Eating is an agricultural act - Wendell Berry

Saturday, April 23, 2011

season premiere - rains

the rains across tamilnadu finally landed at our doorstep just after midnight, a brief drizzle in the wee hours of April 22 and resumed in a earnest blast in the wee hours of April 23 - a total of 2.5 cms to start the 2011 rain counter.

we should have been overjoyed at this early gift....
but our mud house did not have a roof and we were, in fact, praying for a deferral when we heard news about rains in other parts of TN around April 20.

but the brief drizzle of April 22 had (literally and figuratively) roused us from our sleep and got us to do a minor mid-night roof covering operation.
realising that larger a downpour was imminent, we rushed to do a temporary cover-up of the wall and do a mock installation of the roof just to protect from this rain spell.
and how timely was it....a chorus of collective sighs of relief rendered this part of zamin endathur as the downpour of April 23 morning greeted the village.

this is the pre-roof situation from the last day of construction.

setting up the pipes to hold up the sheets and the tarpaulins.

the final roof mock-up assembly just prior to the downpour.

and it held :-)
and now we are enjoying some seriously wonderful weather and so are the trees and the plants.

Friday, April 22, 2011

building our house - part 4b - raising the walls

its been a month since we completed the foundation and the stem wall and we prepared to raise the walls.

now enter the experts.
a team of 3 masons(kothanar in tamil), 2 mixers (periyal - the senior man) and 2 lifters (siththal - the assistant) took over the work.

the walls were done in 2 installments of 3 days each separated by our brick making frenzy (where we used up 3 weeks), 39 persons days.
the team was a well oiled machine and it was a delight to watch them at work. a high level of skill combined with an equally good work ethic added with dollops of fun and humour. each day lasted around 8.5 hours with 90 mins for lunch and tea breaks.

at the outset, we undertook this construction on a daily wage basis instead of a building contract. this could have been a risky strategy, as the workmen could ease up the pace and extend the duration of work to maximise their wages.
and we hardly had to push them to get going and one couple of occassions, they worked till 630PM so that they could complete a wall.
our friends nisha and ragu have written about their experiences here.
a couple of reasons for our strategy was:
1. we could not estimate (neither could the mason) the duration of the work given that this was a non-standard house and they were using adobe bricks and mud mortar for the first time.
2. DV has worked earlier with the lead mason and was confident in his abilities and ethics.

there is an added element of ease which mud construction offers as compared to working with cement in terms of dust levels, cleaning up and wastage of mortar.

the actual laying is pretty simple. the skill is maintaining verticality and horizontality of the wall.
always, the corners of the walls would be marked and raised first, then a twine would be drawn across these corners to mark the entire wall edge and then bricks would be laid tangential to this twine.

the mud bricks laid over the stem wall looking neat and precise...

the 3 windows in line (for cross ventilation). the farthest is a second hand wooden window, the center one is  just a simple opening in the wall and the front one is a concrete, ready-made grill window.

adding the large side wall window... an old reused window from DV's shed.

eastside view of the central wall (9feet tall) under construction...

westside view of the same wall post completion...

front views of the house at various stages of completion. the doors are also second-hand.
the net fall from the center to the sides is 2 feet.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

groundnut harvest

from our effort last year with the groundnut harvest with the neighbours, we were inspired to grow our own.
and late december 2010, we planted around 1500 sq feet. it is a 100+ days crop and requires a decent amount of watering (moisture especially is very critical during the nut development stage) and a couple of de-weeding efforts to ensure that the root space is free from encroachment.
after 100 days, the field is ready for harvest.

a closer look at the plant. it is said that when the leaves acquire black spots, it is ready for harvest.
we just pulled out a couple toward the end of  the 100 days to verify.

the field will need to be deeply watered on the previous evening to allow easy pull out.

unlike last time, we resorted to manually plucking method to remove the nuts from the roots.

the nut loot was around 17 kgs. and just the nuts will be 10 kgs.

spread out for drying for at least 4 days and then it is ready for storage.
overall the yield was much lower than than our neighbours.
our yield was 445 kgs per acre.
neighbouring yields this year are around 720 kgs per acre.
expected normal standard yields are around 1050 kgs per acre.
market rate is Rs 38/kg.

our nuts tasted sweeter and looked healthier than those of our next-field neighbours. but that could just be our bias...!
plan to convert most of the nuts to cooking oil.

p.s. - we also harvested around 4 kgs of sesame this year, up from 3 kgs of last year.
and much less ado than the previous time. but the quality of last year was better.

