Everything this year has been on a ‘go-slow’ mode. Everything, including this year-end update and the mid-year update that never got written. Much of the year has been spent on construction activities, or to be more accurate, chasing up workers to get on with our construction activities. We’ve now got a guest cottage for our farm-stay venture, a caretaker’s cottage for the resident caretaker who we’ve not been able to find as yet, a new cowshed, a 35,000 litre water storage tank, a de-silted well/tank, an additional bedroom for our cottage and two store rooms in the basement of our new bedroom. The basement is where we’ll be secretly brewing our own organic country liquor (just kidding; don’t rush here asking for a sample). Other additions to our worldly possessions include a new Bolero Camper 4WD pick-up to ferry family and farm produce around. With all this, it is hardly surprising that very little has been achieved on the ‘farming’ front. The labour market has been tight and we lost 33.33% of our labour force (one guy quit mid-year) and we’re left now with two workers, who have also often been diverted into non-farming activities to keep the construction work ticking along.

That was a summary of all that has happened in the past year. Those of you busy people with a short attention span or with only 2 minutes to devote to reading about a villager’s life story can stop reading now. You’ve got the news headlines already. The rest of you that have more time on your hands and don’t know what to do with it can read on.

If you’re still reading, you either have a slow day today and are looking for ways to fill the time or you are genuinely interested in things that have been going on in our lives.

Since building construction took up most of the year, I’ll continue with the construction story. Our old cowshed was falling apart and was threatening to collapse on the unsuspecting cows below. So we had started out to build a new cowshed 4 terraces below where our current cottage is situated. The plan then was that the current cottage would become the guest cottage and we’d build our home between the cottage and the new cowshed. However, halfway through building the cowshed, I felt that I had dealt with enough construction for a lifetime and decided not to build a new house for ourselves. We decided to stay on in the present house, but extend it to include an additional bedroom. That has resulted in significant savings in stress, lost years of life and avoided hastening the greying and hair-loss. But now, the cowshed was too far away from our house. It needed to be far enough to keep the smells and flies away but close enough to hear them cry in an emergency and rush down to attend to midnight deliveries and other emergencies. So we decided to convert half of it into a caretaker’s cottage so that the caretaker would be close enough to attend to emergencies in the cowshed. Some days later, when we were unsure whether a caretaker would enjoy living in close proximity to the cattle and the flies and smells that accompany them, we changed plans and converted the cowshed into a guest cottage. Taking stock of the situation, we realised that we were still without a cowshed after all this work. So we decided to build the new cowshed closer to the house and got started on that. That had to be ready before the big monsoon rains in July. We made it, though a bit late. During this time, we also started work on the additional bedroom adjacent to our house. The land here was a bit lower than the site of the cottage. So we decided to excavate some more, so that a basement could be built below the bedroom. This would serve as our store room and also a cool cellar since a part of it was underground and enclosed on 3 sides with soil. Another team got started on building a large concrete tank to store water at the top of the small hill on which our house was situated. We wanted to pump water up the hill from the wells that were at the foot of the hill. This could be done during the limited hours when we have 3-phase power. Once the tank was full, we could gravity-irrigate our crops whenever we wanted to. All this has taken up most of the year and the final touches to our additional bedroom and the basement store rooms are still being made, even as I write this. We’re hoping to start using them about a month from now. The guest cottage has hosted a few visitors already and we’ve slept there some nights just for a change.

Activities on the farming side started with the sugarcane harvest in February. We took our harvested cane to a farm in the neighbourhood where the crusher and other equipment to make jaggery was set up. I slept there overnight guarding our sugarcane and we started crushing our cane in the morning. Around midday, the sugarcane juice was put to boil and the rest of the day was taken up in boiling the juice to make jaggery and then cooling the jaggery to pack into cans. This year, we are planning to hire the equipment ourselves and get it installed on our farm, so that we don’t have to cart all our sugarcane to someone else’s field. The harvest will happen sometime after 15th Feb 2011. Anyone who enjoys swinging a machete around is welcome to help with the harvest. I’ll just have to make sure I’m at a safe distance from you. We have increased the area under sugarcane this year. So, a few extra hands are welcome. You also get to drink fresh sugarcane juice to your hearts content and if it interests you, to engage in a game of cards and a few drinks with the locals who drop by in the evening after work and stay up through the night gambling away hard-earned money. The nights are chilly and the warmth of the roaring fire where the sugarcane juice is boiling all night draws all sorts of people.

