School Kids Growing Crops. Its Happening in This Coimbatore School

I’m a student of Physics and never in my dream did I think that one day I would end up running a Higher Secondary school. And our students growing paddy and get a good harvest too.

That was Aravinthan, a post-grad in optics and photonics from Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology who runs Coimbatore’s St. John’s Matriculation Higher Secondary School.

I came to know of this 35-year-old Tamilian with a genial smile while searching for a native variety of vegetable seeds on Facebook. I was taken by his passion for ‘growing our vegetables the organic way’ and impressing young minds at Indian Organic School, Aravinthan prefers to call it.

Over to Aravinthan, in his own words:

We’ve been running the school since 2015, having acquired it from the earlier management. It was on the insistence of my father who also ran a school that I left my job as a college lecturer. I’m presently the chief admin of this co-ed school spread on four acres. We have 800 plus students on our rolls—from kindergarten to Higher Secondary.

Aravinthan among the turmeric crop

My interest in introducing the school kids to growing vegetables was spurred following a ninth standard student reply when asked where the tomatoes came from. He said: from the trees.

We began with growing vegetables in grow bags on the school’s terrace and also gifted grow bags to our students along with fenugreek seeds.  They are Nitrogen fixers, take only a month to grow and harvest. Reason: We didn’t want the kids to wait for a long time to harvest. Normally, most vegetables take almost 3 months to make it to the first harvest. The long wait, we thought might kill the curiosity and patience of the kids. Having watched the lifecycle of fenugreek they gradually learnt to be patient.

But much before that, I experimented with growing vegetables on the terrace of my rented apartment. This was following a friend’s remark that vegetables grown in grow bags were very juicy and tender. Though what he said did not make any sense to me but it surely made me curious. Though I belong to an agricultural family, my involvement in agriculture has been very limited. Eager to learn the basics of gardening I began with 5 grow bags and ended up with 75! Growing your vegetables can be really addictive. The greens I grew cooked amazingly fast and tasted way better than the ones we bought from the vendor.  All these were a huge motivation and I decided to introduce school kids to the world of farming practices.

It was in 2016 that we started gardening on our school’s terrace. On birthdays we used to gift kids a small grow bag with radish sown in it. We regularly made them visit the terrace and let them observe the colour of the flowers of each vegetable, feel the texture of the leaves, caress them and experience their scent and differentiate whether the plant was a herb/shrub/creeper/climber.

School kids with radish grown in grow bags

Meanwhile, I happened to accompany a friend to a seminar on native seeds and realised their importance having been ushered into the world of seeds. Into conserving and promoting native seeds. I began visiting seed festivals and connecting with farmers and seed savers on Facebook, all in an effort to collect native seeds and conserve them.

It was through FB that we came in contact with a lot of like-minded people who believed in preserving and sharing heirloom seeds.

Organic farming is not just about getting healthy and nutritious food. It’s more about caring for nature and the environment too.

Although we harvested a lot of vegetables it was not sufficient for our daily needs. Soon we started growing vegetables in the patch of land around the school building. We also introduced an Agriculture course for our HSc students.

Between 2016 and 2019 (September), the school harvested over 3850 kg of vegetables.

We didn’t stop and dreamt bigger and leased a 12-cent plot in the neighbourhood and involved our HSc students to grow paddy. From tilling the land to sowing and harvesting everything was done by the students. We did something no school in India may have attempted: in January 2020 we harvested 200kg of rice. 

Organic farming is complete only when the heirloom seeds are conserved. Presently, the school’s seed bank has 15 varieties of okra, 20 varieties of brinjal, 45 varieties of bottle gourd, 5 varieties of cowpea, 7 varieties of chillies and 15 varieties of pumpkin. With each day we add more seeds to our bank.

Varieties of bottle gourd grown in the school

Seeds are our common wealth, our heritage. We have reached out to home gardeners all over the country sharing seeds from our collection. Unlike other seed savers, this venture is totally non-commercial. Anyone who believes in propagating and sharing can reach out to us.

Varieties of chilli grown in the school campus

Apart from focusing on heirloom seeds, the primary backbone of organic farming is the use of natural fertilizers. Some of the fertilizers we use are cow and goat manure, green manure, fish amino acid, amirtha karaisal, jeevaamritham, and panchakavya that acts as both a fertilizer and an insect/pest repellant. In addition to the natural fertilizers, we extensively mulch our field with dried up groundnut plant, coconut coir, wood chips, chopped banana plant (of course, after harvesting the banana) and sun hemp that acts as live mulch.

