Friday, January 2, 2009

The Peppers Peter Planted

Remember that field in Arsajul where we’d installed a small drip irrigation system? Just before we left for Aurangabad, Peter, Anand and I helped the farmer, Mani, plant the field with chili peppers. Mani was a bit apprehensive about our agricultural abilities, but after some interestingly translated instructions (“He says the mixing! The mixing!”) and a demonstration that we did indeed know what we were doing, the four of us got to work. Way back in October, Anand thought he was being hired as our driver. Little did he know that he was also going to get drafted as translator, publicity agent, irrigation installer, and now of course, farm laborer. He takes most of it in stride, though the translator part is difficult for him. We’re still looking to hire someone who is fluent in English— at least once a day, Anand comes up against something for which he doesn’t have the words: he squints, rubs his forehead, and shouts “No Ma’am! You wait! Translator!” Meanwhile, my progress in learning Tamil is abysmal—I’m still limited to saying “Hello! Milk van! You have a beautiful motorcycle. No. Tasty!” Returning to the peppers: We convinced Anand, and Anand convinced Mani, that drip irrigation works best when each plant is placed next to an emitter, and so we made our progress through the field thus: Anand ran a hand along the drip tape, finding the holes; Mani followed his directions and jabbed a pointed stick into the ground at each spot, making a hole for the pepper seedlings; and Peter and I trailed behind with handfuls of seedlings, tucking each one into the wet soil and pressing the dirt tight around them. Since Anand was the only one not covered in mud in the process, he got to be the photographer. Like I said, he has many skills.

This week, Anand and I returned to Mani’s farm to see how the peppers were faring. We found that Mani had made some slight adjustments—refitting a filter, reattaching some laterals that had come loose—and the peppers we planted not only survived but are thriving. The drip tape is working just as it should: on the surface, the soil is dry, except for a small wetted area around each plant. Underneath the surface, the water spreads out, covering the area into which the peppers’ roots will be growing. This way the crop gets plenty of water but weed seeds near the surface in between rows don’t get enough water to germinate.

Proof that Peter is proficient in the planting of peppers, as well as designing drip tape: notice the small jet of water to the right of the pepper plant, providing a precise amount of water directly to the crop’s root zone.

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