Monday, April 18, 2011

baby ammini is home

ammu, for short, is a baby female kitten, is the latest addition to the menagerie at pR. she, like all kittens, is a bundle of energy and a source of joy to all observers.

Friday, April 08, 2011

brick making frenzy

we made 1000 bricks till february end with an initial hunch-based estimate.
turns out that we were well off the mark. the actual number required is close to 1700.
the walls are half-way done and we ran out of the 1000 in just 3 days of work.

so over the last 2 weeks we have been in an frenzied state to complete the balance bricks and get on with the walls.
we have no animal power to help this time.(all local labour busy with peanut harvest) and  it is over 7 deg Celsium hotter than february.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

yunus is bangladesh's MMS !!

the hindu's haroon habib reports on the tussle between mohd yunus and the bangladesh government over control of grameen bank.

the latest news states that the bangladesh supreme court has upheld the government's removal of yunus from the post of Managing Director.
good for bangladesh.

i am convinced that america+world bank+IMF and their tribe has been grooming yunus to take on senior positions on the government and then pull their yoke. just like MMS has been doing their dirty work in india along with other economic hitmen like MSA and PC.

anna is on a fast track

annabhau hazare is an iconic personality. from village swaraj at ralegaon siddhi to a crusade against corruption, he never flinches to take on the powers.

he is now on a fast unto death to enact the Jan Lokal Bill.

i support him and his movement whole-heartedly.
and i salute his strength and desh-bhakti.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

the mistaken notion of food security... brought out in a beautifully written tragic story - food security and basavi.

basavi and jadiya are a tribal couple in interior karnataka and the transition in their life through interventions of 'development'  is beautifully written.
starting from being landless but enjoying the forest produce to being 'landed' and moving up to cash crops and hence indebtedness to finally becoming an entry in the PDS system with their 'way-of-life' reduced to shambles is tragic.  

through this the author questions the very basis of defining terms like food security, poverty and quite honestly nails the short sightedness of development activists and their ilk. 

the author is....
...Dr.R.Balasubramaniam (Balu) is a development activist, social innovator and leadership trainer. After getting his degree in Medicine, he earned his M.Phil in Hospital and Health Systems Management from BITS, Pilani. He has an MPA from Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University. His living habits were greatly influenced by the teachings of Swami Vivekananda, the great Indian Monk who lived in the 19th century. At the age of 19, he founded the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement, based on the principles of Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (Truth), Seva (Service) and Tyaga (Sacrifice). He has spent the last 26 years of his life in the service of the rural and tribal poor in the forests of India. He has built this non-profit organization into one of India’s leading development NGOs. He has now laid down all formal office and passed on the mantle to the next generation.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

jaya ho!

this is election time in TN again.
in 2006, i had plumped for lok paritran. they are dead and gone.

i had written an open letter to 'captain' vijaykanth in 2006, hoping to see a new start in politics.
his performance, impressive as it was, in the 2 elections made it apparent that he was not going to make it on his own. a coalition was necessary for his survival.
happy to note that he made the appropriate choice.

i will be glad to see the end of DMK and karunanidhi and will be backing jayalalitha and the AIADMK coalition.
i think it will make sense for her to groom vijaykanth as her successor and hand over the reins of AIADMK to him after her time.

somehow, it does seem that a rotating system of political coalitions winning the elections is the norm.
so be it.

ragi - take 2 - record produce

ragi - take 2 was a short duration (90 days) version called kulla kevaru.

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

all of it seem to have worked.

when we cut and piled up the stalks, we looked at it with some scepticism and were expecting a sub-10 kg level produce.
but our jaws dropped when the scales tilted at 18 kgs.

the fertility improvement continues in this field which is approaching fukuoka.