Over the past few years, we have seen a growing interest among our kids in gardening activities even in their home. Even our teachers and parents of our school kids have started growing their own food.

Our initiative to interest kids in growing vegetables was to instil memories that they could recollect in their adulthood. We believe gardening holds the keys to unlocking important life skills like responsibility, confidence, creativity, tolerance, health and a greater understanding of the world in which we reside.

Visit  &

 Message Aravinthan on 7639555088


Confessions of a Balcony Gardener During a Pandemic

Hiren Kumar Bose

As soon as the lockdown was announced, some of us went back to reading books or watching movies besides attending to our household chores. Some learnt new skills and others shot videos of themselves and their kids. I, for one, besides catching up on reading the books that had been lying untouched on my bookshelf for ages – started greening my balcony, despite knowing that our housing society is very inimical when it comes to having plants.

Yes, you heard that right.

The society has penalised residents for keeping tulsi plants, money plants and even an aloe vera in their balcony – on the grounds that they stain the building’s exteriors.

Regardless, I have been spending most of my time growing leafy vegetables and tending to the ornamentals (flower pots) in my balcony – the size of a suburban local seat with grills attached. For me, a weekend farmer, the experience has been like Messi dribbling on a field the size of a carom board. But I’m enjoying every moment of it though my play area has been drastically reduced.

At a time, when the residents are staying indoors for most of the time, I thought they won’t come to know of my indiscretion and hence, I started populating my balcony with planters and pots – made out of empty edible oil plastic containers, muesli jars, ice cream trays, and PET bottles.

However, as soon as I started, my wife warned, “I will not let you pay a single rupee more than the mandatory maintenance fee,” hinting at the society’s penalty clause.

I didn’t budge.

In the last four months, beginning March, I have grown green leafy vegetables like mint, spinach, coriander, fenugreek, sweet basil, lemongrass, wheatgrass, and chilli. I have also tried my hand growing microgreens like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, mustard, chia, and sunflower.

As I began, getting soil was the easiest thing – it was from the society’s park which also serves as an outdoor gym with its exercising equipment, a feature common in Thane.

Thanks to the seeds which I had earlier procured to sow in my farm, and thus I started turning my balcony green. Years of working with soil and making its yield its bounty, has taught me that the food we eat contains organic chemical compounds, which can also be used to cultivate the plant kingdom.

Hence, what we have in our kitchen is enough to nurture plants, and I used them too for my balcony garden. For example, coffee grounds for nitrogen, eggshells for calcium, banana and potato peel for potassium and so on. At times, I have stealthily used my pee which is nothing but urea – plants are hungry for it and respond with vigorous growth.

Balcony garden

Did you know that onion skins, which we consider as waste and throw in the bin, are a great fertiliser and contains calcium, iron, magnesium and copper? Its use increases the plant’s disease resistance capacity, enables growth, strengthens the stems, and ultimately assures productivity. Leave the onion skins in water for three days at a stretch in a container and your fertiliser is ready.

I wondered if the vitamin supplements can usher well being and health in humans, why not in plants? Hence, I have also used multivitamin capsules to revive my drooping betel (paan) vine, the maghai variety which has been accorded a geographical Index tag. Two leaves of maghai paan with gulkand and saunf has been our post-lunch indulgence for months now.

In the last three months, the mint plant has occupied a large space in my balcony. Growing it from stem cuttings is easy provided you know what horticulturists call rooting hormone (RH). If you don’t, simply make a paste with a teaspoon of honey and cinnamon powder and your RH is ready.

From the fruit peels which includes chickoo, banana, papaya, peach mango, custard apple, jackfruit I have made what we call garbage enzyme (GE). Yes, you read it right. It is very simple to make. Fill a plastic jar with fruit peels, add jaggery and water and leave it capped for three months and your GE is ready. You can not only use it as fertiliser but an organic cleaner for toilet and bathroom. Also called eco-enzyme, it’s a multipurpose liquid that is produced from the fermentation of organic waste. The idea is to cultivate enzymes into organic cleaners, from organic waste that normally goes into the garbage bins.

Like a conscientious citizen, I’ve substantially reduced my carbon footprints as less and less volume of garbage leaves my home for the landfills. By the end of the day, we are only left with non-recyclable stuff namely plastic wrappers, milk pouches, aluminium foil bags, used toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes and so on.

