Monday, October 15, 2018

Missing Amma

When I was a child, my job before every festival was to wash and clean our little puja shelf. I loved that task; it was just like playing with dolls, but with the added sense of being virtuous. Moving all the idols and paraphernalia out, washing them, washing the shelf, and placing everything back was fun!

And then I went off to college and no longer came back in time for every festival. I grew to adulthood and questioned the concept of religion and rituals. Amma never said anything, but continued to do the rituals on her own.

Today, after decades, I sat down to clean out all her gods, and wonder why I did not do such a simple task for her. There were reasons of course, and some even sound valid. I would come for a small number of days, and focus on the 'important' things- cleaning out the fridge, checking the groceries and medicines, cleaning the cupboards. In the last few years, she probably did not even trust me to treat her gods with the proper reverence. But it was such a small thing..

Amma passed away yesterday. I am cleaning out her puja corner because in ten days, our relatives will come to do the 12th day rituals and I do not want anyone to comment on the state of things. I should have done it earlier for the better motivation of pleasing her. There are far too many such opportunities I missed.

She was generous as usual even towards the end. Just two days before she passed away, she gave my sister and I the gift of a tender, love filled goodbye. As we sat on either side of her hospital bed, she talked to us.
"Please don't mind if I leave now. I am tired and want to sleep."
"Thank you for everything."
"Give me a kiss"

She made it very clear to us that we were completely loved and completely forgiven. That she was ready to go. That she was not afraid any more. After that night, she never really spoke again. That was our goodbye.

I know that at the end, she was not disappointed or angry with us. She gave us that one last gift, more precious than all the other things she had given us. And yet, I am sitting here and crying wishing I had cleaned those idols, been more respectful towards the things that mattered to her.

Here we are, our little family of three

Saturday, June 30, 2018

One rose, six deaths

"I thought what an interesting case I must be from a medical point of view, what an acquisition I should be to a class!  Students would have no need to “walk the hospitals,” if they had me.  I was a hospital in myself.  All they need do would be to walk round me, and, after that, take their diploma."

So  said Jerome K. Jerome in 'Three Men in a Boat'.

So says my Edward rose today.

It's that time of the year, when finally finally my garden is waking up and thriving. And that includes the various fungi, bugs, and bacteria that also call the garden home. As always, none are worse hit than my venerable  Edward rose bushes which manage to attract every disease, pest, and affliction around. Here is what is presently affecting just one of them, in alphabetical order.

1. Aphids. I have been spraying with my soap solution, but they just laugh. Will now make a garlic-chile mixture, but that takes a week to mature.

2. Black spot. I spray with a bordeaux mixture every winter. Should I do it again? Does cinnamon powder work? Help! Right now, am just taking off the leaves and burning them (as much as possible, I don't get them all)
See the white stuff on the tips of the leaves? that's from the dust storm, hasn't been washed off yet.

3. Canker. I don't know what to do about this, other than cut off the stems and burn.
4. Caterpillar.
caterpillar meal
  He leaves me hostess gifts in exchange for the fine meals he's getting. But I have not found him yet. 
caterpillar gift
 In the photo above, do you see the smaller droppings on the leaves in the background? That's yet another being.
5. Mildew

6. Whosthisguy. I have no idea. Remember the little droppings in the caterpillar evidence shot? They are from this

Does anyone recognise this?

And in the interest of Science, here's a comparison:

Why grow the Edward Rose at all? Why not just replace it with other cultivars that are just as fragrant, have better colours and are disease resistant? Why not, even, treat myself to 'Claire Austin' or 'Jude the Obscure' both of whom I have been lusting after?  Because classic fragrance and childhood memories.

Do go on to The Propagator's blog for other Six on Saturday posts. They are far less dismal- we even have flowers!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Chicken happiness

What does a chicken need to make it happy? Mian had told me once that a human needs three things to make him or her happy- a home, work, and love. Let's assume that it works the same way for chickens.

I want to take that as a guideline to see how the chickens fare in their coop.

