Eating is an agricultural act - Wendell Berry

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

name transition

the watchful reader would have quickly noted the new blog title -Farm, yeah.
no doubt, readers' eyebrows will defy gravity on seeing this change.

when i started this blog, i called it Fanaa - which means annihilation (there is a very catchy song from Yuva of the same title). this was in early 2006.
around 6 months ago, i called it Fun, yeah - a play on the phonetics completely altering the meaning.
yesterday, i renamed it Farm, yeah - a below par play on the phonetics, again significantly altering the meaning.

this should remain unless i get some really nice suggestions.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

an ode to the earthworm

the humble earthworm (manpuzhu in tamil and kechua in hindi) is by a significant lead - the most critical component in farming/agriculture.
to the extent that they have been rated as the top species ever on this planet.
in my ratings they would occupy all the spots from 1 to 10.
what makes them special?
1. conversion of organic matter to plant nutrients. they just chomp up leaves, etc and their poop becomes feed material to plants. this service is super-vital to the ecology.

2. soil aeration and friability - they eat and poop constantly - around 1.5 times their body weight. this poop is called castings.
we found tons of their castings in an unexpected area and boy, were we over the moon..!!

this is a process of continuous tilling of the soil. and as the pooping has to be done on the top of the soil, they tunnel in and out of the soil over 10-12 times a day.
it is estimated that in a well maintained agricultural field, over 6 tons of castings are released each day.
hence the soil gets its necessary dosage of oxygen and the soil becomes loose and crumbly (friable) through this process.

3. tireless workers - they are constantly chewing it up and throwing it out. no 9 to 5, no overtime, no DA, batta, nothing. just doing their thing with no care of the world (except hungry birds).

some of this info was from the legendary bhaskarbhai save, who summarises, "why do we need to add fertiliser or till the soil, when these fellows are constantly doing it?"
point, well made indeed.

if ever we build a temple at pR, the presiding deity will guessed it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

back into production

after the vain (??) boast over 100 days ago on our eating locally grown vegetables, we hit a 60 day lean patch during the peak summer.
our exuberance made us miss the planting of summer vegetables (all the popular gourds) by around 2-3 weeks and hence our plants had to struggle in their early days in the hot summer and this pushed back the flowering and fruiting.

but we are back and with a bang.
snake gourd - podalai - padwal
we already have had over 10 podalais this season an another 10 or so to go. has been a delicious treat.

bottle gourd - sorakkai - doodhi
this single one was a whooping 2 kgs. and we have another 2 of similar size waiting to be harvested and can expect ....(wait a minute, we are not greedy farmers!)

bitter gourd - pavakkai - karela.
it was planted in the same space as the podalai and was slow on the take off. got crowded out on the vine and took over 80 days for the first fruit. was deliciously bitter.

cow pea - karamani - chouli beans

the karamani is from the ragi-karamani field which has been takere.en over almost entirely by the karamani. so we have a month long of karamani bingeing coming up!!
check this pic as on day 68. see the day 40 pic here.

the ragi is vigourous wherever the karamani has allowed it to grow. some simple lessons learnt on this intercropping will be incorporated the next time.

and it is now time to plan for the next season.
the fun doesn't stop, yeah.

Friday, June 25, 2010

the inspirational ishwarkaka patel

he is affectionately called Mr. Toilet.
since the early 60s he has been toiling over spreading good, simple, decentralised sanitation to each house in the country.

meet ishwarkaka patel (on the left).

photo courtesy - gandhi-king community Link
we did not meet him, but spent hours with his remarkable son - jayeshbhai patel, aka baby toilet.
very little of him is available online - a true tribute to a man focussed on his grassroots work.

he has created 2 institutions, Safai Vidyalaya and Environmental Sanitation Institute (ESI)
the simple act of creating toilets digs deeper over time towards removing manual scavenging, harijan welfare, women's empowerment, children's education, alternate energy via biogas and my favorite - elimination of the sewage grid.
and his genius has been to tie in all these factors in developing and spreading the 'toilet message'.
the innovative and lovely toilet museum adorns the entrance of safai vidyalaya - on the side of the sabarmati ashram. a display of various types of indian style commodes, cattle feed stations, etc.,

we have got back a variety of books/literature from ESI useful for awareness building and technical documents on building biogas units. dont miss it if you ever land up at the sabarmati ashram.

