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.     



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