2017 – 10 years of living the good life
How it all started...
We completed 10 years on the farm in April 2017. This milestone went by with little celebration. We were in the middle of a busy summer and the celebrations were muted. When we started out in 2007, this was an experiment that we were trying out. Between Sushie and me, we had almost zilch experience in farming but we made up for that with lots of ideas and enthusiasm. We assured ourselves that we’d do this for as long as we were enjoying it and couldn’t think of anything better to do. If at some point, it turned into a tiresome struggle with little emotional reward, we’d move on to something more meaningful. We were not shackled to it for life. Given that we’re still here 10 years later and with no immediate plans to call it quits, it seems like things have worked out reasonably well.
We’re often asked what motivated us to go rural and take up farming. Initially, we had wanted to become self-sufficient and grow our own food, live a slower pace of life, live in the midst of nature and to do it in a place that’s sufficiently far away from the influence of a big city. Fortunately, both of us shared these ideas and that made the implementation of the plan easier. After having lived this life for over ten years now and also raising a young family in the process, our thinking has also evolved. In the past few years, we’ve also gained a slightly better understanding of some of the crises that our civilization is faced with – some that are part of public discourse while others are completely ignored by mainstream media. Humans are the only species on Earth that have had such a massive direct impact on the environment by virtue of the tools and technologies that we have developed, in the process of the ‘development’ of our ‘civilization’. The most important problems like Global Warming and the resulting Climate Change are now topics that everybody from governments to corporations and NGOs are engaging with, though there is very little by way of concrete results to show for all the noise that’s being made. Then there’s the other big crisis related to the depletion of energy resources and other natural resources like minerals and metals that’s not at all a part of mainstream discourse. This crisis directly affects the foundations on which our current industrial and consumption-oriented economy is built. The Industrial Revolution that kicked off the biggest change in the history of our civilization was triggered by the discovery of vast quantities of a cheap and dense form of energy from fossil fuels - the discovery of coal around 1750 and of oil around 1850. These and other minerals and metals that are critical to our industrial system are non-renewable resources and available in finite quantities. Is there the possibility that we could run out of them? And what happens then? Can the world continue to function the way it currently does, when we have exhausted these resources? Most projections give us 50-100 years before many metals, minerals and fossil fuels run out, based on current levels of consumption. Is there a Plan B that people are working on, to wean us off these limited resources? We have been thinking about the kind of material and social needs and aspirations we have, the vast inequity that exists today in society and how we go about interacting with the environment and people around us in a non-exploitative way to meet our needs. These and many other questions that we came across have made us feel that what is required for a resilient community is simplification of lifestyles, lower consumption levels of frivolous commodities, doing more physical work and living in a less-polluted natural environment for better health. Could these be achieved while still living in a city? Cities by their very nature are unsustainable. A ‘sustainable city’ is an oxymoron. You can have one or the other. Cities consume vast amounts of energy, water, natural resources and food from huge areas of forests and rural hinterland. A city does not produce any of these. The waste products generated by a city are also sent out into the atmosphere or water or surrounding rural areas to process or absorb. Hence, how can a system that consumes much more than it can produce and excretes much more than it can process, be considered sustainable? That’s why we felt that it is required to move to a rural area or small town to reduce our ecological footprint. As we evolved in our understanding over the years, we also hoped to respond by finding new ways of living, learning and working towards a personally more meaningful and fulfilling life that is also less exploitative of nature and other people. We don’t claim to be living ideal lives ourselves. Far from it, there’s still a long way to travel in this direction. We still have a fuel guzzling, carbon emitting pick-up truck that’s the primary mode of transport for the family and the means of transport for our farm supplies and produce and possibly the largest component of our Carbon Footprint. We’ve reduced our use of it as far as possible and use public transport whenever possible. Much work remains to be done in many other areas too. But the possibilities of achieving our goals are greater while living in a farm setting.
The other question we get asked a lot is ‘how did you end up near Sirsi’. Having grown up in Bangalore, we had no idea of where Sirsi was and didn’t know a soul from here for most of our lives. In 2001, Sushie was contacted by an environmental educator called Sunita Rao through a common friend, for help with designing her house. She had just bought land near Sirsi and wanted to move there. That site visit in late 2001 was Sushie’s first trip to Sirsi. Later, both of us visited Sunita in 2005 and I fell in love with the area on that brief first visit. It was sufficiently far away from any large city and was located in the forests of the Western Ghats. We moved back to India in 2006 and started looking for land towards the end of the year. We were based at Sunita’s house on and off, during the six months we spent looking for land. Our initial plan on returning to India was to spend six months travelling around India, visiting friends at various rural, out-of-the-way places, to see where we could fit in or be part of some useful work. Our first stop was Sirsi and we never managed to leave! Sunita helped us with a lot of contacts for the land search and later helped us settle on the land during the first two years.
The land search itself was a great experience in familiarising ourselves with the region. There was a motorbike that we could hire on a daily basis from an acquaintance in Sirsi town. We got in touch with various land brokers and other locals through Sunita. When a lead came to us, I’d hire the bike and set off with the broker to see it. If there was any promise in it, I’d go back there with Sushie and we’d decide to put it on our short list or to drop it. We were mostly looking in a 30 Km radius of Sirsi town. We’ve been shown land through which the sewage water of the nearby town flowed (and were told that there was ‘any time’ water), land that had a high-tension power line running through it (and were told that we’d never have power supply issues!), encroached forest land and many featureless, uninteresting places. During this process, we saw over 30 pieces of land before we came across this place that seemed almost perfect for us. It was advertised for sale in the local Kannada newspaper. It was located 16 Km from Sirsi town and was 1 Km off the nearest tar road. It was not too close to a village and was fairly isolated. There was a beautiful view from where the house was situated. Much of it was empty degraded land but there was also a paddy field and a betelnut orchard. One of our requirements was that the land should not have betelnut. All our other requirements were met at this place and so we decided to ignore this shortcoming. A stream ran along the edge of the paddy field and the forest was across the stream and also bordered the land at various spots.
We called the place No Man’s Land. One of our interpretations of the name is that the land belongs to nobody. It existed for millions of years before humans came around and will continue to exist long after we have disappeared. We are only stewards of the land for the brief time that we are here, caring for it and nurturing it after human activity has degraded it. We also believe that private ownership of farm land is a bad idea. Land should be held only by people who are able to cultivate it. It should not be used as a tool for speculation or as a real estate investment. The other literal interpretation of the name is that the place is overrun by the females of all the species that live here – be they humans or poultry or cattle.
