Our Farm at Chitrapur

Rice - Post Harvest Processing! March 15 2015

What goes into the conversion of the freshly harvested rice grains (paddy) into the fragrant rice that we consume daily, without probably a thought about this process?  We learnt a great deal in our search for a method to dehusk  our rice perfectly :

  1. The rice can either be just de-husked and polished OR “Boiled” and polished to create the boiled rice (Ukade Tandool as we know it)
  2. Once the rice is processed, unless you put some boric powder or some chemicals, it lasts only for a couple of months without getting weevils or the small black mites in them. On the other hand, the paddy can last a whole year without any problems.
  3. Polishing the rice removes the nutrients from the bran layer, but ensures that the rice lasts longer.
  4. The local mills – (there are at least 5 of them within a 3 km radius!!!!!) will accept your paddy, but will mill it with the all the other rice that is waiting to be milled on that day. Each mill has capacities in the range of 20 to 25 quintals. So if you want a miniscule quantity like 50 to 75 kgs milled, you have to watch your lovingly grown organic paddy being poured into the giant chutes along with all the other inorganically grown rice........(sob).   Besides, when such a huge quantity is being mass produced, you cannot have a wee bit of it unpolished........tch,  tch tch.......

Sun drying the paddy before taking it to the Rice Mill

So we were stuck in a strange situation. We even contemplated buying our own dehusking machine, but that wasn’t so easy either.  And after a lot of asking around,  we finally located a Rice mill whose owner agreed to dehusk our rice without polishing it. So 75 kgs of our paddy was loaded into the car and taken to the mill.  The mill owner was a very friendly guy who assured us that our rice would be done separately.  And indeed, only our paddy was poured into a huge pit and he switched on the giant  machinery. At the other end, the dehusked rice started falling into a channel with a sieve at the base.  The fragmented grains were separated and the whole grains were all collected into another bag.  The weight of this bag came to approximately 55 kgs.  The 20 odd kgs of husk and fragmented rice was packed separately  and we could use it for our bovine family.  As we walked out of the mill, the friendly owner warned us that this brown unpolished rice has a very short shelf life.  We assured him that we were aware of it and came back home with our precious booty. 

 

The Rice Dehusked and unpolished - just as we wanted it !

And what can I say about the taste of our own home grown, organic brown rice?  That the flavour as Wikipedia puts it is indeed mild, nutty with a chewy texture?  And it tastes heavenly with just salt and a generous dollop of ghee in it? Or that the very humble rice-gruel or conjee as some may call it , made with a sprinkling of freshly grated coconut  accompanied by some papad can hold its own against a gourmet meal?  And the dosas made with this rice have a crunch and flavour that sets it apart ...........

 

So now we have a neat stash of paddy that we can dehusk, as and when we want, and yes our harvest is much more than what we can consume so if any of you would like a taste of this rice, you can visit our online store by Clicking on 'Products' above or drop  a line on info@hulidevana.in.

Till then happy reading! 


Rice Harvest February 05 2015

Tillers and panicles,

the rice puts forth,

heavy grains swing,

the gentle breeze sings,

O what sweet notes,

the harvest season brings!

 

It is finally harvest time!  Our very first Rice Harvest!

 

But the weather has been playing truant for the past several days. Our all-weather tent which we had pitched in the farm to keep the boars away, had become soggy and there was an inch of water on the floor.  We had to haul a cane cot all the way and manoeuvre it into the tent for the last few days. There was a brief dry spell misleading all into thinking that the bout of unseasonal rains was over.  A whole lot of farmers immediately got down to harvesting their grain, and were caught in a fix as the rains lashed down on the harvested grains, forcing everyone to halt their work mid way.

 

The method followed here, is spread over 3 to 4 days. On day one- the bunches of rice plants are cut as close to the ground as possible.  If you have read my earlier post on rice transplant, those small clumps of saplings which we held in a pinch and shoved into the sludge have grown into bunches which I can barely clasp. A brisk slash with a sickle, bunch after bunch is collected and laid on the ground in rows.  At the end the field is covered with neat windrows of cut stalks.

 

They make light their work by merry chatter

It is left out to dry for a day and then collected into bundles and carried to the threshing area which is near the house. The bundling of the stalks and carrying takes almost a whole day. This is irrespective of the size of the field, as the larger the area, more are the people involved.  The third and fourth day is devoted to threshing. A large wooden table is placed in the centre of the threshing area which is covered with large tarpaulin sheets.

