets flew gracefully and landed on the upturned mud. They were followed by one more and then two more... and soon there was an entire flock.  Pecking, gobbling, scurrying around, they were having a feast.  I was amazed at the perception and communication skills of these birds.  Did one of them first notice that here was a field being ploughed,and then spread  the message- “Come one Come all, lets feast”   or were they all flying high overhead to distant places and decided that this was just the spot for their afternoon break?  Whatever it was, these birds were having a merry time- and were they insolent?  they hopped around in the wake of the tractor and in its very path, unmindful of the monster as it bore straight down on them, taking off just as it was close enough to touch their wings.
  In the midst of all this, I noticed Misty; Zuki, Phoenix  and Johnny making their way through the arecanut trees.  They had not noticed me leaving the house and now they all surrounded me with a ‘why didn’t you call us when you left?” look.  And then they saw the birds!  As they ran to chase them, the wonder of the soft – sink-your feet-in feeling of the freshly tilled soil, caught on to them and they raced around in joyous abandon. 

It took the tractor an hour and a half to prepare our half acre paddy area to a fine tilth. We will now sow the seeds and like the rest of the farmers across the state, await the first rains and hope and pray for a good bountiful crop.     



Sunday, 25 May 2014

Composting and Beyond!

We have been working hard at creating the perfect compost and now our compost pit is full to the brim. And the time is right for giving the trees their quarterly dose of good Farm Yard Manure (FYM).  So this is what ‘Organic Farming’ is all about!
The Compost pit behind the cow shed

If you read about all the myriad ‘Composting techniques’ you will know that for a good compost, you need a balance of Carbon and Nitrogen – Carbon provided by dry leaves and Nitrogen by the green mulch. The compost starter is the cow dung – which is available in plenty thanks to our large bovine family.   Our two compost pits – one 15’ x 10’ and the other 10’ x 4’, both 5 feet in depth – are located behind the cow shed one on either side of the cow-path which leads the cows out to the gate for their daily walk in the forest.  All the dry leaves that we rake and collect are layered over the dung that is collected each day. The cow shed is washed and all this water too goes into the pit.  The layer of dry leaves ensures that there is never any stink around this area.  Our farm-hand wields the sickle with amazing speed and clears out weeds and overgrown shrubs – all this forms the ‘Green –nitrogen’ component of the compost. While hubby has really mastered the art, I am not yet good at wielding the sickle, so I try to contribute the carbon component by raking leaves -with my favorite Rake .  But it seems an insurmountable task when after an hour of vigorous raking, the pile of leaves looks miniscule when you turn around and see the un-raked portion of the land.  

Mind you – all this jargon about Carbon and Nitrogen that I gleaned now is an age old method; something that these locals have been following ever since. 

The dense growth of weeds provides the green mulch for the compost.

So last month, the compost was ready to be spread in the plantation.  We hired a group of people from the village – it takes 2 days for a pit to be cleared. Each Arecanut tree gets a basket full and a coconut tree gets 3 baskets of FYM. The other fruit trees get their share according to their age and size. The workers work in a relay system, and the ease with which they carry the heavy load on their heads is admirable.

They giggle with amusement as I try to get pics of them. They work tirelessly the whole morning till their well deserved mid morning meal which is usually a large serving of upma or dosas that I make for them along with some tea.  At noon they go to their homes for lunch and are back at it again at 2 pm.   The last hour of their day is spent spreading the FYM evenly around the base of the tree.  6 pm and they are done with their day’s work.

The team

 The trees sway in gratitude as the setting sun light filters thru and casts dancing patterns on the enriched land.  The pits are cleared out and await the next batch of ingredients to restart the composting procedure.

Well now apart from this FYM, we felt we need to do much more as the quantity of compost produced is still not enough for the entire plantation. So we have learnt to make Jeevamruth and Panchagavya. 

Jeevamruth is prepared by mixing cowdung, cow urine, flour of any dicotyledonous seeds (horse gram or white peas) and some jaggery   in a huge drum with 200 litres of water. This mixture is to be stirred (not shaken) twice a day – only in clockwise direction – if you please; The mixture ferments, the good bacteria multiply several fold and on the sixth day the frothy mix is ready to be poured at the base of every tree in one acre of land.
Stirred, not Shaken

Panchagavya recipe is more complex and involves mixing ghee, milk, curds, jaggery, ripe bananas, tender coconut water ........hold on, I am not making a delicious chilled smoothie;  for all this is to be mixed into the ubiquitous cow dung and cow urine.   Stirred each day for 20 days, this mix is much more potent than any fertilizer I have ever seen. Diluted at a mere 2% solution (200 ml of this mix in 10 litres of water), the solution is sprayed as a ‘Foliar spray’ ie over the leaves of the pepper plants; banana plants and all other plants whose leaves we can reach. And I learnt the hard way that this is not to be sprayed after the sun comes up – for it burns up the leaves and makes them shrivel and dry up. But spray it at sun-down and watch the new leaves sprout out almost like Jack’s famous bean-stalk.

And to think that all these wonderful mixes were being used in India since time immemorial – their origin is attributed to the 10th Century scholar ‘Surapala’ whose treatise ‘Vrikshayurveda’ deals with the science of plant health.  Unlike chemical fertilizers/pesticides that destroy both good and bad bacteria that exist in nature, these 2 plant elixirs build immunity, allow the good bacteria to win over the bad, and improve the overall health of the plants.  

So did you just hear the plants whisper  “Panchagavya is the secret of my energy?..... Our Energy”

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