Saturday, September 16, 2017

The end of summer: six on saturday

I have enjoyed reading The Propagator's 'Six on Saturday' series for a while now (Actually I enjoy his whole blog..but this is about the series). In his words, it is "Six things, in the garden, on a Saturday.  Could be anything.  A job completed, a project, a pest, an interesting plant, a boring plant, anything at all!"
Why not, I thought..might just refresh this blog of mine.
Here are my six.
1. The mornings. Autumn is just coming in. And at no time is this more evident than at that magic moment when the sun just peeks over the hill. The mist is still there, backlit by the sun, and for a few minutes the whole world is made of copper and pearls.
2. Fragrance. The honeysuckle is putting out its second flush of blooms. And in the mornings as I potter around with my coffee, every now and then I catch that lovely, lovely,scent. And then I miss my Mian.
3. Birds. Marauders. Actually, they are the latter only when they attack my persimmons. The amaranth, buckwheat, sunflowers and bajra are grown for them. And to be honest, for my pleasure when I watch them snack on the seeds.I wish they would leave my persimmons alone though.

4. Sex. At least I think that's what was going on with these two butterflies. They were flying around each other all around the garden before finally resting on a leaf. Lovely to watch, but if they've laid eggs on my beans, I shall be very cross indeed.
 5. Food. This has been a good year for beans. We have planted two types, a white bean a friend had given me many years ago, and some 'chitra' beans. All fruiting nicely, so I think we will have enough beans for the next year. Despite my habit of snacking on the tender beans as I walk past.
6.Glow. I planted out lots of orangey-yellow flowers for this fall. The chrysanthemums are yet to come  in, and quite a few of the marigolds too. But the sunflowers are quite enough.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Garud Buti

 Today G came and showed me this plant. He found  it  among our corn.
Lovely, isn't it? And it is so much more than that. It's called 'Garud Buti' or the 'herb of the eagle' because it vanquishes snakes and scorpions. The bulb is considered to be a sure-fire remedy against all poisonous bites.

Sadly, after the initial gushing, G received a gentle reminder to allow the next herb he finds to set seed. I do want to propagate this. So instead of keeping the bulb in my medicine cabinet as G instructed me to do, I have planted it. Also,  I looked it up and it is the Indian Grass Lily, or Iphigenia indica. I haven't been able to find a mention of its medicinal properties, and that's okay.

Chances are high that the bulb works as a placebo. This is not to be sneezed at. Given that there are far more non-venomous snakes than venomous in this area, statistically chances are high that a bite is non-lethal. Administering a respected and safe placebo can help alleviate panic and some of the more gruesome 'remedies' that I have heard of .
It is a shockingly pretty plant. I hope, in a few years, to build up my stock enough to have a passable garden bed. Maybe planted with fleabane..

If you are interested in trying it out, the remedy is as follows:
Grind up one bulb (dry or fresh) in a bit of water, add one or two crushed black peppers, close your eyes and drink.

The bulb is bitter, which means that Mian and I are thinking of adding it to our bitters..after I build up a stock, of course. 


Monday, April 10, 2017

Walking the bees home

Just two days after Mian and I captured a swarm, the bees swarmed again. And this time,we had no hive conveniently ready to house them. So Mian and I called G, to call a young man we knew who had recently lost his bees and wanted some more. Instead, G came over in the afternoon. 'It is time I learnt, Madam' he said. I am vain enough to think that our efforts helped demystify beekeeping for him.

Our 'new' hive
He had come with bee keeper's tools-a veiled hat and a basket- borrowed from a friend. The hat was standard gear, the basket was homemade. Over here, it is considered essential for capturing a swarm. Rather than 'plopping' the swarm into a box, as the admittedly uncouth pair of us had done, the local beekeepers invite the bees in. The 'basket' is a woven cone covered with jute fabric. Honey and wax is rubbed into the fabric. The bee whisperer then holds this basket close to the swarm and coaxes them to move onto it.
The swarm-catching basket
Once he had seen the bees, Mian, I and G scurried around to complete his outfit. In lieu of beekeeper's overalls, we scrounged together a cooking ladle, Mian's bomber jacket and my gardening gloves for G. Mian and I followed in our shirtsleeves, Madhu was far more circumspect.
G scopes out the swarm

G sat down close to the swarm and held the basket almost touching them.
Introducing the bees to the basket
Some drones got interested enough to check it out. Soon, he began slowly directing them to the basket with the ladle. This was a gentle unhurried process with the ladle being used more to show the bees where they might like to go than to push them there.
Gently coaxing the bees in with a ladle
The relaxed pace means that the bees stay calm, but it also takes a while. G's arm rapidly tired but he refused all offers of help.
Waiting for the bees to make up their collective mind
Finally, after more than half an hour, the queen moved to the basket. While we could not see her, we knew it by the change in pace. Suddenly, the basket was the happening place to be and the workers could not get there fast enough.
They make up their mind. At this point, the bees are walking in by themselves
Soon, they were all in the basket, and a tired but triumphant G was holding up his new friends.
All aboard!

