No Man's Land
2012 year-end update - better late than never.
The 21st of December 2012 has come and gone. Since we're all still around, living our exciting lives, it seems like the world has not ended. The Mayans had goofed up their calculations. It also looks like I have to sit down and write our story about what has been going on in our lives this past year.
We completed 5 years on the farm in April 2012. It is also almost 2 years now, since I turned full-time farmer. We managed to get a reasonable amount of work done on the farm with the limited man power we had at our disposal. Our farmhands Ravi and his sister Mooku continue providing us cheerful and dedicated service. They indulge us in some of our crazy ideas without too much of a protest. We also had a young man Prashant living with us for 3 months during summer and that enabled us to get much work done. He was from a village and had completed his degree and wanted to improve his English speaking skills. He was a lively addition to the community and provided the kids much entertainment in the evenings.
In January we manured our orchards and started irrigating the trees. For the first 4 years, we carried buckets of water up and down the hill to water our saplings during the hot summer months, to help them survive until the rains arrived in June-July. This year, we laid out new pipes in the 3-acre fruit orchard to enable us to manually water the saplings with a hose. That reduced the need to carry buckets and pots of water around but it still involved spending many evenings watering and looking after the fruit saplings that we had planted over the past few years. Most have survived and grown into young trees. Some prized ones like mangostein, rambutan and breadfruit have not survived our'special attention'. We have replanted them again this year and hope they do better. We planted our gooseberry (amla / nelli) section in the summer and that has done well. Some of our other planting didn't fare as well. We planted about a hundred Elephant Foot Yam this year.Within two weeks of planting, a wild boar dug up and ate every one of the yams. We don't even have any planting material left and so we are yam-less this year. We also planted tapioca in the same area. The plants grew big and when it was time to harvest, we found that a porcupine had beaten us to it. We lost almost half our crop to the porcupine (or family of porcupines) that lives on our land. Since we grow tapioca only for our use, we were happy to share some of it with the porcupine. The crop was very good and there was enough tapioca for man and animal.
Fora long time, we have wanted to keep bees. Along with getting pure honey, this would also improve the pollination of our fruit orchard.There is a farmer near Sirsi who has a large number of bee boxes and we bought two bee boxes/colonies from him. I first got stung when bringing the boxes home. My left eye was swollen shut for a few days.After that, we made our peace with each other and the bees seemed to be settling in nicely. One fine day, one colony decided that they wanted to seek greener pastures. So they packed their belongings or whatever it is that bees carry when they relocate, and left without saying goodbye. This was the first time that I had seen Rs.1500 flyaway! The second colony seems to be doing well when I last checked.Periodic checks need to be made on the colony to ensure that they are healthy and thriving. I have been very lax in this activity and so we haven't managed to harvest any honey as yet. The bees too seem to like being left alone and not having their honey stolen.
In summer, we had another long-desired wish fulfilled – we built our gobar-gas plant. We have our own cooking gas plant and it is functioning beautifully. We have enough cattle to produce sufficient milk for us and dung for the gas plant. Our entire cooking needs are met by this bio-gas and we also do all of our paneer/jam/marmalade-making on this. We only use commercial cooking gas when we need many things on the stove at one time. The slurry produced from the gas plant is also good manure. All things considered, it has been a wonderful investment on the farm.
We had our first crop of mango in the summer. One mango sapling that we had planted during the first year on the farm yielded a bountiful crop this year and we got 108 mangoes from that tree (yes, I counted every one of them). I got to eat most of them, since Sushie and the kids were on some kind of diet that banned mangoes, guavas and lots of other nice stuff that I got to eat in plenty. The cashew trees also bore fruit in summer and we gathered the nuts hoping to process and shell the nut ourselves. They are still sitting in a bag in some corner of the store room.
