Monday, November 20, 2017

Among the greats

For the last few days, I have been spending time with a bunch of people I really like.We perch on uncomfortable chairs and joke about what might be an appropriate time of the day to move on from drinking chai to beer. We wrestle with computers and rig up amplifiers with empty plastic at bottles.
When they speak, I listen hard. Because their stories are astounding.

The quiet young man in a flamboyant green shirt? He has been at the head of one of the few successful anti-dam struggles India has seen. For 15 years, Bhai has participated in keeping the Subansiri free and its peoples safe. Here in one small room are people who have devoted decades of  their lives to the Teesta, to Loktak, to Subansiri. Here are people who have spent their entire working lives in solidarity with the oppressed and tried to make sense of the inequalities they see around them.

There are places in this country where the police set fire to people's huts. 'My child's board exams start tomorrow. I am such a helpless mother', laments a woman who has been suddenly rendered homeless. There are places where villages have suddenly been washed away. And this group bears witness to it all.

I am humbled.

Saturday, October 28, 2017


This week, it has flown. But here are snapshots:
 1. Persimmon hate: Too strong a word, you say? Not strong enough, say I! In an optimistic moment, we harvested far too many persimmons.
 This is just part of what we have lying around the house. And all that  has to be peeled, strung up (a process requiring patience and nimble fingers) and hung up to dry. Those that ripen before I can get to them need to be pulped and frozen.
 And then the Mian had to leave for work. So now I am tackling these myself and thinking evil thoughts as I peel and knot. It is in my best interests to eat persimmons, but I feel more like a persimmon than a human now.

2. Full of beans: The harvest is in. We have 500 gm of the white beans, and a slightly more respectable 3 kilos of the Chitra.
There are more drying, and we ate some. The total is 3kg, honest! And yes, those are more persimmons rolling about in the background.

3. Sundrying: Along with the strung-up persimmons, there are lots of other things drying about the house. But here's a shot of my roof

Chillies, more chillies, the last of the beans,chopped up radish greens for furikake and yes, persimmons.

4. Autumn colour: Is just coming in. Here are pictures.
Weigela. I wish I could convey the pink-orange-greenishness of the leaves. The photo just does not do it justice.
Persimmons. And yes, there are more persimmons that need to be harvested on there.  Sadly, I will be out of town when they are in their full blazing glory.

5. Pumpkin present, pumpkin future: We gathered in 4 pumpkins, one was gifted to us by P (to whom I had given seeds last year), and one is still to be harvested.
And we have started pumpkin prep for next year. A wire structure has been erected, the coop litter and some kitchen waste has been thrown in, and the chickens have been requested to turn and shred the leaves. For the next , this 7 months, this will be added to and watered and pampered. In June, three pumpkin seeds will be reverently put in. Our goal? A dozen pumpkins or more!

Work away, my little biddies. Work away. And yes, that is a persimmon you see in there.

6. Here's Waldo!: Or rather, here's Attila. We bought some Attila strawberry seeds from Baker Creek this autumn. Mian has wanted alpine strawberries for the longest time and I am tired of not being able to grow the things he loves. The reason I chose this variety is because it has runners. I just need to get one plant to survive, and it will be easier next year. For three weeks, it seemed asif even that was too much to ask for. But today, I saw them!
Can't see them? You need the eyes of lurrve. And yes, that is a persimmon seed in there.
Here's a closeup:
Now they need to survive during the four long weeks that I will be away. Will need to threaten both G and Mian with something dire if they let the seedling die.
And if they are NOT strawberry seedlings, please don't tell my achy breaky heart.

As always, please do go on over to the Propagator's blog: Here is a link to his six-on-saturday where you can also find a lot of super gardeners.

Saturday, October 21, 2017


Arm's still iffy..which means I have been grumpy seeing all that needs to be done around the garden and that I have not been able to do. Bless the Mian- he's gamely taken on the job of lugging the watering can up to the newly-planted plants. But there is still much that I have allowed to slide. Which is why it is such a good thing that my garden gets along  just fine without me.
But here's my six this Saturday.
 1.  Birth: Remember Chaunch? This is what her chicks look like now:
And there's more! Red, one of our oldest hens and the one with the most personality has hatched three chicks so far. There are still three eggs under her ,so will wait another couple of days. But here's a photo of one- the other two are under their mamma.

 2. Promise: We planted three Kiwi vines two winters ago. Last year, the two female vines gave one flower each. Yesterday I tied them in preparation of winter pruning and saw some nice spur formation and some very nice fuzzy hints of buds to come. Keeping fingers you think we'll get to taste a kiwi or two?