The wooden threshing table in the centre, tarpaulin sheets covering the ground

 

  Everyone in the village seems to join in, each one lifts a bunch and holding it high above their heads, whacks it down onto the wooden table. The impact scatters the grain all over.

A couple of times more, and most of the grain is separated from the stalks. These stalks are tossed onto one pile, from where a group of men collect them and stack them neatly to make a ‘Hay stack’.  This  will provide fodder for the cows in the lean dry months when fresh grass is no longer available. The scattered grain is swept together by a group of women and filled into gunny bags.  The whole area bustles with activity..... 

 

 

See the haystack being built in the left corner

As for us, we were caught in an un-welcome situation. A pre-scheduled trip which we could not postpone, a crop waiting to be harvested, and the work-force caught up with their own harvest, unable to attend to our field....added to that gloomy warnings in the Rice Cultivation manual about how delayed harvesting causes grain shattering and grain losses..... 

Waiting to be harvested

We had to do something.  How about hiring a ‘Rice Harvesting machine’?  Our farm hand was not too keen... we would still need people to collect and thresh, besides the machine cuts it several inches above the ground  and a lot of hay would get wasted he said.  Do you think a harvestor-cum thresher would be a better option? We asked.  That would be a good thing he said, but expressed doubt whether it would be available in our area. Anyway, off we went in search of the machine.   Asking people along the way and trying to figure out their directions, we finally found 2 machines parked in the open ground near the Sharada-holle bridge, which people have shortened to Sardoli bridge.  The owner of the machine could speak Hindi, so we could convey to him that we wanted to hire his machine. We fixed up the next morning for the harvesting.

 So at the appointed time, the humongous monster named “Crop Tiger” trundled into our farm.

Making its way thru the dried stream bed, Johnny and Phoenix unperturbed by the noise

The operator perched high up on the machine surveyed the field, taking in the tricky corners and the semicircular  jut-ins which housed the coconut palms on the border of the field. “Mark the time” he said and started the noisy machine. 

The path into the farm which is normally blocked by a fence

Two rows done already

The name Crop tiger seemed apt as the machine seemed to devour the standing crop. Spewing the hay stalks on either side, chugging the grain through a funnel like chute on top, the machine cleared row after row.

 

Crop tiger moves into the next section of the field

 

 

Not bad eh? The cut is close to the ground and the hay is piled in rows

In an hours time, the entire crop was harvested, threshed and piled neatly on a tarpaulin sheet.  The work that would have taken a team of at least 6 people working for 3 days was done in an hours time!  Oh the marvels of technology!

 

Spewing out the collected grain

We filled the grain into sacks and carried it back to the house where we could weigh it and see if our ‘stubborn’ refusal to use chemicals   and do it the organic way could be called a success. 

 

The Harvest!


Keeping Boars at Bay. December 23 2014

Oh so delicate - the rice panicles.

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.  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.   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. 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.

 

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!

 


Blackie goes to Berlin December 08 2014

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. 

Kipchuk......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.

Blackie!

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!


Rice Transplant! November 24 2014

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 of bovine 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.    

 

Ohhhhh, 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 and Panchagavya work?  Well, all I can say is Wait, and we will soon find out.


Rice Nursery. November 17 2014

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 our farm-hand 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!  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.


Puzzle Mania November 02 2014

 

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.  V  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, V 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.


Why I am not on WhatsApp: October 22 2014 1 Comment

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 mealtimes?

 

 

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!


Chitrapur Station July 30 2014

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 leisurely 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 somnambulistic 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.


Pining for Pineapples June 26 2014 1 Comment

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 Manjunath, 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.


A Fine Tilth... June 13 2014

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.


Composting and Beyond May 25 2014

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 Manjunath 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. 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”    


Coconut Harvest April 20 2014 1 Comment

The sight of the tall, imposing coconut palms, swaying gracefully, indeed soothes and delights the beholder. We take the sight so much for granted, so it is hard to imagine the excitement and awe that it can generate in someone who has never seen coconut trees. Of course in today’s age of virtual travelling, it would not surprise many, but in the words of Fanny Parkes, the English woman who lived and travelled in India between 1822 and 1846, “....surrounded by high trees; among these, the coconut, to an English eye, was the most remarkable”.