Initial plan for the farm
Once we bought the land, we didn’t have a concrete plan to ‘develop’ it or to grow crops to make it productive. We were learning on the job. The 6.5 acre land had three distinct parts – the bare 3 acre hillside on which a mud hut where the previous caretaker lived was situated, the 2 acre betelnut and banana orchard and the 1.5 acre paddy field. We knew that we wanted to grow trees on the hillside and re-forest it. The land originally belonged to a local landowning family. Locals told us that the hillside was full of old native trees until they were all cut down before the land was sold to the next owner. This person then kept it clear of any forest re-growth, cultivating mulberry for rearing silkworm and patchouli from which aromatic oil is distilled. Both these ventures failed and he sold us the land with the bare hillside and the young betelnut trees. The first thing we did was to stop clearing the land and to control grazing by cattle. In a few years, we could see a lot of native trees sprouting on the land. We planted a wide variety of fruit trees in their midst. This has now grown into a mixed forest with a lot of native trees interspersed with fruit trees. The native trees that grew by themselves, have grown far taller than anything we have planted on the land. The land had been exposed to four months of driving rain in the monsoon and the scorching sun of the summer for twelve years after the trees were cut. Hence, all the topsoil had been washed off and we were left with rocky soil with no humus.
Whatever soil remained was being washed off by water rushing down the hillside during the monsoon. The summer sun would then bake and dry the exposed soil. Our first job was to prevent the erosion of soil and to break the flow of water down the hillside. We did this by digging contour trenches to allow the water to seep into the ground, thereby retaining moisture for the plants in summer. Our
initial trenches were a foot wide and a foot deep and about 15-20 feet apart, running along the contour of the land. We later found that these were too shallow considering the volume of rain that falls during the monsoon. Water was filling the trenches and overflowing very quickly, running off the land into the stream. Last summer, we got deeper and wider trenches dug by an excavator at the lower part of the hillside. The upper regions were inaccessible to the excavator since there were too many trees to manoeuvre around, without damaging them. We’ll have to enlarge them manually. We’ve noticed that even the larger trenches fill up during the heavy rains and the water seeps into the soil within a day or two. Very little water has run off the land this year. There’s also a marked improvement in the quality of the soil now, since a lot of trees have been growing on the land, shedding their leaves and enriching the soil.
When we first moved to the land, it was just Sushie and I. The mud hut that was originally on the land was our home. Sushie even stayed here alone while I was away working in Bangalore during the week, for the first few months. When our first daughter Ammu joined us that year, we didn’t feel comfortable bringing an infant to a house that had a mud floor from which termites would sometimes crawl out. So we moved to a rented house in Sirsi town and started constructing our house on the same spot as the old house. The initial plan was to build a small studio cottage and move in and then build a slightly larger house for ourselves. The initial cottage would then be our guest cottage. We designed and managed the entire construction ourselves, bringing in the mason, carpenter, electrician, plumber and other workers for the various parts. At the end of this construction, I felt like I had had enough construction for a lifetime and we decided to use this cottage as our home, shelving all plans of a second building. Extensions have subsequently been made to accommodate the growing family over the years. Much of our infrastructure work was also done during the early years. We built a cowshed, a large water tank of 35,000 litre capacity at the top of the hill, a cottage for guests and a caretaker and various other small things. We also fenced the land to keep out grazing cattle belonging to people in nearby villages.
Life on the farm
If you’ve been following the earlier farm updates (available here on our website as a blog), you’ll be familiar with many of the colourful characters that populate our farm. The rest of this chronicle is about things that have happened over the past three and a half years since my last published update.
Livestock and pets
In December of 2015, we recorded the first birth in the cowshed in two years. That was the longest period we had gone without a calf being born. After that, there were three more to follow in a short span of time. Soon, we had ten heads of cattle and not enough grass and grazing space. So we sold Didi the buffalo and her newborn calf to a friend. ‘New Cow’ was also sold to a local family. (‘New Cow’ was never named because we were quite sure that she wasn’t going to stay with us for long. However, she was quite popular with our kids and stayed on for two years without acquiring a name. See the 2013 annual update for the story about how she came to us). That brought us down to seven heads of cattle.
Maya (aka Mayawati) the cow delivered a female calf in June this year. Muthu (aka Muthulakshmi, the bandit Veerappan’s wife) the buffalo and Kala (aka Sasikala) and Jaya (aka Jayalalitha) our cows are pregnant and expecting their calves later this year. So the space is filling up pretty quickly and soon we’ll have more cattle than we ever did before. That will call for another round of layoffs and headcount reduction. Ultimately, I feel that we should have just two milking cows, since we don’t sell milk and there’s little income to be made from the cows. Managing a large herd takes a lot of manpower, grazing space, input costs and is also destructive to the young plants and trees that get eaten by them on the farm. But Sushie and the kids are quite attached to the cattle, each having their own favourite calf or cow, which makes the negotiation on which cow to sell, fairly emotional. Tears are shed and emotions build up when the discussion on trades happens within the family. Finally, after I promise the kids that we will visit the cow in her new home, permission is reluctantly given.
We’ve had to deal with the strange case of Jaya our cow drinking her own milk. It started a few months after she had her first calf. The cattle are let out to graze after being milked in the morning. They were then brought in at noon and milked again in the evening.
We found that the milk yield in the evening was very low. Soon, the morning yield was also so low that there was no milk on some days. We initially suspected that the calf was drinking it all up. But one day, someone saw Jaya twist her head back, lift a hind leg a little, reach her udders and have a long drink. We tried a few different approaches but weren’t able to break this habit. We tried smearing bitter neem oil on the teats but that didn’t work. We tried tying her in such a way that she could reach back too far, but she found a way to beat that too. Once she had had a taste of the fresh and sweet milk, there was no stopping her. Finally, we had to get her a muzzle that was put over her mouth as soon as she came back from grazing at noon and then again at night before we went to bed. We did this for many months. Yet, if someone forgot to muzzle her once, there would be no milk at the next milking. Right now, she’s milked only in the morning and we think she’s pregnant. She’ll be the first of our herd to go, if we can find a customer. I’m sure someone will find a creative way of breaking this habit.
Our hens have a free run of the farm and can often be seen scratching around in the mulch or the compost pit. But they are also a source of constant frustration when they get into
Sushie’s vegetable garden and either eat up freshly planted seeds or peck at tender seedlings that have just sprouted. However, the steady stream of tasty eggs they produce makes them worth keeping. But the smart ones have found hiding places where they lay eggs. We sometimes go for a week or even upto a month without a single egg, until we stumble upon a clutch of eggs in the hayloft of the cattle shed or under some thick bushes.
