No Man's Land
2013 year-end update
The Short Story ……. (For the busy types that like PowerPoint presentations with bulleted lists)
2013 was a year of mixed fortunes for us. A few steps forward, a few steps back.
Livestock and pets
We bought a new cow (yet unnamed; open to suggestions. You know the rules) and a month-old male calf that came with her.With her arrival, Sushie and I have started milking our cattle ourselves.
Our buffalo Didi gave birth to a male calf in December.
Our Golden Retriever dog Silky has settled in nicely as a part of the family. We’ve finally located a male Golden Retriever in Sirsi town for Silky to have pups with.
Our cat Tom ran away from home unable to bear the harassment from Silky. We’ve now got a new kitten Sheru (Sher Khan) who,true to his name, has managed to stand up to Silky. He has now tamed her and curls up and sleeps on Silky.
A visit to Ramchandrapur Mutt near Sagar has convinced us to try and keep native breeds of cattle like Gir or Red Sindhi instead of the more popular Holstein-Friesian and Jersey which are foreign breeds.
Our first hen died of old age, after raising many flocks of chicks and keeping us well stocked with eggs for a few years.
We had our first harvest of turmeric and ginger this year, along with a small quantity of pepper and cashew nuts. We’re still trying to figure out how to shell the cashew nuts ourselves.
Our range of processed food (jams, chutneys etc.) has widened this year, with the addition of a very popular Ginger Chutney and a Dry Banana Snack to our list.
Fruit trees are beginning to yield. The cashew, sapota, guava, hog plum, strawberry guava, starfruit, orange, mango and lemon trees have started rewarding us.
The veggie garden has taken off in a big way, post the monsoon. We get a fair amount of vegetables for our home from our own garden.
We’ve planted pineapple in a small patch and hope to process it into jam. Sugarcane, turmeric, ginger, banana and other crops continue this year too.
We’ve finally got our website running.
Our homestay activity has taken a dip, contrary to our expectations that we’d have people flocking in once the website was up.
The monsoon this year was wetter than ever and it just poured for months. The road to our farm soon looked like a well ploughed paddy field and it took a new set of all-terrain tyres and my best 4WD driving skills to negotiate the 1 Km dirt stretch every time we headed out.
Our farmhand Ravi got married right in the middle of the monsoon. That added a lot of extra trips up and down the dirt track ferrying supplies and members of the marriage party.
We’ve built an extension to the kitchen which will also house our long awaited wood fired oven.
And the long story ……..
(For the rest of you that are looking to kill a few idle minutes and have nothing better to do :)
Livestock and pets
We have experienced a population explosion in the cowshed this year and have ended the year with a full house. Nalini had a calf Maya(a.k.a Mayawati) in May, who is as temperamental, flighty and unfriendly – all undesirable characteristics in a cow – as her mother is. Gowri the cow went back to her maternal home in October. The friend who gave her to us to look after, took her back when he found a caretaker family to live on his farm.Gowri is sorely missed by our kids, farmhands and the paneer consuming public of Sirsi. Old lady Dhanu, our first cow, was sent off to live out the rest ofher life in peace at a retirement resort for old cows. We were getting too crowded on the farm with very limited grazing area and green grass available for the cattle and a couple of new arrivals. So we found a goshala (cow hostel) at a local swamiji’s mutt that took her in. The alternative was to sell her off and eventually, she’d land up at the butcher.