An aerial view of a coconut plantation


Well, for us, the sight of the coconut tree climber at work, is still an exciting, awe-inspiring event. Every 3 months, we need to harvest the coconuts from the 100 odd trees that dot our farm. So, enter Lakshmana, the 23 year old, tall lanky youth who lives in the little village of Heggade about 7 kms beyond Chitrapur.

Family circumstances and the lack of a local secondary school cut short his aspirations to study beyond class IV. He took to tree-climbing to supplement the family income and is a member of this fast diminishing tribe of dare-devils.  

He zips in on his bike at 8.30 am sharp. In 15 minutes, he has changed into his shorts, sharpened his sickle on the stone next to the tap and readied his gear. His climbing gear is nothing but 2 loops of plastic sacking and a rope around his waist which has a special hook for hanging his sickle. One loop of sacking goes around his feet and one goes around his hands and there he is... like a monkey hauling himself up....up....up... till you, standing safely on the ground, start to feel dizzy, just looking at him perched high up, close to the crown of the tree.

The harvest with the dehusker blades - one in the foreground and one on the right

Clutching the tree with his legs and one hand, the other hand reaches behind and grabs the sickle. Slashing away the dead-wood, dried fronds, panicles, totally unmindful of the dust that goes into the eyes and leaves even us on the ground blinking and red-eyed, he reaches out to feel the coconut from a large bunch. A slight twist of his wrist and he knows whether it is ready for harvest or not. Out comes the sickle again, a single slash and down comes a giant bunch of coconuts decimating everything in its path. The bunch lands with a resounding thud and the nuts break free and bounce around in a radius of almost 10 metres.

Ouch! My delicately grown garlic greens and little marigolds. I am just looking around to assess the ‘damage’ and he has already slithered down and is ready to climb the next tree. Within 20 minutes, he has completed 5 trees that is an astounding 4 minutes per tree. After about an hour and a half, he looks exhausted.  Drenched in sweat, he takes a small break. He has kept a bunch of tender coconuts aside and slicing them open with lightening speed, he hands one to us and gulps down one himself. And he is ready for some more climbing. Over a span of 3 to 4 days, all the trees have been harvested. Picking the scattered coconuts and carrying them to the storage shed is a mammoth task. Our farm hand Manjunath and Lakshmana together manage quite well and by evening the harvest is piled high.

 

The harvest with the dehusker blades - one in the foreground and one on the right


Many machines have been designed for coconut shelling, but these two prefer the old blade-in-the-wood contraption. This is a heavy block of wood with a sharp pointed blade sticking vertically upwards. The coconut is impaled on it with a swift stroke, a crunching turn and one third of the husk is off. Twice more and the de-husked coconut is tossed onto a steadily growing pile and the husk is tossed onto another pile. 

The husks; when dried provide fuel for heating our bath water in the old fashioned copper 'Bhaan'

Pile of de-husked coconuts

This time Lakshmana is in a hurry to complete the de-husking and brings in two of his friends to help him. The three of them de-husk 1200 coconuts in 3 hours making it a 100 coconuts each in an hour – amazing speed, amazing people. By afternoon, the de-husked coconuts are all packed into sacks and lined up next to the weighing machine. Lakshmana whips out his cell phone, arranges for the tempo and is ready with his cell phone calculator to add up the weight of all the bags. Swiftly the sacks are weighed and loaded into the tempo and then Lakshmana hops onto his bike with his two friends riding pillion behind him zooms off. He has to begin work in yet another plantation tomorrow.

Rain in a  coconut plantation - a lovely sight

 

The hornbill's favorite perch atop a coconut tree


Sour...Sourer....Sourest....Bilimba Bonanza! March 30 2014 2 Comments

Just one tree and a million Bilimbi’s. This amazing little fruit also known as tree sorrel, Irumban/Chemmeen Puli or Bimbul grows in abundance in almost every backyard in this region.  

The lush evergreen tree sprouts tiny red flowers right on the trunk itself.    

And within a few weeks, bunches of shiny bilimbis are visible.  

You can use them as long as they are bright green and crunchy, but the minute they start yellowing, they turn mushy and inedible.   

And no, they cannot be refrigerated/ transported, their shelf-life is just a day. So what can I do with so much of it? I tried sun-drying the slices and they turned out nice. The sambar gets a perfect tang and I can do without the store-bought tamarind.  