We’ve also had ducks on the farm for the past few years. Other than looking cute, they have not been of much use. We got duck eggs very briefly during the early days. After that, they are here only to enhance the scenery.
Two years ago, Veeru (aka Veerappan) joined the family. He is a Mudhol hound and is very playful and intelligent. Mudhol hounds are a local breed of hounds in
Karnataka (Mudhol is a place in Bagalkot district of North Karnataka). We got him from a friend Satish in Honnavar who had a Mudhol pair that had a litter of pups. Soon after we got Veeru, we heard that his father Kiwi was taken by a leopard. His sister Jia (which was the only one from the litter of seven pups that Satish kept for himself) died soon after, when she bit into some bait that was laid for wild boar by the villagers. But Veeru, oblivious to these tragedies in his family, has been living a happy life and enjoying the open space of the farm.
Silky (aka Silk Smitha), the golden retriever that we had adopted some years ago is ageing
gracefully. It had started getting hard to keep her safe from the advances of several suitors, when she came on heat every six months. There would also be a ‘pissing competition’ between Veeru and Ozzy to mark their territory on all the pillars of our verandah, when Silky came on heat. So she underwent the ‘family planning’ operation. She would get depressed whenever we travelled away from the farm. Once when we were away in Bangalore, we got a call from our farmhand that Silky was missing. She had left the farm a few times in the past too, when we were away. She’d go and wait at a junction about 1 Km from our farm. Someone who recognized her and knew she belonged to us, would call home and one of our staff would go and bring her home. This time, there was no sign of her and they had searched in all the usual spots. They got concerned when she was missing for over a day and that’s when they informed us. That morning, I covered the 400 Km distance between Bangalore and Sirsi in 5 Hours – a record that I haven’t broken since. We drove around the forest roads in a 2-3 Km radius of our home, calling out to her and honking, hoping she’d hear us and respond. Then Ravi and I went around the neighbouring villages asking people we know, if they had seen her. One chap told us that he saw her on the road about 2 Km from our home. He saw that
there were 4-5 boys standing around her. He was heading somewhere in a hurry and didn’t know what happened after that. But he mentioned that he thought those boys were from a village about 6Km from us in the opposite direction from our home. So we then headed towards there, following the trail. On the way, there was a shop on the roadside – one of the few buildings and homes that are right on the road (most homes are in the forest, off the main road). Shops are also places where people congregate and share local news and gossip. The shopkeeper is usually aware of the latest happenings in the area. So we stopped there and asked him if he had seen a golden coloured longhaired dog pass by. He didn’t seem to remember any such dog. I then showed him a photograph of her that I had on my phone. That rang a bell and he said he saw a chap from further up the road, go by in the morning with a dog on his motorcycle. It sounded incredulous – a big dog like Silky sitting on a motorcycle. But the chap was quite sure it was her and we were convinced he wasn’t pulling our leg. So we followed that lead and went in search of the dog-napper. We got to his house and it was a family that was known to Ravi and I. Only the mother was at home. So we made small talk with her for some time and then asked if she had seen a lost dog anywhere around. She straightaway told us that Silky was with them. By then, Silky heard our voices and started barking from behind the house where she was tied. I went around to the back of the house and freed her. She was overjoyed to see me and jumped and barked in excitement. The lady told us that her son had found Silky wandering alone on the road and had brought her home on his motorbike. They had her at home for two days and had had enough. Silky was used to being inside the house with us. She was unhappy and she’d bark continuously when tied up outside. When the whole family had to go somewhere out, she was locked inside the house. When they came back, they saw that she had shat in their living room and was sitting up on the couch. None of the people here let their dogs into their homes. So to have a dog pooping in their living room was more than they could take. That was when we landed up there, following the trail. They gladly admitted to the dog-napping and were keen to get her off their hands. She then had her second motorbike ride on our way home, sitting on my lap at the back. So that was how Silky was reunited with our family. It was fortuitous that she was kidnapped by a local. She could as easily have been taken by someone in a van from further away and we’d never have known. She greets total strangers like long lost friends and will happily jump into any car if the door is held open for her. Since then, she’s stayed home and not wandered far.
Ozzy (aka Osama) was friends with our neighbour’s dog and the two would wander a lot.
During the season when dogs came on heat, these two would be missing for days. He would then return home and be a three-legged dog for a few days until the wound on his fourth leg healed enough to let him walk normally. He bore the scars of a hundred battles fought with dogs in the neighbourhood in the company of his partner-in-crime who we felt was the instigator of the fights they got into. Our neighbour never agreed. It was just like when parents feel that if their own kids are led astray, it is always because of someone else’s kids. But one day, Ozzy’s best friend died of unknown causes. Since then, he is more house-bound. Though he does disappear for short periods, he is content to hang around the house most of the time and play with the kids.
The kids have had a fascination with horses for a few years now. We took them horse riding at a riding school a few times and that has only made them more passionate about wanting a horse for themselves. We also took them to a horse farm in Goa where they can spend time grooming, feeding petting and doing various other activities to bond with the horse before they start riding them. It is expensive but we’ll be visiting that farm often, to give the kids their time with horses. A certain other adult in the house that I won’t name, has made matters worse by promising to get them one because her father had promised her one when she was a kid and he never came through on his promise. They have also been watching a few horse movies like Dreamer, Secretariat and Sea Biscuit and now want to go to the horse races. Maybe I should also teach them the nuances of betting on horses, as part of giving them a well rounded education. Midhu, the more pragmatic one, is willing to settle for a donkey, if she can’t get a horse.
We are supposed to be in the middle of the monsoon right now. But for many days, there’d be no sign of rains. This is the third year in a row that we’ve had a poor monsoon. In normal years, July and August are months when it rains heavily almost every day and you don’t get to see the sun at all. Most years, I start feeling miserable halfway through the monsoon, with the constant dampness, slush, and the blanket of grey that envelopes the place. I call it Vitamin-D deficiency, from not seeing the sun for a couple of months. This year however, we have had more sunny days during the monsoon, than rainy days. The last two years were similar. The long-term-average (over the last 50 years) rainfall for Sirsi is 2500mm for the year, with 950mm (38% of our whole year’s rain) falling in July and 550mm (22% of total annual rain) in August. This year, the July rainfall has definitely been insufficient, though the local rainfall records at the Taluk Office claim that it was close to normal. In the past two years we only had 33% and 60% of normal rains for July, the most crucial month for the rice crop. Old timers of the region don’t remember a worse stretch of back-to-back poor monsoons in their lifetimes.
