Eating is an agricultural act - Wendell Berry

Sunday, October 31, 2010

banana bounty

four months ago, we spotted the birth of the banana bunch.

that was around 8 months since we planted the sapling.
so total lifespan of 12 months.
of a most remarkable species of tree.

here is the photo sequence.

name of the variety is karpooravalli. has a lovely taste of camphor.
total of 9 bunches and approx 15 bananas per bunch. thats a whole load of carbs from a tree entirely raised with wash water from the basin.

the middle-most part of the stem is a juicy vegetable and was harvested for the kitchen. it is a stringy stem and one should cut the innermost part of the stem (see the cross section below) into small discs and then run the index finger on the face (of the stem) to gather the strings onto the finger. please ask your mom/grandmom for demo :)

the remains of the leaves and stems etc, were chopped and shopped as mulch to the fields.

the fundas for ripening are quite simple.
ripening speed is directly proportional to heat.
we obviously did not want the entire bunch to ripen at once.

so we cut 2 bunches and wrapped them up in a jute sack and let it ripen as it cooks. and after 3 days, here is the comparison of the ripened bunch and the rest.

a couple of weeks of unadulterated pleasure.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

the NE monsoon is here

and has been one rain-filled week.
we have received nearly 20 cm of rain over the last one week. yes. that is quite awesome because it has been evenly spread out over the week.

the pond is brimming over.

and there are a few deep ditches surrounding the pond and the windmill and they too are a-brimmin' over.

and overflowing out of the property headed towards the little village lake.

and the swales are all pretty pictures awash with water.

here are aerial shots.

and more rain is expected during the week leading upto deepavali.
this weather is beautiful and the temperatures have dropped to sub-20s.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

compost piles - update

we made our compost piles in early june 2010.
now we in end oct 2010. over 4.5 months of composting.
during this time, we had good rains (at least 20 days of rain).

we did check the piles over the interim and could feel the warmth that accompanies decomposition.
also we were in no hurry to use the compost, and so we let it continue to mature.

last week, we got our shovels out and emptied out half of a pile onto our new rice field and our vegetable beds and the mango trees.

the pile was nearly 4 feet when created. over four months, it has sunk to less than 1 feet.
so a total compost volume generated of 30 cu feet per pile X 2 piles = 60 cu ft.
320 cu ft -> 60 cu ft

smells lovely, feels moist and crumbly.
looks like we added a little more soil than required during the layering.
you can almost see the soil (last pic).

if you compare the pics from the june to oct, you will not fail to notice the intense vegetative growth surrounding the piles.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

approaching fukuoka

we completed a reasonably successful and highly satisfying ragi harvest.

smelling a chance to use this opportunity to convert this patch into a natural farming process, we jumped this chance.
simply explained, the NF approach emphasises on 'no-tilling' and 'permanent cover' over and above the 'no-chemicals-no-organic-manure' philosophy.

the master, masanobu fukuoka, pioneered this approach and has beautifully explained this in his books. of course, there are a host of other farmers who have used this method for ages.

so here we are making the baby steps towards fukuoka.

clearing the field (all the ragi stalks and weeds) were cut at ground level and laid down at the same spot.
just prior to this, we sowed a mix of seeds (cow pea, daincha and sunn hemp).
so as we stomp through the field for chopping, these seeds embed into the soil.

we used the csm-patented carpet roll technique :-)
the team squats in a line, directly faces the grass and each member cuts the grass in a continuous line and then rolls the cut grass away from themselves like a carpet.

the tough part is the roll back of the carpet.
and to our surprise, the carpet was not sufficient to fully cover the field.
we had to move out of the classic approach here, by chopping the bordering glyricidia trees (excellent green manure) and dropping it into the gaps.

here is the team enjoying the outing in the sun.

here is the final field as it looks.
look carefully at the background in above and below images to understand where the glyricida trees were .

and within 4 days, the sprouts of the green manure show up.

in a couple of months, when our next planting season arrives (early to mid december), these will again be chopped and dropped and we shall move onto the next crop.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

ragi - processing and onwards

as promised on ragi-update, we are a month down from that post and bring to you our ragi post-harvest processing post.