We planted pineapple in a small area this year. We're hoping to have our own pineapple to process into jams in the coming years. We also planted one small field of turmeric which is now ready for harvest.Only when it is dug up will we find out how good the crop was or even if we have recovered what we planted. Our sugarcane crop was fairly good, considering we lost a fair bit to monkeys. This was our fourth sugarcane crop and it has been getting better over the years. We decided to ratoon our crop one more year (i.e. Leave the base in the ground and harvest only what is above ground, so that new shoots can sprout from the base). Watering it manually with a hosepipe in the summer has been tedious without any irrigation system in place. I spent many days through the summer nurturing the crop, till the monsoons arrived to take over my watering job. This year, we're hoping to install a sprinkler system that will make the process much simpler. Our jaggery production this year was also the best we've had until now. We hired the equipment and installed it on our farm this year for the first time. All these past years, we had been carting our sugarcane over to a neighbour's farm for crushing and processing.We're hoping to have a large-enough crop in the coming years, to be able to hire and install the equipment on our farm. Our neighbour who had also planted sugarcane lost his entire crop two weeks before the harvest, to a marauding wild boar. The boar feasted on it for two nights and an entire year's effort was wiped out. In these parts, the area under sugarcane is not very large, since it is all processed locally. So a single boar is enough to wipe out the small crop that most farmers plant.
We had a few new arrivals on the farm this year. Dhanu gave birth to a calf Jaya (aka Jayalalitha) and Nalini gave birth to Kala (Sasikala). We also got a new buffalo Didi (Mamatha) this year with her calf Muthu (Muthulakshmi). The star arrival of the year was Silky the dog (Silk Smitha), a golden retriever. She was found abandoned on the outskirts of Bangalore near a friend's home that we visited. They had spent an unsuccessful week trying to find her owner, when we got there. We gladly took her home and she has been a delightful addition the the family. She sometimes gives us the impression that she thinks she's human and one of us. She looks down upon our other dog Ozzy and spurns all his attempts at play and friendship. She even chases him out of the house sometimes because he is an 'outside dog' and she is an 'inside dog'. Our cat Tom who had a free run of the house is now restricted to lurking around on the loft and other such 'lofty' places where Silky cannot get him. Our free ranging chicken often lounged around on our veranda during the day to stay out of the sun. No amount of chasing and shooing would work and the veranda was littered every day with chicken droppings. With Silky's arrival, our veranda has become clean. She has taken it upon herself to chase away any chicken that dares to venture onto her turf- the veranda.
We've now got a new customer for our paneer (cottage cheese) in Sirsi. The previous restaurant wouldn't pay for months together and couldn't consume all the paneer we made. This one easily uses up what we produce and pays up promptly too. We have also continued with processing some of our other farm produce. We had a starfruit tree that was laden with fruit in summer and we couldn't eat much of it.Most of it got made into jam that turned out to be very popular. We had a citrus tree that had plenty of fruit that we thought was going to be musambi (sweet lime). The ripe fruit was extremely bitter and unpalatable. Most of it got made into marmalade that was again quite popular (though one friend went as far as saying it was 'worse than bitter gourd'). We suspect that the good variety that was grafted on the sapling might've died away and the mother plant put out shoots and that was what grew up and bore fruit. Our banana-date chutney also continues to have a good run with our customers. Sushie is the R&D department when it comes to finding ways of using our produce in jams, chutneys and other preserves.
We had a few 'farm stay' guests this year, mostly during the second half of the year. It was enjoyable for us to host these visitors and take them around the farm. Many of them had kids and our kids had a grand time making friends and showing them around. Some of our visitors also got to camp out in tents, play in the stream and frolic with the animals. We don't have a website as yet (that's another long story),though we've been really close to getting one for a long time now.Right now, all the material and photographs are ready and we're looking for a hosting option. We're hoping that once the website is ready, we'll have more visitors finding us on the internet and coming through. We still wouldn't run it completely commercially since it really distracts from other activities on the farm. But it always is fun to have visitors and to show them around. It is an opportunity for us to meet people and for our kids to meet other kids and have a fun time. In the meantime, if you know of people looking for a holiday option, please do tell them about us.
Many new activities have been planned for the new year. A long delayed solar electric system will hopefully get installed this year to meet most of the electricity needs for our home. We're also hoping to drip-irrigate our fruit orchard this year, to reduce the work involved in manually watering the plants in summer. Installing the drip irrigation system will reduce the time we need to spend on watering plants and will also ensure that the plants get watered more frequently.