Asiann Organic Easy Grow’s planters help raise vegetables that call for little or no maintenance. Subha J Rao reports

A chance trip to the Netherlands changed D. Chitra's world view. The managing partner of Asiann Coir Products was invited by a client to see how they were using the coir pith she exported. She saw tulips blooming from a coir pith base and was hooked.

At around the same time, she attended a workshop that spoke about the ills of consuming pesticide-laden vegetables and greens. That got her thinking.

She started Asiann Organic Easy Grow in 2010. The company sells ready-to-harvest plants in UV-treated polyethylene bags (planters) and helps set up green houses — a covered space to raise plants. The first 18 months were spent on research and development. Then, she started marketing the planters in front of stores such as Nilgiri's (shortly at Spar too) and at Asian Steel Traders on Trichy Road.

Soon, word got around. Her company has now set up more than 40 green houses and sold more than 5,000 plants (using certified seeds) in places such as Coimbatore, Chennai, Kancheepuram and Dharmapuri.

Chitra focussed on vegetables, greens and flowers. Soon, flowers took the backstage. “Few cared about vegetables. But, should that not be our focus, considering we eat them every day?” she asks. “Sadly, we don't really look into what goes into our daily diet. It's best to eat what we raise ourselves.”

Chitra's planters hold a mixture of coir pith, sea algae, vermicompost, panchagavya and eco-shield, the leaf extract of plants such as neem, pungai, nochi and aloevera. Since the coir pith retains water, you need to water them only once in five days. The bags, which weigh around nine kg, can be reused for up to three years. She also stocks vertical and horizontal planters, ideal for cramped spaces. The green houses, says Chitra, also serve as an oxygen-rich space where one can relax and feel rejuvenated.

Besides more than 15 greens, including palak, pasalai, methi, sirukeerai, thandukeerai and chakravarthi keerai, she also stocks bitter gourd, lettuce (five-odd varieties), beans, carrot, ladies finger, ginger, onion, garlic and brinjal.

The company is now working on getting watermelon, strawberry and cucumber to thrive in the planters. Also, following a request from a Maldivian client, they are looking at the feasibility of raising onion, potato and tomato.

It's been a learning curve for Chitra too. “Learning from the professors at TNAU and those at the JSS College of Pharmacy, Ooty, has been a wonderful experience. How much these plants give us,” she says.

Renewed interest

What gladdens her is that people are now showing interest in raising plants. “I recently went to National Model Matriculation School and the Government School, Vellalore, to speak to children on organic farming. When I left, I gave them all a container, the coir pith mix and a seed. Today, they are so possessive about the plants they have raised.”

The company also stocks native herbs that can help with anything from cold and an upset stomach to toothache. There's karpooravalli, lavender, thyme, sage, parsley, sweet marjoram, stevia, wintergreen and more. Before we leave the farm in Peedampalli, Chitra hands out a bright yellow bud of the palvali poondu, said to cure toothache. Bite into it and the mouth tingles furiously.

FARMING AND LOVING IT

A. Kulandhaivelan, who works in the steel industry, opted for a 200-sq ft greenhouse for his Kuniamuthur home in April. “Since then, we’ve been able to harvest whatever our family needs. I shop only for potato and onion,” he says. He’s planted tomato, avaraikai, chilli, beans, greens, brinjal and drumstick. “The taste is better. The kids love pottering about in the green house and there’s the thrill of consuming something you’ve produced.”

S. Elangovan, a professor of management at Bharathiar University, has a similar set-up in his Ganapathy home. He raises varieties of greens and tomatoes. “I love plants. They need little maintenance — just an hour twice a week is enough — but I speak to them every day and monitor their progress. It’s a relaxing exercise. The oxygen in the green house is an added attraction.” He tends to the garden with his fashion-designer daughter-in-law Poonkuzhali.

Factfile

The green house costs Rs. 80 a sq ft. A 200-sq ft one can hold 85 planters and costs around Rs. 35,000. The easy grow kit (with seeds, enriched pith, etc) costs Rs. 200 while a ready-to-harvest planter costs Rs. 220. Each plant yields about seven to nine kg of vegetables. For details, call 0422-4349914/24/25, e-mail md@asianncoir.com or visit http://www.organicgardeningindia.com

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MetroplusJune 28, 2012