With Gowri’s departure, we suddenly were in a situation where for the first time in years, we almost didn’t have enough milk for our home. Didi the buffalo was expecting a baby in December and that was still 2 months away (when she’d be ready for milking). So we cast a net far and wide in search of a good milking cow. Within a few days, we got news that our farmhand Ravi’s friend’s relative living some 40 Km away had a cow for sale. The cow turned out to be a lemon but some valuable lessons were learnt in the process, some of which I’ll share here in the hope that you are able to apply them to your lives as well, if you’re in the unlikely situation of having to buy a cow. Firstly, never go to buy a cow after dark. The cowshed at the seller’s place did not have a light and we saw the dim outline of the cow in the glow of our mobile phone screens. She looked like a decent cow alright. The owner claimed that she gave 4 litres of milk at each milking i.e. 8 litres a day, which was the kind of cow we were looking for. The owner seemed like a decent chap and Ravi’s friend’s cousin (or cousin’s friend, I don’t exactly remember which) vouched for the seller’s honesty. The price they were asking for her was a bit steep and we decided to make a reasonable offer. They almost jumped at the offer without even the customary haggling or token protestation that the price offered was too low. The deal was closed quickly that night but it was too late to take her back with us. So we went back a couple of days later to bring her over. Seeing her in the light of day gave us second thoughts. She seemed a bit emaciated and had large patches on her skin (some skin disease) that we didn’t see in the dark. But a deal is a deal and we paid up and took her home, finding comfort in the thought that as long as we’d get the 4 litres of milk, the price was still fine. Which brings me to the second lesson learnt from this misadventure – when buying a cow, make sure that you are present at two consecutive milkings i.e. a morning and that same evening or an evening and the next morning - and measure the milk yield personally. Our new cow, despite all the encouragement and coaxing, has not given us more than 3 litres. The milk yield also dropped steadily over the next few months. But let me not leave you with the impression that this venture was an unmitigated disaster. There was also a wonderful benefit that came from having her, which made the whole deal worthwhile. She was a really docile animal, unlike most of our previous cattle that were temperamental and unfriendly beasts that kicked and butted. Sushie and I started taking turns milking her every day. Soon, Didi the buffalo delivered her calf and I graduated to milking the buffalo too. Thus, along time desire to not be totally reliant on our farmhands for milking our cattle, was fulfilled. The new cow and her calf have settled in nicely and she looks much better now. She’s not got a name as yet. So send in any suggestions you might have. In case you are not aware of the naming convention, here it is– it has to be the name of someone infamous or notorious. Her calf (male) is also available for naming and so is Didi’s male buffalo calf. The total strength of our cowshed now stands at nine – Didi the buffalo, her first calf Muthu (a.k.a Muthulakshmi) and her new male calf, Nasty Nalini and her calves SasiKala and Maya, Dhanu’s calf Jaya (a.k.a Jayalalitha) and the yet unnamed new cow and her calf. We want to bring it down to five, which is a more manageable number, given the space and resources we have.
In October, we made a day trip to Ramchandrapura Mutt with our farmhands. The Mutt runs a goshala that focuses exclusively on native breeds of cattle. They have more than 30 breeds of Indian cattle there and run an active breeding program to keep dying native breeds alive. From there, we learnt about the benefits of keeping native breeds and also found out about very good milking breeds like Gir, Red Sindhi, Tharpakar and Kankhrej. So we’ve identified local sources of Gir semen for inseminating our cows when the time comes. The government Vet who has been servicing our village has only Holstein-Friesian and Jersey semen, which are foreign breeds and have a host of problems living in our climate. The native breeds are hardier and easier to maintain.
Our Golden Retriever dog Silky (a.k.a Silk Smitha) is now a complete family member. You might remember from our update last year about how she came to us. We’ve finally located a male Golden Retriever in Sirsi town for Silky to have pups with. She has become something of a local celebrity in our village and there’s already a waiting list of people who have booked her pups. Unfortunately,Silky cannot stand any other animal and considers herself human. Our cat Tom,who had been with us for a few years, ran away from home unable to bear the harassment from Silky. Prior to her arrival, Tom had a free run of the place and came and went as he pleased. Silky never liked cats and was constantly chasing him whenever he was in or around the house. Tom’s reign was now confined to the loft. Tom used to be friends with Ozzy (a.k.a Osama) before Silky’s arrival. They would play with each other and they even curled up and slept together when they were small. With Silky’s arrival, Ozzy turned traitor and he too took to chasing Tom. That was the last straw for Tom, to have a childhood friend turn into an enemy. He left home one day and has not been seen ever since.
Tom’s departure left us cat-less for a while and the rats that lived in our tiled roof also realized this. They now were bold enough to come down and start stealing food from the kitchen and wander around the house at night. A few were caught in a rat trap and released in the forest. But we were sorely missing the presence of a cat at home. So we got ourselves a new kitten Sheru (Sher Khan) from one of our neighbours. Sheru, true to his name,has managed to stand up to Silky and tame her aggression towards him. Things have progressed so far now that he curls up and sleeps on Silky during the cold nights.