And I churn out a few bottles of Bilimbi pickles.    

The aroma of home ground spices and the tart, crunchy bilimbis make a great combo in these pickles.  

Varan-bhat and pickles any one?

 


Moonlight and Music on the mountainside March 13 2014

If there is one thing that I miss from our city-life, is the choice of Music concerts that we had. What with Karnataka- Sangh’s Sunday morning musical feasts, Pratha-swar at Ravindra Natya mandir, the numerous shows at Nehru centre – .....sigh... So the other day I was just mentioning this fact to an acquaintance here and he promised to inform me about any concerts in the vicinity. Sure enough, he called up the other day to tell me about an all-night music program, at a place called Karikaan Parameshwari temple about 10 kms from Honavar. I had never heard about this place so I took down the directions. He warned us about the steep road to the place and asked us to carry some warm clothes as it was an open-air concert from 7 pm to 7 am.    

So Saturday night (the first Saturday after Magh Purnima) we decided to leave after our usual farm-chores and an early dinner. The ride on the almost empty NH-17 was a real pleasure. I had googled the place and got the precise distances, so we could spot the narrow road leading to Areangadi town quite easily. We had to travel about 6 kms and then we would see an arched entrance leading to the temple. Most temples in this area have elaborate, brightly lit decorated arched entrances, so we almost missed this one- it was a dull grey square entrance leading to what looked like a forest area, with a barely legible name painted on it. This is when my Kannada reading skills come to my rescue. The whole area was deserted so I could gawk and decipher it laboriously. Yes –this is the place I stated to hubby who looked rather unconvinced – he expected some banner or some some indication of the Music program – but there was none. Are you sure you heard right .. is it really today?...... Aw come on – if not, let us enjoy a ride in the wilderness I replied.

So we set off onto the road which got increasingly narrower and steeper. Several hairpin bends later, not a soul in sight, in total darkness as the forest cover obscured the moonlight and even I started doubting whether I had got the name and the directions right. Temple names can be very confusing in this area. So, we continued up the road. Ocassionally the forest cover would open up, displaying a brilliant moonlit view of the valley. Only 2 kms more I said peering at the speedometer – well 2 kms on a narrow gravelly road with steep haipin bends can seem pretty long when it is getting close to midnight.   But then, google maps are right most of the times (thank heavens) and indeed after 2 kms, we reached a clearing which appeared like a parking lot with scores of cars and 2 wheelers parked. We walked out in the chill night air. The entrance to the temple was abuzz with people. The melodious strains of Raga Kafi kannada rose as we removed our footwear in the designated area and walked in. The music seemed to be coming from the upper level, so we walked up the narrow flight of stairs onto what looked like a terrace. The musicians were seated on this, and in front, an amazing sight greeted our eyes. The audience was spread out on the rocky hillside all of them bundled up in shawls and sweaters. We picked our way carefully up the rocks and found a comfortable place and sat down. What a view!!!! The whole valley lay before us bathed in the moonlight, the musicians were weaving out their magic and the enthralled audience lay sprawled on the rocks. It was a night to remember.  

We enjoyed every bit of the 2 hours that we spent there. It was tempting to stay on till morning to watch the dawn break over the landscape and listen to a few morning ragas, but morning at the farm is the busiest and we had to get back.  

A view of the temple during the day


An Expanding Vocabulary January 28 2014

The other day a group of labourers whom we had hired for some farmwork were discussing something loudly and the word “ALGOL” kept popping up. I strained my ears to hear it clearly – could it be that these folks were actually discussing the merits of some 3rd generation programming language? 

A few days later we were planning a trip to the market (O yes we actually ‘plan’ a trip to avoid multiple visits to the market) so I asked our farm hand whether we needed to buy anything for the farm. “2 Daab and 1 Argol” he replied in konkani. Strange. What in the world were these things? Well, he elaborated – Daab is a specially entwined nylon rope used for tethering the cows to the metal ring in the cow shed.

 

A Daab - used to tether cows - available at all the little shops that dot the marketplace.

And Argol not Algol is a 5 foot long heavy metal rod with which you can dig up the soil specially when you want a very compact but deep hole – useful when you want to make a live fence. A live fence? What was that again? --- Oh that is a fence made with branches of the very fast growing Glyricidia tree – 2 feet long stout pieces of the branches are pushed into the holes made by the argol a foot apart around the border of the farm. The cuttings catch on and start growing and if you reinforce them with some wire you have a good strong ‘live fence’ that keeps growing and also provides mulch for the compost pit.    

