Eating is an agricultural act - Wendell Berry

Monday, March 28, 2011

balanced scorecard

our expert artist, siddarth, has calligraphed this scorecard with pR's production data on a 'till-date' basis.
all values are in kgs.
a more elaborate, detailed version of the data is here.

Friday, March 25, 2011

watermelon bonanza

2 of our neighbouring farmers planted watermelon in january 2011.

WM is a good cash crop, but is a high risk game. in our 14 months, 2 earlier attempts at WM have been resounding flops.

WM involves a high level of pest management - both of the insect variety, the animal variety and the human variety.

while the insect variety is apparent, it will surprise readers that foxes have a liking to play (not eat) with the fruits. also monkeys are known to render a farmer to despondency.
of course, the human insects are the most insidious and malicious.

so insecticide use is heavy and accepted and common.
while one neighbour resorted to electric wire fencing, the other sat through the night banging on this tin can making enough noises to keep the foxes at bay and give us some sleepless nights :-)
and this he did for over 3 weeks from the time the fruits matured.

this is Rs 200 worth from his harvest (the tin-can-banger).
he spent around Rs 35K over 2 acres and looks to have grown around 17 tons of WM (phew) at Rs 4.5K per ton. a profit of approx Rs 22K per acre, which is handsome (high risk, high return).

interestingly, the harvest was done on day 1, the truck loaded on day 1 evening, reaches bangalore day 2 early morning and is sold by end of day 2.

exchanging plesantries with him over the purchase, he swore never to raise this crop again...cannnot manage this level of night-outs!!
we heartily applaud his decision...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

building our house - part 4a - wall preparation

now that the foundation and stem wall are up, the wall follow.
since it is a skilled job, a team of masons will do the actual laying.

to speed up the job and to be a little more involved in the actual house building, we are doing some simple, but heavy work.
arranging sieved soil for the mortar and stacking up the bricks near their final location.
that is again moving around 20 tons of material over 5 working days spread over 20 days or so.

note - we will be using only soil and water mixture as mortar between the bricks. this is an accepted traditional practice, but expectedly, none of the masons have any experience in this type of mortaring.

but the good part is that the bricks and soil have been kept quite adjacent to the area.
still a lot of heave ho...

sieved soil - 2 more lots like this to do...

the brick express...

milling grains - standing up

we had originally envisaged a grain processing center with a variety of traditional indian chakkis.
the regular aatta chakki had become too smooth and we could not find a worksman to do the roughening.

in DV's travails around the web, he tracked down this stand up model - wonder mill - a hand operated grain mill.
we have a stand up oil press - piteba, which we have fairly mastered.
and this would be a good companion to the oil mill.

and after using it over the last week, we give it the full thumbs up.

at USD200 it is steep, but hope that a good indian model develops from this.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

building our house - part 3C - stem wall

the foundation was a pretty simple - just rocks, sand and water tightly packed in a 2 feet deep trench.
done as per design,it provides a solid base for the walls of the house to rest upon.

but readers may have noticed that part of the trench was still visible, certainly causing some puzzlement. around 6 inches of the trench was left unfilled.

two important factors that would need to be further incorporated into the house are termite protection and flood protection.

enter the stem wall.
this wall is 2 feet high, 1.5 feet wide and is made of stones and cemented into place. it is a skilled masonry job and we used a total 5 people for just under 2 days to finish.

here is the sequence.

the completed foundation...

a sprinkling of cement mortar...

stacking the stones...

filling the gaps...

checking the horizontality with a water filled tube.

as the height grows above the trench, it takes skill to maintain the straight edges with these rough cut stones. but look at this...

each layer of stone is cemented into place...

and it grows...

and grows...

and done...

the outer edges are plastered and given a design.

1. the sand cost Rs 900 to ferry.
2. the rocks/stones cost Rs 600 to ferry.
3. the contract cost us Rs 6500.
4. we used 10 bags of cement costing Rs 2700.

the whole process took 8 person-days of local labour and approx 1 person-day of pR labour.

it is so strong that we think we could go even add a first floor if needed:-)

cabbage and beans

inspite of the very short winter, we have a decent cabbage harvest (cricketball to baseball sizes).

and beans has been a winner in terms of ease of growing, uniformity in output per plant and seed to harvest conversion.

both are hybrid seeds.

Friday, March 11, 2011

building our house - part 3B - Foundation

after completing the strenuous brick making, the planning and execution of the foundation took a month.

the design was simple - to dig a trench around 18 inches wide and 24 inches deep along the walls. a total of 170 feet.
and this trench would have to be filled with stones and sand upto 18 inches from the bottom.
this combination will give a rock-solid base on which the walls will be built.

step 1 - the digging. over 4 hours with the Yanmar, DV shows his class. the dug-out soil will be used to raise the floor of the house.

step 2 - the marking. the exact dimension of the house is then marked off with pegs and connected with twine. any errors while digging will be then corrected manually and this twine will be the reference line for the foundation layers.

step 3 - call the experts. the stone-masons come into action.
first and importantly, the pooja. choose an auspicious day and always start at the the north east corner (sani moolam - the corner to appease saturn)

then bring on the rocks.

step 4 - on top of the rocks comes the sand. this sand is not river sand. it is sand dredged from the beds of the natural canals that transport rain water and flood water into the local lakes and tanks (in tamil it is called odai mann). it is very commonly used for construction and is also a way of keeping the canals in good shape without getting silted.

step 5 - the watering. the sand layer has to be heavily watered to allow the sand to seep into the crevices of the stone layer. and in places where the water creates a crater, more sand is added.

