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No longer selling soaps or carnivorous plants because of GST

Update: The government has now allowed online sellers the same exemption from having to register for GST as regular sellers. So I am once more selling soaps and carnivorous plants.

 

This blog is basically about the stuff I am up to at home. When I make artistic soaps because I enjoy making them, I sell the surplus, because there is only so much bathing one can do. When I grow plants (mostly carnivorous, but some others too), I sell those I grow in excess and seeds so that people interested in these hard to find plants can obtain them and grow them themselves. I’ve spent far more than I’ve earned on both h0bbies, but the purpose of doing them was never to do big business. Could I expand if I wanted to? Sure. But I am a loner, thinker at heart. Spending my day selling stuff is not a vision I hold for myself.

vertical garden varieties
Here are three different ways I’m growing vertically on just one wall of my balcony

The little money I did get was spent right back on obtaining more obscure plants. Usually from abroad, because the irony of carnivorous plants growing in India is that even as their habitats die, unlike in other countries, enthusiastic citizens have not taken up growing them in private collections. So today, if you want to buy a drosera indica or its seeds, you end up buying from abroad – a plant that natively grows in India and is, in fact named such. There are a few carnivorous plant sellers. All of them online. There simply isn’t enough of a market nationwide for individual sellers to chalk up say…. 20 lakhs in sales a year. Let alone profit.

There are maybe a dozen sellers in the country – 4-5 that I know of. Perhaps a few hundred enthusiasts to buy from them. Maybe a few thousand. Nationwide. I would be surprised if any of the businesses chalk up stunning profits. This is a hobby of lovers. The sales may make minor profits for those who invest space and money, but for the large part in a country where agriculture itself is a loss making proposition, the possibility of obscure carnivorous plants raking in the moolah is remote. Most of us hobbyists, delling as individuals wouldn’t even need to register a business unless there was a proper nursery involved. Certainly not the likes of me, growing plants in my balcony.

Charcoal and kaolin clay soap scented with holy basil
Charcoal and kaolin clay soap scented with holy basil

But the GST is an odd thing. To sell anything at all online. No matter the amount, you must register and file returns. This would involve creating the paperwork for a business, filing GST for every state that happened to have a person buy a soap or two from me, and generally spending more on paperwork than the actual materials I invested in or profits I made.

It is not worth it. The government clearly wants only people who do business in lakhs of rupees only to be enabled for online business or to pay a disproportionate amount for the right to do it legally. It amounts to charging citizens for the right to sell in the country outside whatever locality they are in. This will discourage businesses with a turnover of less than 20 lakhs, which will be prevented from growing from exposure to nationwide sales unless they take the gamble of committing to filing GST foreverafter in order to find out.

In my view, the GST is unjust to small sellers and particularly seeks to destroy small online sellers. But I am not enough of a businessman to make this battle mine.

Aloe Vera and Khus soap
A healing, soothing, cooling soap with an earthy calming khus fragrance, leaves your skin feeling nourished with aloe vera.

So here is what I am doing. This site no longer sells anything. If you wish to buy, you may come over and meet me locally and buy from me, or get someone to buy locally from me and send it to you. I can pack for shipping.

Alternatively, I can send you gifts of soaps and plants, if you gift me things I covet. No money will exchange hands. Hobbyists trading in things is hardly business. And it is pretty much the scale of what I am up to. Feel free to email me at vidyut@vidyut.info and see what sort of an exchange can be worked out, if you liike something on this site. I suppose I no longer have to limit myself to India.

Also people who help sponsor my writing on aamjanata.com will be entitled to a token gift from here.

Let us see how this goes. Will really be a pity if hobbyists are successfully strangled by the govt.

Thread about the whole thing on Twitter.

 

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The balcony garden strategy – more edible plants in small space

So I now have a strategy for maximizing the use of space in my small balcony garden in order to get the most crops.

Beginning from having no plants….

Sow some quick gratification

drumstick seedling moringa
Drumstick seedling at two days old

Every new gardener is excitedly awaiting results and plants will grow at the speed they will, but why not plant some early rewards while you go about learning to create your edible garden? Planting lettuce, carrots and drumsticks will give you some harvest very fast. Lettuce can be picked in small amounts within a couple of weeks. Even more so if you choose an early variety. Carrots can simply be pulled up earlier if you get desperate to see some result and they will taste tender and refreshing even if not at expected size. Drumstick trees grow so fast that if you grow them in a container, expect to be pruning them routinely to keep them from heading for the sky. This means a lot of edible, highly nutritious leaves that can be cooked like spinach. Mustard and fenugreek also come up fast and can be sown for greens.

