On the Farm
Peaceful and quiet. By the time you leave us we expect you will be rejuvenated. There is much to keep one occupied on the farm, when not exploring beyond. Birdwatching is one of them (See Birdlife).
Relax - Read
If reading is one of your pastimes, we have a well-stocked library for all ages to choose from. You can relax in the garden or on one of the verandahs and while away the hours as you soak-up the sun. We have even arranged yoga classes on the farm for our guests.
Why not learn about the local farming methods and local social customs as you watch the cows being hand milked.
On the Farm - October ’17
October was a hot dry month and our basmati type rice did well and started falling over under its own weight! We did not spray and the plants were healthy. Here’s a view of ripening rice taken on 7th October.
The fields that had had mung or urad or soyabean were ploughed, and the ones with soya bean were watered in order to sow mustard.
This year we sowed a very expensive hybrid seed called Pioneer 45S42 that cost Rs.490/kg as opposed to ordinary mustard seed produced in India costing Rs.30/kg. Last year we grew some of both varieties and the hybrid gave a much better yield. The ethical dilemma is that it is imported from America and is patented by DuPont in Iowa. By growing imported hybrid seed we are undermining India’s food security. We are searching for a high-yielding seed grown in India but ultimately the patents are held by American companies and every Indian sounding seed company has been taken over. This is a very serious matter and we shouldn’t be supporting it.
Sunrise over a field being watered befor sowing on 18th October just before Diwali which brings farming to a halt for three days.
Govardhan Puja took place as usual on the second day of Diwali, but the traditional decoration of the cows has degenerated into slopping mehndi on them and the gobar figures of Govardhan (Krishna) and his elder brother Balaram are getting smaller every year. The main purpose of the puja is to honour the cows as a source of wealth and to seek divine blessings on the farm and its cattle.
By the end of the month the rice was ready to harvest but we could not find any local labour. Some Biharis came asking for Rs.2400 per bigha to cut, stack and thresh the rice. We decided to use a new locally owned combine harvester at Rs.800 per bigha. It arrived on the evening of 26th October and the team of two slept out with the machine. They started cutting at 10:00am on the 27th and finished 10 bighas 5 hours later. As some of the rice had fallen over they charged Rs.1000 per bigha, a 25% increase. It was quick and efficient but left the rice straw scattered around the field.
The rice was spread to dry and was sold on 1st November. We should have dried it further as we potentially lost Rs.50,000 since it sold for Rs.2000 per quintal when the going rate was around Rs.2500. We weighed each trolley at the weighbridge and knew exactly what the weight of the crop was, but the Government grain market is a job creation scheme and it had to be bagged into 50 kg. bags manually. In the process we lost 171 kgs. i.e. Rs.3422 loss.
On the Farm - September ’17
September should be a monsoon month and it normally rains significantly until the end of the month. This year it rained once in September but we had the Father of all Storms overhead on 12th September and 6.5 cms fell in 1.5 hours. That was it. End of Monsoon - but it was hot and humid and everything grew.
We had planted urad beans in 20 bighas but wild pigs, nilgai and monkeys did their damage to the crop, and change in weather pattern played its part too. 10 bighas was ploughed-in without harvesting and in the other 10 bigha field this team of six women came for three days and picked individual pods. The total yield turned out to be 19 kg. with an approximate value of Rs.760, far less than what we paid them but they wanted the work. A normal crop in 10 bighas would have yielded 710 kg.
Wall building went on all month and hopefully stray cattle incursions from that side will be stopped. Our men were regularly chasing cows out two to three times a day.
One of our men, Amar Lal, developed a fever which didn’t respond to treatment, so he took his son out of school and took his family back to his village for a month, where he was diagnosed with typhoid. No work means no pay. But extended families invariably support each other in such times.
On 25th September one of boring pumps stopped in the night. Ghansi Lal, our share cropper, found that the electric wire to the pump motor had been cut and it looked as if somone had tried to steal the pump. Several similar cases were reported locally that week and in all cases wire, rather than the pump, was stolen - presumably for the copper. It was an expensive business raising the motor with a jeep mounted rig and winch to attach new wire. This juggard arrangement was then welded over the boring to deter anyone coming to steal the pump-and-motor with easy pickings, as the thieves would know it had been lifted recently and would come out easily.
Since the land was not wet, we were able to plant our vegetable earlier this year and put in a large patch of maize, plus peas, guar, methi (fenugreek), coriander, beetroot, potatoes, tomatoes, aubergine, spinach, various gourds and pumpkins, and rocket.
By the end of the month the non-rice fields had been ploughed with no harvest from either soyabean or urad. All the women willing to work in the fields were busy planting or weeding rice and didn’t want to weed soyabean or urad. We didn’t want to use herbicides and allowed the plants to fix nitrogen as a form of green manure hoping for healthier and happier wheat and mustard in the winter. The cows were able to graze in each field as it was declared unfit for harvesting and their milk was excellent with thick rich cream.
On the Farm - August ’17
Despite what the BBC was telling the world, this part of North India has had a poor monsoon. We had heavy rain for two days on 7th and 8th, approximately 25 cms., but little for the rest of the month. But all is green and lush. The rice has needed to be watered constantly from the tubewell.
Here urea is being broadcast. Without it the growth would be very poor. We employed women to weed by hand and did not spray herbicide unlike on the rest of the rice on the farm which is share-cropped. The women were paid Rs.160 a day (approx. 1.95 GBP) to work from 10:00am - 6:00pm with an hour off for lunch.
The cows have enjoyed being able to graze in the fallow fields and the soyabean fields. The non-rice fields had been sown either with urad or with soyabean. We decided to keep the urad but the soyabean was written-off and given over to the cows. We hope it has nitrogen fixed for the next crop.