And then he turned around and trudged off for the kilometer-long walk home. Carrying a few hundred bees in an upside down basket.
The long walk home. Good thing he's got company. Lots of it

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Our garden wakes up

Just yesterday, Mian and I stood in the garden and thought, 'It's coming together..slowly, but it's happening.'
That 'it' of course is our garden. Still very much  a work in progress, still with too many 'placeholders' and blank gaps, still too many failures swaggering in front of me.
But now it is spring and time to celebrate the magic of flowers.
Here is  what is in bloom in my garden at the moment, starting with the gifts I have been given- the wild flowers on our land.
The autumn olive (Eleagnus sp). Not invasive here and fills the orchard with its fragrance. Butterflies love it!
Kilmora (Berberis Aristata), has interest all the year around, attracts pollinators and birds.

I have taken to spreading those two shrubs around our garden, and they thank me so prettily.
Another inherited flower- the 'wilson' apple. A variety with a fascinating history. And oh, the fragrance!
 And now for the plants in my garden
Lady Bank's rose (Rosa Banksiae) . Such a cheerful flower with a direct link to the interesting Joseph Banks

I have struggled with this rose.When I first planted it four years ago, I covered it with shade thinking it would protect it from scorching. Result- it never grew. And though I removed the cover later, somehow  that rose never did well. This year it has put on a massive show. Perhaps the worst is over?

Sweet peas! finally!
Another plant I have struggled with. I followed the instructions the first year and planted them in spring. The poor little seedlings got scorched almost as soon as they poked their heads out. And then I came across a passage by Gertrude Jekyll in which she boasted of getting sweetpea flowers six weeks before her neighbours by planting the seeds in the autumn. And that's what I did. I planted the seeds, G fashioned a cover for them. And throughout the frosty weeks, those peas got coddled. Well worth the effort I think as I inhale their fragrance.
An old dependable..The 'iris bed' I had planned under the pear tree is finally recognizable as such. 
I got this iris from a kind neighbour. Such lovely colours and a deep, musky fragrance.

So that's my garden right now. And everywhere there's lots of promise. Borage, and nasturtiums have sprouted and doing well. The roses are displaying fat buds. Spring, it is here.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

In which Mian and Chicu astound themselves

G warned me a couple of weeks ago that our bees would likely swarm this month. Apparently, they do that after a year in the hive.

'Mine, all Mine. And they will stay that way', said I and sent him off to 'borrow' a hive box from A and D.

And then I left for a week-long workshop in another state.
I got back yesterday and noticed that the box had arrived. I decided to spend the next afternoon cleaning and mending it.

The bees had other plans.  As Mian and I sat drinking coffee today I noticed a lump on a peach tree. A curiously vibrating, shimmering lump. Our bees had swarmed!
 A cursory search on the internet revealed that this is when bees are most docile. Apparently, it is easy enough to drop them into a box. When I called G to share the good news of the swarm and our plans to capture it, he was adamant. 'You absolutely will not do this, Madam. I will send someone.'


I busied myself cleaning the borrowed hive of all the muck of its neglected past. It was washed, dried, sunned and still no bee whisperer.

In the meantime, Mian had done his research. We decided to go ahead with capturing the hive.
Now in the mountains, women are not supposed to touch a hive. But of the two of us, Mian has far stronger biceps. So he got the job of holding the hive box under the swarm while I scraped the bees off the branch using a stick. They fell in one mass with a plop, accompanied with a smothered yelp from Mian. He got  stung on the forehead. But considering both of us had minimal gear- sun hats (no veil) and gardening gloves, I am  impressed with the single sting.

And after that, it was sit and wait while we made sure the queen was in the hive and the swarm was content. As of now, they seem to have accepted their home.

Our tasks today?
Move the hive into the fenced garden after sunset. Replace the panels. Remove old wire from one entrance. Secure the box lid with wire.
And I am so very very proud. Think of it. Beekeeping here has a mysticism. there are three bee-whisperers in the area, and they are the only ones who handle hives. And here are Mian and I, amateurs sans gear, who managed to hold on to a swarm. I am happy.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A mulch of money

After I wrote the last post, I emailed it to my family, sat back, and waited for congratulations. They did arrive eventually, but the first reply was not what I expected 'you spent 40K and don't even have walls', she said.

Ouch. 'I wanted it very much' , I replied. And then I thought about it.

