Eating is an agricultural act - Wendell Berry

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

rolling stones gather nothing but grind the grain

here is a look at our upcoming food processing center.

as we grow more grains and spices, we need to process them (de-husking, powdering, etc).
and to be reliant on our muscle power is the way to go.

so here is the line up. tamil name in bracket.
from left - idli batter grinder (aatu kal aka oral), grain grinder (enthiram), another design of idli batter grinder (aatu kal), wet masala grinder (ammi) and dry spices grinder (enthiram).

and we did the experiment with grinding wheat on the enthiram yesterday and here is the simple comparison between shop bought atta (left) and home ground atta (right) - ultra superfine shop atta vs micro fibrous home ground atta.

as a gentle aside on the benefits of home grinding, i quote from a research in rajasthan.
2 villages - one had an atta mill and the other did not, so they used the manual chakki.
comparing the delivery of babies, it was found that all the women using the manual chakki had a normal delivery and the women from the atta mill village had a majority of C-sections.
go figure.

Monday, July 26, 2010

resume additions

skill - adept at slicing through very sticky situations.

skill - expert at fertility enhancement via manure aggregation

Saturday, July 24, 2010

pumpkin peanut poriyal

we grow a fantastic variety of pumpkin (parangikkai in tamil and lal kaddu in hindi).
it grows small (baseball size) and transitions from flower to fruit like this.

we have quite the miracle creeper which was planted around november 2009, harvested in feb-march 2010, let it be till june 2010 when it re-energised itself and now, we are enjoying a glorious second innings.

classically used as a vegetable in sambars and gravies, we have also used in a simple dry curry (poriyal) with coconut garnishing.

annamalai, a veteran from the neighbouring village, is our full time consultant for agriculture, etc and is also the resident fireman (chief manager of the kitchen fire).
and he suggested the peanut twist. and we made it twice and it has become one of our several signature dishes.

Ingredients (for 3 people)
1. pumpkin (peeled and cubed)- 5oo gms
2. peanuts (roasted and coarsely crushed) - 3 handfuls
3. oil
4. red chillies - 3/4 nos
5. mustard seeds (rai/kadugu) - 2 tsps
6. bengal gram (channa dal/kadalai paruppu) - 2 tbsps
7. broken green gram (urad dal/ulutham prauppu) - 2 tbsps
8. salt

heat oil in kadai. add mustard seeds, red chillies, both dals and as the dals start darkening, add the pumpkin cubes.
depending on the tenderness, we have cooked the whole pumpkin once and once we removed the central portion with the seeds.
keep on a low flame and let the pumpkin cook in its own water (i.e., do not add water). keep the kadai closed, but stir the poriyal from time to time.
in 5 mins or so, add the required amount of salt, stir a bit and close and cook on low flame for 5 more mins.
now sprinkle the crushed peanut powder and stir. and here it is.

garnish with coriander.
just lovely.

agricultural revival

this is the title of the latest magazine from infochangeindia.

some superb stories and interview.
1. nammalvar (organic farming messiah of TN) interview
2. the movement - the new agriculture, i.e., really it means the older/ancient forms and methods of farming
3. natural farming - subhash sharma (quite astoundingly, i linked a story on this same farmer exactly 3 years ago)
4. home-gardening at wayanad
5. natural farming in tribal orissa.

well, there is hope, it seems...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

eat mangoes till you drop

this was the invitation floated by ananthu.
an offer too tempting to let pass by.
a glorious day of mango eating unfolded.
the location was leo farm in tiruvallur district in north tamilnadu.
the invitee was bharathi, the owner. a remarkable man.

spread over 150 acres, this farm is one of the few places where the beautiful cycle of nature plays out.

the visiting crew. karpagam, sumathi and ananthu.

with the remarkable bharati...

the tree and the fruit in close up.

eating, drinking, slurping...

tired from all the standing and eating, now sitting and eating...

let me get to explaining the cycle which i referred to earlier.
since bharati uses natural farming systems, there is obviously no usage of any form of chemicals.
and natural farming theory clearly does not label. so there are no 'weeds'.
and so the farm is full of wild growth.
please do notice the beautiful rain clouds building up in the background.)

of course, this could overrun the place. so here is the control mechanism (aka the weeding crew).