Our three happy milking cows look at the camera for a photo op during milking. They produce about 8 litres of milk a day between them. In town people are paying Rs.60 per litre for cows’ milk but no one pays that here and we sell to the milkman for Rs.25 per litre. Once the urad is cut, the cows will live on the chaff.
The main event in August for Kota was the opening of the stayed-cable bridge across the gorge of the River Chambal. It is known as the ‘Hanging Bridge’ locally and was begun back in 2007. In 2009 the left river bank pier (left in the photograph) which was to support the cables collapsed suddenly and without warning, tragically killing 48 people. South Korea’s Hyundai, the Indian company Gammon and other agencies involved seemed to have sorted out the legal issues after the tragedy and finally re-started construction about two years ago. On 29th August the bridge was officially opened from Udaipur by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. With all heavy lorries now being made to go round Kota on the bypass and over the bridge, the traffic situation in Kota town has been transformed for the better.
The bridge is the final link in a major east-west route that connects North East India to Gujarat. And we can now whizz round towards Jaipur and Udaipur from our farm, avoiding Kota town entirely. This photograph was taken on a boat trip a few days before the inauguration. The high noise barriers on either side of the bridge mean that you cannnot see the river while driving over it. They also serve to deter people from jumping off the bridge and maybe from throwing litter into the river. The noise pollution preventative measures are also there for the wildlife below, as the bridge straddles a wildlife sanctuary.
On the Farm - July ’17
What a difference some rain makes. We had about 25 cms. of rain in July which is less than usual and was late coming. By contrast there was flooding in desert areas of S.W. Rajasthan
This field has been levelled and terraced. You can see the foundation for the boundary wall, being admired here by Anjelica and Lucy. By 19th July it was ready and was the last field to be sown with rice.
Soyabean and urad had been sown on 5th July and once the rice fields were flooded and the mud churned up or 'graded' the women transplanted the rice. You can see a JCB digging a trench for the boundary wall in the background.
As July went on it became apparent that Anjelica, our white wire-haired fox terrier, was progressively becoming weaker. She was nearly 12 and the last of the fox terrier line we had founded with a breeding pair from England and Scotland. Anjelica died 21 years to the day we had arrived on 23rd July. One hour before her final breath a calf was born, the first for 5 months. We have called her Anju and she is white with brown splodges.
The other loss that anniversary weekend was the wood apple, Limonia acidissima which had been standing proudly in the jungle decades before our house was built. Local tradition says that a tiger was spotted under it in the 50’s. In the past machaans had been placed on it for hunting - but that was way before our time. The hollow trunk has been home to generations of spotted owlets. It stood in front of the house like a guardian.
With no health and safety laws to worry about, 3 year old Ritu was able to use her father’s axe to try to split wood apples - they have a very tough outer shell. Forest School Indian style.
On the Farm - June ’17
Very little rain in June until 22nd when 5.5 cms fell in one hour. The temperature remained at over 40oC all month and all construction and agricultural work went on regardless.
The boundary wall gradually lengthened to the east of us and to the west JCBs were widening the road and damaging our boundary hedge in the process. The road was blocked all month as a culvert was being built and a long depression that floods each monsoon was being filled in with truck loads of red soil and broken rock slabs. We were able to access the main road in the jeep using a little determination and ingenuity.
The women labourers walked to work so they were not deterred. Here they have cut and dried mung bean plants in small heaps and are about to gather them into larger piles for threshing. The yield was very low partly due to nightly foraging by nilgai while the watchman slept.
While searching for a new home for our surplus cows we heard of a new gaushala being run locally by a right wing Hindu party called Shiv Sena or Shiva’s Army. On the day that a newspaper article stated that the Government gaushala had run out of fodder for its 2000 heads of cattle, we delivered nine animals by tractor and trolley to the local gaushala. The following day we delivered another 3 thus halving the number of cattle we have to feed and look after.
The final photo is a pre-monsoon view of the farm. You can see where the wall is being built. These fields will soon be green with soyabean.
On the Farm - May ’17
May was hot, very hot. Some days were 47oC. Work on the farm slowed down after two trolley loads of wheat were sold and work on the motorcycle shed could continue.
The Government support price of Rs. 1625 for 100 kgs. of wheat could only be realised by presenting documents of land ownership and land holding. The amount was then paid directly into our bank account. Agricultural income is tax free, but must be declared with other income, as it pushes the taxable income up. Farmers who wanted cash had to settle for the lower market rates.
During May the shed was roofed and tiled and the local joiner made doors and windows from locally sourced wood, mainly babool.
The cattle had to be fed during the dry season and with no chance of selling surplus animals as cattle trade has been banned, we were looking for a gaushala or ‘cow hospice’ to give them to. The Government one already had 2000 animals in it and was 20 kms. away.
The main activity that started in May was the construction of a boundary wall along the eastern border of the farm where it adjoins Government property. They were building the wall.
First a JCB cut a 3-foot deep trench after consulting us as to how best to mark the actual border while conserving trees.
Labourers from Madhya Pradesh built the foundations. They work in pairs mostly with the women carrying head loads of soil, rocks or cement mortar and the men dealing with it.
Once the foundation had been made and a solid layer of reinforced damp proof course laid on top, the wall went up above it.
A tanker of water is there for construction, bathing and drinking purposes as it is fetched from a borewell. The new random rubble and concrete wall is on the left and a previous dry stone wall with no foundation or binding agent in the background.
The labourers worked on through the heat, but once the first monsoon rain had arrived in their village, they were keen to return home as soon as possible.
On the Farm - April ’17
April is the wheat harvesting month. This year there was an abundant harvest everywhere with no untimely rain, hail or wind to ruin the crops.