Or hunt for more ideas. I like the thought of working hard to get a basic garden established in a couple of weeks and being able to watch it daily and be able to occasionally harvest something while you wait for your bigger crops to come to fruit.

Watering

DON’T WATER TOO MUCH. It will cause more problems than it will help. Young seedlings need very little water. By the time they grow, you’ll have learned to recognize when they need water. Your container should have plenty of holes in the bottom – you should be able to pour water in and see it come out from the bottom. A common mistake of the new gardener is to imagine that the container must hold water. IT MUST NOT. You water a plant to soak the soil.

Excess water will harm your plant and starve roots of oxygen and rot its roots and create problems with fungus gnats. GUARANTEED. Aim to water once a week at best. You don’t need to water at all till you see soil drying in the container. For seedlings, it is trickier. They must not be allowed to dry out, so you can water at the first sign of drying on the top. Larger pots with plants can be watered when you can poke your finger in to the second knuckle and the soil is dry. Soak well till water drains from the bottom and ignore till it is dry again – however long that is. This varies. With some plants you’ll need to water often, others will seem fine for ages. Generally, more sunlight, larger plant, more holes in container, dry or desert climate and water loving plants like tomato or cucumber will be factors needing more frequent watering.  Even daily or twice a day. Particularly once the fruit is set. A shady balcony without too much wind and a newly started garden will be fine for a week at least without watering.

I repeat DO NOT WATER MORE THAN YOUR PLANT NEEDS. The objective is not to fill the container with water, but to moisten the soil.

Selecting containers

I began with very small containers, imagining that I would pot up as the plants grew. It seems a bit instinctive for someone who wants to grow a lot in a small space, but I have fast learned that even for small spaces, large containers are better. Get the largest that make sense for the space. It is better to grow multiple crops in one pot than have many small pots – plants thrive better. Also what most people (read “me”) don’t realize easily is that the balcony space is limited in terms of area, not height, so one large container instead of three small ones gives you more depth and continuous volume of soil without taking up more floor space.

What to do with the small pots you instinctively hoarded? Use them to start seedlings and grow herbs and lettuce and other things that aren’t fussy.

Direct seeding vegetables go into a container first

seedlings plants beans orange okra small space container gardening
seedlings and plants in balcony container garden

This means that you start your carrots, turnips, raddishes, beans, peas and more in some of the biggest pots you have, while your seedlings grow. I have learned from experience that seedlings grow nowhere near as fast as it seems in “how to grow container vegetables” information found on the internet. From putting the seed into the soil to being ready for transplant, it can take from a month or even two if your small containers are generous enough. Keep a few large containers free for seedlings that are ready fast. By the time your seedlings are ready for more pots, your early vegetables (baby carrots and lettuce in particular) will have vacated their spaces, ready for you to plant your seedlings.

Start seeds in small containers

Seeds and seedlings don’t need much space, and no matter how much you love them, they will be happy enough (indeed at less risk of overwatering) in small containers. I often pick up used disposable plastic tea cups outside tea stalls. I have used empty eggshells as well.

Start the seeds, and once they start showing true leaves (this can be a couple of weeks), plant them into individual small containers so that they don’t grow up tangling their roots with their neighbours and remain easy to transplant.

If you plan this well, a square foot of space can contain all the seeds you are planning to plant in your balcony (and some to spare). Line up the small seedling pots along window sills or poke holes under their rims and hang them from somewhere suitable to save space if needed.

Plan your large containers

Chilly seedling in bucket with small and early Little Finger carrot seeds sown around it.
Chilly seedling in bucket with small and early Little Finger carrot seeds sown around it.

As your seedlings come up, it is time to plan your large containers to use space the best. A big bucket will hold one tomato plant, but you can easily plant basil or mint around it. Once your peas have come up a bit, plant your spinach or lettuce around them. Train your cucumbers and beans to climb up the grill or lean a stick against the wall to keep them off the ground (not just saving space, but less risk of disease and better shape). Beans and tomatoes work well in one container too. As long as I watch the plants well and make sure they have plenty of water, they don’t seem to mind the slight crowding so far. I will update as the season progresses.