 

A Live fence  


And so we keep hearing and learning new words many of them borrowed from kannada and used freely in the local Konkani language. And our maid speaks a bit of Hindi - just a bit, and sometimes my instructions to her are met with a wide eyed confused look and I realise that she hasn’t understood, or that I have used the wrong word. Like the other day I instructed her to clean the “Mankirkee” well.     Blank look .... Oh not Mankirkee but Marigee – for Mankirkee is a large cane basket (which doesn’t need any cleaning ) and Marigee is the channel in the cow shed into which the fodder is placed for the cows (which gets quite messy and need regular cleaning). Not exactly similar sounding, but trying hard to learn Kannada gets me confused sometimes.

 

The Marigee

 

A Mankirkee

 

And the script is another thing altogether. When I first started on it, I got a set of picture story books – so that I could read and correlate. I tried to get Revati our maid to listen and correct my reading but she just couldn’t   stop giggling as I struggled to differentiate between all the squiggly script! Now I have finally improved to a point where I can read out stories like “The goose that laid golden eggs”,   quite fluently.... but talking in Kannada?   Ah hem, well..... not yet!

 

My first Kannada Reader


 So I have created a filing system now and all the new ‘farm-words’ which we learn have been filed in it systematically. But sometimes my brain pushes this system right behind my usual techno-jargon filing system and I am left fumbling for words. But then at times it does reach out and flashes out the right word at the right time. Like it happened the other day – a group of men with bundles of wires and a lot of equipment, - probably workers from the KEB came asking for our farm-hand. Most people know that we can’t converse in Kannada so prefer to talk to him. He had just left for lunch so I signalled to them and said ‘Oota’ which means ‘lunch’. So they turned to go away. One of them said to the other “Why don’t you ask her for the Argol?” The others smirked as he mumbled back what sounded like “Are you serious, she does not even know kannada ...how do you expect her to even know what it is”  But I had caught on to the word and I asked them “Argol Beka?” - Do you want Argol?. They turned around surprised and I went into the tool shed and fetched it for them. The smirks were gone and did I detect a faint tinge of respect for the fact that I could understand more kannada than they thought I could?  

Aww   no – I just kid myself!


Read the fine print December 18 2013

Read the fine print. Read the fine print.  

Foot-and-mouth disease claims 2,060 cows; afflicts 16,573 head of cattle : The foot-and-mouth disease has claimed 2,060 cows and affected 16,573 animals in 1,304 villages in 19 districts of the State .

Scientists confirm serotype O leading to outbreak of foot and mouth disease :As officials struggle to contain the spread of foot and mouth disease among cattle, scientists at the Project Directorate on Foot and Mouth Disease, have released initial confirmation that virus serotype O is responsible for the outbreak......   "The virus is airborne and could travel 250km per day depending on the climatic conditions......

High alert against foot-and-mouth disease : All check posts along the borders with Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala have been alerted not to let any cattle in from those states. All Deputy Commissioners across the State have banned cattle or sheep fairs.

Foot-and-mouth disease

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia    

Foot-and-mouth disease or hoof-and-mouth disease (Aphthae epizooticae) is an infectious and sometimes fatal viral disease that affects cloven-hoofed animals, including domestic and wild bovids. The virus causes a high fever for two or three days, followed by blisters inside the mouth and on the feet that may rupture and cause lameness. ............. Though most animals eventually recover from FMD, the disease can lead to myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and death, especially in newborn animals.    

 

........Especially in new born animals...........................................................  

 

 

How often our eyes skim over headlines like these, scarcely registering its impact on the affected.   And so it was to our ‘city-brains’ that I hardly gave much thought to the news that a lot of cows in Chitrapur have been afflicted with the disease. And our hectic November schedule had us shuttling between Chitrapur and Chennai twice , a trip to Mumbai, and Munich. All this hardly left us any time at the farm. When we returned from our Chennai trip, I noticed that Kalindi and Balaram had caught the virus. We went into overdrive, cleaning and disinfecting their feet, cleaning the cowshed thrice a day, spraying neem emulsion and diluted dettol to drive away the flies. We had only 5 days left for our Munich trip. Could I drop out and stay back? But no, we had registered well in advance for the training and it was imperative that I attend it. So I spent most of my time in the cow shed, cleaning it, ensuring that all the calves had a dry area to sit and really got rid of the flies. So everything seemed in control.