The forests of the Western Ghats survive and are able to generate the countless streams and rivers and provide water to places as far away as Bangalore and Tamil Nadu because of this rainfall. This year, the government is going to carry out cloud seeding in the river basins of three rivers, to generate rainfall. This hare brained scheme consists of spraying Silver Iodide or dry ice into clouds from a plane, thereby precipitating the moisture carried by the clouds. This has previously been tried unsuccessfully in the west. But the government, in an attempt to be seen to be doing something to solve the rainfall problem has latched on to this scheme.
The past two years, we had struggled with water for our rice crop. Halfway through the monsoon, the rains were hardly sufficient to water the rice. We had to pump water from the stream adjoining our paddy field. In 2015, our yield was very poor – we had a 35% decline in yield. That was because we kept hoping for the rains to pick up while the fields were drying up. We finally installed the pump next to the stream and started irrigating but the damage was already done (See the article I wrote about tracking the monsoon here.) The next year, however, we managed to execute our risk mitigation plans early enough to save our crop and the yield was very good. We had also experimented with the SRI (System of Rice Intensification) or Madagascar method for about 30% of our rice crop. This involves planting seedlings that are just 2 weeks old, at wider spacing, in rows. Only one or two seedlings are planted at each spot. The usual method of planting involves placing 5-8 seedlings at a much closer spacing. Although the SRI planting was slower, the results were good. The water requirements are also lower since the field is alternately flooded and dry every week.
Weeding is done by running a mechanical device called the Kono Weeder through the gaps between the rows. This has two spiked drums that dig up and bury the weeds as they rotate and also they aerate the soil. Weeding involves pushing this device through many kilometres of slush in the field, up and down rows of rice plants and is painfully boring. I’ve seen a document that said that running the weeder in a 1 acre paddy field involves traversing 16 Km. But it can be meditative, if one is in the right frame of mind. So I’ve got many kilometres of meditative weeding ahead of me in
the next few weeks. However, our further experiments in rice cultivation will be in the direction of Natural Farming, which involves less of the traditional tilling, planting, weeding and fertilising activities which are largely labour intensive. Masanobu Fukuoka, a Japanese farmer came up with this system after years of experimentation, which involved creating conditions as close to a natural environment as possible. He then started cutting out various labour activities and developed a system that he called ‘do nothing’ farming where nature would take on the task of growing the plants while his job was to maintain the right conditions. His book One Straw Revolution is a classic on natural farming and the philosophy behind simple living. This was one of our earliest influences, even before we bought the land.
Fearing another bad monsoon this year, we decided to grow paddy only in 3/4ths of the field and leave the furthest plots for Ragi, a millet that doesn’t require much water. There is no local knowledge of growing ragi in our area. So we’ve had to consult a few friends doing farming in dry areas, for this. Last year, the water flowing into our fields dried up halfway through the growing period. We then installed a pump to draw water from the stream flowing along the edge of our field. But that too was down to a trickle since many farmers had dammed the stream upstream of us and were pumping water to their fields. We
managed a good rice crop eventually, but the sugarcane was a failure, with just a 30% yield compared to previous years. Sugarcane requires some moisture in the soil through our winter and until the harvest in March. Most years, this isn’t a problem since we have surface water flowing into our fields until December and the moisture remains until sugarcane harvest. The last two years, the fields were so dry that their growth was stunted. The jaggery we make from our sugarcane has a small but loyal fan following. They will have had to be content with reduced supplies this year.
We have had a good and steady harvest of turmeric over the years, though ginger is often attacked by some pest that eats the rhizome. We haven’t managed to solve that problem. After we’ve planted the ginger and given it the first topping of soil, our attention goes to the next activity of the season which might be in some other part of the land and by the time we get back to inspecting the ginger a few months later, the damage is done. We’ve replanted ginger in a different spot this week, hoping for better results this time. Our pepper vines are beginning to yield well. We lose a few pepper vines every year to disease too, but they keep getting replaced by new cuttings.
The veggie garden goes through peaks and troughs. Some seasons, we manage to grow most of the vegetables for our home but it requires constant work and better hen-proofing. Most of our fruit trees have yielded by now. We had a good mango harvest this year, most of which we ate and shared with our staff and friends. We also tried drying the fruit and it tasted very good. That is another product we could make from next year onwards. The cashew, sapota, guava, cherry, lemon and papaya trees are all fruiting copiously. Even the dozen or so coffee bushes we have are fruiting and we had our first batch of coffee beans last year. Our Yelakki (Elaichi) banana crop is doing well and we have regular harvests all round the year. But the prices go through a wide variation seasonally. In summers, when the yield is highest, the prices are at rock bottom because the mango, jackfruit and other summer fruits have flooded the market. There is little demand for banana then and we get paid only around Rs.12 a Kg. During the monsoon when the yields are low, the prices start rising, peaking around the Ganesh Chaturti festival at Rs.42 this year. All this, while the retail market price is in the Rs.65-80 range per Kg. We now process most of the banana ourselves, ripening it fully and then dehydrating the fruit to make a dry banana snack. This can then be kept for many months without spoilage and is sold as a ‘dry fruit’ product. It is a great snack and is convenient to take on journeys and a healthy replacement for chocolates or fried snacks when kids demand ‘something to eat’. It fetches us a more stable price all year round and has a much longer shelf life too.
Our food processing activity is also going well. The ginger chutney continues to gain addicts and is one of our most popular items. People stock up on it so they have enough for three months, until our next delivery trip. We have dropped jams from our list of products. Having made jams for a few years, we saw the quantity of sugar that was going into making it. Jams, even the ‘healthy’, ‘natural’, home made variety typically have 60-70% sugar. Only then does it set well and keep well. We stopped using jams ourselves and so we stopped making and selling it too.
We have built a wood-fired dryer for dehydrating fruits. A friend had dismantled a dryer he had on his farm and the steel parts were lying around, rusting. He generously gave them to us and we carted it home, excited about having our own dryer. A local chap in Sirsi builds the dryer and soon we had a functioning dryer that could operate day and night and all year round. Previously, we could sun-dry our bananas only during three summer months when the days were sufficiently hot. The dryer is fired up when we have something to dry, usually bananas, and the drying is complete in two days, compared to the seven days that sun-drying took. We also dry ripe mango, copra, kokum rind, chilli, vatay huli and shikakai and we wash and dry wheat to make flour.
