Spring 2016

It is mid-april, early spring at the farm, and the air is warm. There’s a bird’s nest on a karuvellam tree, a small thorny tree (Vachellia nilotica /synonym Acacia nilotica, gum arabic).

karuvelam

Karuvelam tree

There is a mangium (Acacia mangium) tree. If you are one of those who keep track of periodic hysteria engineered top-down from some global organisations, you’ll realize that this was yet another tree that was hyped up as a fast growing tree, and a good source of biomass. Like the Jatropha bio-diesel scam, this one too petered out. Although you might an ocassional plantation in some hills near the forests. Somehow its seed had landed in the farm, and now there is this shrub.

mangium

Mangium tree

A palmyra tree, surrounded by shrubs and trees. A creeper has spread on its drying leaves. If left alone, life finds a way to flourish. Birds and animals require a place like this, to hide, or raise young ones, or to forage. Natural farming requires mixing in “undisturbed soil” from the farm, with cow dung, jaggery and other ingredients, to create Jeevamrutha, which has trillions of micro-organisms. Undisturbed soil is usually found under this place overgrown with weeds! And although not very pretty, for the average folk, these isolated singularities can help maintain bio-diversity.

palmyra_shrubs

Palmyra tree surrounded by shrubs and creepers

Arjuna tree (Terminalia arjuna, Maruthamaram) sends out pink leaves. This didn’t grow so well, considering it is more than seven years, since it was brought in from a nursery. A couple were obtained as very small seedlings, and planted this year. They seem to be doing better.

maruthum_spring_leaves

Arjuna tree

There’s a pungam tree (Pongamia pinnata), surviving, but having a hard time due to insufficient water.

pungam

Pungam tree

Dwarf morning glory (Evolvulus alsinoides, Vishnugrandi, Vishnukrantha, Shyamakuranta, Sankhapuspi) has nice pretty flowers. It is used as a tonic for the brain.

dwarf_morning_glory

Dwarf morning glory

Ocimum gratissimum, also known as clove basil, African basil, is in flower too.
Another cream-yellow flower, name unknown, tiny like the dwarf morning glory.

small_yellow_flower

Small yellow flower

A rat hole. Owls, peacocks, mongoose, and snakes eat the rats. Field rats (unlike sewer rats) are a tasty snack for those who eat rat meat. Modern activism looks at field rats as starvation diet, but those who eat these, will never go near a broiler chicken.

rat_hole

Rat hole

Looking out from within a cashew tree.

cashew_tree_inside

Looking out from within a cashew tree

Cashew tree in flower, with a few fruits. You’ll rarely see any insects pollinating these flowers. There is a big overuse of pesticides in this region.

cashew_flowering


Cashew flowering

This cashew fruit is partly eaten, could be fruit bats, mynahs, red-vented bulbuls, or some other bird.

cashew_fruit

Cashew fruit

Small neem trees from bird droppings. The bigger ones are in blossom, nice fragrance. Tree planting by people, is mostly attention seeking, fraudulent behavior. In nature, weeds prepare the soil, then small shrubs take over, and finally trees establish themselves. The soil also becomes enriched with symbiotic micro-organisms, and other bugs, making it easier for the trees to grow. If there is grazing not many trees get to establish themselves. If one needs to plant trees, you better let the weeds grow first, then plant small shrubs like pigeon pea, and then finally plant the tree, or better still plant a tree seed. Most tree planting done on bare earth, requires heavy maintenance, which is rarely given. So trees fail to survive. But our heroes go on planting millions of saplings, with nothing to show after an year or two.

small_neem_trees

Small neem trees

A creeper, if left alone, it does add to the ecology, and provides some positive connections.

creeper_unknown

Creeper

Nice flower of Avaram plant. Good for diabetes. (Senna auriculata/ Cassia auriculata ஆவாரம்)

avaram_flower

Avaram flower

Fruits ripening on the jujube tree. A variety of pollinators on this small tree – ants, bees, flies, wasps, and bugs ( Spring and the Jujube tree )

jujube

Jujube

An open, thatched shed for the cows. It is hard to avoid plastic, or metal sheets, or concrete in today’s world. Even tribals in god-forsaken places are provided free “pucca” concrete houses. The tribals don’t like it, they don’t even use it for their cattle. It gets too hot. Thatched homes with mud walls remain nice and cool. Our heroes build houses for the “poor and dis-empowered”, so that later when they earn enough, they can pay thousands of rupees, in a resort, and enjoy mud houses with thatched roofs. Or tree houses. Some heroes, these “elected” ones!

thatched_shed

Thatched shed for cows

Nice clear water from the well. Many people get angry when they see this waste of water. When we could use the latest technology and supply water just to the roots of cultivated plants. Precision agriculture in all its glory. This modern hysteria about waste has reached a new phase in developing countries. We want cold storage, so that we can store our vegetables indefinitely, and provide them, when there is market demand.

water

Irrigation Channel

See all the plastic trash everywhere. Chennai stinks, even 50 kms away from the heart of the city. It all has the same source – hysteria about waste. We got the various ways to treat food – drying, pasteurizing, cooking, etc. And then we pack in plastic. All the plastic trash, can be traced to this great desire to avoid “waste”. Generate long lasting waste to avoid waste. Now in many cases, unless food in packed in plastic, with a label, license number, and packing date, it cannot be sold. Swachh Bharat is a recent evolution, that ignores nauseating nastiness in cities from trash,ditches and sewage, and goes after ordinary folks who pee on bare earth, or spit. These things, spit and urine, get processed by micro-organisms leaving no odor, no pathogenic germs. Spittoons for spitting? Pathological idiocy!