his recent and more swank establishment is the ESI knowledge center in Sugadh on the outskirts of Ahemdabad. we had the privilege of staying there.
pretty, superb design and inspiring messages all around.

displays and real-life models of a variety of toilet models.

even the floor tilings represent toilets :-)

a true architectural design classic which literally practices what it preaches.
a 2 lakh liter rain water storage tank - one wall of which is shared with the 2 conference halls. just imagine the cooling effect.
an operational biogas plant, natural lighting, solar panels and abundant greenery.

the shadow of gandhiji looms strongly on ishwarkaka and ESI.
ishwarkaka's life continues to be a lesson in determination, dedication and selfless devotion.

the legendary bhaskar save

जहाँ ज्ञान का अभाव है, वहां अज्ञान खुद को विज्ञान कहलाता है। (jahan gyaan ka abhaav hai, wahan agyaan khudko vigyaan kehlata hai), i.,e., where knowledge is scarce, ignorance masquerades as science.

and more such delectable quotes from our interaction with the legendary bhaskar save - the main objective of the 4 day trip. and needless to say, my stand out experience from gujarat.
he became a internet phenom and the darling of activists, with his open letter castigating MS Swaminathan on his lead role in destroying the country's agriculture.
in person, he indicates that Nehru was just as culpable.

after 3 years of conventional (chemical intensive) farming in the early 50s, bhaskarbhai quickly comprehended the loss-inducing economics and soil damaging characteristics of this method.
after coming across gandhiji's 4 principles of farming, he transformed his farm using the natural farming approach. the 4 principles:
1. ahimsa - all living beings have an equal right on earth.
2. everything that nature allows to grow is useful.
3. खेती धंदा नहीं, धर्म है - kheti dhanda nahin, dharm hai (agriculture is not a business, but one's duty/religion).
4. we (humans) only have the rights over fruits and seeds. the rest belongs to nature/soil.
gandhiji's remarkable writings on a whole host of topics are easily available here.
gandhiji was one of the earliest environmentalists and his insight and foresight is amazing.

back to bhaskarbhai then.
the shift to natural farming methods quickly made him and his farm - kalpavruksh, an agricultural shrine.
the list of organic farmers in gujarat runs to over 100 pages and the credit rests lightly on his shoulders.
later day natural/organic farming evangelists - palekar, dabholkar, suchde, etc., have learnt at this gurukul.

kalpavruksh was visited in 1997 by the god-awesome fukuoka.
his entries in the visitors' book are captured below.

a forest of a variety of fruit and other trees thickly populate the farm.

trees are vital for agriculture. it is tragic that this simple concept is such an absent sight in today's farmlands.

he grows (along with 2 sons and a grandson), tons of coconuts (a record breaking 300-400 nuts per tree) - which he mostly sells as saplings, chikoos (sapotas), betelnet, custard apple, papayas, bananas, aloe vera, rice, wheat, moong dal and an assortment of herbs and seasonal vegetables.
this list is populated by short life grains/legumes/vegetables, medium life trees and long life trees.
this is the diversity that is critical for each farm.

in each patch, there is a croton, which is a groundwater indicator (its roots reaches down only till 8 inches and if it looks dull, then the top 8 inches lacks necessary moisture). simple and elegant, eh.

here is our group - siddharth, csm, bhaskarbhai and ananthu and karpagam behind the camera.

we had flooded him with a lot of questions over a 3 hour session on day 2 of the visit. he fielded them with the aplomb that azhar displayed against klusener.
bhaskarbhai summarises, "it is all in shraddha (श्रद्धा), saboori (सबूरी) and prayog (प्रयोग) (dedication, patience and experimentation)."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

spinning the charkha

the gujarat trip covered umargam and ahemdabad. 2 days at each place.

ahemdabad is dear for many reasons, the key one will be the sabarmati ashram.
the beauty of this ashram is that few of the works initiated by gandhiji still continues, albeit under different trusts and diluted in pace and principles...
there is no entrance fee and anyone can take a tour of hrudaykunj - gandhiji's kutir - with no nagging security.
it simply reflects the same spirit of openness and transparency of the original ashram times.

