Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Monkeys eating carrots in Nuwera Eliya

One interesting encounter we had when we were driving around the lanes of Nuwera Eliya was that of a whole troop of monkeys near a carrot field, brazenly uprooting carrots in a field and eating only the carrot portion and not the leaves. They were really enjoying themselves destroying a poor farmer's field.

This is a further illustration of the destructive tendencies of the monkeys and I strongly believe as a farmer that something has to be done immediately to curb the population which is rising with human habitation, and either a mass cull or some form of injected birth control needs to be administered. I lose thousands a year to the monkey menace and have to keep constant vigil to say nothing of the cost of the fire crackers I have to light to keep them away when spotted.

So please someone persuade the powers to change the laws. It is illegal to kill the monkeys.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Weekly gotukola harvest for delivery to customers

This was last Monday's photo of Menika washing the fresh gotukola (val) that she had just harvested, prior to delivery to my customers within a few hours in Colombo. I will be doing the same tomorrow morning August 29th and as my demand exceeds my supply, I am feverishly trying to grow more areas with it. This is all organic and is therefore ideal for the morning kola kanda that people love to drink.

Thal Gaha

This Thal tree in the ancient ruins area is so full of fruit and not harvested. People are probably scared to cut the fruit which is delicious when specially prepared as a drink.

A local ayurvedic physician at work preparing his medications

This ayurvedic doctor is preparing his medications. His father was a settlor in the area from Waga a village near Padukka close to my Godagama farm. His father was given the original 5 acre plot of land in the 1930's by DS Senanayake as part of the Minneriya colonisation scheme, and it is this property that I am now farming on in Raja Ela, Hingurakgoda. None of his family are farmers now.

My friend Mr Gaminidasa is an ayurvedic physician specializing in broken bones. Here he is preparing Ran Thambili oil for one of his medications.

Asleep in the verandah with the sun streaming in

A mosquito net is a must for a good nights sleep undisturbed by sound in your ears. However the cool breeze in the hot months means you are covered head to toe, asleep like a baby as this photo shows and I seem to tolerate this !!!!! at what cost!!!!!

Watadage Polonnaruwa and its environs

Pilgrims climbing the steep steps to the entrance

Moonstone and guard stone at each of four entrances to the circular temple

The galpotha with ancient inscriptions

Menika and daughter first visit to ancient Polonnaruwa

Our trip to the Gal Vihare and the Watadage in Polonnaruwa was a brief introduction to show Menika and her daughter some of what we had to offer here. There were tourists and there were signs all over saying "no photos with backs to the images" There were a number of tourist police whose job was to prevent people from having their photos taken.

One couple in particular were interpreting it as it was fine if the back was not to the statue but just the side was so the person and the statue would be in one photo in a sideways pose. The police pounced on them with the tourist protesting that their back was not to the statue.

They felt most agrieved as they felt they were obeying the instruction to the letter and the police were not interpreting it properly. They were most upset. So in order that there is no confusion the notice should read, no photos to be taken with people posing as well and to apply this universally for all buddha statues all over the island and not just an isolated place here and there.

The head of the reclining Buddha at Gal Vihare

A view of Gal Vihare from the adjoining rock

My favorite photo of them coming down the Gal Vihare rock

Lunch break in my verandah for the team

Seated having lunch

Menika's daughter and Rohitha's sister have made friends, both mothers cutting paddy

Milling the Paddy into Rice at the Local Mill

Sudath with the Mill owners son weighing the paddy

The cut paddy left to dry prior to stacking and threshing

The paddy once cut needs to dry in situ for a while before being bundled and taken to an area where the thresher known locally as the Tsunami is set up and the straw and paddy are seperated

The Team for Paddy Harvest

Sudath Menika Self Amila Gamini

I cut my finger trying to prove I could also cut as well as them

Paddy cutting prior to threshing

Menika and daughter Danushika Maduwanthi in playful mood with the scythe

Paddy (rice) Harvest

Tea Break in the Paddy Field

On August 21st we commenced our paddy harvest at Kumbuk Thuduwa at Raja Ela. Above are photos of the people in action

Tennis at the Hill Club in Nuwera Eliya

Weekend in Nuwera Eliya

Kimarli and Malik with Tasha and Kiyara

The photo is a view from my window upstairs into the hills, quite incredible for somewhere right in town.