We had started out with four bee colonies a few years ago, after Sushie and I attended a one-day bee keeping workshop in Sirsi. We had kept two boxes earlier but without regular inspections and maintenance, both colonies flew away (swarmed) within a year. This time, we were armed with a little knowledge from the workshop and we did a better job. Though I was not able to inspect the boxes as often as I should have, we were able to harvest around 2Kg of honey from each box each time, 3-4 times during summer. We still lost two colonies to a wax moth infestation. Last year, there were also early signs of the dreaded Thai-sac brood disease which can wipe out bee colonies in huge areas. However, both our colonies managed to survive.
We planted a lot of fruit and timber trees last monsoon. A few dried up because of the short monsoon and the dry summer. This year, we didn’t get much time to do the pre-monsoon planting. We only managed to plant about 50-60 saplings. But the rains are almost over and we might try to get some more planting done this month, hoping they’ll survive. Last year, we had invited volunteers for the pre-monsoon tree planting session. We had a few enquiries but nobody turned up finally and we did all the planting ourselves. We were able to pick up a lot of fruit saplings from nurseries in Coonoor in the Nilgiris (cold weather plants), Vengurla in southern Maharashtra (warm tropical fruits) and many new varieties of exotic fruits from nurseries in Kerala, when we travelled through these parts. Our journeys these days invariably involve visits to local nurseries, looking for plants we don’t already have.
The water situation had been bad during the past two summers and next summer seems to be headed that way too. We have an open well to supply us drinking water and water for other domestic use. We are usually able to get through summer with this water. The past two summers, the well went dry. We had to deepen it by a few feet to get enough water. Our neighbours were also drawing drinking water from our well since their wells had gone dry. Our well is halfway down the hill from the house. When there isn’t power, it is quite a trudge up the hill carrying a pot of drinking water. The idea of having a well near the house seemed appealing. Our well digger Babanna who is also a water diviner was put on the job of finding a spot. He identified three spots just behind the kitchen and we picked one that was easiest to access. He uses a coconut or a Y-shaped stick to detect the water. He estimated that water would be found at a depth of around 40 Ft. He brought his team of two other diggers and the work started in full swing. A few feet into the digging, they found that the soil was hard and difficult to dig up. The digging team persisted and in a little over a week were at a depth of 40 Ft. A beautiful well was shaping up but there was no sign of water. The rock was getting harder to dig through. At this stage, Babanna’s digging team abandoned him. We then organised a couple of local workers to replace them and the digging continued. Progress was extremely slow from this point on. The mud and rock that was dug up had to be hauled out of the well from a greater depth, as the digging progressed. This was well digging in its most traditional and primitive form - three men digging away into the earth with a pickaxe and hauling the mud out manually. They went down to a depth of 52 Ft and there was still no sign of water, though the soil was moist. By now, the digging team was making very little progress. Babanna, also known as Bob the Earthmover, suggested that we get someone in to set off dynamite and blast through the rock. In came the Bomb-man and they spent a day digging holes to lay three sausage shaped bombs. The explosive they were using was meant for blasting rock in quarries and its supply was tightly controlled. The bomb-man was jittery about doing the job since he didn’t have a permit to possess it. We however assured him that no one would snitch on him and that he was safe. There was huge excitement all around and a fair sized crowd had gathered around the well by the time the explosives were ready to go off. Sushie was given the honour of flicking the switch and there was a loud BOOM and some rock and soil was thrown up out of the well. We all rushed to the well but couldn’t see much inside since the fumes were thick. It was only a day later that it was safe enough to go down into the well to see the result of the blast. A small crater was formed at the bottom of the well but it was as dry as before. By now, we had gone too far to abandon the project. In came the Drill-man, with his pneumatic drill that was mounted on a tractor. The drill was able to easily prise off layers of rock that then had to be hauled out of the well. It made a deafening noise in the confined space of the well. By now, the pre-monsoon rains had started and the rope used to haul the rock out of the well was getting too slippery to pull. It was coated in wet mud which was becoming hard to grip. So we decided to stop work temporarily. Chandru our neighbour, worried about the effort and money that was spent on the well, brought another neighbour who is a Brahmin priest, to take a look at the well. This chap does water divining, reads horoscopes and generally provides spiritual service to the locals. He walked around the spot with a coconut in his palm (one of the methods of water divining) and concluded that there was water somewhere in the area but this was a ‘bore point’ (spot for a borewell) and not a ‘well point’. He then asked us for the date and time when the work was started. I looked at the timestamp of the photograph I took when the first pickaxe was struck. He referred to his manuals and concluded that the problem was all because we started work on the wrong day at the wrong time and in the wrong spot. The well was also situated in a ‘spirit path’ which made it even more inappropriate. He said that there was water around there but ‘our eyes were closed to it’. He even offered a solution which involved some coconuts and some poojas and appeasing some spirit. With the disappointment from this project, it was my spirit that needed appeasement. By now, the monsoon had started and we put the well out of our minds. We couldn’t get back to it until the next summer. Manju, our mason friend, concerned about our stalled project, consulted another water diviner who lived about 150 Km away. That chap, sitting at home, told him over the phone that there is no water at the spot we were digging. He also said that there was some spot on our land where water flowed from all directions. We already knew that, because we have a small pond at that spot on our land. Later in the year, he visited us when he was in the area. He walked around the land with a pendulum and checked the spot we were digging at. The signals were weak there. He pointed out a few alternate spots too but we weren’t about to start digging at every place where the pendulum oscillated madly. We wanted to know whether it was worth taking a chance and going another 10 Ft in the well we were working on. His parting advice was “dig if you have the guts”. So that was two consultants who left with cryptic advice and we were no better off than before. We haven’t done anything on that well this past summer. We might take it up next year. Right now, it is home to hundreds of bats that hang on the sides of the well and can be seen flying around at night.
