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A 63-year-old Idduki Native Revolutionizes Backyard Farming

Is Backyard Farming really a better alternative? Let’s take a look at Punnoose Jacob’s journey, a 63-year-old Idukki native, who took up farming as a hobby after retiring; now sells his fresh food under the name "Mangalam Foods."

Shubhi Singh
Fresh Vegetables from Punnoose Jacob's yard.
Fresh Vegetables from Punnoose Jacob's yard.

After his retirement, Punnoose Jacob, a native of Thodupuzha, decided to pursue farming as a hobby when he returned home from Bangalore. Having a family background in agriculture, the sexagenarian wanted to try it out as well. But starting a large-scale farm was difficult for him due to lack of land. He chose to take it easy and opted for Backyard Farming. Backyard Farming or Urban Farming involves utilizing private places people own (like terraces) to turn them into mini or micro-farms.

“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,” stated the 63-year-old gardener. Initially, he sowed vegetables in some grow bags with vegetable seeds. Some of them were cucumber, tomato, chili, brinjal, okra, and chilies. The number of grow bags and vegetable kinds increased in just two years. In order to make watering easier, he installed a drip irrigation system. All of the grow bags are set up on 1.5-foot-tall iron platforms. To ensure that extra mixture is absorbed by the bags, clay roof tiles are positioned beneath each one.

Punnoose even built a shed on the terrace six years ago to protect the plants from intense rain and sunlight. He continued, "The shelter was constructed upon receipt of a subsidy from the agricultural department.” Punnoose attributes his achievement to the usage of organic herbicides and fertilizers. "The main fertilizers I use are fish amino and organic slurry.

Every week, a predetermined amount of the mixture is added. In order to avoid missing any days, I have created a chart for the same," he said. One of the spiciest peppers in the world, the ghost pepper, is used to make insecticide for his farm. “Ghost pepper is mainly grown in Rajasthan. I have a few saplings of it, grown for pesticide purposes. After drying and powdering the chilies, 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 cautioned.

Punnoose in his farm.
Punnoose in his farm.

Punnoose cultivates creeper vegetables such as bottle gourds, bitter gourds, and snake gourds in his backyard in addition to the crops on his terrace. The gardener plants fruits and vegetables like zucchini and cauliflower and sells them for a set price under the name ‘Mangalam Foods’.

In his garden, a few different fruit species, including mangosteen, chikoo, and mango, are also grown. Punnoose's utilization of the same soil repeatedly is another unique feature of his garden. “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 fertilizers in the soil and leave them in a corner to regain their nutrition. So only half of the total soil is utilized at a time. The other half is left for rest. This helps in the better growth of plants,” he said.

Punnoose most recently won Kerala's Best Terrace Farmer of the District honor. “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 added.

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