Pesticides and herbicides were another way of “avoiding” waste. That has laid waste huge tracts of land, and created health issues for people.

I was sitting under a tree. Coffee was being made in an open stone stove. Which attracted the babblers. Fire! Primitive man was supposed to have feared fire, and worshipped fire as a god.That is what science says. Rig Veda starts with

अग्निमीळे पुरोहितं यज्ञस्य देवं रत्वीजम |
होतारं रत्नधातमम ||
अग्निः पूर्वेभिर्र्षिभिरीड्यो नूतनैरुत |
स देवानेह वक्षति ||
अग्निना रयिमश्नवत पोषमेव दिवे-दिवे |
यशसं वीरवत्तमम ||

“I worship the Sacred Fire (Agni) that is chief priest, the deity of the sacrifice, who works according to the seasons, the invoker, best to grant the treasure.
The Sacred Fire honored by the ancient sages is invoked again by the new. For us he manifests all the Gods.
To you, oh Fire, day by day, by dawn and by dusk we come bearing our offering of surrender, the king of the sacred rite, the guardian of truth, flourishing in his own nature.”

babblers

Babblers

Why did the babblers come near the fire? The heat from the fire drives away the insects hiding in the leaf litter. The babblers were smart enough to use the opportunity. If only they learnt science, they might have ended up creating a fire god and worshipping it. Normally animals don’t fear fire. My dog will go within a feet, of a raging fire. When we burnt some coconut shells, on open ground, swallows showed up immediately, to catch insects that were escaping the heat. When there is a big fire, and animals get surrounded by fire without an easy escape, only then they become afraid. So why did the ancients “worship” the fire god?

Mangoes that you have stoop to pick. Low hanging fruit, very likely to be “stolen” before it is fully ripe.

mangoes

Mangoes

Guava fruit. A few of these guava trees most likely grew from bird droppings, or from seeds dropped by squirrels, while eating the fruit.

guava

Guava

Vetiver, with a reasonable supply of water for the first two years, does establish itself well. Easy to propagate, since one slip will grow into a hundred in 6 months. Another useful plant that can help soils retain moisture, and encourage tree growth.

vetiver

Vetiver

The Blue Tiger (Tirumala limniace), a common butterfly, but gradually disappearing.

blue_tiger

Blue Tiger butterfly

A spider hides quietly among the branches of a mango tree.

spider

Spider

Further up red ants stand guard. This one, backlit by the sun, looks like a drop of honey. Some people are not bothered by these ants.

red_ant

Red ant

Caterpillars on a mulberry tree. These if located by a shrike, will all get eaten. People generally assume that birds operate on instinct, which is pre-programmed. Pyschology books extend this, in a way to humans. It is assumed that an unpleasant experience with bugs, or hairy caterpillars, reprograms the human mind. The only difference with instinct is that this hard-wiring takes place after the first bad experience. But it doesn’t really work like that, birds and animals are quite flexible.

mulberry

Mulberry tree

caterpillars_mulberry

Caterpillars on mulberry tree

There was a two month old chick. I offered a moringa tree moth with a red striped body. Moringa tree (drumstick) is a nutritious tree, so any caterpillar that feeds on it, will be non-toxic. But its body has stripes like a honey bee or wasp, so the chick clucked in alarm and refused to eat it. But a few months later, I offered it the same moth, after it had acquired experience in eating centipedes and scorpions. It just gobbled the moth in an instant. Unfortunately, psychology requires us to replay bad experience repeatedly in our mind, and limit our experience. Chickens are smarter.

Mulberry tree is a wonderful tree for live fences. Cows and goats feed on its leaves, and its fruits are sweet and nutritious. Yet, outside of mulberry farms, where these are grown for silkworm rearing, this tree cannot be seen.

