I loved staying with you and the dogs and playing with the toys.
Jonas aged 8, Switzerland
A very welcome break from the crazy world of India – wonderful house, food and hospitality. Thank you so much.
Katie Buxton, Bath, UK
I loved seeing the crocodiles, and I learned a lot about deticking the puppies. Coming to the farm was a great experience.
Stella Bartholet, Washington, USA
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).
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.
December night temperatures started at 15oC and dropped to 4oC with minus temperatures in western and northern Rajasthan.
We had a good day for concreting the toilet block roof on 2nd December. Three young couples from Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh came as labourers and worked as an efficent team feeding the cement mixer monster and passing the mixed concrete up to the one on the roof who laid it. One woman was breast feeding and would take a break to feed her 12 month old baby slung in a sari between two trees while the others adjusted accordingly. They started at 12:20 hrs. and worked non stop for four hours.
Once the roof had been laid it was watered twice daily until 21st December to cure it and then the shuttering was removed. No further work happened in December as the local workforce found it too cold to work and remained hunched near little fires we were told.
Meanwhile the work of removing the pral (rice straw) either by tractor trolley or in head loads continued. We were paid Rs. 500 a bigha for the rice straw as fodder, slightly up on last year’s price.
Once the gullas of rice straw had been removed the fields could be ploughed and watered and prepared for growing wheat.
The seed drill is being filled with an equal mixture of wheat seed variety 4037 and DAP fertiliser. The wild boar for miles around seem to know when wheat has been planted and are very likely to turn up on the first night snuffling along the rows eating the grain as they go. Pigs and nilgai were nightly visitors, as well as rhesus monkeys during the day. One night jackals were heard close by. Twenty years ago jackals were daily visitors and their strange human-like wailing sound sometimes terrified guests but we rarely hear them that close any more.
We built two "scarepigs" and in this end of December photograph you can see one looming in the mist. The mustard is in full flower and the rock bees have arrived and have taken up residence.
November was a month devoted to rice. By the 10th the cut bundles had dried out enough despite unseasonal rain at the beginning of the month to pile up into heaps called gallas. On the 11th threshing started and went on intermittently until the 30th.
Once the grain has been extracted the problem remains of huge piles of rice straw or pral which have to be removed. Some was moved in headloads to the side of the field. Here you can see Dashrath and Ritu gleaning for rice with head loading going on in the background. Some was sold and was removed in ungainly overloaded tractor trolley loads.
This variety of rice is like basmati and cattle can eat the relatively delicate stalks but larger grains of rice grow on sturdier stalks which animals don’t want to eat, and so, since it is in nobody’s interest to pick it up from the fields after a combine has scattered it around, the farmer burns it leading to inevitable air pollution problems. We use a halfway type of process which involves hand cutting so the stalks left in the ground are short and will bio-degrade and mechanical threshing which results in the straw being deposited in piles and usable as fodder. It is still labour intensive though and we are lucky having a team of 10 women willing to do such hard work. This peaceful rural scene shows the women working in the background and the cows enjoying the freedom to graze in the rice fields watched over by Mewa Lal.
The toilet block finally got going again after the monsoon as the ground was hard enough for the site to be accessed by vehicles with roofing materials. On 27th November the material was delivered and two men worked for three days putting up the shuttering and laying the reinforcement bars. Concreting day was scheduled for 2nd December.
More torrential rain. We thought we’d reached the end of the monsoon but on 1st and 2nd October another 5.3 cms. fell bringing the total for the monsoon to 148 cms. or 58.2 inches, as measured on the farm. The legacy was mould on interior walls and fungus on the rice. The walls were cleaned with hydrogen peroxide but the rice developed black blobs of fungus which we think is called false smut. The grains were smaller this year which may be due to lack of sun. The grass between the fields grew as tall as the rice and here are Tigger and Doosra finding a way through.
On the 25th rice cutting operations started and here is the team. They cut bundles and laid them to dry. Later the bundles will be fed into a thresher by hand.
Divali came at the end of the month and Dashrath, and others, lit oil filled diyas and put them around the parapet before a few fireworks and sparklers lit up the night. But air pollution is such an issue that crackers are officially banned and smokey fireworks discouraged.
We get the leepna done every year after the monsoon and usually that means the end of September. These women came on 16th October.
Other activities on the farm included planting 30 bighas of mustard. Usually, we pre-irrigate but this year it was judged that the ground was wet enough and it was sown on the 17th without pre-irrigation. In some fields the trampling of the cows hooves had compacted the soil so that it had to be ploughed three times rather than twice. We would like to get rid of most cows but there is no legal way to do it.
Another 20.08 cms. this month and it rained on sixteen days. The muddy track had started to dry out but on the 12th there was 3.3 cms. of rain in 1.5 hours and the monsoon became active again. Because the reservoirs were full the authorities released a lot of water and all nineteen gates of the Kota Barrage were opened leading to flooding in low lying areas of the town.
