Beginning to grow

It has been some months since I wrote at length. One reason is I have been in a new and busy rhythm -as I shall soon elaborate. Also, I have been making shorter posts elsewhere and twittering. And, there is another blog that narrates the events at pointReturn more frequently.

Let me make this a tour of many topics that are worth reporting on. And because it’s a rather long-winded tour, I must be considerate and offer quick jumps. Click on any of these or read on.

  • Phase shift: A slight and perceptible change has occurred
  • The work rhythm: What is the work routine and life at pointReturn?
  • Growing food: Experience with growing vegetables and grains
  • Water, now: Status of water availability following rain water harvesting
  • The road ahead: Where do I see it go and what are we doing about it?
  • Phase shift

    Every successful enterprise goes through two shifts. The first is from conception to creation and the second, from there to continuation. For an enterprise to be suffused with energy, there cannot be a great gap between phases; in fact an overlap is desirable.

    Begun as a one-man venture, pointReturn always ran the risk of not making the shifts. But it has come thus far. There has been little rethink on how its mission -and the means of achieving it- were conceived; its implementation had proceeded steadily, if slowly but without interruption. At 68 though, I was entitled to insecurities about its future. Continuation is ensured by people who invest their passion and time into an idea and for that, the idea should appeal to them.

    In the first three years, working alone, I had confined myself to planning and building that space. That story – of buying the land and fencing it, buying access and laying the road, developing water source and pumping means, building shelter and sanitation, installing alternate energy systems etc- has been told through earlier articles. I had also been developing an integrated, modular rain water harvesting system, around ponds and swales. My strengths lie in those areas.

    All that was preparation for the eventual phase of creating surpluses from plants and trees with least external input. I had planted about 400 trees but I had done no vegetable growing whatsoever. That belonged in the next phase.

    The major break pointReturn has enjoyed this year has been Karpagam and Sriram coming on board. They are a young couple, about half my age. In the six months they have been here, they have brought new energies and filled me with optimism. I have written elsewhere about them. With their arrival, the phase began to shift.

    The new work rhythm

    Now we are six. Karpagam and Sriram reside in the pavilion. Annamalai is resident as well, except from Saturday till Monday morning. Raju rides in Monday morning and goes home on Wednesdays to spend time with his children and wife. He returns the next day. I drive in with Chellamma on Wednesday mornings. The work week ends on Saturday morning after breakfast, leaving the whole place quiet and entire to the young couple. Thus, pointReturn is now peopled round the clock.

    We work to a routine which is both demanding and enjoyable. We rise at 5.30am and everyone is out in the field with sickles in hand. We all crouch and hack at knee-high reeds and weeds grown all over the land in the 3 years since our fences prevented uncontrolled grazing. The sickled biomass is highly prized as material for composting as well as for mulching. This is vastly different from ploughing which pulls out roots, upsets the top soil and the micro animal colonies. We leave the roots behind for a sustained food fest in the rhizosphere. The sickling hour is a routine introduced by Karpagam and Sriram. I find the routine brings us all together in a happy camaraderie and gets the day started. [In February a good friend Sheila Baker visited pointReturn and gifted us a scythe. This enables standing up and hacking a great mass of reeds. It worked well when the reeds were succulent after the rains. In the hot months however the scythe does not ‘bite’ into the dry reeds that bend over.]

3 thoughts on “Beginning to grow

  1. Dear DV,

    You continue to amaze me. You are in the same mold as Robinson Crusoe and the hero in the film “Cast Away”. It is a pity I am not able to make a trip to pR. Hope I do it in 2011. This is to wish you all the best in 2011 and may your family (of 40) find happiness in pR.God Bless you sarath

  2. Dear DV,

    I am a regular reader of your site. Thanks so much for sharing info with us. This is all very inspiring.

    While discussing your work amoung friends, one of them summerised…you will be building various banks…Water bank (beneath the earth(!)), food bank (will require it if start producing surplus and for yearly crops), seed bank (to avoid junk and BT seeds), plants blank (like you did for Pongamia), energy bank (solar, wind, pongamia oil, biogas), a bank of rich fertile soil all over the land :-) ….and a defined cycle to replenish stocks in those banks…..!!

    One query – Have you given any thought on installing a biogas plant? Like the one developed by ARTI, Pune which is very efficient. This site also gives D-I-Y instructions. (I should not give the site address as you have already given a very good artical about Dr. Karve’s work on GoodnewsIndia!)

    http://www.arti-india.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=45:arti-biogas-plant-a-compact-digester-for-producing-biogas-from-food-waste&catid=15:rural-energy-technologies&Itemid=52

    Best wishes for your mission and may this project become a guiding start for many to come up in future.

    Regards,
    – Kedar

  3. DV, just to compare my situation since I started in 2004. my land was always cultivated when i bought it – main crop was groundnut and raggi. I adopted horticulture and planted 1000 mango samplings. with ill planning, i faced a harsh reality of water shortage.

    following your footsteps, i have created 2 ponds with more than 4 million Lt water capacity, adopted my own version of swales across the area. the monsoon started good but looks like the current 35% deficit will not be reclaimed this year. however, the water harvesting system seems to be yielding results. whether it will help me sustain the upcoming summer is a question, but i have resisted digging another bore well until now.

    I can definitely see a increased bird population, a horn-bill gang, peacock flocks along with jackal family who have become residents at the farm.

    However, I continue to have the challenges of parthenium menace if you have that at your land?

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