Because of two bad monsoons and a shortage of water for the little irrigation we do in the summers that followed, we wanted to dig another pond on the farm this year. The spot we chose was at the foot of our paddy field and was guaranteed to have plenty of water. In came the JCB-man. The excavator started work and in a few days, we had a hole in the earth with the sides collapsing every now and then. Since we were digging in the paddy field, the soil there was wet and sticky and huge chunks would fall from the sides while the work was progressing. This got us worried. What used to be a beautifully stepped paddy field now had an ugly gash at one end and there was this huge mechanical monster tearing away at the insides of the earth. I was feeling depressed at this sight. Not wanting another disaster on our hands, we stopped work when the pit was half as long as we had intended it to be. We had wanted to build it in such a way that we could also use it as a natural swimming pool. Fresh water would fill it from the natural springs all around and we could
pump out water as we needed for irrigation, maintaining sufficient water for us to swim in. A few days after work was stopped, the side walls stabilised and clear water started filling the pit. It now seemed a pity that it wasn’t long enough to swim in. So we got the JCB-man back and the excavating continued. Stage 1 of the work was complete and we had a hole in the earth (still ugly) that was filled with water. The next step was to do ‘dry stone pitching’ on the sides of the pond, to shore up and hold the sides. The net was cast far and wide and a few stone masons came in to take a look at the job and give their estimates. Most were exorbitant. One chap started at twice the going rate and was so desperate to get the job that he came down to half his original figure in a few minutes and wanted a token advance and a piece of paper saying that he was given the job. Finally, a reasonable chap came along, who seemed to have sufficient experience in this kind of work and who seemed easy to deal with. He promised to bring in a team of eight people and finish the job in under two weeks. By now, the stone required for the pitching was coming in by the truckloads. A few more chunks of soil had collapsed from the sides like pieces of ice breaking off from a glacier. We emptied the pond of all the water and manually removed the mud and levelled the floor so that the stone work could start. The stone-guys came in and work started at a good pace. But within a few days, the team was down to three or four people and they started coming only two or three days a week. Some days, there were just two young chaps. The work dragged on for over three months. Our entire summer was taken up by this project and neither could we travel anywhere for long, nor could we do anything else on the farm. The workers seemed to be doing a half hearted job and the work didn’t seem very skilled or professional either. They were just piling one stone on another without fitting it in tightly. There were large gaps between the stones and many were loose fitting. Constant reminders to pack it tightly and give the wall the required outward slope were met with assurances that all would be fine and they knew what they were doing. Finally, the stone wall reached ground level and was stopped at one and a half feet above ground level. Summer was over by now and the monsoon rains were about to start. They still had to top it off with a concrete bed. One day, a young mason came, mucked around for a while, complained a lot and then abruptly left the place saying he was ‘not in the mood for work’. Exasperated with these guys, I finally called our regular mason Manju and gave him a few helpers from our staff, to finish the bed. The next day onwards, the rains started. Two days later, a few of the stone-guys were back to finish the bed. They got extremely annoyed that someone else had come in and finished the work. Some heated words were exchanged and they left. A couple of days later, by the third or fourth rain of the season, one entire side of
the tank collapsed with a loud splash that could be heard for a long way around. I was away in Bangalore and got the news early one morning. It was too late to do anything. Water had risen to more than half the depth of the pond and the heavy rains were imminent. We had also incurred a huge cost on this project and more would have to be spent to repair the damage next summer. A little bit of disaster tourism happened, with many neighbours and friends coming to see the disaster and commiserate with us. The following week, the stone masons called to say that they wanted to do the accounts and settle their bills with me. I called them over. After telling them how unprofessional they had been and the inconvenience they had caused us with their lackadaisical approach to work, we went down to the pond to measure it, not having said a word about the collapse. The price had been fixed per unit area of wall they were building. They were speechless when they saw that almost one-third of the wall they had built during the entire summer was now lying in the water. Some mumbled ‘this has never happened to us before’ and ‘how could this happen when we did such a great job’ were offered to us. We left them at the site to ponder over the reasons for the collapse. They finally offered to rebuild it for us. But that work couldn’t be done right away since there was too much water in the pond and the rains had started. Besides, I wasn’t sure what else would collapse later in the monsoon. So we asked them to come back next summer and repair it. Most of their work has been paid for already since they were very prompt in collecting the money every week for the work that was done that week. I wouldn’t now trust the fellows with another job, seeing how this one turned out. Our regular mason Manju has offered to repair it for us next year. We did manage to have a few good swims in the pond towards the end of summer, as the work was nearing completion. The water was clear and pure and the experience was wonderful. It had been a long cherished dream of Sushie’s to have a place to swim. Despite the disaster, we feel that it was a worthwhile effort and we hope to have a lovely pool by next summer.
The dry summers following the poor monsoon also resulted in a severe water crisis in our area. Most wells went dry in early summer. The panchayat had to even supply water in tankers to some villages. Some mornings, I’ve seen the unfamiliar sight of people carrying pots of water on their heads. This might be a common sight in the dry plains but in the Western Ghats with its heavy rainfall and large forest cover, this is an extremely rare sight. Most of the streams and ponds in the area went dry and the animals in the forest would’ve suffered a great deal. We had enough water in our ponds, to provide occasional irrigation to our Betelnut orchard. This drought-like situation precipitated a new madness in the region – a borewell craze. Dozens of borewell drilling rigs were zipping around the area drilling holes wherever people pointed them to. Rough estimates indicate that eighty percent of them failed to strike water. The madness went to such extremes that people were drilling seven or eight wells in an acre of land, hoping to strike water. There was also a scheme called ‘challenge point’ where you paid the drilling guy a fixed amount (about three times the cost of drilling one borewell ) and he would find you water anywhere on you land, regardless of how many times or how deep he had to drill. The Western Ghat region has traditionally never had borewells and relied on the numerous streams, rivers, wells and ponds to meet all its water needs. It was shameful that a place with such high rainfall would have to resort to indiscriminate borewell drilling to meet its water needs. Much of the drilling was also being done to irrigate Betelnut, a cash crop. The forests usually capture a lot of the rain that falls and recharges the ground water which is then slowly released during the rest of the year into the streams, wells and ponds. In addition to reduced rainfall, the destruction of the forest cover and poor agricultural practices have resulted in the water crisis.
Our homestay programme has been going well these past few years and we’ve had a steady
stream of interesting guests visit us. Though the income from the homestay is far better and easier than agricultural income, we’ve resisted the temptation of scaling up our homestay operations or even taking in more guests into the existing accommodation. We do not have dedicated staff for the homestay and most of the work from cleaning and setting up the room, cooking, taking the guests on a farm tour and keeping them engaged are all done by us. When we have guests, farming activities are put on hold. We wanted to keep our focus on primarily being a farm, with hospitality being a smaller part of our activity. We have one furnished cottage that consists of a large room that takes two double beds, a kitchenette, an attached bath and a veranda looking at the hill and forest across from us. We can accommodate a family of two adults and 2-3 kids or even two couples at a time. We average about two families a month, with the holiday and festival season of September-October and December-January being our busiest times of the year.
Some of our guests included a family that was on a sabbatical that chose to spend a monthwith us, with their 2-year old son, a writer working on a book idea who spent a week with us, a person taking time off to do yoga and meditation, a couple that were studying the reptiles of the Western Ghats and a family that was tracing the source and the early path of the Aghanashani river that flows westwards from near Sirsi into the Arabian Sea.