Our preoccupation with the construction didn’t allow us to plant anything new this year and we even had to skip the paddy crop we wanted to do. However, the rest of our paddy field was given this year too, to a neighbour for sharecropping. This means that he plants paddy on our land and gives us about a 15% share in the crop. Paddy requires intensive labour at specific stages of the cycle and we are unable to organise it ourselves. Our banana yield this year was lower than last year. It too suffered from lack of attention.

Our buffalo Yamuna and both our cows Dhanu and Gowri have given birth to calves this year (all male, unfortunately). Yamuna’s delivery was particularly remarkable because it happened late at night and Sushie and I had to assist with the birth. She had been showing signs of the impending delivery all day but nothing happened until our workers left for the day. After that, we kept checking on her frequently to see how she was progressing. At around 10.30pm, she gave birth and we saw this tiny little calf that had just crash landed onto the hard floor of the shed. We wiped him down and dried him with straw since the mother was showing no inclination to lick and dry him. We watched as he struggled to his feet over the next hour or two, and stumbled over to his mother for his first drink. He needed some assistance with this too.

We’ve had plenty of milk for most of the year. I have been supplying milk to the dairy on my way into Sirsi town for work. Sushie has also started milking Dhanu our native breed cow, who grins and bears it while sushie coaxes out streams of warm, frothy milk. In October, Sushie experimented a few times with making Paneer (cottage cheese) and she arrived at a repeatable process. I dropped off a sample with some restaurants in Sirsi town and found one place that wanted us to supply them. So we’ve supplied about 20Kgs of Paneer in November and December to this restaurant. We missed the peak Christmas and New Year weekends this year, since we were away in Bangalore. But this seems like a worthwhile effort since it brings better returns than supplying milk. So some of the days that I don’t go into town, the milk gets made into paneer and this can be refrigerated for a few days.

Our poultry department has had a reasonable year. We lost a lot of chicks early in the year (read ‘The Turkey Scam’ in a previous note). We also bought twenty one 3-day old chicks from a travelling chicken sales guy. He had said that half of them would be females. But every one of them turned out to be male. Half of them got eaten by predators and we managed to sell the rest. Since they were free ranging, they were running all over the place and the verandah was their favourite toilet site. They were locked away in cages for the night. As soon as they were released in the morning, they rushed to the house to be fed and performed their morning toilet jobs on the verandah as a sign of gratitude.  So our verandah was always covered with chicken poop and one had to pick one’s way around like going through a minefield. One wrong step and you’d find something squishy underfoot. Sick of the constant cleaning that this entailed, we sold the worst offenders – the 10 surviving roosters. When the sale was announced and the price was fixed, we found that people came from far and wide, to buy them. We were surprised at the response. Turns out that we had priced it so low that it was a huge discount sale and word was spreading fast. Anway, we were glad to be rid of the mess around the house. The rest of the hens which were a local country breed, have survived and kept up a steady supply of lovely eggs that we enjoy eating. The only problem is that they lay the eggs wherever they please. So somedays, we gather 3-4 eggs and some days, there are no eggs. We are planning to build large movable enclosures so that the chicken will be sort-of-free-ranging but within these enclosures, that can be put in a different spot evey week or so.

In 2011, we’re hoping to tie up all the pending construction loose ends as soon as possible and turn the focus back to the farm and agriculture. We’re also hoping to get our website ready and kick off the home-stay venture on a small scale. That will also enable us to meet new people out in this corner.

 Our two farmgirls :)

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