One smaller bucket has peppers in the middle surrounded by “Little Finger” carrots.

Arrange plants to maximize sunlight

Gourd vine climbing up from a corner of the balcony grill
Gourd vine climbing up from a corner of the balcony grill

If you are planting in a balcony, at best you’ll have sunlight for part of the day. Arrange your containers so that plants get the most sunlight possible. I use hanging containers along the grill of the balcony so that the space is vertically used.

Relocate the greens to under larger plants

Once your seedlings are ready to transplant, plant greens around them. so that the pots you planted greens in earlier can be freed for more seedlings as they become ready. Mint, catnip, garlic and more can repel pests from plants and help protect them as well.

Use vertical spaces

It may mean simply hanging containers from the walls or ceilings to grab the light available in those spaces or it can mean elaborate designs for form or function, but just remember, for the space starved gardener, one direction to expand in is “up”.

This is it, I guess. My plan for starting container gardens in balconies. Hopefully if I ever need to do this again, I’ll be able to read this and not repeat mistakes 😀

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Starting a vermicompost bin without worms

earthworm in vermicompost worm bin bedding

I have always been interested in composting and having my own home now allows me the freedom to get into all these whims and ambitions. There are plenty of tutorials on starting a worm bin. All of them assume you have the worms. But what if you don’t?

I didn’t.

I could probably go to the city and find some vermicomposter and buy worms, but I don’t have the time for that at this stage and traveling with Nisarga is complicated at the best of times. I was not willing to wait (good things happen to those who DON’T wait long enough to lose a dream).

One thing was certain, given enough time, compostable materials will compost. No matter how well or badly I do it. Complete disasters can always be trashed.

First I made the worm bin.

worm bin with pedal lifting lid
These plastic waste buckets are pretty easy to get and cost under a hundred rupees.

I too a garbage bin with the kind of lid that raises when a foot pedal is pressed. Cheap and convenient, though I guess any could be used. The dark shadow in the bottom is some cardboard.

I have punched holes in the bottom and sides of this bin for drainage and ventilation. I found it easier to do by heating a thick needle – the kind you use to sew jute sacks, particularly since I don’t have a drill.

worm bin drainage holes
Punched holes in bottom for drainage. I used a thick needle and heated it up to easily poke holes.

Then I put some wet cardboard in. (I took the photos at this stage, which is why you see the cardboard in previous photos).

Now was the tricky part. This had actually happened while I was living in my husband’s home and dreaming of this place. I was planning a bin and had started a very small one in a small plastic box using “wild” earthworms.

I didn’t have any worms, there were no easy places to get worms nearby, there are no suppliers selling online to deliver in India, and the few vermicompost sellers I could convince wanted a thousand rupees for a kilo of worms. No can do. It would completely defeat the purpose of composting, if composting at home was more expensive than purchasing several years supply of vermicompost.

So, in the great Indian tradition of jugaad (closest meaning being creative solutions), I tried alternatives. I had vermicompost that I had purchased. I threw in a handful. Then I tried to identify and specifically pick out cocoons from it to add. Then the other good news is that it is monsoon here, and the first really serious showers had just happened. There were earthworms on the road waiting for me to rescue them from cruel cars.

The rescued earthworms are not necessarily a perfect solution, given that they probably burrow deeper into the ground and my bin may not give them enough comfort. But hey, earthworms are earthworms, and it was something to start off with till the cocoons hatch. IF the cocoons hatch.

If the cocoons hatch, it will be very good. The assumption being that cocoons found in professionally sold vermicompost will come from critters that eat and poop efficiently enough to have quantities that can be sold.

So I had this box of “worms” ready for this environment.

Normally, I’d have prefered to let my worm bin settle and let some food rot in it in some place before I put the worms in, but this was the celebratory first day, so something suitably momentous had to be done. So, I dumped my small worm bin into this larger one – in one place, so that the comfortable ingredients were all in one place in a “comfort zone” for the worms that was already comfortable, while the rest of the bin aged a bit. Then I covered it up with shredded cardboard and newspaper.

earthworm in vermicompost worm bin bedding
This earthworm tried to escape the bin but readily returned after some encouragement.

Then I put in more shredded newspaper and cardboard till the bin was almost full to deter pests from finding the earthworm food.