 3. Potential: Here it is, the first ever glimpse of my succulent garden. The first few feet just after we enter our garden, right at the top of the slope, is a dry and rocky patch. G and I had optimistically tried different things there, to fail every time. And then I read about Ruth Bancroft and realised that instead of fighting the situation, I should celebrate it. This monsoon, I began slowly adding succulents to that bed. Haven't spent anything on it so the agave from a plant that had flowered by the side of the road, ditto for the opuntia. The smaller succulents a friend generously gave me.Doesn't look like much, you say? Ah, give us another three years, it will be spinily spectacular!

4. Potential realised: Remember the chrysanthemums I showed last week? Here's another look:
And this is what they look like now:

5. Potential lost: Something in the weather is making the plums flower now. We usually do have a pear blossom or two around this time every year, but I have not seen premature flowering to this extent before.Nearly every plum tree on the property is flowering. Of course, they will be destroyed in the frost, and with them, any hope of plums next summer.

6. Potential regained: Right opposite the porch where Mian and I spend most of our waking hours is an eyesore of a slope. Every monsoon, it puts on a rich and lush cloak of ferns and skullcaps, only to wither away by the end of September. Here too, I had tried many things. But a combination of chicken feet and tree roots meant that everything failed. But now, I might have a solution. Our winter jasmine had tip-rooted some branches and I have planted five in a row at the top of the slope (cliff, really). The idea is that in four years or so, they will cascade over the cliff and provide us with a lovely green and gold waterfall to look at. I can't wait! Here's what each plant looks like now:

And as always, do go over to The Propagator's blog. He started this, and you can read his six-on-saturday and those of many other wonderful people here.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Snacks, plans and a visitor

Not much done around the garden this week..A slightly iffy arm and too much writing have kept me out of the garden. And Diwali is around the corner, so G has been on leave too. 
Which means I have been focusing on laid back dreaming and enjoying the fruits of my garden. 
Want to see? Here it is, my six garden things this Saturday. And do go over to The Propagator's blog..he started the Six-on-Saturday and has wonderful people joining in!

1. Harvest- All that plodding around in the monsoon, sticking a seed in here and there (in my case), and making textbook- perfect seed beds (in G's case)? This is what it was all for: Beans, corn, chilies. We are making stew this winter!
2. Snacks: Another harvest, but one in which we had put in zero effort. The persimmons are ripening! The barbets, magpies, woodpeckers, jays, and babblers have most of it. But we were determined to have some. So Mian went and picked out a whole box full. He is now patiently waiting for a dozen to ripen so that he can make his persimmon pudding. I do not think he is aware that I walk by the box several times a day and steal those that are ripe..
3. Chrysanthemums: They take three weeks to ripen, I am told. Sometimes, it seems longer. But here they are now!

4. Winter stuff: See that bench under the pear tree? It's my favourite place to sit on a winter morning. The problem is that it is located in my iris bed. While that bed is lovely in summer (early with iris, and late  with mirabilis), nothing much happens later on. Now wondering what I can put in to create some interest in the winter. And how many things can I put in before an iris bed ceases to be an iris bed? Also, those bare patches? They had iris rhizomes once. Then the chickens came by.

5. Project: I may have mentioned once or twice just how much I love the main path to our house. There is another that I don't talk about much,because I have never done anything to it. It is a wild path where one just scrambles up the hill. Well, it won't stay like that any longer. Post-Diwali, on the 20th to be exact, two handsome (and strong-backed) young men are coming over to help G and me lay a set of wood+gravel steps. It will be a step-path no longer, once the nice steps are put in.

6. Owl right! I have been bursting to share this for two days. People, meet the Asian Barred Owl. On our Eastern pear tree. Watching us have dinner.
Get ready now..
A profile, such as it is
The front!
And getting fed up of the two gawking humans

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Crash and Tumble.

That's what it feels like my garden and I are doing this week. I was away for nearly two weeks, and when I came back, the garden had exploded. I have been picking up the detritus since.
But here's my six this Saturday

1. Staking woes: If vampire-hunters saw my staking abilities, they would disown me. For far too long, I teetered between wrapping plants up like parcels and letting them flop. These days, I try to remember the basics and take the trouble to tie each plant separately. All the same, I am not too good at it. Can anyone recommend a good online plant-staking class?
Before staking:

And here's after staking. And pulling my hair, and grunting, and some swearing.