The night before we left for Mumbai, it was almost 11.30 pm by the time I was done with my work. Should I take a last round and see all the animals? But I had checked on them at 9.30 and they all seemed fine. Besides when I enter the cowshed with my torch, all of them dutifully get up, so I rather let them rest.

The next morning, I woke up at 5.30 am with a very uneasy feeling and rushed to the cowshed, even before I made the morning coffee. All of them seemed fine and perky. The sores on Kalindi’s and Balaram’s feet had healed well and they were already chewing on some hay. Bhuvan – Madhubala’s 20 day old calf seemed fast asleep on his side – he often did that unlike the older calves who never stretch out and sleep on their sides. But was he really asleep? “bhuvan – bhuvan” I called out and shook him, but there was no response. Terrified, I shook him again and shone the torch right in his eyes – no response again. I raced to the house and woke V and we both tried again – but ......he had already reached a distant world from where there is no return. I called our farm hand- Manjunath, who promptly came over. “He was fine last evening” he said his voice breaking. My heart wept for Madhubala who was looking across with her large luminous eyes.

And so Bhuvan, the little stocky buffalo calf who looked so incredibly healthy succumbed to the dreadful disease. He was a gentle playful visitor for a short duration of just 20 days.


And a calf is born! November 06 2013 1 Comment

Although we have been on the farm for almost 2 years now, and have had 4 calves being born, we had not witnessed a single birth. Our farm hand Manjunath, with his unerring knowledge of such things, has always warned us a couple of days before the actual birth. “Just a few more days to go..” he would warn us. Godavari, the first one to calve, just a month after we moved in, gave birth to Gomati when she was out grazing in the forest nearby. Manjunath seeing that she did not return at the usual time, went in search of her and brought her back along with the little calf.  

Gomati - born in the forest adjoining our farm 

Shravani was born when we were travelling out on work, and so was Balaram. 

 


Shravani and Gomati both a few weeks old

Balaram enjoying some sunshine while Phoenix and Zuki watch over him protectively


Kalindi’s birth was the quickest, because although I was checking on Kaveri, every hour, she had shown no signs at 8 am, but by 9 she had delivered the little one and both were already up and perky. Incidentally during that time we were getting the cow shed renovated and all the cows were tethered out in the farm. 


Kalindi born out in the farm where the cows were tethered during the renovation of the cow shed  

 

The Cow shed before renovation  

The spanking new cowshed inaugrated by 5 day old Kalindi

Then finally this May we were expecting Kaveri to calve any time. We took turns during the night to check on her every few hours. At around 5 am, it was V’s turn and he came back rushing to say that Kaveri seemed extremely uneasy. Both of us rushed to the cow shed.   Kaveri, although uneasy, appeared in total control of the situation. Most of the times, these animals do not need any help with their delivery. But still . .....niggling doubts assailed my mind. What if it was a breech presentation? What if the hind legs appear first, what if........? Should we call the vet right away?   If there was a need, it would take him at least an hour to get here. But fortunately all seemed in order. Two little hooves appeared, followed by a tiny limp head. Does the head always look so limp? Is it alive? The eyes were shut tight. Then a slight twitch of the tiny nostrils!   Yes it was alive. The miracle of birth was unfolding in the quiet stable with a whole bunch of unperturbed cows silently chewing their cud. A few more minutes and the calf was out!   Come on folks aren’t you all going to applaud? But no, the new member of their clan did not yet merit a second glance. The dark brown, ungainly little creature, still damp struggled to look around. Large eyes blinked as I shone the torch to examine it. All seemed in order. The mother nuzzled it and it responded by craning its neck in her direction. She proceeded to give it a rough rub down, licking it thoroughly and it seemed to get more and more alert and perky with every passing minute. I took a gunny sack and did my bit of rubbing the little one. In a few moments, it was ready to try out its legs. The floor was too slippery but this little one was not to be deterred. It raised itself up and promptly slid down with its long skittle legs going in different directions. Worried that it might injure itself, we spread a thick layer of dry hay around it. Yes, that did help and on the fourth or fifth attempt, the calf actually stood up and nuzzled close to the mother. Now the mother and baby could be left alone. As the first rays of the morning sun began to light up the world, the little one gave a tiny barely audible bleat. A baby born at dawn – the only name I could think of was Bhairav –the beautiful morning raga which heralds the arrival of dawn!  And so Bhairav completed the trio of male calves – Bheem, Balaram and Bhairav!