I believe the ornamentals – madhu malati, passionflower, syngonium, ice cream creeper, shankhapushpi – have helped usher an ecosystem bringing in bees, butterflies and even birds to my balcony. Who knew that in a pandemic my balcony’s window grille will host sunbirds, starlings and house sparrows?

Although their appearance is brief, they have surely brought joy in the lives of self-incarcerated individuals like me.

My piece published in livewire on July 09.2020

15 Kinds of Okra And More

It was a chance visit to Anna University organised seed festival in 2018 that made Pavan Kumar become a seed collector and distributor. So much so that he resigned his job at Renault Nissan to promote and popularise traditional vegetable seeds. As he says “to make a difference” and make a living too.

“I was among thousands who worked at the automobile plant and didn’t feel will be able to make any difference,” says Pavan, a mechanical engineer by education.

Pavan monkeying with Elephant Okra

At the seed festival, there were farmers from Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka beside Tamil Nadu displaying their collection of seeds. “I am familiar with Telugu, Kannada and Marathi so could converse with them and gather a lot of information including their contact details,” says the 24-year-old.

Tamil Nadu has a tradition of seed collection. Like Yoganathan, a farmer of Thinnakonam village, near Musiri in Tiruchirapalli who started collecting the seeds in 2008 with the objective of preserving native breeds of vegetables, fruits, millets and pulses. After a decade, he is now providing tonnes of seeds to farms and kitchen gardens through Agathiyar Farmers Producer Company, supported by NABARD. Then there is  S. Sultan Ahamed Kabir of Tirumalairayar Pattinam in Karaikal of the Union Territory of Puducherry. He has transformed agriculture from a vocation to feed people into a mission to conserve seeds of traditional paddy varieties for posterity. In the last 12 years, he has grown about 80 varieties of traditional paddy.

But what makes Pavan different is that he is a non-farmer and also he sells the seeds online.

Pavan with his seed collection

He has had a Facebook page devoted to selling  ‘eco gifts’ since 2016 and soon started sharing details about native seeds too. He has reached out farmers in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Chattisgarh and Sri Lanka from whom he sources the seeds. According to him, there are lots of Tamil farmers in North Jaffna part of Sri Lanka who has shared seeds with him.

India, home to Moringa, has its traditional varieties and the introduced ones, like ODC 3, PMK 1 and 2, Rohit 1 and others. With his FB page, Pavan has introduced the Indian farmers to three native and one Sri Lankan Moringa variety.

Since he began in 2018 he has collected 130 varieties of seeds including leafy green vegetables, gourds, grounds, beans, climbers, fruits. His bouquet of seeds includes 15 types of okras, medicinals, nine types of brinjals, four types of moringa, maize and chillies each and 12 types of flowering seeds.

He shares seeds with farmers for multiplication entering into a buyback agreement. At times a farmer or two insists on advance payments. Which he gives. He advises farmers to multiply the seeds in a 100 sq ft plot and buys the processed seeds for a fee ranging from Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000. “They are willing to grow it because they too benefit from the deal,” says Pavan. He stores the seeds in plastic containers having treated them with cow dung ash.

At times people have offered him seeds without any pecuniary benefit, like a Mumbai couple who gave him a kg of Purple Sword Beans.

He has reached out to farmers in the North Eastern States too. “I have interacted with them using Google Translate and have been amply rewarded due to the biodiversity of seeds these States offer,” says the Chennai-based teenager.

Asked does he make a decent livelihood being a seed distributor and selling eco gifts. He answers: “Much better than what I was earning at Renault. More importantly,  I’m making a difference promoting country’s native seeds.”

You can reach Pavan  at or 8754445850

World’s Priciest Mango

It was during a visit to Kolkata in June 2018 that I came to know of the world’s priciest mango having visited a mango fest. You can fetch a dozen of best Devgad Alphonse Mango for Rs 700 while you need to pay Rs 700 to lay your hands on a solitary piece of Kohitoor mango. I was told at times many have paid more for the most delicate and sensitive of all mangoes. Though wonderful in taste it is the most difficult mango to handle. Golden yellow in colour, the Kohitoor has to be kept wrapped in cotton wool to keep it fresh. After every 12 hours, the mango has to be turned on its side so that it ripens uniformly.

Kohitoor is grown in orchards of Murshidabad’s Azimganj and Jiaganj. There are only 10 to 15 growers and only 25 to 30 Kohitur trees left in Murshidabad district despite efforts to save the mango species. As couple of  hundred mangoes arrive in the market they are immediately lapped up.  In fact, you need to be a Nawab to afford it.  For it was Nawab Murshid Quli Jafar Khan having transferred his capital from Dhaka to Murshidabad in 1704 encourage the setting up of mango orchards.