a team of over 150 goats, cows, horses, donkeys graze the succulent grasses and shrubs. with no supervision.
here is the beauty, they are free to eat the mangoes too. no restrictions. bharati says evocatively, "we sell whatever remains after the animals have their fill."

and here comes the double beauty. as the animals graze, they drop dung and urine all around the trees. this encourages the explosion in the population of the insects, worms and a variety of micro-organisms. they converge onto the dung and convert it into nutrients back to the plants and trees.
in the meanwhile, the leaves shed by the trees forms a thick carpet under the canopy and as they decay, the earthworms come into play and voila, vermicompost generation in-situ.
this healthy soil makes healthy plants, which bear healthy fruit, which we eat till we drop.

and bonus shot as we invade the privacy of a couple of grasshoppers.


Monday, July 19, 2010

a question of health

a set of Qs for those who cook...
1. will you use any of dipotassium phosphate, sodium polyphosphate, glyceryl monostearate, pantothenic acid or tricalcium phosphate in your recipe?
2. do you even know what these chemicals are? what they do?
3. will you ever be able to understand them without a Masters in Chemistry degree?

these listed items are some of the ingredients in chocolate horlicks. the pdf version of this is here. do check the label the next time you are in the supermarket or look at the bottle in your shelf.
this is horlicks, which for generations, has been consumed as a 'health drink'.

the example of horlicks is just for illustration. such questions can be thrown up for any processed food item that you pick up casually at the supermarket.

come back responses will include:
1. these items are approved by government watchdogs across the world and hence are 'acceptable'.
2. i have been drinking this for ages and nothing has happened to me.
3. this is from a very reputed MNC, which personifies quality and health.
i concede these arguments. but those who go back over 20 years ago will recall that horlicks used to be the sole approved drink for those recovering from a serious illness. it has moved from the patient bed side to the kitchen cabinet.
smart marketing and convenience has helped make this move.
horlicks has replaced the home-made kanji. which has none of the listed chemicals as ingredients!! do they?

this and many more thought provoking insights into the modern food system is michael pollan's "the omnivore's dilemma".
this is a must read.
he tracks back food-on-the-plate to its original source and the journey gives us an inside look at the dirty ugly world of modern day food processing. totally an america-centric book, but it is certainly totally applicable to the modern indian upmarket city-dweller.

i have been a keen follower of pollan for some time, but just finished his opus. he rises a notch higher.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

rainbow magic

as if the skies were not beautiful enough, last evening's most awesome rainbow blew us away.
end to end with nothing to blemish the image.
these moments wish us having a better than a point-and-shoot camera. (trust survey san gets this direct reference)

sky gazing is now certainly our main time-pass :-)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

ODing on karamani

you have read the ragi-planting story.
you also may have seen the photo of the same field 68 days after planting. in case you missed, here it is.

we were faced with a crossroads scenario.
what to do with the karamani (cow pea)? it was clearly suppressing the ragi.
which was the main crop and which was supporting?
and so and such-like.

the matter was simply answered by annamalai, our local veteran farmer, who grumbled initially at this hare-brained combination planting.
with a huff, he declared that the karamani has had its time in the sun and its time to let it go and give a new lease of life to the ragi.
so onward we followed, and in 3 hours the field was cleared up.

we ended up with around 10 kgs of karamani. most of it was left to dry to seeds and use as the bean.

and now the ragi looks like it is good to go. a few showers in the last 2 weeks has helped its cause.
our estimate is that the crop will be ready to harvest in 120 days.
today we are at day 86.
next time, we do not plan to use this combination of karamani and ragi.

Friday, July 16, 2010

lillies in the pond

you have seen our pond in previous posts. we had used the water in the emergency using the treadle pump.

it is a catchement of approx 2 million litres capacity and a maximum depth of around 8 feet.
in peak rains (late oct to mid nov), it fills up and is a sight we eagerly await to feast upon.

to jazz up the surface, DV gets a few lillies for us to populate the pond.
along with plain beautification, the addition of a simple flower just amps up the bio-diversity.
and the leaf cover should ease evaporation loss.

planting was simple. ease out the mud/clay to form a small ditch (under water). place and cover the roots/bulb of the lily with the eased out mud.

and 3 weeks later, we are greeted by this sight in the morning.

and there were two...

and with the new windturbine in the background....