In January, we bought a mixed batch of 30 Giriraja, Suvarnadhara and country chicks from the University of Agricultural Sciences in Bangalore. The chicks were only a day old and needed to be kept warm during the winter nights. So I rigged up an incandescent bulb in the cardboard carton that served as their sleeping quarters. The first night that they spent in the box,there was no power all night and the light was not on. When power supply was restored in the morning, I promptly switched the light on in the box to warm the chicks up. The kids had been peeping into the box occasionally to see the chicks. An hour later, the kids came screaming to me saying that the chicks were all dead. We rushed to the box and opened it and found most of the chicks dead due to heat buildup within the box. This was the worst moment of our chicken rearing experience. Nine chicks that were in the corners and under the other dead chicks, showed some signs of life and movement. We took those out and gave them water and some fresh air and managed to resuscitate them. Most of them have now grown up into good birds.
We had a young rooster that had taken to attacking our two younger kids Deepu and Midhu when no adult was around. He would charge the girls aggressively and try to peck them. Midhu sometimes managed to run away to safety or to get hold of a stick and chase him away. But Deepu would stand rooted in fear and scream for help. She is not scared of any kind of insect and usually picks up all sorts of bugs, beetles and worms. But when the rooster attacks started, she was scared of any kind of chicken – even tiny little chicks that she previously used to feed by hand. We decided that the rooster had to go. An opportunity presented itself during the rice harvest season. There is a local harvest festival that includes a feast at the end of it, which involves the consumption of large quantities of chicken. A local farmer came around to buy some of our roosters and the aggressive one was sold off to be part of the festivities. I also hoped to send out a strong message to other ‘roosters’ out there that anyone messing around with my girls would meet a similar sticky end. Phoolan, our first hen, died of old age, after raising many flocks of chicks and keeping us well stocked with eggs for a few years. A friend pointed out that she was probably one of the few hens that died of old age, since most go into the pot way before they reach that stage.
We have grown a larger variety of crops this year. We had our first harvest of turmeric and ginger this year, along with a small quantity of pepper and cashew nuts. We processed (cleaned, cooked, dried, powdered, sieved and packed) the turmeric ourselves. This took up most of our summer nights and made us decide to reduce the turmeric crop in future. Our ginger crop was much smaller and Sushie found a great recipe for Ginger Chutney which used up most of our ginger. The Ginger Chutney was a big hit with our customers. The pepper was mostly used up at home since it was only a small quantity. However, the next crop which will be harvested in Jan/Feb 2014 seems better. Most of the cashew trees are beginning to yield. We’re still trying to figure out how to shell the cashewnuts ourselves. So a year later, it still sitting in a bag in some corner, awaiting the discovery of a home based shelling process. Actually, it is just waiting for me to stop procrastinating and get started on the job of shelling it. But there’s always loads of other work to do and this gets moved to the bottom of the list.
We continued to make our jams (Starfruit, Pineapple), Orange marmalade and chutneys (Banana-Date, Ginger) this year. Much of this processing is done after dinner and after the kids have gone to bed, which has resulted in many late nights. During the day, there are many outdoor tasks that keep us occupied. We are trying to move some of this food processing to the day. Our Pineapple jams have been quite popular. We’ve now planted pineapple in a small patch so that we get a steady supply of pineapple for our jams.
Our fruit trees which were planted over the past 6 years are now beginning to yield. The cashew, sapota, guava, hog plum, strawberry guava, starfruit, orange, mango and lemon trees have started rewarding us. Any time one of us notices a new tree that starts flowering, a guessing game begins among the rest of us, to guess the ‘new’ tree that has started flowering. Birds have been congregating in large numbers on some of our fruit trees. Lorikeets had almost wiped out all the guavas from our guava tree. We had to drape fishing net on our guava and sapota trees to keep the birds out.
The veggie garden has taken off in a big way, after lying dormant during the monsoon. Sushie has been putting in many hours of work to keep a steady stream of vegetables flowing to the dining table. We get a fair amount of vegetables for our homefrom our own garden. Recently, there was a bumper harvest of massive bottle gourds that were creatively used up in various dhals, sambars, pallyas and even in juices and a sweet.
