Eating is an agricultural act - Wendell Berry

Sunday, January 30, 2011

building our house - part 2 - brick making

a house should and can be built with one's own hands.
before the advent of congested cities and the resultant high-density-high-rise models of residences, people and societies have traditionally built their own homes with locally available material and labour.

even today, rural folk continue to abide by these ecologically sustainable and low environmental impact (and thus low cost) tenets on models of housing construction.

following such traditions, we are building our walls with the adobe brick maker....
this is not part of the adobe acrobat suite; this is a method of making simple, strong and unfired (aka sun-fired) bricks for house construction.

adobe is simply a mixture of soil and water and some straw/dung which is cast into cuboid shapes and dried in the sun.
this method saves cement (neither the mortar nor the plastering will use any cement).
it is a batch process, i.e., you can complete making the bricks fully prior to starting construction (as against cob walls which have to be made as the clay is being mixed).

we also contemplated rammed earth walls, but felt that we did not have the necessary experience to take it on (both cob and adobe bricks have been already used for the construction of the kitchen and bathroom). it goes.

of course we need tons of dirt/soil. so dig it up with the mini excavator.
this resultant hole in the ground could be a mini pond, foundation pit for another house, etc.

then comes the first of the exhausting acts. lugging this dirt to the mixing spot.

then piling it up. we made piles with around 30 containers of soil per pile (the one being loaded onto my head in the earlier pic).

then make crater-like holes on the pile and fill it up with water.

neat, isnt it?

then mix away. the second of the exhausting acts.
we have a video of this mixing process and will upload that separately.

add the chopped straw. this is the same concept as fibre reinforced plastic.

do the tribal dance. this step is super vital for the complete and effective mixing of the water into the clay.

the shovel mixing and dance mixing is done around 3-4 times to get the correct pastiness of the soil mixture.

this is the final mixture. our subsoil dirt was a bit gravelly and hence it looks grainy.

it is best to allow this mixture to remain overnight.
the wetness just spreads more and evenly.

the mixed soil is poured into these brick moulds.

dimensions of larger mould is 10" X 14" X 3.5"

first wet the mould and place on ground.

then act 3 of the exhausting trilogy. ferrying the mixture to the brick layers.
pack the mixture into the mould. tamp the edges well to get the smooth and straight edges.
use a scale/thin plank to even out the top.

straddle the mould and yank the mould (almost at once after filling) slowly while gently shaking it.

if your mixture is done well, the brick will retain its shape. also observe edges for smoothness to check the effectiveness of the tamping.

after 2 hours of brick laying, here is how our first batch looks.

in this weather, we were able to turn the brick (on their edge for quicker and comprehensive drying) within 48 hours and brick is fully dried and ready to use in 7 days (of decent sunny weather).

there is a strength test recommended - dropping a brick on its edge from 4 feet.

strong. barely chipped the edge

there is also a strength test which is not recommended.

total bricks needed ~1700
total containers of dirt ~2300
i.e., upwards of 23 tons of soil will need to be dug, ferried, mixed, laid, stacked and made into walls.

building our house - part 1 - design

after completing a year at pR, we are now embarking on an exciting new task.
building our house.
'Our' is used here in a sense to mean pR itself and not merely myself and karpagam, eventhough we are the likely first residents.

the construction is going to be documented as a series.
part 1 - design
part 2 - making the bricks
part 3 - foundation
part 4 - walls
part 5 - roof
part 6 - carpentary
part 7 - finishing (painting/flooring)
part 8 - gruha pravesh

here is the drawing of the house.
it is a twin house (20 feet along the common wall and 30 feet along the front edge).
the roof is shown in the left house and right is left exposed to see the insides.
each house is a 2 room + courtyard design.
total carpet area per house will be 300 sq feet.
kitchen and bathroom will be common utilities (former is a hotly debated topic out here).

the method of construction is aimed to use as much local material as possible.
and seriously limit the use of cement and other manufactured products.
and importantly to build it with our own hands as much as technical skills limit us.

we aim to finish this in 4 months from now.
we will keep a close tab on the costs for accounting purposes.
we are taking guesses from readers on what they this this twin house will cost :-)

Friday, January 28, 2011

colourful corn

deepika and bernard at pebble garden gave us some corn seeds.
they were from the western ghats of karnataka.

such beautiful colours and combinations...

our thuvarai trees

thuvarai - pigeon pea - toor dal is quite a magical tree.

these trees were planted in late 2009 (ideal time is jul-august) and in a year this is how they look.
all brimming with pea pods.

i hear that the processing is quite tedious and time consuming.
we have to do it anyways, so anyone who is certain about how to process them, do drop in details on sriramskd AT gmail.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

ragi - take 2

the first ragi crop was an over-documented story.
and gratefully the output was commensurate to the documentation.

but more importantly, it was the first step on the move towards fukuoka's 'no-till' farming.

coming back to ragi.
it remains our most commonly eaten millet.
in the summer, 3 out of 4 breakfasts are ragi koozhu.

so the math was simple, one crop a year did not seem adequate. we would need at least 30-40 kgs of ragi per year for our own consumption.

and this was the season for any crop and we wanted to take a shot at a 3 month variety.
since we got the seeds from the guys who grow, consume and seed-save it regularly, we assume that this is not a hybrid seed variety.
the locals call it 'kulla kevaru' - short ragi.

since we had already used around a third of this mulched field for our vegetable scale up, we have attempted the transplant method on the balance of this field and have tried a simple broadcast approach on a nearby field.