It’s said 124 varieties of mango were once cultivated in Murshidabad. Presently, we know of only 19 varieties growing in Murshidabad. To name a few: Ranipasand. named as the erstwhile Nawab’s favourite wife liked it; Enaet Pasand, named after a jagirdar who patronised it; Bimli, named after a maid employed by Mir Jafar  for cultivating new mango variety; Anaras has a pineapple flavor; Saranga is dedicated to the musicians who played “sarangi” in Nawab’s haveli; Gulabkhas, as the name suggests, has a mild flavour of the gulab (rose); and Mohanbhog, named so as the same was offered to the deity, Lord Krishna in the temples.

Lakshman Bhog Mangoes

Though there is talk of acquiring GI tag for Kohitur not much progress has been achieved in this regard.

A paper titled, “Mango cultivars and hybrids grown in West Bengal” having studied 115 mango cultivars and hybrids—from Subza weighing 70 g to Totapuri 768.8 g opined that Lakshman Bhog, a regular bearer with an attractive colour and good fruit quality had the potential for export from the state. Though every Bong swears by his/her Himsagar it has low shelf life and thus can’t be marketed outside West Bengal. Sadly, the farmers in West Bengal unlike their brethren in Maharashtra, Karnataka or Andhra Pradesh have been unable to market Lakshman Bhog outside their State. It has the potential of doing what Alphonso has done to Maharashtra.

Kalpvriksh, Truly A Seed Exchange

A hobby-farmer (don’t know if there is such a term) for over a decade now my one acre plot has become a forest of sorts or a botanical garden, those few who come to visit call it that.

Mangoes, jackfruits, coconuts, chickoo, avocado, Love apple, mulberries jostle space with medicinal plants and aromatic herbs here. In fact, over the years the space for growing vegetables has been shrinking. I make good use of it growing seasonal vegetables, like spinach, methi, pumpkin, Bottle gourd, carrot, papaya, tomatoes etc. Yes, a lot of space is occupied by turmeric—sown in June and harvested in April-May. Turmeric is the only crop which sustains the farm and helps me feed Mangal and his kids. In short, the golden spice brings me the moolah while rest all, is either consumed by the family or given away to friends and acquaintances.

I do try to grow vegetables having acquired the home-garden packets sold by brands, like Ratanshi, Bombay Seeds etc. They cost a bomb and most of the time doesn’t deliver. Meaning, they rarely germinate or if they do, their yields are nothing to look for.

I’ve in the lookout seed savers, individuals or groups, who are non-commercial and believe in the age-old barter system. The philosophy of shareware. Give me some and I give you some. Passionate seed savers who believe in sharing their treasure.

Google was not of much help but it was Facebook which yielded: Kalpavriksh (Seed Bank Exchange Point & Sharing of Garden Ideas), the platform run by Sanjay Narote and Vivek Pathrukdar, both in their mid-thirties and passionate heirloom seed collectors.

The not-for-profit Kalpvriksh believes that home-gardeners can take these seeds where they belong—in gardens and on tables everywhere. Says Sanjay, a chef who works in a Shirdi-based hotel,  “Seeds in our bank are protected and preserved. But when they grow in your garden, they thrive.”

Though just three-month old Kalpvriksh’s mission is to conserve and promote India’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants. As Vivek, a zilla parishad teacher says, “We are in the process of building a movement, not a seed company.” Most seeds in his collection are from his terrace garden which he has been cultivating for the past three years. 

Sanjay is from Srirampur, 35kms from Shirdi while Vivek is from Jeur, a small village of 350 houses in Solapur district. “I’m a member of over 100 plus Facebook and WhatsApp groups and met Sanjay in one such group. We share a common interest in gardening and collecting seeds,” says Vivek, a post-grad who is a primary school teacher “which has two teachers and classes up to fourth standard”. His wife, Aparna also a post-grad and a school teacher takes equal interest in her husband’s unique initiative in popularising the movement of heirloom seeds among home gardeners and farmers.

Both have their separate collections in their homes, seeds packed in plastic pouches or tiny tin boxes. While Sanjay has around 185 varieties of seeds Vijay claims his collection is yet to reach the   300 number.