Befor the rain started again the masons came and fitted stone lintels for the doors of the toilet block and reinforced brick lintels over the windows. By 9th September it was ready for the roof.
Greenery sprouted dramatically and an area beside the irrigation minor which was last cleared four years back by slashing and burning has now been named the Butterfly Walk. Various trees have self-seeded including shisham, kadam, khair and deshi babool and lantana and other shrubs have filled the ditches. The grass was cut before this picture to make it walkable. The palas or flame of the forest had been there before.
This photo sums up this year’s monsoon and the struggle to maintain property. Mould grew on the interior walls and roofs leaked where they hadn’t leaked before. The rice thrived but the worry is that it will develop fungus in the high humidity and late rains, and the grains underdevelop for the lack of sunlight.
The most significant feature of August 2019 was the record rainfall. After July’s 50.74 cms. or 20" we had 68.19 cms. or nearly 27" in August, giving a total of 118 cms. or 47" in two months. Luckily we upgraded our old thermos rain gauge to a larger one as 10 cms. could fall in 2 hrs and would fill up the thermos. The volume of the water collected was divided by the area of the funnel to give the rainfall measurement. (Spot the thermos and funnel!)
The water level in the well was the highest ever noted and water was standing around the cow shed and workers houses so the three children living on the farm looked marooned inside for a few days. No work could be done on the toilet block and a new use was found for it as a dry home for the calves.
Local rivers burst their banks and Kaithoon, a local town, was flooded. All dams were full by the end of the month. With gates of the barrage open, the River Chambal was restored to full majesty.This in an area dry and desparate for water in June.
By 26th August most flood water had drained away, but our
drive was still so muddy and rutted that only our trusty 4-wheel drive Gypsy could traverse it.
During the rain upto 29 women were given employment weeding the rice from 6th - 22nd August. They were paid Rs. 180 a day. No one else we knew of was providing weeding employment for them as it is cheaper to spray herbicide/weedicide. The rain sodden cows sploshed about looking for green fodder in the water logged fields and the milk became very watery.
Amidst all this rain, the transformer feeding electricity to our main boring pump stopped working inexplicably. We took it down, hoping to transport it to the central power house in Nayapura, Kota and exchange it the next day, but the procedure has been changed where a working transformer is delivered to the consumer and the faulty one taken away - as it should be. The replacement transformer was fixed on Friday the 23rd.
And here is little Rima, nearly one and standing, enjoying being outside her home on dry land. Rima’s father Amarlal is one of our wokers.
The monsoon got off to a good start with 19.5 cms. of rain before 10th July. The men flooded the paddy fields, the tractor churned up the mud and this team of 11 women transplanted the rice seedlings in rain or shine. Here they are bent double in the rain wearing plastic capes with hoods and working for roughly Rs. 215 a day.
The women worked from 10th July - 21st until they had planted 53 bighas of rice. Other fields had been green manured with dhaincha and as fodder for the cows.
It became very hot as we had no rain from 10th July - 25th and temperatures touched 38oC with high humidity. But from 25th - 31st another 31.28 cms. fell making a total of 50.74 cms. or 20". Many of the reservoirs had been dry and Jaipur was rumoured to be a mere few days from running out of water. The grass had had its annual cut before the monsoon using serated curved sickles used for cutting rice and known as Bihari dentalis. The roots were quite brown as you might just be able to discern under the rain water.
The walls of the toilet block started to come up above the plinth. A young mason Daleep and his young labouring wife with two young children came on the 16th and worked for four days before leaving to go back to their village. After four days of work three courses of English bond brick work had been laid. Work was slow for various reasons, one of them being that Daleep had no prior experience of laying an English bond. No further work was done in July to the frustration of its future users.
A strange and unfortunate incident on 22nd July was the sudden and inexplicable death of this cow. For a forgotten reason she was called Modi in 2014 and her calf Abhimanyu was named after the Indian Pilot who shot down a Pakistani F-16 and was in turn shot down from ground fire in February. She was found on her side at 4.30 pm in the bara or cow enclosure and was dead within half-an-hour. She was bloated but no other animal was suffering, so bloat or a snake bite seemed the only causes. But there were no visible signs of external injury or bite. The men from Nagar Nigam (local council) whoc came to take her away declared that she had been bitten by a female monitor lizard. There is no accepted evidence of monitor lizards being venemous and in the absence of a post mortem this explanation will continue to be cited. They had to drag her out of the bara and then transport her on a tractor lift. It is not clear where she would have been taken but her skin would probably been sold. The men who took her away have a contract with the Nagar Nigam to collect all the dead animals but demanded Rs. 1200. They settled for Rs. 900 in the end.