we harvested the ragi in 3 installments due to differential maturing.
this is typically not the norm and is less efficient, but the field was a non-uniform one in terms of fertility, mulch cover and density of cow-pea planted as inter-crop.

ragi processing is quite simple and a fun exercise.

step 1 - maturing the ears
the harvested ears of ragi is piled up as a heap onto a cloth, tied up and allowed to steam inside for 3-4 days. this process matures the batch and all the ears become a beautiful uniform brown.
care is to be taken to ensure that the ears are dry when harvesting, no water ingress in this process and the harvest must be done only in dry weather conditions.

here is the pile

close-up of heap

no this is not our laundry

and they all are brown

after this maturing, the ragi ears are thoroughly dried. depending on the time of the year, this could last 1-4 days.

now the fun part.
those who have driven through rural india would have certainly noticed straw-like grasses spread out on the road and vehicles trampling them.
this is the classic method of loosening the grains.

in our case, we simulated that process by whacking with a log aka threshing.

after adequate bashing up, the pile looks like this. most of the grains would have settled down towards the bottom of the pile and the chaff at the top.

then we winnow. we use the wind to separate the heavier grain from the lighter chaff as we drop it from a height.

and when done, the grain remains on the tarpaulin and the chaff gets blown around the tarp.depending on the breeze, this process completed over 90% of the separation.

and whatever chaff remains is eliminated via the manual winnow.

and here we have the grain and the chaff.

our total harvest was around 12 kgs. considering that this was the second cropping attempt in this field, and the limited amount of external fertility we were able to add, and for a bunch of rookie farmers, this crop is an unqualified success :-)

our field was around 1/20 of an acre (approx 2500 sq feet).
the yield from an acre varies from 1000-1500 kgs.
so our field should have yielded 50-75 kgs of ragi and hence we are at 20% productivity levels.

we have a list of improvements for the next time.
1. soil fertility. add fertility prior to crop growing via cover crops, extra mulching, green manure and cowdung manure addition. over some years, the soil will reach and maintain its own optimal level of fertility as we move to fukuoka's natural farming approach.
2. transplanting density. we planted the saplings at 9 inch gaps. this will be halved.
3. intercrop. definitely not using cow pea as intercrop. explore other nitrogen fixing small bush type crops.

we are now enjoying our ragi koozhu breakfasts even more.

Monday, October 18, 2010

microfinance - unanswered questions

microfinance has come into the news for a new set of reasons - the wrong ones.
suddenly the concept that got mohd yunus the nobel peace prize has come under the scanner. read the ugly underbelly of microfinance.

i have never bought this idea that microlending could help in alleviating poverty. in fact, it strikes me as completely absurd that putting someone in debt could be a route out of poverty.

it is clearly a cheaper alternative to conventional local loan sharks and that service is surely laudable. but poverty is not a sole function of revenue and hence my bold stance in the previous para.

i will point at the articles over at the discomfort zone on the impact of microfinance.

leadership through solitude

in a brilliant piece on leadership, william deresiewicz - former Yale professor and essayist, links leadership to solitude at a lecture delivered to american army college freshers.
(if you can figure out the surname, do drop in the phonetic split)

some snippets....