We have hosted two camps for school children who were exploring the ecology, culture, traditions, farming and other such aspects of life in this part of the Western Ghats. One group from Aarohi, an open learning campus hear Hosur, had 22 people and the other from Sahyadri school near Pune was much larger with fifty 15-year olds. We had set up tents, pit toilets and open-to-sky bathrooms for these groups. For the group of 50 from Sahyadri School, half of them were supposed to stay with us and the rest were staying in hotel rooms in Sirsi town. Halfway through the camp, the two groups were supposed to switch and the second group was supposed to come to the farm. When it was time to switch, the group on the farm refused to move to the hotel rooms since they were having too good a time here. We then got the other group over too and managed to host all 50 for the latter part of the camp. We hope to do more such camps for kids, exposing them to life on a farm and the natural and cultural environment of the region.
We have also hosted a few camps in the Ecologise programme over the past three years. Some were planning camps for the organisers and one was for participants who were looking to move out of their corporate jobs in the city but were unsure about how to go about living in rural places or small towns. Concerns about children’s education, health, livelihood and many other such topics that hold people back from making the move, were discussed. Other camps in the series have been held at friends’ farms in Karkala, Dharwad (both in Karnataka) and at Thally near Hosur in Tamil Nadu.
Making it work financially
2015, our eighth year on the farm, was the first time we broke even and had a small profit from the farm. This might’ve happened a few years earlier, if we had done things more intensively. However, we had small kids to raise, which took up a fair bit of our time and energy, especially since they were being homeschooled and were around the home all day. Year 2016 proved to be better still and we’re earning our livelihood now. The two largest components of our income are the Betelnut crop (which we’re not proud of) and the homestay, both of which have had good years. Betelnut prices are fairly high and our yield, though nowhere near most farms in the area, is improving. When we were searching for land, we wanted land without betelnut. Betelnut being a cash crop, much food growing paddy land was being converted to betelnut orchards. In addition to it being a commercial crop, it was also feeding a bad habit – the paan chewing and spitting habit. Red stains on walls all over the country are a legacy of this habit. After six months of searching for land, this piece that we finally bought had all the things we were looking for – surrounded by forest, a stream alongside, great views, fairly isolated and mostly empty land but it also had a betelnut orchard. So that’s how we came to own it. In the early years, we neglected the betelnut orchard and very little maintenance was done. The yields were pitiful. Locals would ask Ravi our farm worker what our harvests were like, since this is a common topic of conversation around that season among growers. Ravi would inflate the numbers a bit. Even that being too low, he would be admonished for not taking care of such a prime cash cow. People would tell him – “the owners know nothing about betelnut farming. But can’t you at least do what needs to be done?” It became a matter of his reputation now and on his insistence, we started doing some basic maintenance, which has resulted in the improved yields.
We have been lucky to have very reliable staff to help us with our farming. We have been able to count on them whenever the need arose.
Ravi, who is also our closest neighbour is captain of the team and is a veritable allrounder. He has been the mainstay of the team and joined us a few months after we moved to the land. In addition to doing all kinds of work like ploughing the field, climbing betelnut trees to harvest the nuts and any other work on the farm, he is also an excellent troubleshooter to solve problems with the water pumps or the power supply or the irrigation systems. His wife Sharada also pitches in for a few days every year to help peel the betelnut during the harvest season. They have a little girl Maithri and are expecting the next one in a few months.
Mookambika (Mooks to us), who is Ravi’s sister came to us with the farm. She completed ten years of service when our farm turned ten. The ever-reliable one, she’s been mostly helping out around the home, the veggie garden and the cowshed, in addition to seasonal work like paddy planting and harvest and the sugarcane harvest. We always value her advice and use her as a sounding board for our new ideas. Her daughter Nayana used to join Sharada during the betelnut peeling season these past few years. She got married this summer and that event was the second big project of the year, after our pond-cum-swimming pool.
Their sister Shyla lives in another village 8 Km away. She and her husband Nagaraj used to be pulled in whenever we needed extra hands for the paddy and sugarcane harvests and planting. The past few years, they have been more regular participants in the farm work. Since she lives in a large village with a large working population, Shyla puts together the team of 6-8 women for paddy planting and harvest and we just need to ferry them to and from our farm. It is getting increasingly harder to find
women willing to work during the paddy planting and harvest season. The veterans are getting old and find it strenuous to spend all day bent over to do the planting and harvest. The younger ones don’t have the skills and don’t go out to work on a regular basis. The youngest ones have given farm work a complete miss and prefer to work in some store as a salesgirl or in the betelnut processing unit in Sirsi town. Hence, having Shyla as our recruiter has made it easy for us to put together our teams for seasonal work.
Babanna (aka Bob the earthmover) was one of our earliest acquaintances when we came to Sirsi and started searching for land. Later, when we bought the land and were ready to build our house, he helped us dig the foundation. Since then, he has been a regular presence on our farm. He dug our first well (that has water) and the second well (that doesn’t). He claims that it is the only instance when his water divining skills have failed, though I suspect there are a few others too that he doesn’t admit to. He is from a village about 25Km away. He stays with us for a week or more at a stretch and goes home saying he’ll be back in a couple of days. Often, it’ll be a week before he returns. He is a professional well digger and is usually away during all of summer which is when most well-digging happens. He does a variety of
work and is good at digging and any kind of mud-work which has earned him the title ‘human earth mover’. With two married daughters and one grandson, he is of indeterminate age, has a full head of black hair, is powerfully built and has a voracious appetite. When I grow up, I want to be like him! Our kids love his company and he too treats them well, often taking English lessons from Midhu and playing snakes and ladders with her. He proudly claims that he has never set foot in a school his entire life.
Then there’s Chandru, the ‘jungle boy’ who is an excellent animal tracker and intimately knows the forests around here. He will point out to barely perceptible marks in the soil and authoritatively state ‘a porcupine went this way last night’. Sometimes he would come over in the morning and tell us that a wild boar went from our sugarcane field towards Ravi’s house last night and I’d have wondered if he was pulling a fast one on us if I didn’t know him any better. He also knows every wild
beehive in the forest and often harvests wild honey. He is now a professional betelnut tree climber which is the highest paid specialisation in our area because it is also the most risky job. These climbers go up the slender, swaying tree which might be 40 feet or more in height. Once they’ve harvested the nuts, they move from treetop to treetop since it would be inefficient and painfully slow to climb up and down each tree. He drops by sometimes to work with us when he doesn’t have other better paying assignments.