Sanjay with his collection of seeds

Whenever a request arrives they check their individual collections and mail the seeds by registered post.”We prefer registered post because we don’t want to burden the recipient with Speedpost costs.  Registered post takes much more time to reach its destination but surely it does,” says Sanjay who is helped in this task by wife Sanchita, a teacher and presently pursuing her Ph.D in political science.  Friends and acquaintances and Facebook members too add to their collection. Adds  Sanjay, “A friend who was on a trip to the southern part of the country brought me some 200 seeds of yellow Palash.”

Among both its Sanjay who is zealous about creating awareness about heirloom seeds and almost daily posts in Marathi on Indian plants on the Kalpvriksh Facebook page.

Kalpvriksh has seeds of grains, leafy and other vegetables, flower, forest, aromatic and medicinal plants. It has six varieties of cucumber, of which one grown in Konkan weighs between 8 to 10 kgs. For as little as Rs 150 one can get 20 varieties of vegetable and flower seeds. 

How does one conserve seeds for future use?

“There are three ways to conserve them. The traditional way which most villagers follow, like ‘seed mother’ Rahibai Popere does it to preserve them in cow dung and sun dry it. Me and Vivek, either store them in cow dung ash or in a tin box with camphor tablets,” says Sanjay.

Both seed collectors have this advice for wannabe collectors: “We’re always excited by the appearance of the maiden fruit, be it cucumber or tomato. That’s one you should collect for seed.” As the language of the group is in Marathi most of its followers are either from Maharashtra or those settled abroad and familiar with the language.

In addition to village, towns and cities in Maharashtra Sanjay &Co have shared seeds with individuals in Jammu & Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh and also NRIs in Dubai, UK, US and Australia.

“To the inquiries we receive from NRIs we send the seeds to their family members in India, like it happened in a case from Philadelphia (US),” informs Sanjay.

In addition to village, towns and cities in Maharashtra Sanjay &Co have shared seeds with individuals in Jammu & Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh and also NRIs in Dubai, UK, US and Australia.

“To the inquiries we receive from NRIs we send the seeds to their family members in India like it happened in the case of one Milind Ranade from Philadelphia (US),” informs Sanjay.

In addition to the villages, towns and cities in Maharashtra Sanjay &Co have shared seeds with individuals in Jammu & Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh and also NRIs settled in Dubai, UK, US and Australia. “To the inquiries we receive from NRIs we send the seeds to their family members in India like it happened in a case from Philadelphia (US),” informs Sanjay.

Vivek Pathrudkar in his home with his seed collection

A newbie seed saver like me with a small collection which includes seeds of Rakta Chandan, Rattlepod, Pumpkin, Bottle Gourd, Violet Tulsi, Laxmi Taru, Custard Apple etc. I ask Sanjay whether they were open to the idea of bartering seeds.

“Sure, why not?” says Sanjay.

So you know if you like to barter or buy heirloom seeds you know where to look for.

Farmer-Innovators of India

Innovation is rarely associated with vegetables, fruits or spices. Hiren Kumar Bose introduces us to some of the farmer innovators of India who have developed crop varieties, which besides being high-yielding, are pest-resistant and can be grown in a non-traditional environment.

Sixty-four-year old Navnath Malhari Kaspate is a farmer-innovator having developed a high-yielding custard apple with lesser seeds. Called NMK-01, the variety is preferred among prospective custard apple growers and is presently being grown in 15 States.  Kaspate holds IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) for the variety he has developed.  

The term ‘farmer-innovator’ is a very recent coinage in India, thanks to the National Innovation Foundation. The Foundation over the years has assiduously identified innovators from the country’s small town and villages. Besides recognizing their contribution to agriculture and horticulture it has promoted them too.

Navnath Kaspate in his orchard

Innovation is rarely associated with vegetables, fruits or spices. Interestingly, there are scores of unlettered farmers who have been ingenious enough to develop crop varieties, which besides being high-yielding, are pest-resistant and can be grown in a non-traditional environment.

Earlier known as the Honey Bee Network, the NIF was set up by the Department of Science and Technology. It has documented, added value, protected the IPR of the contemporary unaided technological innovators and traditional knowledge-holders, disseminating their innovations on a commercial and non-commercial basis.

According to Hardev Choudhary, Innovation Officer, NIF, it is the volunteers spread across districts in the country who identify the prospective farmer-innovators and validate their achievements.

The Biennial Grassroots Innovation and Outstanding Traditional Knowledge Awards being held since 2001 help in this regard. So far, the NIF has filed for 71 registrations under the plant variety, of which only 10 have been granted. Following proper verification, documentation, evaluation and validation by local agriculture universities or the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) which involves the work of several years, NIF assists the innovators in acquiring registrations.