The same day,our maid Sugna, was bitten on the heel by a dog belonging to the next door farm. We insisted she went and saw a doctor, who prescribed her a course of anti-rabies injections. She received them for free having BPL (Below Poverty Line) status, being a single woman dependent on her son. We hope she got well stored and current vaccinations.
And to end on a more cheerful note, these are our first ever katel or jackfruit grown on the farm on a tree that is at least ten years old. Jackfruit is messy to prepare and it is advisable to wear rubber gloves as they exude a thick white sticky latex, but the flesh is very nutritious and somewhat similar to pork in texture and flavour. The farmworkers got their share and were delighted with natures bounty.
May is usually the hottest month but this time the temperature went up to 47oC in June and was never below 42oC. The workers were unfazed and were glad to be working in the shade. On 1st June five men drilled four holes for the caisson/pillars for the toilets using a manual augur.
By 4th June the baffles and the cast iron pipes in the septic tank had been fitted. Most plumbing and sewage pipes in homes are now plastic. Meanwhile the trenches for the foundation for the toilet block were being dug and on 8th June the concrete was poured in the trenches and caissons over steel reinforcement bars to form beams/footings and pillars. A brick wall to take the ground slab was built over the continuous footing and filled with soil and aggregate and the plumber summoned to put in place the soil and drain pipes, but his sister had died and so a delay was inevitable.
By 26th June the retaining wall was complete, the cast iron plumbing had been done, the steel bar reinforcement for a 6" thick floor was in position over a layer of aggregate and it was ready for pouring of concrete. By the end of the month the concrete slab had been laid and it was left for a week or more to be cured by rain and hosing while under cover of a plastic sheet.
Measures were taken in June to shelter the cows from the searing sun and two tin shed extensions were built. Special Sudanese Sorghum Grass (SSG) was grown to be cut daily for green fodder.
All wildlife was in search of water and this desperate Shikra came right up to the outside kitchen tap to cool off by dipping its tail feathers in a bucket of water and to drink water. There were some pre-monsoon showers in June which dropped the temperatures below 40oC to everyone’s relief.
May began with bagging of wheat for the women who had cut it, ourselves, our workers and a few villagers and the rest was sold in the grain market or mandi. Since our wheat had been rained on, the grains were slightly swollen with moisture and the price was down. We received Rs. 1815 a quintal which was more than anticipated as we sold from the farm at Rs. 1780. The women who had cut the wheat were paid in kind - 90 kgs. for each bigha cut and average yield was 7.5 quintals per bigha.
A couple of families from Madhya Pradesh were employed to load and move the bhoussa, or chaff, which lay in piles in each field and there was no temptation to stubble burn as the hand cut wheat stubble was short. Where a combine harvester had cut the wheat we used a secondary stubble cutting machine to chop the stalks for fodder. Again no temptation to burn the stubble, but only some residue after the second cutting operation was set alight.
Dust storms and hot winds are a feature of May and this year (like in May 2017, but less so) we lost a poplar tree on the drive which had been hollowed out by termites and beloved of woodpeckers and spotted owlets.
The main focus of the month was to get on with a toilet block and septic tank. This couple, Neeru and Sukhli, started digging on 18th May and finished on the 21st. They live beyond the town of Ratlam and have come to a labour camp at Nanta on the outskirts of Kota to find work and possibly water for the summer. They have four young daughters and different combinations of their children turned up on the farm each day.
Here Anju and Pushpa are looking after Baby Vansika. Another couple also came to labour with two very young children. They were given vegetables from the garden each day as well as their pay, probably Rs. 400 each (approx. GBP 4.70). The children were handed packets of biscuits almost every day.
Once the hole for the septic tank was dug, it was lined with stone. By the end of May the septic tank had been plastered and was ready for the pipes and baffles.
By 1st April the temperature was over 40oC. We loaded the mustard and sent that off to the mandi at the beginning of the month. Rs. 3501 for 100 kgs. is less than last years Rs. 3632 despite it being an election year and agricultural distress a major theme.
We had heavy rain and high winds on 16th and 17th April which refreshed and washed all the plants adding a fresh colour and sparkle to them. Luckily, the bulk of the wheat had been harvested by a combine harvester just in time and the crop was protected by heavy plastic sheeting known as tirpals (after tarpauline). The rest of the wheat (in the photographs above) was standing and suffered no serious damage although, ironically, the wheat grains lose colour in the rain and command a lower price because "...colour fade ho gaya." This wheat was cut by women using sickles.
The biggest bee hive in the pipal tree fell in the storm along with the old leaves. Contrast the two photographs above: the first was taken on 16th April and the second on 25th April. Within nine days the pipal tree was resplendent again in fresh green leaves.