Sita hand cut the heritage wheat C306 which we grow in a small area for home consumption. It has taller stalks, silky chaff and a very low yield but it has more flavour than modern hybrid varieties.
A combine harvester came to cut most of the wheat but 17 bighas (about 7 acres) was hand cut by a team of five women who were paid in wheat. They earned 75 kgs. per bigha between them. You can see hand cut bundles waiting to be threshed in the foreground and the combine in the further field.
Once the combine has cut the wheat there is a problem with the remaining stalks which are too long to be tackled by the disc harrow. They used to be burnt but that is no longer allowed - officially. One solution is this machine that cuts more of the stalks and chops it up for coarse cattle feed. Our cows don’t like it. We let the milkman take this boussa for his buffalos in return for paying for the tractor and cutting machine.
You can see a pile of boussa in the foreground from the hand cut and machine threshed wheat. This had to be filled into a trolley using large woven baskets and moved to the cowshed. Because of the heat the work was done on contract at night by a team of four men and a tractor driver. It took four 10-12 hour shifts to move 13 full trolley loads.
On 27th April after all the wheat had been heaped up we called the labourers to bag-up their share of the harvest. They then called gangs of youths with motorbikes to carry the 50 kg. bags. Each bike driver would have two bags behind him and an assistant perched at the back. Not a helmet in sight. They did not have more than a mile to go, though.
For 13 days work in the hot sun each woman earned wheat worth Rs. 324 per day or about 20 kgs. per day. The normal labouring rate is Rs. 200 per day for women.
We sold the wheat to villagers at the Government support price of Rs. 1625 or approximately 20 GBP for 100 kgs.
Our yields are less than others’ as we have to contend with monkeys, wild pigs and up to 7 nilgai (blue bull). This Indian civet cat came to within 50 metres of the house. It’s the first sighting in our 20 years living on the farm and we hope it got away safely unmauled by the dogs.
On the Farm - March ’17
March was notable for having the hottest March day ever in much of North India. On 29th March it was 43oC making us fear for the weeks ahead.
While the wheat was being watered, the mustard was being threshed. These women cut and threshed the mustard. The one on the left wears her husband’s trousers while working on the machine and then changes back into a sari to walk home. The one in the middle has a son with his own car but she works as a labourer to contribute to the household income; she may be paying her grandchildrens’ school fees? At least three women in the team are working with their daughters.
It has been a constant battle to prevent monkeys, wild pigs, four to five nilgais, and a herd of 20 local cows from eating our crops. One day we employed a young boy to chase out the cattle so that our men could get on with other work.
These ‘scare-pigs’ with musical chimes attached deterred pigs but not nilgai. This photo of our heritage wheat for home consumption was taken on 5th March.
The young calf being bottlefed (see last month’s news) did not thrive and must have had some other problems. He weakened and died on 11th March, two days before Holi. Even so we have too many cows and had to buy an expensive trolley load of rice praal (straw) to feed them.
The mustard bhoosa (dessicated straw and chaff) was sold, either for fodder or for using in factory furnaces; this team came daily for several days to load up. Once the fields were cleared, they were ploughed and watered and some were sown with mung beans for a summer crop. It will be a challenge to protect them from animals.
On the Farm - February ’17
February was a beautiful month with warm sunny days and cool nights. The main focus was on watering the wheat and from 16th February six women came to start cutting the mustard.
Since the crop is hand cut, greener patches can be left and cut later. Here bundles in the front have been cut and left to dry before stacking. The green fodder in the foreground is bersim for the cows.
Large amounts of green fodder have to be cut every day for the milking cows and calves. Everyone can help - from the smallest to the biggest.
Three calves were born this month and this one always tried to suck at the front end of its mother and couldn't be taught to suck on the teats. He was happy to suck on a baby’s bottle though. The cow man said that it had ‘forgotten’ how to suck. Strange how the instinct for self-preservation seems to be absent.
On the Farm - January ’17
January is the coldest month and the night temperature dipped to 3.5oC one night which damaged some of the potatoes but was good for the crops. We had many beautiful sunrises with mist over the fields, particularly, as here, if the wheat had been watered.
The main theme of the month is crop protection. Three separate bulls, having been cast out by their breeders, were taking refuge on our farm. However many times they were chased away, they forced their way back through the hedge. When impounded with the other cows they jumped out. Finally, they were herded into a walled cremation ground 1/2 km. towards Umedganj on separate occasions. They were brought back in a tractor trolley and tied-up. When all three were collected they were loaded up and driven away and released. This is ridiculous and non-sustainable, but they have no market value and can’t be sold or even given away.
Pig damage is more difficult to deal with as there are more than thirty pigs coming daily and enjoying our wheat and berseem. The first photograph shows a group which could be seen from the house at 5:30 pm. The second photograph shows the damage that a small group of pigs can do in a night.
Two out of four dogs have been badly gored this month while chasing pigs but have recovered. As long as the dog can reach the slash to lick it there is no need for treatment. We have to be wary while walking with the dogs between mustard fields as an agitated pig could charge at us. So far so good. 'Speak softly and carry a big stick.'
By the end of the month the mustard had finished flowering but lone male pigs and families of pigs could still hide in it during the day. Here a daylight pig hunt is on. The green in the foreground is the cattle fodder which they also love and the little ones can sometimes be heard squealing from the house!
On the Farm - December ’16
The problems caused by demonetisation have continued all month. Our men have not been able to withdraw money from their banks because of long queues and the necessity to get back to work rather than bide their time outside their bank.
They have been busy pre-watering the wheat fields. Sowing started on 10th December. Here the peacocks are looking for rice, which was the previous crop, in a field that has just been sown with wheat. At night the wild pigs came rooting for the freshly planted wheat. In the background you can see flowering mustard.
As all the fields became out-of-bounds for the cows, they were confiined to their yard and had to live on dry rice straw until the green fodder called bersim was ready.