I just got back from a extremely restful long weekend, 4 days in Nuwera Eliya. My extremely gracious hosts were Malik and Kimarli Fernando and their two daughters, Kiyara and Tasha. We played tennis, the girls went horseriding and just chilled out on good food, prepared by Patrick the housekeeper. I went with my hosts on Friday August 24th and returned on Tuesday, August 28th.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Mango saga

The photo above is of me who was given the task of washing and wiping the mangos that had just been plucked from the tree yesterday August 16th, just by where I am standing next to the river and by the side of the lodge. Sidath climbed the tree and carefully with a bamboo plucker with a basket plucks the mangoes and lowers the cane basket from time to time down to be emptied. As the tree is taller than a coconut tree and probably over 40 years old there is considerable skill and risk involved in climbing this large tree, so we can bring the juicy,tasty mangoes to your table.

I have to contend with monkeys, bats, and pole cats to save my mangoes. Sometimes we have to wake up in the dead of night to pull the cord that makes the sound to scare the bats. Once plucked, there is a mango insect that injects the mangoes unless carefully covered. This insect fires an egg that spawns a worm in the mango, so we have to protect them from these once plucked. Additionally the reason I have to wash and wipe is to clear the milk from the cut fruit as the milk on the fruit sometimes hastens an overipening at the point of contact of the gummy like milk.

It would be fair to say that I lose at least three mangoes for each one I can save to sell. I have so far been able to salvage about 1500 mangoes from this tree, which I have sold at an average of Rs 15 each. Without this income I honestly don't think I could have covered this months expense. I have a few more mangoes to pluck next week as they are not yet mature. One of my customers said today, that the first batch I sold them was so sweet but the next was not. I told them it was from the same tree. Can someone tell me if different branches have different levels of sweetness as different branches flower at slightly different times giving me mature fruit to pluck over a period of a month. I bought this property exactly a year ago and I think last year the bats and monkeys finished the mangoes before any human could save any.

I am hoping at the end of this month to post a total icome and expenditure schedule to show how I am surviving in this endeavour just by a hair's breadth.

Please comment on this and other sections below to give me courage to continue in this sometimes foolhardy exercise of a real subsistence farmer. I can honestly claim to know how many of our farmers on the bread live and feel, an insight only those who have to live this life can understand, no matter how much others pretend to understand.

Amila who looks pissed off after having washed the cab prior to departure

On this visit to the Hingurakgoda plantation, Amila and I only got there at 2.30am on Tuesday after a full days sales on Monday August 13th when we got back to the Godagama farm only at 8pm to pack the cab with old doors, an iron sofa bed given by an aunt, an old cupboard to put clothes into, plastic fruit crates, and coconut husks. Sudath the boy who is stationed at Hingurakgoda had to go home only 2 hours after our arrival, for two days.It was left for Amila and me to take care of the necessary work load. He therefore had little rest after the long drive.

We had to take bags of paddy, with me also carrying 50kg sacks, to mill rice both Rathu Samba and Rosa Samba. I had to pick up parboiled paddy I had given an expert farmer who parboils for me and then take this Thambapu Rathu samba to be milled.

I had to fill a tank of kerosene and make sure the water was pumped for the rice cultivation and papaya cultivation. We also had to check the availability of other produce from neighboring farmers in Sudath's absence.

Corn plants had to be checked over, the water from the main Minneriya tank that comes to us had to be directed at the correct paddy fields that needed it most, and I had to organize the materials for our building of a small kitchen to be covered in cadjan, or coconut palms woven. Hitherto we have been cooking in log fires in the open and we need to get some covered space before the next rains come next month.

This is an example of what we do when we stay in Hingurakgoda.