The heritage wheat (C306 variety) which we grow for home consumption was hand cut, tied in bundles and fed into the thresher by hand by the end of the month. The yield is 1/7 of commercial wheat. Notice how much longer and more delicate the stalks are. We grow this in one acre only, so our commercial losses are negligible. Young Dashrath volunteered to help in his school holidays, for which he earned pocket money at the usual labour rates.
Lhaso, our long serving bull is now 16 and his teeth have worn down and he is having trouble chewing fodder. We bought a bag of channa-ki-churri for him - made from chickpea husk - and here he enjoys his daily ration watched enviously by his companions and progeny.
And to finish, a special and typical scene in rural India: the dudh wallah with his many brass charrie buying our milk at the farm gate. We receive Rs. 25 per litre for pure cow’s milk and the rate has not increased for several years. This is said to be because large dairies find it cheaper to buy subsidised milk powder from the EU lake than to buy from the local producers who do not have the advantages of scale and they push the price down.
This month was traumatic for little Rani who you could see last month being taken in the 4x4 Gypsy to the vet. The tube between her bladder and umblical cord had not closed naturally, as is usual, and urine leaked into her navel causing it to swell up with liquid.
Two stitches were put in by the Government vet which became infected so her navel filled up with urine and pus and became hard to the touch. We took her to Kota’s new private vet who took out the stitches and prescribed twice daily spraying of her infected navel, and a course of antibiotics for 6 days which Vijay administered every morning, in an attempt to avoid surgery which no one in Kota had the experience or confidence to perform. It seems to have solved the problem and we have to do a follow up course after three weeks. Surgery has been avoided for now.
March was also traumatic for me as I was attacked by some of our many rock bees in my head through my hair and on my forehead and jaw. To be fair to the bees, I had angered them by setting our incinerator alight which is close to their peepal tree home causing smoke and then dousing it with water after they were angered. (I had completely forgotten about the hives when I did that!) I think between 12-20 actually stung me, although a lot refrained. We sprayed anti-histamine on the sting punctures which prevented any swellings, but the venom caused an infection which created internal and external pain. So I went to a hospital and received treatment over the next week. None of the reactions were life threatening but I may have developed an allergy because of the attack. We have several rock bee hives on trees around the house and they have been very threatening in their behaviour several times.
Meanwhile, the mustard was cut and threshed and then stored in the open under a tarpaulin as the price was low.
The mustard chaff/bhoosa was sold at last year’s rate of Rs. 400 a bigha. A tractor-trolley came each day, loaded up and drove straight to the local factory where it will be used as fuel, we were told.
This year for the first time we grew a small patch of organic flax seed called alsin in Hindi. Each plant had to be harvested individually by plucking out of the surrounding weeds, tied in a bundle, and left to dry. After it was hand threshed we received just under 4.5 kgs. which we could have bought for Rs. 244/kg, that is, Rs. 1098 or 12GBP for the lot. In fact, it took two men a couple of days of work (spread over several days) to pluck, bundle, dry and thresh our harvest. A real super ‘super’ food. But guaranteed organic.
And this year’s Holi picture is of Sita and her two youngest from our farm (three on the left) with her friend and her daughter from the next farm who had obviously enjoyed throwing dry powder colour to celebrate Holi.
A very pleasant month weather wise with night temperatures between 6oC and 14oC and daytime between 21oC and 34oC but mainly in the mid- to late-twenties and so below the historical average. We had the first foggy day of the winter on 6th February. We had a few misty starts but the sun always broke through.
The green wheat was very vulnerable to marauding nilgai and Vijay was out at least twice every night to chase them off with airgun pellets or a powerful torch when alerted by Doosra’s barking. There were usually a couple but sometimes a group of ten. Fewer pigs this year and less pig damage.
The mustard finished flowering and as it ripened the fields were full of birds picking off the inevitable aphids. On 14th February we had heavy rain in the evening which washed off the aphids and the rain drops gleamed in the early sun.
On the 25th a team of twelve women came to start cutting the mustard. When they reached the last field on the 28th a herd of six to seven wild boar were seen to exit.
The leepner had to be redone after the rain. The young woman on the left grew up on this farm and is now married in Madhya Pradesh but comes back to stay with her mother in the village near here for agricultural labouring work.
Two month old Rani (see January’s blog) has developed a medical problem as her navel fills up with urine and may need surgery. She is small enough to fit in our 4x4 Maruti Suzuki Gypsy and can be taken for treatment. More next month.
This January was cold with night temperatures below 10oC for all but one night. Most mornings we had breakfast outdoors in our garden in sub 8oC temperatures before the sun warmed us up. But no fog. Every day was clear and bright after a little early mist which hangs over the wheat being watered. Maximum temperature ranged between 20oC - 25oC.
The wheat was barely showing at the beginning of the month but by the end of January we were surrounded by a carpet of fresh green.
