Eating is an agricultural act - Wendell Berry

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Thane super fast!

cyclone thane crossed the coast near pondicherry about 60km from here. we are about 20km from the coast. we had been tracking its movement from monday on imd site and other weather channels and were hoping for some rains for our groundnut crop. what we got was way more than we expected. 20cm of rain and continuous severe gusty winds over 2 days.

we lost a couple of papaya trees, few banana and drumstick trees. we could save some of our papaya trees as we provided support in time against the wind direction. peanut field was flooded and has now drained. we hope there is no lasting damage to the crop. nearby peanut, watermelon, ash gourd crops have got battered. some of the peanut crops had been damaged earlier when as well due to sudden rains 2 weeks ago. the farmers had ploughed and re-sown in the week leading up to thane. its a double blow @ 7k / acre cost each time for someone who barely earns about 20k/acre per year. quite a bad start to the main growing season of the year.

while in the city, any rain anytime is welcome and we would just stay indoors and enjoy hot tea and bajjis. severe cyclone is considered a treat as it brings an extra holiday along with its winds. for the first time we have been amidst farmers sharing their desperation and anxiety over lost money and effort due to crop damage. farming surely is one of the most risky ventures and high risk leading to high return mantra that earns million to investment bankers, does not apply to the farmers. its either normal return or high loss, never high return for the people who produce the single most essential commodity for human existence - food!

there is surely something wrong with the economic order in this world.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

nature's own farmers - termites

the word termites evokes creepy feelings to most city dwellers. during our recent visit to our parents place in chennai, we were busy cleaning clothes and furnitures that were attacked by termites (yeah its an old house) and spraying all kings of things toxic to ward them off from our house.

at pR, termites and earthworms and millions of other life forms are the original residents. we have moved in with them.

termites have taken fancy to our bathroom walls and are forever building and rebuilding on them. come rainy season we see millions of them working away bringing in mud and building mounds all over the place. it looks like the mud inside the walls are bubbling up. we have often wondered what they find in these walls as there is no wood work on the walls. apparently they come for any dead plant material, wood, leaf litter, dung or just soil. there must be plenty for them in the cob walls that does not meet our eye.

this rainy season we saw something new. suddenly one day the mounds had white spots on them. as though someone had sprinkled rice flour on them. in the couple of days they grew bigger and became mushrooms. so sweet smelling that i gave into the temptation and tasted a few. they were divine!

as it turns out, this species of mushrooms belong to a group of fungi commonly called Termite Mushrooms (Termitomyces). they are cultivated by termites inside their nests or mounds in underground fungus gardens! these mushrooms aids in the breakdown of cellulose and lignin into a more nutritious compost which serves as the termites actual food! however termites grow and harvest the fungus in its minute mycelium stage without letting it develop into the umbrella-shaped fruiting bodies that we call mushrooms. these mushrooms are normally not visible as they are inside the mounds unless the termites for some reasons could not control their growth (when it rains too much) when the mycelia will literally grow through the roof of their nest and burst onto the surface of the ground as mushrooms! amazing! and yes it was very wet couple of weeks ago when the NE monsoon was in full fury. apparently the are edible. they are dying out now and the termites will probably eat them.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

samba wheat experiment

most of you should be familiar with dhalia or broken samba wheat (Emmer or Khapli wheat (Triticum dicoccum) ) that makes great upma. we have had it in the form of kanji (drinkable porridge) in our childhood. it is supposed to have a higher fiber content than normal wheat and a lower glycemic index. we picked up a kilo at nilgiris and was shocked to see the price listed at Rs.100/kg.

so, we thought why not try to grow it ourselves. it is reported to be grown in some parts of tamil nadu but we could not get reliable information on any particular place or season. we got a kg of seeds from a herbal medicine shop in maduranthakam. the friendly shop owner sells whole samba wheat and managed to get seeds from his supplier. sweet!

this is our lucky ragi field which as been under mulch from last year. you can see the dried ragi stalks + weeds over grown. we sickled a part of the field to the ground.

then broadcasted the seeds and covered them with a thin layer of mulch.