Home: They are definitely more secure in their coop than outside. Outside, in the last three years, they have been attacked by vultures, pine martens, jackals, dogs, and the neighbour's evil cat. Their coop is secure. While it doesn't have the cross-ventilation I would like, it is fairly well ventilated with two windows facing east and north (and I keep the door open during the day). Since we have a breeze from the east most days, it means they have adequate fresh air. It is also quite roomy with our present flock. It does stay a few degrees hotter than outside; I manage this by watering down the walls and the floor on the hottest afternoons
Their coop. Roomy, and sunlight hits the back wall in the morning
Work: I will take this to mean their feeding and foraging. We follow a deep litter system, and I scatter plenty of 'scratch' seed in the morning. Also, I add the remains of fruit processing to the litter, which attracts insects .So there is quite a lot of scratching going on there, which also helps keep the litter (and droppings) turned and aerated. I also feed them in the mornings and evenings.The problem is water. Their water bowl was always outside under a tree, they don't drink from it when it is inside. I try and counter this by giving them watery foods- which they enjoy.

I am concerned that they miss out on greens except during the time they are out foraging. So most mornings I tie up a bunch of the greens they like (goosefoot, shepherd's purse, amaranth) and hang it up in the coop.The bugs they only get when they are out foraging, unless some poor insect enters the coop.
Eating their greens. Note the smart one making an aerial assault.
 Love: Or rather, sex. They don't mate when inside the coop. I don't know  why. So now friskiness happens only during the scheduled free-ranging time. And anyway, not much happens when you have four roosters. One barely manages to climb onto a willing hen before the other three come and knock him off. No wonder we only got two chicks from a clutch of ten.

And I will add one more which is

Health: Temperature control, ventilation and food we manage. The problem is dustbathing. Even though I let them out morning and evening, they don't dustbathe during those hours. I have noticed that they like to do it when the sun is out, and so very often they get an additional outing so that they can dustbathe. I am a little worried about mites. One solution I have read is to scatter wood ash in the litter. I have tried that, and found myself inhaling more ash than I would like to when it came time to turn and collect the litter. So that's out. Regular sunny outings and a limewash to the walls is all I can think of, will keep an eye on them.

Morning outing time. The bare patch in the background is where they love to sun themselves.
So that's what we do for chicken happiness. Does it work? Well, yesterday I forgot to round them up and put them in after their morning outing. When I went, they had already put themselves into the coop. I think they don't mind it too much.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

I, chicken jailer.

My chickens are probably going to unionize. And I don't blame them. After all, I am forcing them to work under less than ideal conditions.
But let me explain my side of the story.
Since we first talked about getting hens, Mian and I took it for granted that they would range freely across the orchard. They would fertilise the orchard even as they ate pests; they would increase our harvests even as they gave us eggs.
Sexy (L) and Red, half of our first flock and still going strong
When the first three hens and one rooster came, we realised that rather than go into the orchard, the hens went straight to my seedlings. We then fashioned a movable coop for them. This 'chicken tractor' was never ideal. Wheels don't work on a terraced landscape, and with a light tubing coop, the birds would be vulnerable to every opportunistic intruder. Instead the thing we created out of salvaged wood was mobile only with much effort- it required four strong men to lift it.

Cages are necessary for all seedlings and young plants. And I am tired of a jail-themed garden
And very soon, we outgrew that space. The birds then free ranged for quite a while. As the flock grew, so did my complaints. My garden was being destroyed; and they were causing erosion on all the slopes.
This wall once had ferns on it. And erigeron, and mint.

We tried making a run for them, but  they flew over it.

And so now, they are confined to their coop for the larger part of the day. I let them out in the late morning for an hour or two to let them dustbathe and then I let them back out at 430 till they decide to return to the coop to roost.
The barricade. Now that they are used to the idea, I no longer need the top panel. A waist-high barricade is enough.

How do they like it? More or less, they seem to be fine with the idea. When I shoo them in after their morning outing, they go willingly, except for the poults. And their problem is not so much that they don't like the coop but that their elders harass them. The chicks are vulnerable, so I usually let them and their mothers stay out a bit  longer.