Kalindi has a little brother now - Bhairav


Moving a Mountain November 04 2013

I pushed and heaved and pushed again with all my might. I might as well have been trying to move a mountain, for the large grey expanse in front of me refused to budge even an inch. It was Madhubala our buffalo who had broken free and walked out onto the pathway. It seemed as if hours had passed since I had been startled by the sudden rustling noise while I was giving the 4 dogs their evening meal. The noise sounded very close and I could only make out a large heavy shape in the darkness. The dogs were barking thru the small gate.

 

The small gate which opens onto the pathway leading to the big gate which is on the left

With a thudding heart, I took the torch and went to see who the intruder was. It was a relief to see that it was just Madhubala. But there was no way that I could leave her out of the stable the whole night. So began my struggle to get her back in.

I did not want the dogs to scare and chase her so I put them all inside first. I switched on the porch light, the stable light and the newly installed light near the gate. Now I was prepared to lead her nicely into the stable. But what I was not prepared for was her utter stubbornness! First I tried pulling on the rope which hung from her neck. But when she raised her head and lowered it with her eyes still on me, I chickened out. What if she gives me a little thwack with her huge head? With hubby out of town and no one around, I didn’t want to risk annoying her anymore. So I tried pushing her from behind. I don’t think she even registered the puny push and continued grazing on tufts of grass. Every few minutes, she would seem to move a little so I continued my efforts. But after some time i realised that we weren’t going anywhere. Probably I could tempt her with some feed. So I went into the stable, took a tub of feed and walked thru the side path.


The side path with its uneven steps, leading from the stable(the white tile-roof structure) to the main pathway

Now this side path is a narrow path leading to the main pathway which in turn leads to our big gate. I would have to entice her with the feed down this narrow lane and then into the stable. The narrow path joins the large one in a series of uneven steps and is overgrown with bushes. So when I stepped out of it right in front of her with the tub of feed, she was startled! She took off in a gallop and if wasn’t for the big gate being securely closed, she would have bolted out of sight. She ran upto the gate and seeing it closed , tried to find a way to escape. The wall separating our neighbours compound is uneven and at a couple of places, she looked over seeming to contemplate jumping over the wall. 


The big gate at the end of the pathway, with the low compound wall on the right

Now this was too much for me to handle. So finally I called our farm-hand Manjunath on his son’s cell phone. He had just finished his dinner and said he would come immediately. I stood watch over Madhubala to ensure that she doesn’t escape into the darkness. The dogs having lost interest in the proceedings curled off in their respective places to sleep. Madhubala continued grazing on the little tufts of grass growing along the wall. The night owls hooted back and forth a couple of times and the stars and the fireflies twinkled merrily.  The moon gazed over the dark shadowy landscape.  The calm silence punctuated by distant hoots of the sentinels of the night and the gentle breeze, Madhubala seemed to enjoy this bit of freedom...

The moon throws the tall  jamun tree into an imposing silhouette

Finally Manjunath came. He is a man of few words when he has his betel leaf in his mouth. A sharp clicking sound and a loud hmmm and a gentle prod is all Madhubala needs to follow him meekly back into the stable. He ties her with a spare cord, replacing the earlier frayed one, gives her an extra bunch of hay, which awakens all the others in the cow shed, so he gives them all a little bit and walks back to his home. I switch off all the lights – porch, gate and stable and get back to the kitchen to prepare dinner and catch up on my work. The clock has moved ahead by a whole hour and I have a lot of catching up to do! 


Colours of Harvest October 15 2013

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   

 

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.


Farm Visits October 13 2013 1 Comment

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! 


Favorite Places September 28 2013

Chewsticks and nibbles and Whiskas and kibbles

A yard full of sunshine and a field full of fun,

Vast open spaces with a view from the top,

these are a few of my favourite spots!!

 

 

Warm sunshine on the window sill

 

 

Even better when someone leaves a cushion on it for me

The size seems just right - I guess I can fit into it

 

Oh Yes I can, and it even has a velvet lining

 

 

Oh those days! I could even fit into the cupboard.