who is a leader?
Does being a leader, I wondered, just mean being accomplished, being successful? Does getting straight As make you a leader? I didn’t think so. Great heart surgeons or great novelists or great shortstops may be terrific at what they do, but that doesn’t mean they’re leaders. Leadership and aptitude, leadership and achievement, leadership and even ex­cellence have to be different things, otherwise the concept of leadership has no meaning.
on the students he is seeing:
So what I saw around me were great kids who had been trained to be world-class hoop jumpers. Any goal you set them, they could achieve. Any test you gave them, they could pass with flying colors. They were, as one of them put it herself, “excellent sheep.” I had no doubt that they would continue to jump through hoops and ace tests and go on to Harvard Business School, or Michigan Law School, or Johns Hopkins Medical School, or Goldman Sachs, or McKinsey consulting, or whatever.
america's crisis...(and very truly of the western world and the indian educated elite)
We have a crisis of leadership in America because our overwhelming power and wealth, earned under earlier generations of leaders, made us complacent, and for too long we have been training leaders who only know how to keep the routine going. Who can answer questions, but don’t know how to ask them. Who can fulfill goals, but don’t know how to set them. Who think about how to get things done, but not whether they’re worth doing in the first place. What we have now are the greatest technocrats the world has ever seen, people who have been trained to be incredibly good at one specific thing, but who have no interest in anything beyond their area of exper­tise. What we don’t have are leaders.
watch the resumes which mention - 'skilled at multitasking'
Let’s start with how you don’t learn to think. A study by a team of researchers at Stanford came out a couple of months ago. The investigators wanted to figure out how today’s college students were able to multitask so much more effectively than adults. How do they manage to do it, the researchers asked? The answer, they discovered—and this is by no means what they expected—is that they don’t. The enhanced cognitive abilities the investigators expected to find, the mental faculties that enable people to multitask effectively, were simply not there. In other words, people do not multitask effectively. And here’s the really surprising finding: the more people multitask, the worse they are, not just at other mental abilities, but at multitasking itself.
the importance of concentation:
Concentrating, focusing. You can just as easily consider this lecture to be about concentration as about solitude. Think about what the word means. It means gathering yourself together into a single point rather than letting yourself be dispersed everywhere into a cloud of electronic and social input. It seems to me that Facebook and Twitter and YouTube—and just so you don’t think this is a generational thing, TV and radio and magazines and even newspapers, too—are all ultimately just an elaborate excuse to run away from yourself. To avoid the difficult and troubling questions that being human throws in your way. Am I doing the right thing with my life? Do I believe the things I was taught as a child? What do the words I live by—words like duty, honor, and country—really mean? Am I happy?
the need for true friendship:

Introspection means talking to yourself, and one of the best ways of talking to yourself is by talking to another person. One other person you can trust, one other person to whom you can unfold your soul. One other person you feel safe enough with to allow you to acknowledge things—to acknowledge things to yourself—that you otherwise can’t. Doubts you aren’t supposed to have, questions you aren’t supposed to ask. Feelings or opinions that would get you laughed at by the group or reprimanded by the authorities.

This is what we call thinking out loud, discovering what you believe in the course of articulating it. But it takes just as much time and just as much patience as solitude in the strict sense. And our new electronic world has disrupted it just as violently. Instead of having one or two true friends that we can sit and talk to for three hours at a time, we have 968 “friends” that we never actually talk to; instead we just bounce one-line messages off them a hundred times a day. This is not friendship, this is distraction.

go read it and introspect in solitude.

link courtesy: charityfocus blog

the indestructible McD meal

burger and fries must be the most popular meal in the world.
fast food system at its very effective best has mastered this meal.
and people are lapping it up like there is no tomorrow.

but wait, there is something you should see.
artist sally davies' science project with the McD's happy meal.

photographed over 6 months, the happy meal lives up to its name - 'happy'.

for parents who are struggling to wean their kids (or themselves) away from fast food addictions, this is a must read/see.

this is not a fool-proof indictment of fast food, but is a fun one.

these are the ones that should carry the tag-line - "please try this at home"

Saturday, October 16, 2010

bhaskarbhai save - tribute

on getting the One World Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2010, shri save graces our site once again in this video tribute.

thanks to the observer research foundation for this wonderful service.
bhaskarbhai is in scintillating form, especially loved his beautiful build up with the, " natural" theme.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

the cost of damaging the earth

part 1 of this three part BBC series (author - richard anderson) - Nature' sting- the real cost of damaging the earth - throws ups some startling economic facts.
A recent study for the United Nations Environment Programme, entitled The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (Teeb), put the damage done to the natural world by human activity in 2008 at between $2tn (£1.3tn) and $4.5tn.
and as bee populations alarmingly decline, someone is doing the pollination and at a cost..
In the US in 2007, for example, the cost to farmers of a collapse in the number of bees was $15bn, according to the US Department of Agriculture, contributing to a global cost of pollination services of $190bn
it is quite clear that the rapid degradation is caused by the unending human desire to have more which is fuelled by corporate growth which is fuelled by share indices and so on...
Trucost has estimated the cost of environmental damage caused by the world's largest 3,000 companies in 2008 at $2.15tn.
That equates to around one-third of their combined profits.
the data is better than the article, but it is to be noted that the economics of the our excesses is coming to light.