You are never too young to help on a farm. Here three year old Ritu has a sickle and is helping cut bersim for the cows, while her brother Dashrath strikes a very yesteryear Soviet poster pose with his sickle.
By the end of December, every field was planted with either wheat or mustard but the mustard was past its best and the fluorescent yellow view was beginning to fade.
On the Farm - November ’16
The big story in November was the completely unexpected announcement on the 8th that Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 currency notes would no longer be legal tender after midnight. It was estimated that 85% of currency by value was in higher denomination notes. The cash economy came to a halt overnight and our farm hands and house-maid have had to accept part of their salary in their new bank accounts rather than cash in hand. Unfortunately, there were long queues at the banks to withdraw cash and there was a daily maximum withdrawal limit of Rs. 2000 as a single note for the special Jan Dhan accounts for the not so well off. The equivalent for them of a GBP 50 note i.e. 1/3 of their salary. In time this situation will ease but the agricultural sector which operated mainly in cash has had to change overnight. The hope is that tax compliance will become the norm as tax evasion in being made so expensive and the poor will benefit in the long run.
On the farm the month started with watering the mustard early in the hope that more seeds would germinate as germination had been poor. In some fields extra seed was broadcast and these fields were saved. In one other field it was hoped that previously sown seed would germinate after watering, and when this did not happen the field was ploughed-in and wheat sown.
Eleven women started harvesting the rice on 9th November and finished on the 20th. Here they are bashing each tied bundle to get the grain out.
Here is the final process of threshing by machine. Although the crop looked abundant the yield was down by 1/3 as 1/3 of plants had dried-out without producing grain. The price was also 2/3 of what we got 3 years ago.
The soyabean crop was poor having been damaged by pigs so there was very little chaff for the cows. They will be living on rice straw.
By the end of the month the mustard was flowering and the rock bees - apis dorsata - appeared. We have not spotted their hives yet and have not spotted any little bees - apis florea - which are normally in the mustard.
On the Farm - October ’16
After little rain in September we received 21/4 inches in the first few days of October. The accompanying winds created this crop circle effect. Although the rice looked healthy it had caught a disease that caused some stalks to dry out and for the husks to remain empty. The next door farm sprayed but we didn’t. One estimate is 50% loss. The tractor in the background is preparing the field for mustard.
Instead of the usual DAP we planted mustard on 14th with superphosphate and a bio-fertiliser called VAM which is supposed to promote root growth.
These two lorries plus a team of men came to drill a borewell on land sold by us. The owner says he is either building a branch of his school or a sports ground. He chose the location for drilling according to Vastu Shastra principles which dictate that water source should be to the north-east. Unfortunately for him this wasn’t in sync with the underlying geology and they drilled to 320 feet and found only a small amount of water. Our borewell locations had been chosen by a water diviner who claimed to be able to hear water underground and smell the earth for water and our borings are 150 feet. Is it just luck?
Here is the soyabean cutting team in a field of some soyabean and much very tall weed which had to be cut separately after the harvest. We had not been able to weed at the right time because of the sodden conditions.
October ended with Diwali and a rare visit from our son. He was able to watch the Govardhan Pooja, which honours the cows, for the first time ever. He had never been home in October for twenty years. Mewa Lal is fending off eager decorated cows as he feeds them sweetened puris.
On the Farm - September ’16
After August’s downpours the monsoon ended early and there was no more rain after 3rd September which meant that we had to water the soyabean and keep watering the rice.
Disaster struck on 10th September as a fault developed in the transformer so it could not run a 3-phase motor. We bought and fitted a single phase motor in the interim or we would have had no water in the house. One electrical fault led to another and it was not until 21st that the original system was working again.
Meanwhile, a previous year’s sowing of 'dhaincha' for green manure had re-sprouted shading the soyabean and helping to suck up surplus rain water. On 16th we begain cutting this forest of weeds in the hope that the soyabeans beneath would set and swell.
We are hoping for some income from the rice and soyabean but our experimental crop of urad lentils was a complete loss and not worth the harvesting expense. Women were invited to pick the pods and thresh them on a 50:50 basis. Here they are searching for pods before the cattle trample on them. The man in charge of the cattle is under the black umbrella with 3-year old Ritu whose mother is gleaning. Urad lentil sells for about Rs.150 per kg. Our share at the end of the process was about 20 kgs. We should have earned over Rs.200,000!
On the Farm - August ’16
The main feature of August has been rain. 60.5 cms approximately which is nearly 24". 26 cms of that fell on 7th and 8th August leaving all crops standing in water. Only the rice was happy. Here you can see the garden disappearing under water and the blue washing up bowl, that serves as a rain gauge, filling up.
The rice was hand weeded at the beginning of the month. The women kept working despite torrential showers. The men carried the clumps of weed to the 'bunds' or little dams, as it is hard to move when you are standing barefoot in mud. The women earned Rs.150 a day for this work, roughly GBP 1.80.
Traditional rainfed crops of this area are soyabean and dals. We have 36 bighas of urad this year as an experiment. There is a huge shortfall of dal/lentils in India and the Government is importing from Myanmar and other countries at higher prices than it is prepared to give Indian farmers.
This is what our urad looked like by the end of the month. The plants that have not died have gone yellow and have very few pods. It was too wet to weed so the grass has had a 'field day'. A big loss. The soyabean has fared little better depending on for how long it was standing in water.
The other big news of August is the arrival of new family member, this Yamaha R3, the first in Kota! It is sitting on the concrete base that will become a shed in September or October.