Rohitha one of my neighbors

Rohitha another of my neighbors though he looks 15 is actually 20. His father has died and his mother now takes care of the land about 4 acres along with his little sister who is about 9. She takes care of the paddy land that has been cultivated, and they have mature coconut trees along their property, and I buy all their coconuts as well as most of the paddy they grow, as I don't grow enough to meet my demand. In a sense economically they are dependant on me as the mother also does paid labor on my land to plant my paddy seedlings and prepare seed beds for planting.
As agriculture cannot support themselves alone, Rohitha works in Wattala a suburb of Colombo in a Vanasapathi Oil producing place, where oil is exported to India under duty free conditions. He works in the section that makes the tin cans to which the oil is poured and packed for export. He comes home for 2 days every month.
As I dont have electricity my two boys go to his place in the evening to watch some TV and help out the mother with heavy lifting when necessary.

The Elephants in the National Parks next door


My propery is close to two National Parks, where there are over 100 elephants on the Tank (Lake) bed everyday at this time of year, now made famous with what is called the gathering of elephants. There were two large herds in each of the Parks last week, when I visited Kaudulla National Park on Wednesday the 8th and Minneriya National Park on Thursday the 9th when these photos were taken.

One of my neighbors, Karunasena and his wife and son

At least Karunasena has a tractor. He grows rice and sells seed paddy. He showed me his pumpkin patch on Wednesday the 15th August where of his 800 plantings over 75% were affected badly with leaves all going pale and dying with no one able to help him in detrermining what the problem is. If he had all his harvest, he would have pumpkins to fill a truck, now he may not even recover his cost, to say nothing of the opportunity cost of planting some other crop in the same area.

Chuti Nangi from the house opposite(left) helped the girls with wearing the diyaredda

The diyaredda is the cloth the ladies ear instead of swimsuits in the village to preserve thier modesty when taking their daily bath in the river, so my nieces had to conform to village tradition. Chuti Nangi my neighbor from accross the river was wearing a pair of long shorts which amused the Colombo clan no end. No one under 40 wears the redda and hatte in the village anymore except for one day of the year, namely Sinhala Avurudu

Sidath (from California) enjoying the waters of the minneriya oya

Sudath my man friday on the land helping Sidath with his water playtime

Nieces in the oya(river) in front of the cabin August 8th 2007

Family Visit to Hingurakgoda

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


You may have seen a photo below where a bunchof manoges hangs onto my verandah. Well it is from the large mango tree on the side of my cabin.

I brought over 800 mangoes from a few branches of that enormous tree to my shop last week and in the shop 400 that were put out for Saturday sales day were sold in minutes. Maybe my asking price of 15 rupees a mango was too low. I sold a further 200 to houses in Colombo on my Monday delivery too and even that was not enough to satisfy the demand. This was the first true bumper harvest I have received from anything in my life, and I am so grateful to the boys for going to a lot of trouble to protect the Mango from the threat of Bats, Rock Squirrel, other birds and most of all the two common varieties of monkey that are pests on my land.

The tree being so big, they have to climb very high risking life and limb, and then make sure the mango only falls into the basket and not to the ground where it will get smashed. Then once the mangos are plcked they have to be carefully washed and then each dried of the mango milk that iswaxy, so the fruit does not spoil. Once individually dried with a towel they are spread evenly on a mat so they do not touch each other to ensure that most are saved from spoilage.

My customers can attest to the fact that they are honey sweet unlike any mangoes elsewhere as they ripen on their own and are not aided in doing so as others sold in shops today.

My staff and I only end up eating half eaten mangoes that fall, as we want to save the best for the customers.

I next go to Hingurakgoda on Maonday night, 6th and I hope to get another like number cut from branches which would now be ready to be plucked from. My sister Nelun and my sister in law Sherene are coming there next week and they can pluck their mangoes as all the kids love sweet mangoes.

I have about 10 mango trees but only this tree which is by the river gave me a crop this season. The other trees are likely to give me a crop at christmas.

In the last few weeks I have planted three villard mango plants in Godagama and I have bought three more for planting in Hingurakgoda, namely two villard and one Karthakolomban.

Sadly even though I requested from my neighbors to sell me their mangoes, they have been tempted by cash where people come in lorries offer a sum for the tree, and cut all the mangoes before they are ripe and take them away for sale. They spray carbide to force ripening and that is what you see, ghastly yellow mangoes. My customers therefore being used to this carbide yellow ask me if mine are ripe as they are only turning a light yellow, but that is the true natural ripened tint now forgotten in the rush to cash in on quantity at the expense of quality.