The bright yellow mustard flowered all January and was abuzz with rock bees (apis dorsata) which have gathered along the branches of the large pipal tree. We also have apis florea, little bees, but apis cerana - the Indian honey bee - has lost its ecological niche to the European honey bee apis mellitus. Some hives of honey bees are to be seen around here but sections of the Jaipur-Agra road were lined with them for the mustard flowering season.
As the mustard grew taller, it gave excellent cover to a family of nilgai with their young that had taken up residence. Every night they were shooed off with a bright torch aimed at them resolutely which made their eyes shine prominently in the darkness. Soon they learnt to look away from the torch so that their eyes did not shine in the beam of light and they could blend into the murky background without revealing their position. But their inquisitiveness gets the better of them and they can not help glancing in the direction of the torch. Even so it requires a pair of binoculars to properly spot them at a distance.
Little Rani, born on 12th December continued to thrive and she often chose to keep Tikku company who had lost her male calf on 23rdDecember. Mottled mum, Meera, is in the foreground and Tikku in the centre ground. We gave her food to try to increase her milk production but the cost of the fodder was more than the value of the milk gained and we let her go dry. Rani was never spotted helping herself to Tikku’s milk which she might have done as she was free to roam around.
The main aim in December was to sell the rice but the queues were so long to get into the mandi, where the rice is dumped in piles and then sold and bagged, that the tractors turned back. It was said that the price at the Kota mandi was higher than in Madhya Pradesh, our next door state, and so traders were buying up rice from the farmers at the lower price and reselling it in Kota thereby leading to the large queues which affected the local farmers.
We waited until after the state elections on 7th December before trying again and were relieved to find that the price had gone up and not down. Some of our rice had been waiting under black tarpauline for a month before being sold.
The gaps in the nilgai fence were finally closed off this month. The builders of the wall had left gaps at the drainage gullies and animals had been coming and going through them.
Here is Vijay by the fence with Lucy and Tigger who like to be present when work is going on. They still have work to do at night warning visiting pigs and nilgai but with all land covered in young wheat the wildlife spreads out.
The rice fields had to be watered and prepared for wheat sowing. By the 17th we had planted in all fields that had previously had rice.
Two calves were born this month. The mother of one prolapsed which was a medical emergency and the vet came and stitched her up and mother and baby Rani are now fine. The second cow is a bad mother and has a history of kicking her calves or ignoring them. A male calf was born to her on a cold night on 22nd and struggled to stand. Despite our best efforts he died 24 hours later. December was cooler than usual and the potatoes were damaged by air frost. Log fires were a treat in the evenings and Christmas felt a bit Christmasy with night temperatures of 5oC.
This is the farm landscape after the wheat had been planted but before it had sprouted. The mustard is still flowering and within a month this view will be transformed by an expanse of green.
Although the rice was threshed at the beginning of the month it could not be sold as there was such a flood of rice at the market that the tractors and trollies were queuing for half a kilometre to get into the grain market gates to dump their loads. Ghasilal managed to sell his first trolley load but brought the second back as he did not want to wait in a queue all night. Sporadically, the mandi/market had been closed for a day to give them time to clear the backlog. We are waiting for the rush to ease but hope the price will stay up even after the Rajasthan state elections on 7th December.
Diwali was on 7th November and as usual we honoured the cows on the second day with Govardhan puja. The cows were washed and linseed oil and henna put on their horns. They were fed sweetened puris, which they love. Most of the cows actively participate, but Lasho, the bull, will have nothing to do with it.
The cows had been enjoying eating the rice straw or pral in the fields and it was fed to them in their enclosure. On the 21st four women came to load the trollies with pral and dump it near the cowshed. It took them six days to clear the fields of the rice straw. When it is ready, the milking cows will be fed green fodder like alfalfa called bersin every day. Bersin is broadcast and then watered. This was done right after Diwali.
Our former hali (farm worker), Vinod, was finally married on the 19th near Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh. He has been let down at least twice before. He brought his wife to meet us. His wife, Arti, claims to be 18 years old, but looks younger. She is a slip of a girl compared to Vinod who is twice her size and weight. It is illegal for a bride to be under 18 and the groom to be under 21. But she is from the same community as Vinod and we hope they will be very happy.
We achieved a lot in October and now have a chain link fence not only around the vegetables but along the border with the road. The chain link fence is made locally and looks like this when delivered. The concrete posts were made near Tonk 150 kms to the north and delivered by tractor-trolley. The team of four young men who erected it were local and charged Rs.100 per post, that’s about GBP 1.10 to hand dig each post hole and erect the fence. They did 91 posts in two days.
On 16th October a young nilgai was caught on the farm and then released. This is the dilemma that it will grow up and add to the size of the herd destroying our crops. On the 10th four wild boar were found dead on the road killed by a single vehicle. A large herd must have been exiting our farm.