On the Farm - July ’16
Showers and thunderstorms have brought relief in July with hot, humid conditions in between. We have planted urad (a lentil), soyabean, rice and a green manure hemp family plant called sann, or commonly referred to as sunbeeja. We also planted one bigha (17424 sq. ft.) of tulsi experimentally, which is like basil and very important medicinally, but it did not germinate because of heavy rains immediately after the tiny black seeds had been broadcast. The farm went from brown to lush green over the month.
These rice fields have been flooded and the tractor is puddling them. This softens the soil for transplanting the rice and helps in reducing percolation losses of water and controls the weeds.
The rice seeds have been prepared in a separate nursery and now a team of women stand in the soft mud all day in bare feet and thrust the young plants into the mud. The expert men from Bihar have not appeared this year but some local women are willing to be bent over all day for about 2 GBP. You can see that the fields in the background look bare, but they have been planted with soya bean.
After months of clear skies, monsoon clouds are very dramatic. Here this monsoon rice planting scene has been captured in black and white.
Total rain for July was approximately 30 cms. or 12 inches.
On the Farm - June ’16
The moong was harvested in early June. Here are the seventeen women who came each day to cut it. The little girl just had to amuse herself in the shade as best she could. Mostly she just sat.
After the moong had been cut and put in small piles to dry, it was collected into one big pile for threshing.
The women threshed and the little girl sat by the tractor. The sacks are stored in the house waiting for the price to go up.
After the threshing we allocated different fields to the women on our farm and they gleaned moong pods for their home consumption. It was a lot of work in great heat, so they did it in the early morning as here, or in the evening. Daily temperatures were well over 40oC.
The rest of June was devoted to ploughing, clearing undergrowth, chopping up trees blown down in storms and general maintenance.
On the Farm - May ’16
After the wheat harvest, attention turned to our organic moong which as a green oasis in a barren landscape was attracting nightly visits by nilgai (blue bull) and stray cattle.
The moong (mung) had been sown on March 23rd and was watered in April and sprayed with an organic compound to stimulate root growth. Two men slept by the crop in shifts inside a mosquito net to scare away marauding animals. The dogs sat with them in the nighttime temperatures of 35oC+ and helped. Daytime temperatures in May reached 47oC after a long time, but still people were prepared to work as weeders.
Here the gul mohar tree is slightly past its best. The green plants in front and to the side are moong.
Here you can see the plants in more detail just before flowering and pod setting.
We weeded one field but not the other as it was so expensive. Even though each woman earned the equivalent of 1.60 GBP a day. On 31st May the moong was handcut and left to dry in bundles.
May had one or two significant storms this year and several mature trees blew down. This 'ber' tree has a wild berry rather like sweet crab apple much beloved by wild pigs, jackals and children. You can see the dog tombstones which it has sheltered. Over the years at least six dogs and twelve puppies have been buried there but only the original two wire-haired fox-terriers we brought out with us twenty years ago have engraved gravestones.
On the Farm - April ’16
April is the busiest month of the year and this year there were no untoward hail storms or bad weather. It did not rain once.
The coriander was hand-cut and had to be winnowed to fetch a higher price. After cutting, a lot of shrubby weed was left in the field which had to be cut and burned as we had not weeded the crop.
Some wheat was cut by machine and here is the team from the Punjab who camped here for a night. They gradually move North back to the Punjab where the harvest is later.
Some wheat was cut by hand by two families from Madhya Pradesh. The men came round the farms to get work and fix rates and then they went back home and fetched their families and camped in the open for two weeks. These field have always been cut by combine before but the 'bhoussa' or chaff is so valuable as cattle fodder in a drought year that it made sense to hand-cut it. When the wheat is combined a lot of the straw is left standing in the field. We did not want to burn it and applied a bespoke 'SPEED COMPOST' liquid mixture later on to quicken decomposition after a rotavator had been through the fields.
Each trolley is filled by hand and the children enjoy helping.
After the harvest the red flowering gul mohar tree and pink and white bougainvillea bushes provide dramatic patches of colour.
On the Farm - March ’16
At the beginning of March it was 12oC at night and by the end it was 20oC. No rain so the crops ripened well and the mustard and coriander were harvested without the devasting loss caused by hail stones that Northern India suffered last year.
We dug holes and had five cement rings made to protect young mahua trees (Madhuca longifolia var. latifolia) that we had grown from seed. Here the cement rings have been unloaded from the Gypsy. We put wooden posts and green netting to protect them from the sun and wild animals. They have to be watered every other day if they are to survive. Mahua is a beautiful deciduous tree with white fragrant flowers and red olive shaped fruit that ferment after falling causing wild pigs to stagger.
Mustard threshing started on 8th March. Two separate small teams of women cut the mustard. The teams get smaller each year. Here is one team working at the thresher watched by the tractor driver - male, the trolley filler - male, and maybe the watchful drongo is male too.
The coriander was also cut and threshed but a lot of seeds ended up in the waste pile so Sita and Avanta Bai set-to to sieve the seeds out. They are working on a 50:50 basis and will probably do well out of it.
This pile is coriander waiting to be threshed but the green prolific plant is a rampant weed. Bathli is like spinach when young and green and edible. It has taken over the field as we didn’t weed it at the right time and so now it has to be dealt with before the seeds fall. It took two men more than a week to cut it and dry it in small piles. It will be burned after the wheat has been harvested and the risk of fire loss removed.
Holi this year was on 24th March. Here’s a group of boys who turned up to greet us and get a chocolate chip biscuit.
We are going to try growing moong dal as there is a national shortage and the price is good but we want to grow it without pesticide and will have to protect it from nilgai, stray cows, and monkeys as it will be like an oasis in a parched landscape. By the end of March we had sown it and watered it and were preparing to add a soil conditioner called RECHARGE.