I have no idea what is going on in the bin at this point. It is tempting to keep checking, but I guess when they say keep the worm bin safe from pests, they also mean me. So I satisfied my itch by reading up on vermicomposting, and writing this post and letting the earthworms do their thing.

I will update when there is anything to update, but the hope is that the cocoons hatch and/or the local earthworms settle and reproduce.

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Frugal living: Setting up my new home

In the days since the last post, I’ve been busy. I have moved most of my belongings to my new home and am ready to move as soon as I have cooking gas (most likely tomorrow).

empty apartment
This is the empty version of the new place I rented. It is already filling up with my belongings.

Some of the choices I have made in this new start – with many priorities ranging from health to finances in mind are already seeded to flourish as we grow into them.

Living Frugal

Gabe G., Mary H.
Rug made from old discarded clothing. Image:

This is a commitment to myself. I have enough on my plate trying to make ends meet to add the burden of making ends that are wider apart meet. I already live pretty frugal – used clothes, cheap purchases, DIY, improvised uses for many things… and many of the choices below also include this as an important factor.

Growing my own food

organic brandywine tomatoes heirloom seeds
Organic Brandywine tomatoes, Heirloom seeds growing in front of a bright window in an apartment. Image: Rennaux

This one answers many of my wishes. The main one is possibly less noble than the others. I want to get back in touch with that part of me that was in tune with nature when I lived as a nomad, and growing food seems to be something I can do while city bound and parenting a fragile child. It has the added bonus of healthier food habits, since in my experience, self-grown food always tastes better, just like our own child is always more charming 😉 This is will also reduce chemicals in our diet and hopefully get my weight to levels where I recognize myself (food was often the only comfort I used in an increasingly long and miserable marriage). More importantly, a healthier and diverse diet will do wonders for Nisarga – this is my gut feel.

Composting my waste

vermicompost earthworm composting bin
Vermicompost earthworm composting bin. Image: Quadell

I am planning on composting my own waste as vermicompost mainly but I haven’t given up on the idea of regular compost, though I can’t figure out where I can do a three foot cube of trash …. yet. I am also interested in trying out black soldier fly larvae if I can tempt some home. This is two-fold. The first, obviously is why spend on fertilizer if I can make it? The second is some recently discovered guilt over throwing too much trash on this planet.

Seeking seconds

garage sale
Garage sales don’t happen in India, but there are many places used and cheap stuff is available. Image: ResaJoan

What I need, I’m asking around if someone has to spare. If not, buying second hand, leaving only the unavoidable expensive purchases. Will keep my wallet happier. Besides, working from home, it isn’t like I need a fancy wardrobe (and you won’t believe the stunning clothes friends who do need good wardrobes hand down). But it isn’t only clothes. Now, as I need many things for the new home, I am requesting gifts of household necessities as well, pots and pans, cutlery, utensils, even garden pots and hanging baskets if anyone has them lying around close to where I live. Some is available. I can buy the rest.

Batch cooking

Farsan - Indian mixture
Farsan – Indian mixture. Image: Aravind Sivaraj

Since I don’t have a fridge yet, I don’t mean it in the Western sense of cooking many meals and freezing them, but there are other ways of keeping stuff to eat ready. Making large batches of healthy dry snacks that will last a long time will help me prevent ordering food from out when I am hungry and tired. This has been becoming a huge bill these days, with the husband criticizing anything I make, and me preferring to order food to avoid at least that spate of ugly words. But both Nisarga and I enjoy the food I make, and no reason why we can’t eat homemade snacks and meals all the time now. Particularly if they are ready on hand to be eaten at whim.

DIY – Do It Yourself

I confess, I enjoy DIY because it is fun. I am a maker at heart. I like making things, solving problems, rigging something to work. It doesn’t hurt that DIY saves money and improves the mind.

Doing ATM lessons

While I have been learning the Feldenkrais Method to teach Nisarga to move better, I have been neglecting myself horribly and weight gain and stiffness have turned me into a person I don’t recognize. Doing the ATM (Awareness Through Movement) lessons will not only let me reclaim my body, it will provide me with insights for movements to try with Nisarga.

Blogging our journey

I think the new things I am doing will be of interest to many who would like to live more simple, frugal and organic and blogging it will share the information. More importantly committing to blogging about these things will keep me on track on days I feel motivated (and I have been depressed a lot in the last few years, though feeling better these last few weeks). It will also help me see how far I have come when my self esteem is low.