we spun the charkha (again free for visitors to try).
it is so simple, elegant and enthralling. it will take more than 5 minutes to master.
but each of us (karpagam, ananthu and myself) were left shivering with a sense of wonderment and amazement.
simply put, it was watching an amazing transformation in front of your eyes and it is not just the cotton to yarn which i am talking about.

i reiterate my earlier position on making this a compulsory part of primary education.
we certainly aim to master this, install one at pR and positively move to weaving the yarn and wearing hand spun organic non-BT cotton.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

inspirational gujaratis

spent 4 days in gujarat.
visited farms, met mega inspiring people.
absolutely some of the best experiences in life.
details shortly.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

trees over schooling - part deux

my current preference on trees over schooling seems to be old hat after all.
a village in bihar has an established norm on planting trees on the birth of a girl child.

In Dharhara village, Bhagalpur district, families plant a minimum of 10 trees whenever a girl child is born.

And this practice is paying off.

Nikah Kumari, 19, is all set to get married in early June. The would-be groom is a state school teacher chosen by her father, Subhas Singh.

Mr Singh is a small-scale farmer with a meagre income, but he is not worried about the high expenses needed for the marriage ceremony.

For, in keeping with the village tradition, he had planted 10 mango trees the day Nikah was born.

The girl - and the trees - were nurtured over the years and today both are grown up.

ok, this does necessarily mean 'over schooling', it is a double thumbs-up for trees.
the practise of dowry is demeaning and needs to be eliminated from our society. will education change this practise? evidence does not support this claim.
are trees providing an economic alternative to prolong this practise??

Monday, June 14, 2010

pressing engagements

those who remember the post from a month ago - growing sesame - til - yellu - would recall that this was specifically for oil.
although i had said, "we shall be converting this small quantity into oil and that's another post coming up in 2 months from now.", it is time to reveal the oil press.

also, i would draw the reader's attention to the edible oil warning issued over 2 months ago. chances that sesame oil being mixed with cotton-seed oil is very high. and cotton-seed oil uses BT seeds....

so it was an imperative to press our own oil.

DV navigated through the haystacks of google searches to latch onto this beautiful needle - the piteba oil press.

here is the full unit...the seeds are feed from the top (check the funnel). just left of the funnel is the crank which turns the screw encased in the horizontal red barrel. the metal cap on the right side of this barrel is the cake-extrusion point (you can see the snake-like extruded cake).
just below the barrel is the oil collection point (tumbler in the pic) and the glass bottle is the oil-based (kerosene or diesel) heating lamp.
we have only done a sample testing of the machine and after 3 iterations, successfully extracted the oil. while we will not refine the oil, we will refine the piteba oil press.

the crank has to be turned for the screw to turn and compress and squeeze the oil. in normal operations, the speed will be around 40 rpm and the oil-extraction rate is 2 litres an hour.

the oil is squeezed out of 2 slits on the lower side of the barrel and drips into the receptacle. below pic captures this quite beautifully.
the oil lamp is needed to heat the barrel. the temperature is expected to go upto 50-60 deg C. without this heating, the cake will just jam up at the extrusion point and it will take super human effort to turn the crank.

a close up, showing the cup that overfloweth.
notice the soot... we need to solve for that.

the oil will be mixed with some fine particles and appears dark when seen immediately after pressing.
but allow it to settle, it acquires the golden tinge of fine scotch.

it is now ready for consumption
since this is not 'refined' oil, it will not have much shelf life. remember that the 'refining' is merely to make the oil last longer in the stores, it is not purer!
freshly pressed oil will have to be consumed within 3 weeks of pressing.

highly recommended. stronger arms are a welcome side-effect.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

'tutoring' at pR

after spending over 9 years with sahyog and 6 years in akanksha, i will confess to the plain fact that i like spending time with children.
and will be less than humble in adding that i have a decent knack of interacting with children!!

so the Q was, "will this continue at pR?", "will ballelakka allow such interactions?"
Yes. for both the Qs.

it is imperative as responsible community member, and agreeing with the local economy funda of wendell berry, that we add our positive energies towards fulfilling the needs of the community.

so we offered to 'tutor' two girls from the neighbouring family on a once a week basis.
sisters in the 3rd std and 7th std. referred to as "T&B" henceforth.
from a household of 6 adults and 2 children. with limited to zero friends in the neighbourhood.
from a farming family doing pretty well.
going to an english medium school in the nearby town.

today was the 3rd session with them.
there is enough reason to what i said in line 3.
but they are enjoying it so much that they do not want to go home (while it could mean how good we are, it probably means how bored they are at home) . phew...

time to test my several 'radical' educational hypotheses?
as a start, i am discarding 'having objectives'.
others as time flows.

it is time to build trust and familiarity.

for simple ethical reasons, names and photos will not be used in reference to T&B.