What 'extra' do we need to do to keep them happy? That's in the next post!
Room service

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Little wild things

The idea for this Six-on-Saturday came when I was on my hands and knees, weeding the path to our house. Under the salvia, where I would never have noticed it if I was standing up, I saw the most darling little wild flower.
1. Here it is, Suckering Mazus

2.And this is the Nepal Geranium, which is quite a favourite of mine
 3. And you may have seen this photo before, but  how could I resist sharing it again? A bank of oxalis and erigeron
 4. The Evening Primrose is at its peak now. Such a nice lemony fragrance!

 And here's a close up.
5. And another old  friend- the Pink Evening Primrose
6.And I have featured Erigeron before, but this is  different, I promise! The annual fleabane is at it's peak, and I find it so cheerful

The Propagator hosts the Six-on-Saturday, so do go on over to his blog!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Dust storms

We have not had it as bad as the people of Rajasthan, who are seriously affected by the dust storms this week. And I am humbled by what they are facing.
Despite the fact that Uttarakhand is across the country from the state, we are seeing the results of those storms. I find this incredible. And that is why the weather tops my Six on Saturday list this week. Take a look
1. Haze. This is what we have been seeing for the last couple of days.

 And this is what the rainwater looks like:
Also, the rain does not really help matters. It does settle the dust for a bit. but then the winds rise again, and we get a layer of mud on everything.

2. Let's all go and kiss our long suffering non-gardener partners and other family members. The only thing that Mian really cares for in household stuff is a clean kitchen platform. And this is what he gets.
But I have a good excuse. The lavender was looking poorly, as lavender cuttings are wont to look. In this spot, right by the kitchen sink and under a skylight, I can keep an eye on them. The sage is doing well, the rosemary is ready to be planted out, and in the small steel katori  is a bulb of Garud Buti which I had given up on and surprised me by sending out a shoot this week.

3. Kiwi! For the first time, I  have fruits on my Kiwi plants! Eight fruits this year. And maybe, eight kilos the next? I do hope so!

4. Plums. The harvesting, slicing, freezing.

5. And worryingly, the mould. I am not sure what this is only on one tree and the first time I have seen it. We had some hail damage last week, I hope it is just a combination of injured fruit in warm humid weather and not a fungal disease. In the meantime, I am collecting and burning the well as fruits burn in 70% humidity. 
6. The promise of beans. The garden is dotted with sticks, twine and tepees like this one. They all support beans..A harvest of about 7 kilos feeds us for just less than a year. Right now, our kitchen ism out of beans and has been for a month, but I am strangely resisting buying some.

Please do go on over to The Propagator's blog and read the rest of the Six on Saturday!

Saturday, June 9, 2018

the pre-monsoon update

I have been away for weeks, and it is good to be back. Back home, back in the garden, and back doing the Six-on-Saturday post. Do join in if you can, here's the how-to.
So here is what my garden and I have been up to:
1.There has been a very hot spell which crisped several plants. Some, like this fuchsia will recover. But the plants that I had put into the wall I want to green will not return. More planting then.

2. On a happier note, the foxgloves continue to surprise me. Here is this enchanting little one that reminds me of raspberry ripple icecream.
It also reminds me of an azalea I covet. I saw it in Sikkim, it is white with splashes of the same red-purple that this foxglove has, and- i swear- smelt of raspberries. I did not steal a cutting because a) it was in my host's garden and b) cuttings don't 'take' when flowering is going on. I have regretted my prudence ever since.

3. Speaking of cuttings, remember the lavender cuttings I took last autumn? Only two survived, of which I gave one to a friend. Here is the one in my garden.
Have taken another six cuttings, and am keeping my fingers crossed.

4. It is bold, brash and looks like it was made of plastic. I almost thought I would not keep it, till I chanced to sniff it late one evening, and smelt the musky-fruity scent. It stays.

5. See how nice and tall these chrysanthemums are standing? That's because I managed to get my act in order and did some pre-emptive staking. Not early enough to be truly 'correct' , but better than my usual style of waiting until the stems break.

6. Not my favourite plants. Hydrangeas aren't. They are too brash (the mopheads at any rate), have no scent, and do  not shelter any insect/bird life. Nonetheless,  I  do have some in the shady patches, and I like the smaller, more 'normal looking' varieties. This white one is an example- look at those pretty blue centres!

This one on the other hand, is rather an overwhelming pink.