63-year-old terrace farmer harvests 20 kg of vegetables a day using 400 grow bags

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Returning to his native Bengaluru after retiring, Punnoose Jacob from Thodupuzha wanted to pursue farming as a hobby. His family based in Idukki has a background in agriculture and the 60-year-old also wanted to give it a shot.

But the unavailability of land was a challenge for him to venture into large-scale farming. So he decided to take it easy and chose to grow vegetables on a terrace.

“There’s a three-story apartment building that we’ve rented right across from my house. It has a large 3,500 square foot terrace where I chose to cultivate. I am a perfectionist so everything was well laid out, even if the garden was small at the beginning,” says the 63-year-old gardener.

Punnoose first planted vegetable seeds in a few grow bags. Tomato, chilli, brinjal, okra and cucumber were among them. In two years, the number of grow bags and vegetable varieties has increased. He installed a drip irrigation system to facilitate the watering process. All grow bags are placed on iron stands 1.5 feet high. Clay tiles are placed under each bag so that the extra mixture is sucked up through them.

Six years ago, Punnoose even installed a patio shed that protects plants from extreme rain and sun. “The shed was put in place after receiving a grant from the Department of Agriculture,” he adds.

Punnoose’s lush terraced garden.

Today, the gardener grows vegetables like zucchini and cauliflower and sells them under a brand name called “Mangalam Foods” for a fixed price. “Every day, an average of 20 to 25 kg of vegetables are harvested on my terrace. It is packaged and taken to the nearest no-margin supermarket where it is sold out within hours,” enthuses the gardener.

Pepper spray technique

Punnoose attributes its success to the use of organic fertilizers and pesticides. “I use organic manure and fish amino acid as the main fertilizers. The mixture is added in a fixed amount every week. I have prepared a board 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 hottest peppers in the world. “Ghost pepper is mainly grown in Rajasthan. I have a few young trees, grown for pesticide purposes. After drying and powdering the peppers, it is diluted in water and sprayed on the leaves of the plants. Although there are fewer pest attacks here, this method works instantly. But great care must be taken when conducting the process,” he warns.

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Kerala terrace farmer grows cauliflower and zucchini
Farm fresh brinjal and cauliflower.

Besides crops on her terrace, Punnoose grows climbing vegetables like gourds, bitter gourds and snake gourds in her garden. “I sell them all the items at a fixed price, regardless of the market price. Since the vegetables are organically grown, people are also not shy about buying. 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,” explains he.

Kerala Terrace Farmer, Punnoose Jacob
Punnoose Jacob.

A few varieties of fruits like mangosteen, chikoo and mango are also grown in her garden.

Another specialty of the Punnose garden is that it uses the same soil over and over again. “Since the garden is located on the third floor, it is not easy to carry soil all the time. After a harvest cycle, I mix fertilizer into the soil and leave it in a corner to regain its nutrition. Thus, only half of the total ground is used at a time. The other half is left to rest. This helps in better plant growth,” he says.

Recently, Punnoose was awarded the Best District Terrace Farmer Award from Kerala Government. “The prize turned out to be my motivation to plant more vegetables. But more than the profits, I value the peace of mind and satisfaction I get from farming. This hobby makes my retirement life calmer and happier,” he adds.

The Kerala Terrace Farmer has won the Best Terrace Farmer award.
Everything so green!

The gardener now employs two people to look after the plants and take care of the packaging. “I plan to add 100 more grow bags to the collection and introduce new varieties of exotic vegetables that are in high demand in the market,” he shares.

Edited by Yoshita Rao

Photo credits: Punnoose Jacob

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