But there is nothing I can do about these:

 2. The bane of my life. Cuscuta is. This year, I managed to get all but one little bit. When I returned home, this is what it had grown into. Need to get it before it sets seed now. Which means I need to balance on a ladder and reach into the prickles. Humph. Grumble. Gripe.

3. Lavender cuttings. I took 20 cuttings this year. And then I left for a week. All but two died. Then I left for two weeks. Now one is at death's door. At this rate, that lavender walk of my dreams is a loooong way away.

4. More woes, but not mine. I might have had a rough week, but the rooster has had a far worse one. Firstly, his eldest son is now grown up, quite handsome in an adolescent kind of way and making passes at the older rooster's wives. And they are not rejecting him either. And at this time when the rooster needs to hang on to every shred of his dignity and handsomeness, he goes and loses his tail feathers. The poor guy.

5. Shimmery grass: All year I nurture these for and wait for when they bloom. But it's well worth it, I think. I could not quite capture the satiny, shiny texture of these flowers, but do try and imagine it  please.

And here's a bonus shot of them against the sky

6. Promise. When I returned home,I did not return alone. Mian came back too. With his bag of gifties. Here's what he got for me. So excited about sowing these!

Do go on to The Propagator's Six-on-Saturday series. There's lots of good stuff to read there!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Beautiful inside and out- my compost toilet!

I have made no secret of the fact that right now, the prettiest spot in my garden is the entrance to the toilet. Let me show you a picture again:

Here I sniff marigolds, listen to the hum of the bees, and look at what the autumn light does to my plants.

But today I went around to the back and looked inside.

When I first saw these toilets in Bihar, I was told that it takes a year for a small family to fill one compartment. Then you switch over to the next. By the time that fills, the first pit has been slowly composting for two years and is ready for use. For the two of us, I thought, it would take two years to fill, so we would have four-year old compost. Gold, my friends. Pure gold. February 2021 would be the year of the Great Reveal, I told everyone.

I didn't reckon on my impatience.

I have just returned from nearly two weeks out, and thought it would be as good a time as any to check on the compost*. And so I did.

It's beautiful!

It's already decomposed- there is no raw waste at all.  The thing that has not decomposed well is the leaf 'bed' that I had laid down at the beginning, and some toilet paper that wafted to the corners. But the rest is clean, dry, powdery compost.

Here's a picture

And here's a closeup

How does it smell? Like the very best gill ittar available in Lucknow.

Forget February 2021. My roses are getting the compost the coming spring.

What would I do differently now that I have seen the compost? By the way, this might be TMI for sensitive folks..

  • I would still lay down the leaf bed..somehow it gives me some comfort. 
  • I would be less anxious about not peeing inside the bin. From what I see, because we use leaf-litter and toilet paper instead of ash, we have a lot of carbon and need extra nitrogen-rich moisture. 
  • I would not be too lazy to gather leaves and use pine shavings instead. They take forever to decompose
  • I might give a small spraying with water once in a while.

*  Why yes, I do shake the presents I receive before I am allowed to open them. How did you ever guess?

Sunday, September 24, 2017

I am not late; I am just making an entrance: Six on Saturday

Here it is. This week’s six. (See how cleverly I have sidestepped the whole Saturday/Sunday issue?).

Since we last spoke, the garden has gone further to autumn.

Here are the marigolds that were just a promise last week. They have really come into their own now. And do not the stripey one- that’s a first this year, it is!

The beans too, have ripened. This is not the peak of the harvest time, but the trickle has begun. Pretty , aren’t they? This is a local variety called ‘chitra’- it means ‘picture’ and is probably called that for it’s markings.

The agapanthus is done flowering and just the seedheads remain. These will be dried and hung from the ceiling this winter.

We are still hanging on to the last of summer though. This is not strictly within the garden, but Madhu and I walked down to the stream at the bottom of  the hill. She had a swim, I paddled.

Another person who still believes in summer is Chaunch-e-Cheel (Beaked-like-hawk). She was named for her sadly deformed beak; Mian and I had despaired of her ever being able to feed herself. But she’s survived and become a very good mother. Here she is, sitting on 4 as-yet unhatched eggs and two chicks.

Finally, a view down the path to the house in its late-summer glory. The weigela and foxgloves are over, the chrysanthemums are still to flower. The marigolds and salvia  are very much here.

 Do also go on to The Propagator’s blog. He is hosting this weekly get together – lots of lovely gardens up there!