We had built a cottage for a caretaker family to live on the land, so that there would be someone taking care of the farm in our absence too. Since we have cattle and other animals, someone has to be on the land every single day. Our staff Ravi or Mooku have been taking this responsibility and we’ve had no trouble at all. But it is an extra burden for them since they have their own homes and land to look after too. We got one caretaker family while we were away once, that lasted a whole week before they felt lonely. They were gone before we got back. Since then, the cottage has stayed empty and is Babanna’s home when he’s staying with us. Overall, we have a good team of people to help us on the farm. Not all of them are there at the same time. Most days, we have around 3 or 4 people working with us. They are a fun gang and work is always carried out in an environment of laughter and friendly banter. They are also our immediate social circle and we are invited to all festivals and social events at their homes, of which there are plenty all year round.
Other Odds and Ends
Solar Energy System
We finally installed our solar energy system two years ago. Expecting that it would be maintenance free after installation and wouldn’t require much fiddling around once put in place, I engaged a friend who lived in another town in another state and too far away to visit often. There were a lot of hiccups initially and the batteries were replaced twice within a few months. Then there was a long period when it was shut down because it was not working at all. The system would not support the load that it was supposed to have been designed for. We had thought of running all our lights, mixie, laptop and other miscellaneous low power devices on it. The water pump, refrigerator and washing machine would stay on the mains since a solar power unit to run all of these would’ve been a much larger investment. However, only the lights would work most of the time and any additional load from the mixie or the laptop would shut it down. Only phone consultation was possible since this friend was unable to visit to troubleshoot the problem. Finally, I contacted a local supplier who did his tests and convinced me to buy another battery. This seems to have worked and we have had reliable power for most of this past year. But it still seems under-sized since running the laptop or mixie for extended durations trips the system.
Our Local Community
We have a local community centred around Sirsi that has been meeting regularly for the past three years. We call it our ‘learning community’ and we meet every Wednesday. There are approximately eight families in this group and we take turns hosting it. The evening consists of dinner followed by a documentary film and some discussion. We initially watched a series of films on education since many of us were interested in this area. This then diversified into other areas like food, health, relationships, caste discrimination, environment, water management and several other topics. The documentary videos are curated by our friend Vinish who has a large collection of them. This group has also been our social circle and has grown very close over the years. Three of our families are also homeschoolers. We used to meet occasionally for the kids to spend time together and do some activities together. For the past month, we’ve established a routine of a ‘homeschoolers gathering’ spending Tuesday and Wednesday every week at one of our homes. This gives the kids some extended time together, playing and learning and doing small projects. They spend some time in the morning sitting down and doing some writing, math or doing workbooks and the little kids do some drawing. The rest of the day is spent in games or doing small projects or just mucking around.
The Village School
There is a government school in our village. When Ammu and Deepu were old enough to enrol, the headmaster of the school paid us a visit to ‘counsel’ us to enrol our kids in school. Somebody had snitched to the education department that we weren’t sending our kids to school and so the headmaster got orders to visit us. Our kids were listed as ‘drop outs’ since they were not part of the schooling system. Drop-outs are tracked meticulously and much effort is spent in getting them into the system, especially in our region where levels of school enrolment are very high. Unlike in a city where it is easy to be anonymous, everyone knows everyone else in a village. It is much harder to stay under the radar in such a place. With the implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) Act, there was a renewed push from high up in the system to get kids into school. We explained to the headmaster about our intention to homeschool our kids and about how it worked. We assured him that they would enrol with the NIOS (National Institute of Open Schooling) to do the 10th and 12th class board exams. He was a reasonable chap and seemed convinced with our response. He put us on the phone with some official in the Education Department and asked us to repeat the same things that we had told him. That went off well too. The next day, we were surprised when a contingent from the department landed up at our house, accompanied by the local headmaster. We went through the same discussions that we had the previous day. They asked to meet the kids and talked to them too. When they realised that we were resolute about homeschooling and we seemed to know what we were doing, they relented and left us alone. All I’ve had to do since then is to give the headmaster a report at the beginning of the academic year, for each of the school-age kids, stating their learning levels and the progress they have made. This was an easy one-page report and we were left alone. When Midhu turned six this year, she was old enough to go to class 1. The teacher asked us for a letter for Midhu too and that satisfied him. We have heard of families being harassed and forced to enrol their kids in school, using the RTE as a weapon to threaten them with. We’ve been fortunate that we didn’t face too much of a hurdle. The battle with the authorities would’ve been draining.
We do have a close relationship with the school now. Whenever the headmaster came home to ‘counsel’ us or for the various census or other jobs they are entrusted with, we would tell him that we were interested in working with the kids in that school. He was very encouraging and offered to give us a time slot. So Sushie and I have been going to the school every Saturday morning from last year. We run a lending library for the kids and take along a lot of Kannada, English and bi-lingual books that they can borrow for a week. We also have a lot of board games, puzzles and art material that they use during that session. Most sessions start with a song, followed by reading a story in English. There are 27 kids in class 1 to 7 in this school. We have plans of doing more craft, science experiments, film screenings and other such activities with the kids. We would also like to bring along friends who can do small sessions on theatre, storytelling and other interesting activities. We have also bought a rain gauge and a max-min thermometer for the school to get the older kids to record this data. This will help them to collect data, understand it and present it in graphs and other visual forms. It will also lead to discussions on seasons, weather, climate change and other related issues.
Plans for the next year
We have a few tasks on our list for the next year. One is to build a tree house or a mud play-house for the kids. We want to involve them in the design and building too since a lot of learning can come out of it. We also have to repair the collapsed tank wall and reclaim our swimming pool next summer. Then there’s the water-less well that needs to be deepened in a last attempt to salvage it.
We also hope to be able to travel and see more of our state and country. The kids are old enough to take on some travel by road and train now. The hard part is getting away from the farm since there’s always work to do every season of the year. So there’s no ‘off season’ when we’re free. We have to plan it and work other activities around it. These trips will also serve as field trips for the kids in their homeschooling journey.
We also hope to implement learnings from Sushie’s Permaculture course and turn our farm into one based on a Permaculture design. Ideally, it works best when starting out with a clean slate. We have a slate that is ten years old and we’ll have to do the best we can. But we’ve also seen how we’ve done a lot of things right, just because of the thought that went into much of the work that we did on the farm. Looking back, we see that many Permaculture concepts have already been implemented without us knowing it. The common thinking in agriculture is that the farmer has to do the tilling, planting, fertilising, weeding and pest control, all to grow a crop. We believe that the goal for the farmer is to build good soil by adopting various practices and Nature will take care of growing healthy plants and trees. That is the direction our future efforts will take and is the approach of Natural Farming propagated by Fukuoka.
The final plan is to enjoy life and to try and live in the present. As Fukuoka, one of our guiding lights, says “Could there be anything better than living simply and taking it easy?”.