We watered the fields after the monsoon and sowed DuPont Pioneer mustard seeds as we did last year. We searched for an Indian hybrid seed but couldn’t find one. At Rs. 510/kg it is five times the price of local seed.
This month we rebuilt one part of the cow shed with stones and mud as it had partly collapsed in the monsoon. Two women worked for five days re-plastering it with a soil, chaff and cow dung mixture. They did the inside where the chaff is stored by torch light.
By the end of October the first rice was ready to be harvested. This year we didn’t use a combine harvester which is quick and efficient but cuts the rice close to the grain and leaves the straw all over the field. This team of 14 women hand cut the rice close to the ground and laid it in bundles to dry, but didn’t have to tie the bundles and beat them against an empty oil barrel before feeding through a thresher as used to happen. Instead, they gathered the bundles into piles on a large tarpaulin to catch any loose grain and then threshed in a single process which left the rice straw in enormous piles, so the stubble does not have to be burnt adding to air pollution. It seems like a good compromise but there is still the problem that the recommended way to prevent rice blast is to burn the stubble.
And to end the month, we had a long awaited visit from our son and four year old grand-daughter who took every opportunity to relish farm life.
September is often a very hot and humid month, but this year there was drizzle and cooler temperatures prevailed. Ten centimetres of rain fell in six hours on 8th September, but overall there was little rain. The cooler weather, that is, under 30oC was blamed for a more serious infestation of rice blast which was attacking the base of the plants (?). The received wisdom seems to be to burn the stubble after the harvest to stop future occurrences, but on air-pollution grounds we are not supposed to do that. We did not spray our hand weeded rice but hope it will weather the blast on its own in healthy soil.
But Ghansi Lal, our share cropper, sprayed his rice for a first time with pesticide on the 17th. Four men walked through the rice holding a hose pipe which is powered by the tractor and sprays pesticide from a tractor-trailer mounted plastic tank. The tractor was parked close to the khejdi tree with the baya weaver bird nests. Thankfully, the birds did not abandon their nests, as they had done last year, because of the spraying.
The nilgai proof chainlink fence was finished this month, but before it was completed a resourceful nilgai investigated for the weakest section and forced its way between the barbed wires. Monkeys are also getting bolder as Ghansi Lal complained that one had walked into his house, opened the fridge, and stolen the atta (dough). He is thinking of getting an airgun.
Because of the monsoon we were aware that the 4x4 Gypsy hood was leaking from stitches that had opened up. We were able to call Rodu to come and stitch it. He is the village mochi or leatherworker and used to skin dead cows and make some money from the hide. Now the Municipal Corporation has given the responsibility of removing dead animals on contract and so he misses out. He sits on the ground in the village and repairs shoes and stitches leather. He is always very clean and smartly dressed but is still expected to be grateful for crumbs from the upper castes. He never presumes to name a sum of money for his services to us and says Sahib will give as he thinks fit. For stitching this Gypsy hood he earned GBP 2.50, which was thought to be generous.
The two women who came to renew our leepner after the rains are used to daily wages. They were expecting GBP 2.50 a day for two days or Rs.400, and when I gave them Rs.500 each, the more confident named Dhankanwar (right), who has a son who owns a car but no income of her own unless she does agricultural labouring, was so overwhelmed that she touched my feet and said she would give a donation to a temple.
The standard of living for the three men who work on our farm has gone up this month as they now all have cooking gas connections and don’t have to rely on smokey bio-fuels. They will have to pay for the gas bottle refill, which currently costs about Rs.830, and so are inclined to use it sparingly.
Amarlal’s third child, a second daughter, was born in his wife’s village in Madhya Pradesh on 20th September. When his wife returns she will have a smoke free house to live and cook in. Under one of Prime Minister Modi’s schemes, poor women have been given gas connections in their names as a form of social empowerment and to cut back on the high rate of lung diseases caused by cooking with bio-fuels.
By the end of August the rice fields were green and healthy but the soyabean and dhaincha planted as green manure had been ploughed in.
If this crop of dhaincha had been allowed to grow, it would have reached 6 feet and would have to have been cut by hand. Luckily, there was a dry-ish spell at the beginning of August so the tractor could plough.
We had 31.6 cms. of rain in August, one quarter of which fell in 45 minutes on the 19th of August, so an average monsoon but no excess.
One main activity of the month was hand-weeding our 14 bighas of rice (6.5 bighas make one hectare). Upto 21 women a day worked for seven days to weed it. The rest of the rice fields were sprayed with a herbicide which luckily does not appear to have affected the weaver birds busily nest building on a khejdi tree in the rice fields.
The other main activity was building the nilgai proof fence around the vegetable patch. One night 18 nilgai were spotted running through the rice. Another less destructive visitor was this wildcat detected by the dogs in a raini tree near the house.