Developing a new variety of crop or fruit is generally undertaken either by universities or institutions like the Indian Institute of Horticultural Research. But in the case of Kaspate though a class 11 dropout he had the passion of a grower and the perseverance of a plant breeder.  Visit his sprawling farm in Gormale village in Solapur, Maharashtra you’re likely to come across a ‘living museum’ of 42-odd varieties of custard apple collected from different parts of the world.

Kaspate introduced the farming community to NMK-01 (Golden) in 2011 and five years later, he was awarded the Plant Genome Saviour​ Farmer Reward constituted by the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority. He received a cash prize of Rs 1 lakh for the same. Ever since NMK-01 (Golden) was launched, he claims to have sold 30 lakh saplings and makes at least Rs 1 crore from selling the fruit. Mainly grown in dry-land zones, growers not only have a good word about the NMK-01 variety, but are all praises about the yield, which can be as high as 12 tonnes per acre.

Have you heard of a mango variety called, Sadabahar?  Very unlikely. It’s called so because it fruits thrice in a year.

Developed by Shree Kishan Suman, a Kota-based horticulturist and farmer, Sadabahar is a recent entrant on the mango-sphere and has quite a few similarities with Alphonso. Mango growers the world over are making a beeline for this new variety of the ‘king of fruits’ to have in their orchards. Fifty-two-year-old Suman of village Girdharpura, 15 kms from Kota, belongs to a family of farmers who used to grow rice and wheat but gave them up due to the fluctuating market rates. In 2000, he identified a mango tree in his orchard, which had bloomed in the three seasons viz. January-February, June-July and September-October. He prepared five grafted mango trees, using them as a scion. This tree had a good growth habit and had dark green leaves. Growing them for years, he found the mango trees immune to major diseases and common disorders. He took about 15 years to develop his variety.

Soon the NIF got in touch with him and has grown the variety at different places in the country to authenticate the veracity of Suman’s. In 2017, Suman was conferred with the Farm Innovation Award during the 9th Biennial Grassroots Innovation and Outstanding Traditional Knowledge held at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Perhaps the nation’s or in fact, the world’s only hybrid mango that flowers thrice a year, Sadabahar has been registered under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act as a farmers’ variety. So far, Suman has sold over 1500 plants, to nurseries and individuals in Delhi, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Telangana.  He has received inquiries for saplings from individuals in Nigeria, Pakistan, Kuwait, Iraq, UK, and the USA.

Jagdish Prasad Parikh is a 71-year- old farmer from Ajitgarh from Rajasthan’s Sikar district and proudly tells visitors that his jumbo cauliflower which has earned him an entry into the Limca Book of Records. As his cauliflowers are very big, they are preferred by hotels and restaurants. Growing cauliflowers since 1990, his variety received the Grassroots Innovation Award in 2001, also making him the recipient of an IPR in 2017. The biggest cauliflower he has so far grown is 25.5 kgs. The variety is unlike the regular cauliflowers you see with the vegetable vendor or purchase from your neighbourhood mall. Unaffected by warm temperatures, the variety is disease-resistant as well as tolerant to insect attacks. It can also be grown thrice in a year.

Jagdish Parikh with the jumbo-sized caulifolower

These innovations by farmer-innovators, who hold IPRs for their innovations, are shining examples of livelihood security leading to crop improvement, assuring food and nutritional security, enhancing production technologies and also providing environment security. Of them one is Sabu Varghese of Pampadumpara village in Kerala’s Idukki district sells around 10,000 saplings of his ‘wonder cardamom’ each year. It is a drought-resistant variety which yields around 3 kg of fruit per plant and can be grown in rubber plantations. The variety can be grown in high-temperature surroundings, requiring shade and humidity for a good harvest. He received an IPR for his variety in 2015 and has not looked back since.

Like Sabu T.T. Thomas (71) is from Idukki and has developed “Pepper Thekken”, a high yield variety of black pepper which gives a yield of more than 1000 pepper balls in one pepper bunch and recipient of IPR for his developed variety. About 8600 kg dry pepper can be produced from one hectare. Since the pepper is produced in bunches, harvesting is also easy.  

Sabu T.T. Thomas with his pepper variety

Plant breeders, researchers and farmers like Kaspate, Suman, Parikh, Sabu and Thomas have been granted IPR under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act (PPV & FR) of 2001. Exclusive rights to produce, sell, market, distribute, import and export a crop variety are granted to farmers under this Act. They are also exempt from the payment of any fee.