100 days at pR

since we moved into point return mid jan this year, we have completed 100 nights on june 5th.
out of a total of 125 days, this works out to nice round 80%.
and clichedly, time has flown in harmony with the beautiful winds that blanket us.

and 70 blog posts in this period means a good chunk of documentation and observations.

magical skies

some breathtaking vistas from the last 2 days.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

super rain week and nursey rhyme ban appeal

june 6th to june 12th has been a rollicking weekend.
4 days of fully overcast skies.
3 days of long drizzly spells and 1 heavy spell.
this is the third rain spell this season.
quite a bounty!!
first here and second here.

around 3-4 cm rain in my estimate.
hearing that this is the best june in many years in this region.
we are happy, the plants are beaming, the pond has risen by 2 inches+, the ditches and the swales and the canals have their puddles and are feeding more into the land.
the land has to have soaked up tons of water.
am sure that farmers are all loins girded up for the upcoming july/aug season.

in this context, i appeal to all educators reading this page to ban this nursery rhyme...
'rain, rain, go away.....'

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

bhopal - justice betrayed

yesterday, the verdict was passed on the tragic bhopal gas accident causing the deaths of over 35000 people and affecting lakhs.
26 years after the incident...
the delay by itself is a betrayal of enormous proportions.
and the verdict. rubbing salt into raw wounds.
obviously it has angered the observers.

the guardian has a great editorial comparing the current BP oil spill in the gulf of mexico as an equivalent. go read it...
and cry for bhopal...

more than Dow chemicals/Warren Anderson/UCC, this miscarriage of justice lies entirely in the laps of the indian government, currently headed by a highly incorruptible but totally incapable person...or maybe only capable of serenading the west.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

blogpost on compost

composting requires little introduction to readers here.
it is a simple process of converting organic 'wastes' to usable soil fertility enhancers.

we have been doing the amrut mitti format of composting since january 2010.
it is a good system and i personally have a great rhythm with this process.
we have piled amrut mitti around 30 odd trees (over jan and feb) and we can see that it has had a positive effect on them.

but it has a higher level of physical effort, time and general logistics than the other standard and easier composting methods.
while standard composting methods are advantageous in making compost at scale, amrut mitti composts evenly and faster.

thus we set out to do a standard compost pile.
here is the journey in pictures.

identify the size of the pile. ours was laid out on a 10 feet by 4 feet rectangle and expected to rise to 4 feet.
a total of 160 cubic feet of organic matter. as it decomposes, it will reduce significantly to a third of this size.

sometimes the composting is done in a ditch. we ditched the ditch for a on-the-ground pile.

the composting process needs air. normally this is achieved by physically turning the pile at regular intervals.
we have innovated a bit by building a porous grid of coconut branches. the organic matter will be piled on top of this grid. there is a 3-5 inch clearance from the ground and this should allow (what we consider) and adequate level of aeration.

choosing the right branch requires diligence :-)

once this is done, it is simple.
we need to layer dried leaves, green leaves, soil and fresh cowdung till you get to the desired height or you run out of one of the items. soil and cowdung is used sparingly (approx 10 cupped handfuls for the pile of our size). the leaves layers were 2-4 inches thick.

csm in his atlas avataar.

carrying dried leaves...

green leaves/weeds...


layering the pile.

it is important to moisten the pile after each layer.

and you will end up with a delicious looking smorgasboard like this one. this is just short of 3 feet. we will be building this higher over the coming days.

it would take 8-12 weeks to fully compost and be ready to use in our vegetable beds and fruit trees.
it is likely to attract a whole host of insects and worms (vermi-composting, another popular method expressly uses earthworms to accelerate the composting) and microbes.
in our case, we expect the earthworms to burrow their way into this lip-smacking buffet.
they eat/digest the organic matter and it is their excreta which is so rich in nutrients.