And here to finish with the backview of a dancing peacock. One usually sees the front and is unaware of the striking infrastructure holding everything up.
We started the month with a dry farm with little greenery and by the end the monsoon had transformed our surroundings.
We sowed some soyabean at the beginning of the month for nitrogen fixing. The picture on the sack shows happy farmers in front of neat weedless rows. This is absolutely impossible without heavy use of herbicides and hoeing between rows.
After the soyabean it was time to prepare the fields for rice. Here the tractor is doing what I call guddling and churning up the soil in a flooded field. Once the mud was ready the women transplanted the rice plants keeping going even through the monsoon rain.
We then started constructing a nilgai proof fence around the vegetable patch using a post driver to pound angle iron posts into the ground; this proved very effective.
As soon as the first rain comes the weeds spring up. At first glance all these weeds look the same, but the leaf being held is called khunijra and has a smooth edge to each leaf. The plant to the left has a serrated edge to the leaf and is locally called rajaan. Both of these plants make a tasty vegetable dish once well boiled. They are always picked and cooked separately despite looking so similar.
It was also the month when one of the electricity poles on the farm began to lean dangerously when the rains softened the soil. It had been leaning for some time, but in the rains this month the lean became pronounced. This was straightened on 20th July with the help of a tractor under the supervision of the electricity company linesman after a "shutdown" to render the whole operation safe. Large stones were driven into sides of the pole with a crow bar to prop it upright.
June was unusually hot and dry with no real pre-monsoon shower until the 29th when 9 cms. fell in three hours ending the parched summer.
The month was spent repairing roofs, cleaning drains, cutting brush and giving the lawn its annual cut: it is called carpet grass and barely grows; we cut it back to the roots in June and it sprouts green again in the rains. These tiles on the garage roof were broken by wood apples falling on them, but since the wood apple or kaint tree is no longer there we shouldn’t have that problem again.
Some small 'typhoons' resulted in this teak tree being blown over. We tried pulling it upright using the Gypsy four-wheel drive, but in the end had to resort to drastic surgery and lopped the top before re-embedding and supporting it. We’ll see if it survives.
On 21st Kota made the Guiness Book of Records for gathering over 100,000 people together to do yoga on World Yoga Day led by Baba Ramdev and the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Vasundra Raje. Our maid Sugna was there having never done yoga in her life as two free buses left the village at 5am to take them to the event site. She sat on a matting provided in her sari and copied the movements from the nearest TV screen. She got back to the village at 9am and walked straight back to the farm to do a day’s work.
Dhaincha, a green manuring crop was broadcast on 28th June and on the 29th we had heavy rain. The rain accentuated the furrows like the whorls on the earth’s finger prints.
As expected, May was an extremely hot dry month with temperatures reaching 47oC and only a few drops of rain. Dust storms, but nothing like the violent storms further north in Rajasthan and U.P., swept through our farm shaking trees dramatically. We altered the mens’ hours so they worked from 7.00-10.30 and then 4.00-7.00 so they weren’t working during the hottest part of the day. Other labourers were not so lucky and toiled slowly in the heat.
We sold two trolley loads of wheat to the Government on May 4th. They paid a minimum support price of Rs.1735 per 100kgs. which was more than on the open market. The purchasing centre was a former oil processing facility on the other side of town 18.5 kms. away, so haulage costs were higher. There were no crowds of sellers, but they ran out of sacks so our man, in red and white striped T-shirt had to stay there overnight guarding our pile of wheat. Four young men laboured all day filling 50 kg. sacks and weighing them. The farmers paid them Rs.5 per sack in cash. The Government money was due by direct transfer and took 21 days. This is a massive change towards acccountability. Farmers pay no tax below a certain threshold and all transactions used to be in cash.
Towards the end of the month we hired extra labour to empty the gobar (cow dung) pit and spread it on the fields. This hadn’t been done for two years and the khad (manure) at the bottom was well rotted and went on the vegetable patch. The next challenge is to build a nilgai proof fence around it before sowing everything.
And a dramatic, but dodgy, photo to end on of our neighbour burning his stubble so he can grow rice. When you flood the fields the remaining wheat straw in the fields floats and is a nuisance. Mustard stubble was ploughed in but where wheat was grown and rice is to be sown, our short stubble was also burnt. This was the compromise: shorter stubbble so less pollution when burnt. It was noticeable this year that there was far less stubble burning and most farmers that did resort to it, had taken the trouble to get their wheat stalks cut first (see last month’s blog).
Some very surprising news was discovered in India in April after the publication of a food blog in livemint.com announcing that one Victoria Singh of Kota, Rajasthan had won the Gold Award for her marmalade in the Commonwealth Category at the World Original Marmalade Awards held at Dalemain in Cumbria, U.K. in March.