The photo that started this chain of thought
 My reply must have seemed arrogant It probably was.
I definitely do not regret the toilet. It gives me great pleasure, it feeds my garden, it has removed a lot of tension over water, and I get a major kick just dreaming of all I will do with the compost. I would do it all over again, and happily.
But that conversation got me to thinking about my spending on the garden. Is it too much? How does one estimate whether spending on a hobby is justifiable?
This amazing display, all gifted by a friend from her extras
 As far as possible, I am a DIY person. The 'make do or do without' philosophy is entrenched in me, or so I thought. But now I wonder.
I don't spend on frills. My garden has no tchotkes, none of the fancy gear that is considered indispensable. My bird table  is a plank wedged into a tree. I propagate my plants. I handwater using a can and a pipe.
But the list of what I consider 'not-frills' is increasing. I spend a lot on labour. I got the patio-wall resurfaced, the veg garden fenced in, the upper fields ploughed. When Mian goes to the States at Christmas, he always goes accompanied by a list of seeds. Not all of them survive.
My seed stash. Part bought, part collected. Mian doubled this stash with his annual spring gift
 I now am in contact with a supplier of bulbs in Kalimpong and 'treated myself' to an embarrassingly luxurious order last fall.
Part of my luxurious bulb order- on the resurfaced patio wall
 I want a golden azalea, I have decided. I want a proper rose arch, not my current jugad one. I want a proper path down to the house. I want garden furniture to sit in. I want. I want.
The 'jugaad' rose arch I want to replace

But the rose couldn't care less. Definitely a 'want' and not a 'need'
And there are two things running through my head now. One is from a book  I am currently reading, which says that gardeners who don't have creative capabilities try to cover up deficiencies with 'a mulch of money'. And the other is what a friend had told me once, when we were discussing the concepts of 'high maintenance' women. 'You are the worst of both worlds' she said. 'You look low maintenance, but are high maintenance'

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The bestest toilet ev-AH!

 I rapidly grew tired of throwing away water and of losing nutrients. Especially when we were short of water, the idea of flushing away excellent compost fodder began to grate on me.

Finally I wrote to a friend asking him where I could find me a compost toilet pan. 'I'll send you one' he said, and he did. The village post service being what it is, it was many months till I came across the pan lying in a neighbour's garden.

And then the building started. I did not want it just for me, but I also wanted to share the concept with the village. A suitably prominent place, next to the village path, was chosen. I wanted it to be pretty, we decided on bamboo.Prakash, Bhuvan, Ganesh and I were all learning how to build it. Many measurements were taken, and many mockups assembled. We all blushed furiously as I tried to explain in my hindi just what the various holes were for and how they worked.

The cost? It came to around 40K, excluding the pan. I still have some material left over, and we pay a premium to truck stuff in from the nearest town. For the pan, I'd add another 10K including transport.

Would I do anything differently? Not for myself, I think it is perfect as it is.But as a demonstration unit, I'd go with a pan cast at home rather than one procured from outside. It would make it seem a lot more doable.

But now it is ready and it is stunning. Seriously. I have not seen a prettier one. The walls are bamboo, the roof is bamboo overlaid with tin. There are tall slits in the walls upto waist level to let in plenty of air and sunlight. It sits below an oak tree, and soon grasses will be planted along its base. The floor is prosaic concrete, but sprinkled with glass beads.

But  don't just believe me. Here are pictures

View from the front.We have a curtain instead of a door, which G rather disapproved of at first

This is the view from the house. Soon, I will plant grasses along the base.

The inside. Note the sparkly floor and the rustic TP holder!
I started off with dried leaves in the base.Not necessary, but I thought the carbon would do my compost good!
Here's a detail of the 'door' (hung on a sunflower stalk) and the 'windows'

Friday, February 10, 2017

Not a cakewalk

'Aunty only loves me, she doesn't love you' the small boy jeered. 'She gave me cake for my birthday, you got a great big Noo-oo-thing' he continued while his sister blinked back tears. It was all my fault of course. I had gone off to my mum's last year and missed G's daughter's birthday.

And so, this year, I had to make up for it. As per custom, I baked and frosted a birthday cake. My guilt for the last year led me to make a tall, tall layer cake. It was when I was making a swirly pattern on the sugar tower that I realised that 1.5km of mountain road lay between me and the birthday girl.

So the cake was on a plate, which was on a baking tray, which was in a fruit box, which was covered by stiff paper, which was taped down.

Which led to this contraption:
The first rest-stop was needed before I walked 50 metres. The others followed at similar intervals
 As we slowly made our way to G's house, Madhu and I picked up a little band of merry followers. I am not vain enough to think the kids adore my company, but I thought that Madhu was the attraction. And then I heard one child call out, 'Is the cake coming?'

Priorities, the kids have them sorted out.

Our walk back was blissfully carefree. And we received the gift of a moonrise.