Friday, 6 November 2015

Monsoon Updates

Just a few months ago, I blogged about the amazing summer. I was sorry to see it end, even as I looked forward to the productive monsoon season.

What was new and exciting this monsoon for me was our farmhand and his tarzan-esque skills. It meant loads of wild crafted crabs, mushroom and fish. Wild crafted foods (foods sourced from the wild without any human effort other than harvest) are probably the biggest joy for a sustainable-living-enthusiast.

Monsoon means plenty tree plantation, turmeric, paddy, and a mad dash to protect infrastructure from the incessant rains. So this monsoon we did the usual - prepared pits and planted tree saplings - hundreds of mangoes, cashews and nearly a hundred coconut! This should be our last year of massive plantation as we have covered most of our ground (next year we might have shade-loving intercrop trees ... lets see).

Then we tried some Indrayani rice. We chose a short variety of paddy as it is less susceptible to damage by wild boar. Though we did not have boar issues with the rice this year, it was another year of serious learning ... we did not manage the borders of the fields well and hence without standing water, we got a lot of grass in the paddy field. It has impacted yields ... but has taught us a valuable lesson.

The entire process of paddy - from preparing the fields to sowing, transplanting, harvesting, threshing, and milling - is pretty knowledge-intensive ... rather experience-intensive. The local farmers are a treasure trove.

We continue to struggle with vegetables. Cattle got to our cowpeas and moong and bhindi and gawar which we planted late summer / early monsoon. And then we were just too busy with the tree plantation and paddy and turmeric.

Our experience from turmeric last year was so good that we decided to double our turmeric this year. The results so far look promising :) This will be ready for harvest in Feb.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Bountiful Summer

I had read plenty of Konkan's bountiful summers, and experienced them sporadically as well ... but my long stays on the farm this summer took me to a different level. And I am only talking about wild crafted stuff (raan mewa) ... not cultivated!

It started in late Feb with my tribal farmhand starting to use green Karvanda (sci name : Carissa carandas) to make wonderful chutneys with dry copra and chilli. (Note the use of dry copra as the poor guys don't have access to fresh coconut). Then the karvanda found its way into yummy curries of dry fish (dry mandeli / dry lepa) ... here the karvanda was cooked and yet retained its tangy punch.

Shortly after, started the green mangoes. Chutneys again, then the dals. The farmhands pickled some as well.

In parallel started the green cashews ... cashew curries fit for kings! It was amusing to see such a rich diet in the midst of such a minimalist environment.

Kokum (sci name : Garcinia indica) made its appearance then. Shubhra (better half) was kind enough to indulge me with my requests for all sorts of food processing for Kokum. So after a few weeks of activity, we had Kokum sherbet, Amsul, and plenty candied kokum peels for the kids. We did not manage to make use of the seeds, next year will hopefully get some Kokum butter. Kokum is nearly as versatile as coconut ... every part is useful.

By this time, cashew had started maturing so often the evening tipple was accompanied by home roasted nuts (yummy, albeit not pretty). Even the Karvanda were ripe and plentiful ... nothing beats a mouthful of ripe sweet karvanda ... especially when you are slogging away on the hillside and meal time is still an hour away.

In late May, when I thought we had reached the end, mangoes started ripening. The wild variety - small, intensely sweet, intensely flavourful. Soon, we found ourselves craving for them after every meal :)

Also late in the season, my farmhand showed me how the wild Jamuns (sci name : Syzygium cumini) which I had totally ignored so far) taste really nice when really ripe ... meaning when they fall off from the tree or sometimes after softening them in the hot sun. As with Karvanda, the trick here is to get a mouthful ... picking on singles is just not it.

After having dreaded the summer all these years, I am now waiting for summer of 2016 :)

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

We've hit GOLD!!

Allow me to explain the euphoric title :)

This month we harvested our first season of turmeric. We harvested 400kg wet rhizome from 4 gunthas (4000 sq feet). We are still in the process of building our soil and haven't seen encouraging growth so far ... we hadn't harvested any crop over 100kg so far ... so you can imagine our sense of achievement with this :)

We had planted about 50kg of seed. Part of it was planted on ridges while part of it was on flat ground. Rows were 18" apart and we planted at 9" spacing within the row. We had applied cowdung, though we had not been able to mulch it.

Stopped watering in mid-Jan. By mid-Feb it was ready for harvest.

Things we missed (and learnt) this year

  • Timing of sowing needs to be right - preferably before the rains start. We should have planted it late May ... instead we planted it in mid July. 
  • We knew we had to do earthing up, but other plantation priorities meant we couldn't devote time to it. It resulted in lesser rhizomes growth.
  • We still need to learn - more labour efficient ways to weed, harvest, post-process.

By conventional chemical farming standards, we should have harvested more than twice this amount! Experience is a good teacher. And we also hope our soil building progresses further.

What next ... Turmeric powder for the kitchen and the first aid kit (not only disinfectant but also great anti-inflammatory), and turmeric pickle ... yumm. Turmeric is a warming spice and so the pickle will be great for the monsoons and winter.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Eco Construction Workshop, 12-14 Dec 2014

Inspired by Sourabh Phadke, we decided to build a mud and stone structure for our residence. We decided to start small and hired a local labour contractor to build a 2 room structure. We used laterite stone from a quarry nearby and local mud, with mangalore tiles on wood for a roof. 

With that in place, the logical next step was to experiment with natural alternatives for internal finishes as well as the furniture. The option was to again hire the labour contractor … or start taking baby steps ourselves. We decided to set a date, throw in a few tools, a few friends, and loads of experimentation! 

The plan was to build a bed, a cupboard, a table and a window sitout. Basic building blocks … laterite stone blocks, bricks, kadappa slabs and mud mortar. We lost time to delays, plus I had underestimated the building and learning process … we ended up with only a partly built cupboard and a partly built window sitout. But the learning was outstanding!

We learnt how to prepare mud mortar (we truly appreciated the versatility of lateritic soil for building purposes), we learnt masonry basics - plumb, line, role of mortar, etc, we learnt how to cut kadappa with a power tool. 

And we had fun :) On the job, as well as off it. Be it splashing mud on each other, going for early morning birding walks, or musical evenings! 

And we walked away with the confidence to pull off more of this. Coming up next … more such furniture, mud plastering of internal walls, flooring, outdoor tank. 

Anand Manjrekar … Interior Designer, perfectionist, music aficionado.

Kalpana Dumale … Ex banker, kids’ favorite, birding enthusiast

Milind Ghadigaonkar … maverick biker, musician (Ukulele), Jazz singer, generally happy soul.

Dev (9yrs) and Vaidehi (8yrs) … revelling in the generous attention of the participants and generally having a good time

Shubhra … administrator par excellence, Miss-reality-check

Mangesh … our tribal farmhand and ‘expert’ adviser

Shreesh Ponkshe (Yours truly) … the ever ready student.