 

A Yard full of sunshine

 

 

3600   World view

See what I mean?

My favorite chair

 

I could not get the sun rays to bend and come to my favorite chair, so I have to make myself comfy here

 

The Sand pile - Believe me, they used to take Misty and me to this place where there was miles of this same stuff.

 

Be absolutely still and it wont be long before I catch that little bird.

 

Clumsy dog!!!  You just don't get it do you?

 

Posha says if you sit still for long enough, you can actually catch that bird


A field full of fun

 

 
 

Animal Tales - 3 September 28 2013

Johnny joined our gang of dogs as the previous owner left him behind – he was a part of the ‘Package Deal - Take the farm and get one dog free!’.

Johnny Wafadaar

Surprisingly he took to us and our dogs immediately – none of the territorial nastiness that canines sometimes exhibit. He was utterly untrained and did not hesitate to help himself to any food kept on the coffee table if no one was watching. But he learnt very fast and soon became as disciplined as Misty and Phoenix. And he followed my instructions in Konkani much to the amazement of the locals with whom we had difficulty conversing in Kannada. “The dog can follow Konkani..” they would exclaim in Kannada.

One of our friends had a very lovely Mudhol hound who had just had a litter. When the daughters saw the little pups, they just could not resist and came back with one. They named her Zuki.      

Phoenix acted like a grumpy-grampa with the playful pup and Misty ignored her initially. Both were despondent after Snoopy’s disappearance and seemed to resent the pup. But Johnny tolerated her antics and they both became fast friends.        

Phoenix and Misty did come around eventually and accepted her and today all four of them frolic around and have fun.  

When a new member joins the gang, it is always the youngest one who is the friendliest with the new member, the older ones act like the big bosses and look down their nose at the newcomer. So it was when Posha joined the group.    

Zuki and Posha would play together and tumble around while the others generally ignored them.          

But it wasn’t long before Phoenix joined them and Posha although a bit wary of him, still enjoyed playing with him.

 


Animal Tales -2 September 14 2013

Three months passed by with Snoopy and Misty’s merry antics and non-stop entertainment. They played together, catch, hide-n-seek (with Snoopy always hiding) and wrestled with Snoopy making tiny growling sounds.   It was great fun and even though I never imagined that we could manage 2 pets in our home, we were actually doing so.

And then one fine day in March, our friend who had promised us the Mudhol Hound pup ‘Very Soon’ turned up with a very skinny, not so healthy looking pup – “You had asked for a Mudhol pup, here is one” he said. Oh Goodness! I really couldn’t handle yet another pet now – all the travails of toilet-training and with a 4 month old kitten already on our hands – no way I just couldn’t. But one look at the sad looking pup, and my heart just melted. How could we turn it away?  

And so Phoenix joined the menagerie. It took quite some time for the introductions – Misty was quite okay with the young pup, but Snoopy snarled and hissed at him and Phoenix was scared. 

 

Please May I be your friend?

Puhleeeeeez?


But we kept pacifying them and soon they were friends enough to cuddle together.          

It was a rare sight indeed, a gawky hound and a delicate looking kitten – the best of friends, and Misty tolerating their pranks.          

Phoenix grew in height at an alarming rate – that is how the hounds grow! And soon he was towering over Snoopy   

– but she was the boss!  

Having heard about how uncontrollable and ferocious hounds can be, we tried our best to make him gentle – and luckily for us he turned out to be the one with a most generous and soft heart. He would wait for all three to be served before starting on his own meal. Snoopy loved ‘Pedigree’ the dog food which comes in the form of little pellets. But it played havoc with her health and the vet warned us against giving a cat any ‘Pedigree’ which is strictly meant only for dogs. But Phoenix would never eat it alone. In fact when we held it in our palm for him, he would ‘nose’ a few and drop them down so that Snoopy too could eat some. She would boldly push him away from his meal and eat the choicest bits and he would never growl at her!  

Sadly, a few months after we moved to the farm, Snoopy disappeared one night, never to be seen again. She often used to go out at night, while the dogs slept indoors and probably got picked by one of the numerous wild animals that abound in the forest adjoining our home. Both Misty and Phoenix seemed devastated by her disappearance.  

Phoenix looked mournful for a long time until we got a new pup and yet another kitten.... and yet another and yet another...But more about that in the next post.