steps 3, 4 and 5 are repeated till the desired height is reached.
the total effort was contracted at Rs 1500, but the contractor walked out after day 1 and the last 25% of the work was completed by us.
1. the sand cost Rs 1800 to ferry.
2. the rocks cost Rs 600 to ferry.
3. the contractor cost us Rs 1300
4. the diesel for the yanmar would have cost approx Rs 200.

the whole process took 8 person-days of local labour and approx 5 person-days of pR labour.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

sun drying tomatoes

with the surplus of tomatoes pleasantly hitting us, we tried our best to use it all up.
almost to the verge of stoping use of tamarind.

even then we were left with much.
then we decided to try DV's suggesting of sun drying tomatoes.

here is how we did it and looks like it has worked.

the harvest

cut it into quarters

put it into the solar oven

after 7 hours in the oven

at the end of the drying.

it needs to be completely dry for it to store well.
it reduces from 10 to 1 through this process.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

jairam ramesh - tehelka cover story

the man who is running the indian environment ministry - jairam ramesh - is featured in this brilliant cover feature by shoma chaudhury on tehelka.

some transitions in his thinking...
“Twenty years ago I was a gung ho growth-wallah. Today I’m just a growth-wallah: I’m no longer gung ho. I’ve realised if it is to be a choice between 9 percent growth and negative impact on environment and livelihood security and 7 percent growth with ecological security — it’s much wiser to opt for the latter. Twenty years ago I may have chosen the former. Today I would choose the latter.”
the PM and sonia with their reasons for picking him...
When Jairam asked the prime minister, “Sir, why me?” the prime minister replied: “The ministry has acquired a bad reputation for corruption and rent-seeking. I want you to clean up the system but I don’t want environment to be a hurdle to growth. You understand the compulsions of growth better than most.”

Sonia, however, had another, simpler, message altogether. Asked for her vision for him, she said, “Acquit the mandate the environment ministry was set up for. Protect India’s natural resources. Safeguard people’s livelihoods.”

some startling statistics...
Consider just one statistic put out by Vikram Singh Mehta, chairman of Shell India, and the shocking truth of this will hit home: it takes 9,200 litres of water to produce one litre of diesel.

On employment too, Claude Alvares has a staggering statistic. According to NCAER figures, the formal economy in India employs only 28 million people today. Back in 1950, it was 25 million. That’s just a three million increase in jobs in the formal sector over 60 years. At an average, each of those jobs has been generated at an investment cost of Rs.1 crore. This means more than 80 percent of India is employed in the non-formal sector and is looking after themselves, outside the supposedly golden halo of the growth story.

He (Pavan Sukhdev)
reels out fascinating statistics in support of this: 450 million people in India live off subsistence agriculture, wetlands and forests. Nature provides them 90 percent of their income. How was industry going to provide all these people jobs if they are driven off their land? “Those who think they have a purely industrial solution to India’s poverty are living in cuckoo-land,” he says. “What are we going to do, make them Ferrari makers? What is the economic model that is going to generate alternative employment for 450 million people?”
what i always maintained about MMS and MSA is reiterated...
Former power secretary R Vasudevan has similar things to say. “The GDP is the narrowest possible measure of growth. We cannot worship growth just as a percentage,” he says. “We have to ask ourselves, is all this really enabling us? The problem is both Manmohan Singh and Montek Singh Ahluwalia have had only World Bank exposure. They have never worked on the field so they do not understand ground realities.”
while he has had to maintain his poise over much much pressure, it is sad that he may not last long.
Over the past 20 months, Jairam has grown more shackled with every passing day. He’s almost lost his job thrice and has had run-ins with almost all his colleagues: Ministers for surface transport, shipping, coal, power, steel, aviation, agriculture, water and science. Queues of detractors line up routinely at the prime minister’s door asking for his ouster. In the last cabinet reshuffle, in fact, he was a “goner”, says a Congress source, had Sonia not intervened. Despite this, he may still lose his job by May.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

potatoes - negative ROI

the extended rainy season and the shortened winter period put paid to our potato aspirations.

one bed was wiped out by the wilt and one bed was lost in transplanting (we planted originally in the wrong place).

total planted weight = 3 kgs
total output = 2.5 kgs

and we attempted mounding to promote additional tuber development, which also flopped.

we have realised that there are other tubers which grow in our climate and are planning to expand our tuber portfolio.

rice 2 - finis

expt no. 2, which was proceeding reasonably well as per this update, has been terminated with nil output.
rats got whatever little was growing and as we waited for the grains to form and dry in the stalk, we noticed them 'disappearing'.
it was also an issue of low fertility of the soil .

so we will wait till july-aug 2011 for the next experiment to kick off.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

veggies galore

you were notified about our vegetable planting.
starting early december, we had increased our vegetable growing area very significantly and had moved onto newer methods.
and inspite of losses due to wilt, we have already breached all 2010 numbers.

Jan – Feb
Tomato 19.91
Radish 10.32
Pumpkin 5.4
Okra 1.27
Brinjal 1.62
Kaaramani 0.29
Bitter gourd 2.39
Ridge Gourd 0.91
Winged Bean 1.2
Beans 3.1
Avarai 1.51
Total 47.92
of this total, february is 39 kgs by itself.
the whole data is public. so go and check for yourself.

we also have a surplus of lettuce which we are not including as weighed produce.

since early feb, we have bought only around 2 kgs of onion and 1 kg of potato. so we have now a good sense of how this season works.

as it gets hotter we are hoping that the gourds (ash, snake, ridge, bitter, bottle) will start their production in april.