Among the unique fruit variety developed by the NIF’s farmer-innovators is an apple that can be successfully grown in plains in temperatures between 40-45 ºC, called HRMN-99. Developed by Hariman Sharma of Paniala village in Himachal Pradesh’s Bilaspur district, the variety is scab disease-resistant and can be grown in tropical and subtropical regions in the country. In 2017, he was awarded the 9th National Biennial Grassroots Innovation Award by erstwhile President Pranab Mukherjee.

Called the ‘Apple Man of Bilaspur’, Hariman (61) owns a 1.75-hectare orchard, in which he also grows mango, pomegranate, kiwi, plum, apricot and peach, along with coffee. There have been reports of successful fruiting of the HRMN-99 apple variety in Manipur, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Haryana, Rajasthan, Jammu, Kerala, Uttarakhand, Telangana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and even Dadra & Nagar Haveli.

Harman Sharma with his apples

“Till 2005, no one would have believed that apples could be grown along with pomegranates and mangoes in the plains, 700 m above sea level in warm temperatures. But HRMN-99 has made this possible and is presently being grown in 29 states of the country,” Hariman concludes.


As Yellow Can Be

I never knew that coming to Hubli-Dharwad after a gap of three months would hold a surprise for me. In December it was the colour mauve and this time it was fluorescent yellow. Nature can hold so many surprises!

Riding in an auto rickshaw towards Hubli from Dharwad, my wife’s hometown and the place known for its chocolate-coloured pedhas, on a mid morning of March I chanced upon couple of trees standing at a distance glowing. Literally. The colour was bright, eye-catching, arresting as if someone has downed a can of colour.  The trees dressed in fluorescent yellow or electric Lime as it’s known—making the surroundings luminescent. I had never seen anything like this. Yes, I’m familiar with copper pod which also produces yellow flowers. But Yellow Tabebuia is in a different league altogether. Plant scientists know it as Tabebuia Argentea.

Yellow Tabebuia

Suitable for avenue planting Yellow Tabebuia is a quick growing tree, it attracts bees in hordes when it bloom between February and April. Originally from Brazil it can reach a height of 10m and become completely leafless when it blooms. Its foliage appears after it has shown its true colours, I mean post-bloom.

Planting Yellow Tabebuia on road sides would be a great idea providing eye candy to those travelling on the road and for the future of the bees.

Oranges Of Algarve

As the train enters the Algarve region of Portugal you are greeted by orchards on both sides. Rows and rows of orange trees laden with fruits beckon you: for this is the orange season. While on the way to the airport I chanced upon farmers on the sides of highway with vans and crates spilling with oranges, Portuguese address them as Laranjas.

Orange colour is called narenji. Remember in Hindi orange is known as narangi. Now, you know the connection. The word orange derives from the Sanskrit word for “orange tree” (nāraṅga), which in turn derives from a Dravidian root word (compare narandam which refers to Bitter orange in Tamil). The Sanskrit word reached European languages through Persian (nārang) and its Arabic derivative (nāranj).

Orange originally came from China. This is why its name in some languages like German, Dutch and Finish, etc is “Appelsin” (or something like this) which means Chinese Apple.

The Persian term for the fruit orange is “porteghal”, derived from the geographical term “Portugal”. The Portuguese brought orange from China to Iran (and other countries) during the 15th or 16th century.

Algarve oranges are the juiciest and sweetest of citrus fruits. But it’s flavour isn’t orangey. What I mean to say it’s very unlike the oranges I have relished so far.

Oranges grow here in plenty and one can come across trees on city streets laden with fruits. And no one seems to pick them!

Though the climate is conducive for growing fruits Portugal imports fruit and vegetables from thousands of miles away like Asparagus from Peru, Apples from Uruguay, Papaya from Brazil, Mangoes from Argentina, Strawberries from over the border in Spain etc.

There is nothing nicer than a freshly picked orange almost straight from the tree and for me, even juicing them seems a small crime compared with the joy of peeling and eating one fresh!

The Algarve region produces between 300,000 and 400,000 tonnes of citrus fruits each year, and it is hardly surprising that the oranges grown here account for about 70% of the total oranges grown in Portugal – long days of blazing sunshine, adequate water supplies and good soil ensure fine crops.

Baer With Me, Please

In most Bengali households, in the past, we were refrained from eating kool (baer or Indian jujube) before Saraswati Puja or the Basant Panchami arrived. We never asked our parents why we shouldn’t but followed their advice as we didn’t want to incur the wrath of Ma Saraswati on us, we were school goers. Moreover, those days Google Assistant was not around to ask.