MBAs - staggering costs

i did a PGDM (post graduate diploma in management) between 1996-98.
this is equivalent to an MBA.
i simply followed the herd in coming to that decision.
i had a year of work preceding which was a very special one year. my very first post has a few lines on those days.

i remember having spent around Rs 3 lakhs for the 2 years in fees and all hostel expenses.

since that time, the MBA gold rush has been on hyper mode. i read on wikipedia that there are 1600 colleges offering this degree.
read rashmi bansal's recent rediff article - the MBA gold rush is over - it shocks from the cost angle.
The average ISB student will pay an EMI of Rs 25,000 over seven years.
An IIM student will pay Rs 25,000 over five years (going for the exchange programme could jack that up by another Rs 4,000 to Rs 5,000 per month).

The class of 2010 at IIM-Indore consisted of 175 students. That number went up to 235 for the batch of 2011.
The class of 2012 is a record 450 students.
these numbers are just shocking.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Kisan Swaraj Yatra - petition

the KSY is on a roll. my good friend - ananthu - is on it and is blazing new paths.
check their website. quite action packed and as i am interested in their progress, it is engrossing reading.
sample this prayer in a bhil tribals girls' school in MP.
“Desi beej rakhna hai, gulaami se bachna hai”, “deshi beej bachana hai, kisan ko bachana hai”, “ugaane waale ki jai, khaana banaane wale ki jai”.


while you are hovering there, take a look at their petition and sign it if it appeals to you and forward it to your networks if it really appeals to you.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

more rice planting

in the original rice field - rice 1, we had managed to get some life going post the floodings.

using the local rice planting frenzy, we embarked on another experiment in rice 2.
i had promised a update on rice 1.

continuing to use the local frenzy, we got neighbourly assistance as one stack of rice saplings from their mega nursery.

this is a rice variety called ponni and is a duration of 150+ days and the nursery was over 45 days old and hence was of the same timing as our earlier lot (variety called nawabi kolam).

we transplanted it and covered a decent portion of the empty plot.

the earlier transplanted saplings are doing very well.

phew - sundays are packed or what:-)

a new rice planting experiment

we covered our rice planting experiment over the aug-sept period.
look out for the further updates on that experiment a bit later today!

this post is about a new rice experience - called rice 2 hereinafter.

siddarth's arrival has seen us ramp up our interest in rice.
so rice 2 was waiting to happen. the question was timing.

the rice season has been a bit confusing for us to decipher.
the more we asked the locals the more twisted the information got.
a limited clarity was that the 3 main rice seasons (in this area) are nov-dec (karthigai pattam), july-aug (aadi pattam) and jan-feb (thai pattam). depending on water availability, a fourth season is may-june (chittirai pattam).
of course, as the rains vary in regions, these months could go up or down.
typically the type of rice is chosen based on duration of crop.

all around us here, rice is being planted.
we got infected by the rice bug and rice 2 is detailed below.

as we did not have a plot of land available, we created one of approx 2000 sq feet.
we raked the top of the ground with the Yanmar excavator to get the grasses out and the soil loosened.
and then we ran our brand new manual plough through this field.
this is totally human powered.
between DV's design and his trusted fabricator - Venu, this excellent implement has come to life here.
check out the pics. a more detailed post on this will follow.

and this is how the field looks after the ploughing.

we split the field into 2 parts and sowed (broadcast method) 2 local varieites - gundu (90 days duration) and thooyamalli (140 days duration).

and then field was mulched.

and we are done.

we expect the rains to take care of the watering.
we should do some minimal maintenance (weeding/thinning/manuring/mulching).

oh yes, this is how we spend our sundays....