Thursday, July 15, 2010

more magical skies

earlier fantastic skies are here and here.

Monday, July 12, 2010


the rat poison worked. it was a popular MNC brand.
am not that thankful to plug it here!!

even though it popularly known that rats are cautious eaters of new substances, 4 rats bit the dust.
all of them died indoors and hence were buried - thus thankfully avoiding secondary poisoning.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

beautiful butterflies

it is the season. we are flooded by them.
all photos taken by karpagam.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

composting human waste - humanure

5 months ago, i wrote about the sanitation at pR - a reasonably debated post.

since then, we used the ecopan system (stage 2 in the above post) for exactly 37 days till one vault had filled up (early may). it was an volume estimation error; we had anticipated that one vault (approx 2 cubic feet) would last for around 4-6 months.

while we hit a roadblock on moving to the ecosan toilet (stage 3 in the above post), we reverted to the 2 pit system (stage 1 in the above post).
we thought that during the peak summer, there was a much lower risk of ground water contamination. of course, it was irking that we took a step back rather than forward. but like all experimenters, we are prepared for a bit of back and forth.

so when one is in deep shit over shit, one goes to the god of shit - aka joseph jenkins - the humanure guru (DV has just posted on this at
his epic book - the humanure handbook - is just that, an epic. and free to download.

this is how he starts...
There is a disturbing theory about the human species that has begun to take on an alarming level of reality. It seems that the behavior of the human race is displaying uncanny parallels to the behavior of pathogenic, or disease-causing, organisms.
When viewed at the next quantum level of perspective, from which the Earth is seen as an organism and humans are seen as microorganisms, the human species looks like a menace to the planet. In fact, the human race is looking a lot like a disease — comprised of organisms excessively multiplying, mindlessly consuming, and generating waste with little regard for the health and well-being of its host — planet Earth.
and so he goes on to brilliantly compare human behaviour with pathogens in chapter 1. but before one yawns off to say that he is being overly sarcastic, he ends with a hopeful prediction...
...we will destroy neither the Earth nor ourselves. Instead, we will learn to live in a symbiotic relationship with our planet. To put it simply, the human species has reached a fork in the road of its evolution. We can continue to follow the way of disease-causing pathogens, or we can chart a new course as dependent and respectful inhabitants on this galactic speck of dust we call Earth. The former requires only an ego-centric lack of concern for anything but ourselves, living as if there will be no future human generations. The latter, on the other hand, requires an awareness of ourselves as a dependent part of a Greater Being. This may require a hefty dose of humility, which we can either muster up ourselves, or wait until it’s meted out to us, however tragically, by the greater world around us. Either way, time is running out.
and he beautifully mixes up history, science, philosophy, economics to lay bare the simple ways to convert human waste to manure.

ok then, the jenkins rah-rah is over now. back to the ecopan at pR.
as per his estimates the human faeces will compost completely within 47 days in a urine diverting toilet system (where there is no water mixing with the human waste)
and yesterday, we were around 60 days since sealing off the first ecopan vault. and 60 days of composting in the hot summer is surely enough.
so we went ahead and opened the vault. poked it around a bit.
and it looked like this.

we used a combination of sawdust, ash and dried leaves (just a handful) to cover the poop each time.

and we dug right in...

it smelt like compost, it looked like compost, it IS ready-to-use fertiliser.

jenkins' comparative data comparing different type of manure is below.
Manure %Moisture %N %Phos %K
Human 66-80 5-7 3-5.4 1.0-2.5
Cattle 80 1.67 1.11 0.56
Horse 75 2.29 1.25 1.38
Sheep 68 3.75 1.87 1.25
Pig 82 3.75 1.87 1.25
Hen 56 6.27 5.92 3.27
Pigeon 52 5.68 5.74 3.23
(would appreciate table making tips on blogger via email).

after bird shit (guano), humanure is superb as a fertiliser.
we agree. am sure that our fruits and vegetables will too.

humans are the geese that are laying golden poop. can we afford to flush it in nothingness?
in search of answers to these type of questions is what led us to move to pR. along with, of course, the morality of career choices and such-like.