For the ivory-skinned goddess dressed in a white sari seated on a swan and holding a veena is the epitome of knowledge, learning and wisdom.

All these came to my mind while I was picking up kool from the roadside which the tree had shed. January and February is the season when kool appears in the market.

The local varieties of kool have long vanished from fruit carts and even from fruit mandis for the preference now is for Apple Bhor of Baer which looks like a miniature version of the green coloured apple. They have a shiny look but are tasteless. Yes, they are crunchy like the apple. Whoever innovated Apple Bhor failed to make it sweet! And that is its undoing. I feel sorry for the present-day kids who will never see them. As for me, I would prefer eating a piece of cardboard than bite an Apple Bhor.

Apple Bhor is a Thailand variety fruit and the farmer grows it as he gets a good price. Its claimed to be pest resistant. Fruits are big and it has more shelf life. It yields twice a year and the crop time can be adjusted based on the market demand.

My Wish List

Is saal kya? (What’s new this year?)

Bunch Pepper

As the monsoon dawns, we, farmer colleagues, often ask of each other what new do they intend to plant. For the earth, when moist is the best time to plant a sapling. However, we generally plant a fortnight before the arrival of the monsoon or after the fury of the rains has abated. Preferring to plant saplings in the last days of September or in the beginning of October. Incidentally, there were sporadic incidents of rains in November last year.

Last year I had planted several herbs, couple of Kesar mangoes, custard apple, chia, betel leaf, mulberry etc. I also experimented with growing Azolla.

My wish list is neither exhaustive nor is it limiting because there are chances that while visiting a plant show or a nursery I do end up buying some! In fact, that happens really often. Though a bibliophile (and a reader) in recent years I have collected more plants than books. That reminds that I need to make a list of plants and their varieties growing in my orchard. I did know their names while acquiring them but have forgotten many of them. Blessed with botanist friends I’m just a WhatsApp message away when I’m unable to identify them.  

My wish list this year includes the following:

Bunch Pepper: The fruit trees in my orchard have been around for quite some time now and have spread their branches making the ground below shady. Which has compelled me to seek out shade-loving plants? What better than pepper? A commercial crop it fetches around Rs 700 a kg. Bunch Pepper, a high yielding variety of black pepper developed by farmer T T Thomas of Idukki, Kerala has become the choice of prospective black pepper growers in Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra. A recipient of National Innovation Award and Plant Genome Saviour Award, Thomas’ variety called Pepper Thekken, unlike the ordinary one, gives a yield of more than a 1000 pepper balls in a single bunch. It’s also unaffected by the quick-wilt, the bane of spice growers. This variety has the potential to make spice growers in India to enhance their livelihood and also holds promise in the export market. The Indian Institute of Spice Research, Kozhikode, has recognised this variety as a unique high yielding one with branches in the spike, a rare feature in black pepper.

Jivanti (Leptadenia reticulata) : Its name itself is very catchy and wooing. In Ayurveda, it is known for its revitalizing, rejuvenating, and lactogenic properties. The therapeutic potential of this herb is because of the presence of diverse bioactive compounds. At present, L. reticulata is a threatened endangered plant because of over exploitation, unscientific harvesting, and habitat loss. The increased demand from pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, and veterinary industries has prompted its large-scale propagation. I’m told its propagation through seeds is very poor but through cuttings, the results have been good. The mention of Jivanti is even found in Atharva Veda. Charak and Bhavprakash, describe it as best among leafy vegetables. It is included in Jivaniya Gana, which is the group of herbs used for promoting vitality and life.

Maidenhair Fern: Maidenhair fern is the source of a pleasantly aromatic volatile oil long used as a rinse or shampoo that rendered black hair very shiny, hence the name Maidenhair. The same extracts have been peddled by herbalists to cure asthma, the flu, or as a general tonic though there is no good scientific evidence to support these uses.

Pink Trumpet Tree (Handroanthus impetiginosus):  A semi-evergreen tree it grows 20-30 feet tall with a grey fissured trunk and palmately-lobed leaves divided into as many as seven leaflets radiating outward. The pink trumpet flowers have a white throat with yellow stripes and blooms in large clusters in the spring just before the new foliage emerges. It flowers in early December. With its impressive flowering display, the tree is often cultivated as an ornamental plant and can be a good source of nectar for honey bees.