Returning to his homeland from Bengaluru after retirement, Thodupuzha-native Punnoose Jacob wanted to pursue farming as a hobby. His family based in Idukki has a background in agriculture and the sexagenarian wanted to give it a try too.
But the unavailability of land was a challenge for him to start large-scale farming. So, he decided to take it slow and picked vegetable cultivation on a terrace.
“There is a three-storeyed building we have rented out just opposite my house. It has a wide 3,500 square feet terrace where I chose to farm. I’m a perfectionist so everything was set up neatly, even though the garden was small at first,” says the 63-year-old gardener.
Punnoose initially planted vegetable seeds in a few grow bags. Tomato, chilli, brinjal, okra and cucumber were some of them. Within two years, the number of grow bags and vegetable varieties expanded. He installed a drip irrigation system so that the watering process became easier. All the grow bags are placed on iron stands of 1.5 feet in height. Clay roof tiles are placed below each bag so that extra mixture is sucked by them.
Six years ago, Punnoose even put together a shed on the terrace which keeps the plants safe from extreme rain and sunlight. “The shed was set up after receiving a subsidy from the agricultural department,” he adds.
Today the gardener grows vegetables like zucchini and cauliflower and sells them under a brand called ‘Mangalam Foods’ for a fixed price. “Every day, an average of 20-25 kg vegetables are harvested from my terrace. It is packed and taken to the nearest margin-free supermarket where they are sold out within hours,” gushes the gardener.
Pepper spray technique
Punnoose credits the use of organic fertilisers and pesticides for his success. “I use organic slurry and fish amino as the major fertilisers. The mix is added in a fixed quantity every week. I have prepared a chart for the same to not miss any day,” he shares.
The star of his farm is the pesticide made from ghost pepper, one of the spiciest chillies in the world. “Ghost pepper is mainly grown in Rajasthan. I have a few saplings of it, grown for pesticide purposes. After drying and powdering the chillies, it is diluted in water and sprayed on the leaves of the plants. Although pest attacks are less here, this method works instantly. But utmost care is to be taken while conducting the process,” he warns.
Apart from the crops on his terrace, Punnoose grows creeper vegetables like bottle gourds, bitter gourds and snake gourds in his home garden. “I sell them all items for a fixed price, no matter what the market price is. Since the veggies are grown organically, people don’t hesitate to buy either. For example, even if the market price of tomatoes is Rs 10 or Rs 100, one kilogram of my tomatoes is sold for Rs 90. Similarly, chillies are priced at Rs 120 and okra at Rs 70,” he explains.
A few varieties of fruits like mangosteen, chikoo and mango are also grown in his garden.
Another speciality of Punnose’s garden is that he uses the same soil over and again. “As the garden is located on the third floor, it is not easy to carry soil all the time. After one cycle of harvest, I mix fertilisers in the soil and leave them in a corner to regain their nutrition. So only half of the total soil is utilised at a time. The other half is left for rest. This helps in the better growth of plants,” he says.
Recently, Punnoose received the Kerala government’s Best Terrace Farmer of the District award. “The award turned out to be my motivation to plant more vegetables. But more than the profits, I value the peace of mind and satisfaction I receive from farming. This hobby makes my retirement life calmer and happier,” he adds.
The gardener has now employed two staff to look after the plants and take care of the packaging. “I’m planning to add 100 more grow bags to the collection and bring in new exotic vegetable varieties which are in great demand in the market,” he shares.
Edited by Yoshita Rao
Photo credits: Punnoose Jacob