Here is a photo of me holding the certificate under the orange tree that bore the bitter oranges used in my 'Bitter Oranges and Ginger' marmalade. A lot of interest has been generated but I only made a few kgs. and there is none left. This coming winter I will have to make more but the market in India for a strong marmalade in very niche.
The main activities on the farm have been selling the mustard and combine-harvesting the wheat.
Here is the combine. It leaves a long stalk in the soil and so this year we employed a straw making machine to go round each field cutting the tops and chopping them into small pieces before blowing them into a trolley. The owner charged Rs.1300 per trolley and he would sell it on for Rs.1800 for cattle feed so we gained Rs.500 a trolley and there was less stubble to burn in fields where we are going to be growing rice next. Win-win.
Our heritage wheat for home consumption was hand cut and threshed. The chaff is fine and silky and the cows enjoy it.
And to end, an action shot of a JCB just as it was tipping over. Quite suddenly it went past its tipping point and landed on its side, lying like a great wounded beast for a whole day before the owners could work out a way of pulling it upright with a strong chain, known locally as toe-chun (tow-chain), and another JCB. Fortuitously, there were no injuries to the driver or his passenger.
March was a very bountiful month with the birth of our third grandchild and three calves. The third of the three calves was named Kavyan, the middle name of our new grandchild Arthur. He was the first calf born to four-year old Ramini, the middle name of our eldest granchild Sophie who is also four.
The mustard which had been cut in February was piled up on 9th March ready for threshing when a storm came and with it this beautiful rainbow. Very little rain, luckily, so threshing went ahead the next day and took two days to complete. The women worked until after sunset to finish off. By the end of the month the temperature had topped 40oC.
Three end of an era events happened this month. Our uncle Brigadier Nahar Singh on the neighbouring farm died on 13th March just four weeks after his wife - both will be sadly missed. This iconic kainth tree photographed during its final moments was probably older than any other tree around and pre-dated human settlement in this part of the jungle.
And the field to the right of the gate now bears its new owner’s name and a boundary wall is being built. The remains of mustard, the last agricultural crop to be grown there can be seen behind the banner. More of India’s irrigated best farmland disappears under concrete. End of an era for this field as well.
February started with beautiful misty sunrises and night temperatures of 9oC.
The main focus of the month was to protect the green and tender wheat from the nightly visits of a herd of nilgai. The 2200 - 2400 midnight patrol was not good enough and they returned and grazed peacefully until sunrise. An extra young man was employed to patrol so we had three duties: 2200-2400, 2300-0100 and 2400-0200. After 0200 hrs. Vijay kept checking with a powerful torch leading to very erratic sleep patterns. The men were given time off during the day in lieu. Watering was the other main activity.
This photo was taken on 1st February. Not only was the wheat feeding nilgai but peacocks, pigs and monkeys too!
During the month the mustard ripened and a team of women came to cut it. The imported American hybrid plants patented by DuPont were not intended to be harvested by sickles and were so dense and tough that the women asked for the rate to be increased from Rs.825 per bigha to Rs.1000. The yield was good, however. These are not terminator seeds and will sprout but we are not allowed to keep the seed and plant it next year.
During the month two calves were born and here is Sheoji born on 13th February to Charlotte who is seen here nudging her son into a good sucking position.
January is a very beautiful month with the sunrise dispersing early mist over the fluorescent yellow flowering mustard fields. Unfortunately, if the wind is from the S.E. the mist traps the smell from the brick kilns and it can be so unpleasant that we retreat indoors for breakfast.
14th January is Makkar Sankranti known as kite flying day over much of northern India and it marks the start of the northward journey of the sun in the solar zodiacal calendar or specifically the day on which the sun enters the zodiac Capricorn/Makkar. Children for weeks beforehand spend their time kite flying and kite fighting. Some of the string (manja) leading to the kite is covered in powdered glass so it can cut the opponents kite string better. It also wraps itself around childrens necks and people have been garotted while driving their scooters and motorbikes.
Apart from watering the main job is protecting the young wheat from the monkeys, pigs and a herd of nilgai or blue bull. The night rota for crop protection continued this month, but one morning 15 nilgai were seen exiting the farm at 6am. They know to put in an appearance before midnight to be chased away, but it seems that the majority of them enter the farm after the duty rota is finished and when no torches or room lights can be seen. Here five nilgai are moving slowly off having been chased out of the tall mustard where they were hiding by day.
January and March in 2018 are unusual in the sense that each have two full moons. This photo is of the second or blue moon on 31st January. There was also a lunar eclipse but we couldn’t see it. Even in Bangalore, that international city of intelligent thinkers, it was noticed that the streets were very quiet during the eclipse as people hedged their bets and stayed indoors as they consider it inauspicious to be out during an eclipse, especially pregnant women.
Relax/read in sunshine
Walk the dogs
Watch cows being milked
Learn about local customs