By the end of the month the heritage wheat had been cut and was drying in bundles. The wheat we have grown for the Indian Tobacco Company (ITC) will be combined soon and the rest of the wheat will be hand cut by a family of migrant labourers from Madhya Pradesh who appeared asking for work. The men came around to fix work and then went back to collect their families. Without land and with no other income they need such agricultural work to survive; no government handouts for them.
On the Farm - February ’16
At the beginning of February the coriander was in full bloom and buzzing with apis florea - ‘Little Bees’. By the end of the month the mustard and coriander had been cut by hand and was drying in the fields.
This is a view taken at the end of the month across the berseem which is cut daily for the cows, to the heritage wheat C306 which is tall and silky. Behind the wheat is coriander cut and drying and in the background green commercial wheat HI-1544, which is being watered for the third time from the borewells.
On 17th February I was asked by these three illiterate farm residents to take them to open bank accounts at a nearby ultra small branch of the Central Bank of India. The branch is in a small shuttered shop and comprises an ATM in a cubicle like a London telephone box and an area the equivalent of seven more kiosks. It was operated by a young man behind a screen with a laptop, a cash drawer, a pile of ledgers and a machine that registered digital finger prints of all ten digits. He filled the forms in and they affixed their thumb impressions. Once the account is activated they can pay-in and withdraw using the digital recognition device. They will have to deposit Rs.500 (5-6 GBP) when they collect their passbooks in ten days’ time. The current government is striving to open bank accounts for all residents so that cash transfers can go straight into bank accounts. It is worth their while paying the banks to run this system as it will save crores of rupees which are ususally misappropriated.
On the Farm - January ’16
The most memorable, sad event on the farm in January 2016 marked the end of an era. Mun-Mun, our iconic one-horned matriarch died aged 23.
January was unusually warm with clear blue skies and temperatures in the high twenties until the third week when the wind changed to the north and night temperatures dropped as low as 7oC. That’s as cold as it gets.
On Sunday 17th Mun-Mun could barely stand but was revived with hot brown sugar (gur) in water. You can see bare patches on her skin where it seems to have stopped rejuvenating.
On the 19th, Mun-Mun's latest grand-daughter was born to Meera, one of her 12 children, just prior to a heavy shower of rain. Mun-Mun barely survived but with the warmth of the sun externally and hot sugar internally she was sitting up in bed eating berseem at 3.00pm. She died on the night of the 20th surrounded by her surviving daughters and grand-daughters. Her first daughter had died of old age two years previously.
Mun-Mun had a very sweet nature and would let you handle her new born calves but none of the current cows are as trusting. She is sorely missed.
The final photo this month is of the dogs enjoying a misty sunrise.
On the Farm - December ’15
December started with one hour of rain and we have had none since.
Lucy is standing guard over the rice waiting to be sold. The mustard behind her is just beginning to flower and the bare field was planted with coriander on 5th November and is yet to flush green.
The flowering mustard was magnificient all month. Now that we are bee aware we were hoping to find rare bees in the mustard but there was only apis dorsata, Indian rock bee, which is India’s largest bee. The Indian honey bee, apis cerana was not to be seen.
This month the wheat was planted. We planted some heritage wheat C306 for home consumption, and some of last year’s 4037 seed variety was also planted. Here the women are grading the wheat so the larger grains are planted.
We also planted some wheat provided by ITC (India Tobacco Company) called HI-1544, which will be used by their milling division for superior flour. They pay above the market rate as long as the grain is not rain or hail damaged or mixed with soil. We have told them we won’t be spraying it but they are more interested in the yield than possible toxicity and wouldn’t mind if we did.
All these cattle and not a drop of milk in November or December. This is because they are male or female but too old, too young or pregnant. Indian economic reality is that four or five cows have to be fed and looked after for one to be in milk.
On the last day of December the first pregnant cow, Tikku, gave birth and here she is with her daughter, Saru.
On the Farm - November ’15
November was a very mild, dry month in which the rice was harvested, the fields cleared and watered and the next crop sown. The market price of rice before Diwali on 11th November was only Rs.1400 for 100 kgs. but within two weeks it had reached Rs.2000 and actually peaked at Rs.2400 the day before the market was closed for a two-day strike. We sold our unsprayed, hand-weeded rice at the end of the month for Rs.2121. The rest will be sold in December.
We decided to sow some coriander this year. Vinod is crushing the seeds to split them into two. This makes the seed go twice as far.
Diwali fell in November this year and is a major festival with the associated Govardhan puja for honouring the cows. This may be Mun-mun’s last Diwali as she is 22 but she always enjoys her sweetened puris. You can see that the cows’ horns have been coloured with mehendi (henna) and linseed oil. This is good for the horns as well as being decorative.
These handsome bullocks belong to our brother-in-law and are decorated traditionally with mehendi. They are the last pair of bullocks left in their village as tractors have replaced them. Although their horns look very striking, it can’t be good for them to be fashionably painted in enamel paint.
On the Farm - October ’15
October is a harvesting month. We had to decide which soyabean fields to harvest and which to plough in. We wanted the chaff as fodder for the cows and so went ahead and paid a team of women to hand cut the crop. The farmer on the other side of the boundary hedge cut his losses and ploughed all his soyabean crop in.
The women started cutting on 14th and threshed on 20th. Our men moved the piles of bhoussa over to the cowshed and then winnowed the soyabeans to remove the remaining husk and stalks. 24 bags were reduced to 20. That weighed 784 kgs. and at Rs. 35.51, after labour costs, it netted only Rs. 27,780. The input costs of the crop were closer to Rs. 100,000. Very expensive fodder. We hope that the nitrogen fixed in the soil by the soyabean will boost the yield of the following crop: wheat or coriander. We have had no rain since mid-August and it seems to have been too hot for the soyabean.