Looking down from halfway-up a coconut tree, one can see a couple of lemon trees in the foreground.

lemon_trees

Lemon trees

Another dense thicket, this is the place where all the gravel, and rocks taken out while digging the well, are dumped. Snake catchers would come every couple of years, catch the snakes, and take their skin. Not anymore. There are laws against that, and against using animal products. The snake catchers understood the behavior of snakes, and had herbal remedies that protected and made them immune to snake poisons. Even their children did not fear poisonous snakes like cobras and vipers. This lack of fear also sort of rubbed off on the rest of the population. But now with laws to “protect” the snakes, there are no snake catchers, and the general population would wet their diapers, even if someone saw a harmless snake on the other side of the globe. And fortunately for them, there are no snakes, the “snake lovers” fear, have eliminated all snakes in human habitats and farms.

thicket

Dense thicket

Lush grass amidst the banana plants. Weeds! The native cow, would graze the grass, and leave the banana plants alone. Cows and goats, eat lots of weeds, and enrich the soil with dung. The more variety in their diet, the more medicinal the milk.

grass

Grass and banana plants

A creeper, with small yellow flower, probably Fabaceae family. The fig tree (Athi, Ficus racemosa syn. Ficus glomerata Roxb ) is the biggest tree in the landscape, may not be the tallest. A little shorter than some of the palmyra trees.

A tridax flower (Tridax procumbens), another weed loved by cattle. Milkweed, food for the tiger butterflies.

tridax

Tridax flower

milkweed

Milkweed flower

A blue dragonfly, resting on dry, cracked, clayey soil.

blue_dragonfly

Blue dragon fly

Not sure of this plant, with tiny white flowers.

tiny_white_flowers

Unknown plant with white flowers

A wild hare, hidden in the leaf litter. The person in the farm noticed this. I was able to take just two photos. And even though the second one, sort of scared it, the hare just ambled away. Only people tuned to the environment can recognize and locate the hares.

wild_hare

Wild Hare

Indian Mallow, Paniyaratutti ( Abutilon indicum syn. Sida indica) flowers.

indian_mallow

Indian mallow flower

Native cow (Return of the native) and its dung. It is still a little wild, if a stranger approaches, it sniffs the air, and flits its ears, trying to catch any sound. A reminder of its semi-wild past. This cow eats lots of grass, but it is unlike the pathological western breeds, jerseys and holsteins, that eat almost continuously. This dung looks and smells good. Western breeds provided manufactured feed, their dung is diarrheic, and stinks. This one, when it provides milk, it will be less than a liter. Breeders want to make the native cows gove buckets of milk, with selective breeding, and feeding them Co-4 grass, and manufactured feed. That will make its milk as pathological as the jerseys and holsteins. Doesn’t matter if native cows give A2 milk. Another thing is that western interests, NGOs and activists want to eliminate jallikattu, a vigorous sport, that seeks to tame the bull. Modern authorized, and licensed forms of this, where youth are dressed up in uniforms, and big crowds, are a sham. It should be more of a play, where the bull is not alarmed, and the youth in traditional attire, challenging the bull in a way that displays both the strength and cleverness of the bull, and the skill of the tamer. And no big crowds, cheering or otherwise. Just the local folks, who see this as a sport between man and animal, that also nutures the animals’ desire to play.

native_cow

Native cow

cow_dung

Dung from native grass and weed-fed cow

Looking through the eyes of animal rights activists, and the caged coolies, we might end up with a different perception. Reality however is complex, and cannot be influenced solely by simple minded idiots. Once I was talking our dog for a walk. There were a couple of goats grazing. When we went near, one of the goats, wanted to head-butt with the dog. It repeatedly came near, lowering and raising its head frequently, saying, do you want to head-butt with me? Another time, we, the dog and I, stopped to chat with a person. A goat came by, sniffed the dog, near its mouth, stepped back, and butted hard into the dog’s chest. It was painful for the dog, and it wanted to immediately leave the place. The person who I was taking to, was amused. See, a goat attacking a stronger species, a dog, which could have seriously injured the goat with it’s powerful jaws.

Sometimes what might appear like a predator attacking a prey, ends up more like a play. There was this cat, and a bunch of peacocks. The cat thought it could bring down one of the much bigger peacocks. It would lie down, stalk, and when it was within a couple of feet, make a leap. The peacocks had no fear, they could see all the cat’s antics. If the cat got too close, the peacocks leapt, rather casually, and moved a few feet away.

Now back to the native cow. A single cow can be used to increase soil life and fertility on 30 acres of land using a concotion of dung, urine, pulses (dicots, sprouted to increase activity), jaggery and fruits (Jivamruta). That is what zero-budget natural farming proponent Subhash Palekarji says. Native cows have beneficial bacteria, lots of them. Mixed with rich soil from farm bunds, or forests, soil life is totally enhanced. The mixed breeds, Jerseys, and Holsteins have very little beneficial bacteria in their dung.

This looks like the wild indigo plant (Tephrosia sp.), but with white (instead of the usual purple or reddish) flowers. Legume (Fabaceae), and nitrogen fixer. (Edit: It is not Indigofera tinctoria, as mentioned earlier)

indigo

Wild indigo plant

Curry leaf tree (Murraya koenigii) in flower. Butterflies frequent this flower, and some caterpillars, do feed on its leaves.

curry_leaf_flower

Flowers on curry leaf tree

A sitharathai (சிற்றரத்தை, Snap Ginger, Indian Ginger, Alpinia Calcarata ) plant, its dried roots are used for treating cold and cough.

snap_ginger

Snap Ginger

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