Our website has finally seen the light of day. After being in ‘planning’ mode for about two years, we finally went live towards the end of 2013. My brother Joseph did most of the hard work and experimentation to get us up and running. Let me know what you think of it.
We’ve bought a new ‘Family Size’ tent this year, which can accommodate a whole family (2 adults and at least 2 kids). We had found out on several occasions that families with kids tend to travel in groups of two or more families. Now we can accommodate one family in the cottage and a second family in the large tent.
We have started making vermicompost this year. The tanks to make vermicompost were built a few years ago but we weren’t able to get the earthworms to start making the compost. A good friend got us a bag full of worms on one of his trips to Goa and that enabled us to get started. The worms have been feeding voraciously on all the organic waste from our cowshed and leaf litter and producing good compost. It is mostly used in the veggie garden.
The monsoon this year seemed like it would never end. It started earlier than usual and just went on endlessly. Even local veterans that have lived through many a bad monsoon were waiting for this one to end. The rains were somewhat tolerable but the effect it had on our road was what exacerbated the misery factor. Last year, the local panchayat (village council) magnanimously decided to do up our road and sanctioned money for the repairs. An earth mover came and dug trenches on either side of the road and put the mud from the trench, onto the road. They were supposed to then top it off with grit or pebbles so that the surface would be firm. But the contractor executing the work disappeared after the trenches were dug and he pocketed the rest of the money. He was elusive in spite of the pleadings, requests and threats from the few families that lived on this road. Once a few rains had fallen, the mud turned to slush. The mud track looked like a well ploughed paddy field once I had been on it a few times. Early in the rains, I slid off the road in my pickup and landed in the ditch. A local tractor had to be summoned to pull the pickup truck out. It then took a new set of All Terrain tyres and my best 4WD driving skills to negotiate the 1Km dirt stretch every time we had to get in and out of home. I’ve filed an RTI (Right to Information) request with the government to find out where the funds for road repair actually went. I’m hoping to hear from them sometime.
Given the slippery condition of the road, we had reduced the number of trips we made out of our house. Then, our farmhand Ravi decided to get married right in the middle of the monsoon. That added a lot of extra trips up and down the dirt track, ferrying supplies and members of the marriage party. Our pickup was the official transport provider of the event. On the day of the wedding, the groom and his immediate family were crammed into the cabin of the jeep and about fifteen other members of the marriage party were crammed into the luggage tray at the back. They had to be ferried to where the tar road started, about a kilometer away. There they transferred to the groom’s decked-up car and the mini bus. I’m sure that nobody that attended the wedding will ever forget it.
We built an extension to our kitchen this year. The existing kitchen was quite small and had very little counter space. So, a very basic extension was built before the rains. This extension will also house our long awaited wood fired oven.
We have been more settled into the routine of life on the farm this year. We’ve become so settled here that every trip out of here to a city feels like a disruption of a good life. The kids have been doing very well on the farm. They find a dozen different things to keep themselves occupied all day. They’re often hanging around in the cowshed with the calves, in the evenings. Each has a ‘favourite calf’ that they feed little treats to.
This has been my third year of being a full-time farmer and stay-at-home father. I’m still loving it and I have no regrets whatsoever. The corporate world seems like such a distant memory now. The freedom I experience and the feeling of having regained some level of control over my day are what I treasure the most. Having experienced it these few years, I can’t even consider giving it up now.
Sushie has had her hands full running the home and keeping us all well fed and in good health. This is in addition to her work on the farm and in the kitchen garden, which has been her latest project. She spends most of her free time there, growing most of the vegetables that we have been consuming. Her other favourite activity has been keeping up a regular supply of baked goodies like a variety of cakes, cookies, whole meal bread and several other delights that our visitors can attest to. We’re hoping to have our wood-fired oven this year, which I expect will further stimulate her baking passion. Plans for the New Year
We’re hoping to install our Solar Power generation system this year to meet most of our electric energy needs. This has been in planning mode for a couple of years. So it will be a big achievement to actually install it. We’ll still rely on grid power for running our water pump sets, refrigerator and washing machine. But our lighting and miscellaneous appliances and gadgets will run off solar energy. In addition to significantly reducing our power consumption, it will also relieve us from power outages that are becoming a regular feature here.