The rice by contrast is a very good crop where it has been grown in a field for the first time. This is ironic as rice uses large amounts of scarce ground water and is not appropriate for Rajasthan as a whole. We kept watering it from the borewell until allowing it to dry out. Here the women are cutting the last strands in our 10 bigha field which has not been sprayed at all, and hand weeded just once. The cattle egrets are appreciating this chance to catch organic food and have little to fear from the women. There was less pig damage than last year. Someone appears to have been dealing with the pigs and it hasn’t been us.
On the Farm - September ’15
No rain, high humidity, and high temperatures, and excessive exposure to solar radiation in September seem to have been the main reasons for a catastrophic soyabean season across North India. The pods didn’t set and amongst the ones that did develop there were many that were flat. On our farm there were more pods nearer to the boundary hedge which suggest that it had some sort of sheltering role. There was a certain amount of insect attack which we ignored but people who sprayed did no better.
Our daughter, Anjali, came to stay so Dashrath was able to benefit from some more interesting individual coaching sessions. His parents had signed him up for coaching classes after school in the village. This meant he left home at 7.00 am and returned at 4.30 pm, having been sitting still all day with a half-an-hour lunch break. He is about eight. We got his bicycle fixed so that at least he could take exercise and have some fun whizzing about when he got home.
For our exercise we are lucky enough to be able to go to the nearby Kota Club pool at 7.00 am when no one else is there. For us swimming is the only exercise enjoyable in high humidity.
On the Farm - August ’15
The monsoon had got off to a good start but petered out by mid-August. We started to water the soyabean by the end of the month from the borewells. Our plants were tall and healthy but the pods didn’t seem to set.
Our 10 bighas of rice was hand weeded by a band of 25 women. The rest of the rice, which was under a crop sharing arrangement, was sprayed with herbicide and by the end of August this rice was affected by blast and we were persuaded to allow it to be sprayed with insecticide. There were noticeably fewer butterflies around this monsoon and this didn’t help.
The cows enjoyed the fresh grass but poor Meera was attacked by another cow and the outer casing of her left horn came off revealing a bleeding mass. Here she can be seen with her bandaged stump noticeably shorter that the other horn.
During a spectacular lightning storm on 9th August, which I was watching from the upstairs balcony, a huge glowing fireball was seen to descend instantly on one side of a nearby eucalyptus tree from its top to the ground; this was accompanied with a deafening clap of thunder. A few smaller outlying branches got singed and amazingly there was little damage to the tree otherwise. We have never seen anything like that before! The tree was just about 40 meters from where I was. The same phenomenon was also witnessed from the kitchen downstairs and our observations were corroborated.
On the Farm - July ’15
By 10th July all the rice had been transplanted by a team of Biharis. The pumps run day and night to keep the fields flooded. One transformer needed changing last month as it was sparking and causing fires. That one had been transported in a small pick-up truck.
On 21st July the transformer at the far end of the farm had to be changed also and the only vehicle able to reach it through the mud was the tractor. It took three days work to lower, transport, replace, transport back and re-install.
Meanwhile, we have had very heavy rain and there is always a risk of snakes. We give the men ‘gumboots’ as they are called here but sometimes they prefer chappals. On the 17th of July this small snake bit Vinod, but luckily it was non-venemous and there were several teeth marks rather than two deep puncture fang wounds. He survived, but the snake did not.
The vegetable patch has been ploughed with the tractor and some vegetables have been planted but they will be engulfed by meadow grass without constant weeding.
At this time of year there are several green food plants growing wild, such as, bhokna which we make into pakoras, khunijado, poadia and surli which are cooked like spinach. Here is Avanta Bai picking small green poadia leaves with the ever helpful Dashrath. It could almost be Kerala.
On the Farm - June ’15
We started off the month by burning the wheat stubble. Here you can see a date palm tree which has been harvested by the broom makers and two that haven’t. New fronds will soon regrow (see May 2015).
Punkey appeared with a mate on 9th June and we feared that a troop would take up residence but he visited twice more by himself and hasn’t been seen since.
Vinod had an eventful June. He thinks he’s about 22. We took his photo at his request as he was goint to get married. He left on 17th June for Maharashtra with only his father and a brother. The news arrived a few days later that the intended girl had refused him, but on the way back his father had found a girl from their community who was willing to marry him and they were engaged. The wedding will be after the summer when ‘the Gods have woken up.’ He does not know her name. He is making an effort to improve himself, however, and has learned the Hindi letters. He can recognise numbers. Little Dashrath (7) is teaching him to read and I’m providing workbooks and a slate. He has bought an old motorbike that has no papers. We can’t prevent him riding around untaxed, uninsured, unable to read any signs and without a helmet or eye protection.
One of the jobs that needed doing in June was to replaster the garage and prevent rain water seeping through the house wall. The gap being too small for any of us, our resident child labour was able to squeeze in and do the work and was happy to be paid for his efforts.
By the end of June we had had enough rain to sow soyabean and so the fields were prepared and the seed sown quickly before heavy rain prevented the tractor from getting on the land.
On the Farm - May ’15
A hot hot month with daily temperatures over 40oC each day. Some jobs are best undertaken at night like loading trollies with bhoussa or chaff to be taken to the cowshed for storage. Ploughing is sometimes done on moonlit nights.
This couple, Ramesh and Shanti Bai, from the Bagri community, make date palm brooms. They cut fronds for three days and slept out in the open on the farm. They then called this van to transport their fronds back to their home for drying and manufacturing. They left 24 of these jharoos as goodwill "payment" which we shared out amongst our employees. Ramesh sells each one to a trader for Rs. 3 or 3 pence GBP, and they retail for Rs. 10 or 10 pence.
By May 19th, the temperature had built up to 46oC, our hottest day. The same evening the whole of Rajasthan was swept by the strongest dust/sand storm seen for years. It raged for two hours and left us without electricity until mid-day the next day.