the major differences from the previous planting were:
1. closer spacing - approx 6" between the saplings.
2. no inter-crop - last time we used cow pea - karamani.
3. and of course - the seed variety is a 90 day crop

the method was very similar to the previous time.

the nursery...around 25 days.

and the transplanting (much easier this time as the soil was softer and the team was more experienced.

and the final field...

as we always say, keep watching this space.

rice experiment 2 - update

the first rice experiment in the pond did not come through.
the second experiment is running and was on a different spin. to grow it in a rain-fed manner and without any flooding.

we had planted a 3 monther (variety called gundu) and a 4 monther (variety called thuyamalli).

have to say that they look reasonable.

the field with gundu...

though they are running a bit behind schedule, we realise that even this level of maturing with the very poor level of fertility is amazing. check the close ups of the grain heads.

the field with thuyamalli...a mite less promising than gundu.

maybe in a month, you should read about the harvest and stuff.

wilt, wither and winter

our tomatoes are getting hit.
by bacterial wilt.
there is no treatment...not that we were planning any.
the plants wither away over a week and starting from one branch it moves onto the entire plant.

till date we have lost around 20 plants.
and ouch....many had just started to fruit. has hit some of the potatoes too.
from the high of the planting, we are now down to 2 very decent growing beds, 1 average growing bed and 1 almost wiped out bed.

and in spite of the extreme winter reported from many locations across the world including north india, the duration of our winter out here has been severely restricted.
from the time we announced the arrival of winter in early december 2010, we have seen increasingly warm days since mid jan 2011. so just around a month of cool climes.
a majorly curtailed period for vegetable growing. and many organic vegetable growers are getting hit.

looking ahead to a real scorcher of a summer this year.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

and a year has passed...

it has been a year at pR.

in the universal reference frame, it barely registers as a relevant interval.
but humans do tend to place a lot of emphasis on this time period.
i have had a poor track record with birthdays and anniversaries and much of it stems from my general disinterest in time milestones. and so i record this anniversary with just a little head nod.

the year at pR has been wonderful.
it has cemented a few things in my mind and that clarity of purpose is a tremendous step ahead.

and a list of key observations:
1. the importance of understanding seasons - धीरे धीरे रे माना, धीरे सब कुछ होए, माली सींचे सौ गाड़ा, ऋतू आये फल होए - a beautiful doha of kabir
this doha is really about patience and we are once again reminded of this by bhaskarbhai save: "it is all in shraddha (श्रद्धा), saboori (सबूरी) and prayog (प्रयोग) (dedication, patience and experimentation)."

2. it is all in the soil - we take care of this most vital part of the earth's crust, and it takes care of us. once again i turn to bhaskarbhai save for a simple explanation.

3. rains - point 2 will be rendered irrelevant without the blessing of rains. 2010 has been a superb surplus, with almost rain every 2 weeks since june/july.
in combination with point 1, the importance of rains is embodied in many local customs, wisdom and traditions. and importantly, our success with rain fed agriculture will depend on how well we learn and assimilate these into our life.

4. the saddening loss of traditional skillsets - with the education's increased emphasis on 'desk-jobs', the futile move towards a 'knowledge economy' and the cruel labelling of traditional skills as 'unskilled' is enslaving us irreversibly to high mechanisation and technology. in short as gandhiji said, "we need production by masses and not mass production."

dv has a summary of 2010 and the plan for 2011 over here.

birds of point return

we are just around 15 kms from vedanthangal - a bird haven. that means we should be in a bird rich zone and soon as our trees and water bodies become registered on their route maps, we should be updating this current list.

1. indian mynah
2. spotted owlet
3. black drongo
4. partridge
5. sparrow hawk
6. white breasted kingfisher
7. blue jay
8. tree pie
9. coucal aka crow pheasant
10. palm swift
11. yellow wattled lapwing
12. brain fever bird
13. common babbler
14. pond heron

fly past
1. brahminy kite
2. open billed stork

occassional visitors
1. sun bird
2. common peafowl (mistaken for peacock in this post)
3. pied kingfisher
4. red-vented bulbul
5. small green bee-eater
6. pin tailed duck
7. little egret
8. cattle egret
9. white breasted water hen

in the neighbourhood
1. golden oriole
2. hoopoe
3. magpie robin
4. indian robin
5. spotten dove
6. rose ringed parakeet
7. white browed bulbul

there is no way that our point-n-click camera would be able to capture these beauties.
will wait for a willing bird lover to fill in this gap.

all data and info recorded by karpagam and sidharth.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

what's growing - 2010-2011 winter season

here is what is currently growing out here.
the winter season will hopefully keep on for its usual course till late february.
most of it is self-explanatory.
the variety is wide, but some of the exotic/leafy vegetables are in small patches only.

1. red long bean - from deepika/bernard (auroville)

2. radish-carrot bed (both likely to be hybrid varieties)

close up of item 2..

3. chakara kumbhala - yellow pumpkin: from janadanya

4a. potato bed 1

4b. potato bed 2

5. ridge gourd: from janadanya

6. bitter gourd: a hybrid variety, but it is in its second generation and soon the yellow one will yield seeds for the third generation.

7. pak choy (chinese greens)

8. lettuce: unknown parentage - from a friend

9. mixed spinach/arai and siru keerai: seeds from madurantakam seed shop

10. cabbage: hybrid

11. brinjal: from deepika/bernard (auroville)

12. beans - hybrid

13. tomato: hybrid

14. winged bean - from deepika/bernard (auroville)

15. sweet potato

16. creeper spinach - pasalai keerai

in addition, we have just planted some exotic varieties of beans (from deepika), snake gourd, ash gourd, bottle gourd and lots of cow pea.