After the storm we found that more than 10 cattle egret chicks had been blown out of their nests in the raini tree in the garden. Lucy, our dog, finished them off. The cattle egrets are not welcome residents as they make an extraordinary amount of mess. They also seem to be rather careless parents as one or two dead chicks are found each morning.
A more welcome resident is Punkey as in monkey-punkey. He’s a young one-armed rhesus macaque male (locally, red-faced monkey), with two bare bones for a left forearm and a ragged right ear. One can only guess how he came to be like that. He arrived on 23rd May and adopted us. Bananas, raw mangoes,roties/chapatis and roasted chick peas are all his favourites. He can circle the garden at roof level leaving our three dogs open-mouthed and staring under each perch silently waiting for him to drop; wisely Punkey is very wary of them. The dogs sleep inside in the cool all day leaving Punkey free to roam.
This month we also changed the corrugated metal sheets at the cowshed ready for the monsoon. Here is Vijay drilling holes at 0900 hrs. in 40oC.
On the Farm - April ’15
In April the Government came under extreme pressure to compensate farmers for the heavy crop damage in March and in areas assessed to be worst the land owners received small cheques. These were not necessarily the people who had lost money. Many land owners take substantial rent per bigha in advance. The person paying that amount borrows it risking all on a good crop. They also borrow for seed and fertiliser. The result this year has been high debt levels among these small farmers and a crop of farmer suicides.
Our wheat crop was not damaged by the March hail stones, but several heavy showers in early April led to more broken and dis-coloured grains than usual and soil that stuck to the stalks mixed with the grain during threshing. Yields were poor and the price of Rs. 1281 per quintal (100 kgs.) for our hand cut wheat was the lowest for several years. Combine harvested wheat which sold for Rs. 1501 last year went for Rs. 1335 this year.
Here are the five women who worked hard to hand cut, tie the bundles, pile up and thresh our wheat so we could have chaff for the cows to eat. Enough wheat is left strewn in the fields to make it worthwhile for Sita and her children to glean; it is never too young in India to be economically active....
April saw the collapse of this main branch of our iconic kainth or wood apple tree. This tree was standing well before the house was built and before the land was cleared for farming. It has been hollow for years. Goodness knows how many generations of spotted owlets have been reared in its hollow. They have moved up into the last remaining main branch which is also hollow at its root - which doesn’t bode well for the long term. We miss the shade and reassuring presence.
On the Farm - March ’15
Most of North India will remember March 2015 as the year that the crops failed due to unseasonal heavy rains, hail and storms. We had ‘unseasonal’ heavy rain in January and again in February but March is a harvest month. Many ripe crops of coriander, mustard and wheat were totally flattened and destroyed by hailstones as big as golf balls on 12th March.
Our mustard had been cut and was lying drying in the fields when the rain came. It couldn’t be piled up and threshed until 21st March as it was so wet. The yield was 50% of former years in the same field. The crop had had a shorter growing period anyway because of high temperatures in the autumn so each seed was smaller and many pods were split by the hail.
Here battered looking green wheat can be seen with the cut mustard behind in a monsoon like downpour.
Holi was on 6th March this year before the rain and here is a photo of the largest group of village boys who walked here from the village in return for our good wishes and a chocolate biscuit.
From little boys to little bees. We found this small comb of Apis florea bees in a shrub near the kitchen door. They are one of the four main species of honey bee found in India but are commercially more important for their pollinating work than their honey making.
And from Apis florea to Endrilis eugeniae or African Nightcrawlers (worms) extensively bred in the west for fish bait. We were supplied with 5 kgs. of these worms as part of a new vermi-compost kit. It arrived like this and had to be assembled. The bottom layer of neem leaves was covered with cow manure or gobar. The worms were introduced and the whole bed soaked with water. Any resultant infused liquid which settles is collected from an outlet at the bottom and can be mixed with water in a 1:4 proportion prior to spraying on our organic vegetables as a fertiliser and mild insecticide; let’s see.
On the Farm - February ’15
At the beginning of February the mustard was still flowering and here is our local wild bee that pollinates it. It makes a small nest in the undergrowth.
By 13th February the temperature had shot up leading to an explosion of aphids. Some plants at the edges of the fields seem to die from being sucked dry but we don’t spray. There is usually a rain storm that washes them away.
The cows don’t go out and have to be stall fed. It is a very arduous job every day for Mewalal cutting the berseem and carrying it to the cows.
One of the calves developed a maggot wound between the two parts of her left hind hoof. We had to remove the maggots with tweezers and pack the cavity with guaze soaked in turpentine. A strong smelling black ointment was then smeared on top to keep the flies away. After a week of this treatment twice a day the wound dried up.
Bird watching is not always easy with three lively dogs. Here is Lucy chasing the sarus crane I was trying to photograph. There were three on the farm that morning and she chased them all away.
On the Farm - January ’15
January is our mistiest month and on some days the sun barely came through and the year started with rain. The foggy weather causes a lot of illness and the main challenge for most people is keeping warm. For villagers this means huddling around open fires. Here Mewalal is warming himself alongside Kan Singh, driver of guests, having delivered the milk in the early morning.
There was rain again on 22nd January so the fields did not need watering and the main activity was thinning and cutting back the boundary hedges. A hive of wild bees was found. We are becoming very conscious of our pollinators and our need to look after them. There is a lot less mustard around us this winter for the bees to feed on. A greater demand for urea for wheat led to shortages. We had to send a trolley 50 kms. to get some.
Here is Lucy on a misty morning with the tall mustard in the distance behind her and the young wheat in the foreground.
On the Farm Archives
Some Farm Activities
Relax/read in sunshine
Walk the dogs
Watch cows being milked
Learn about local customs