IT professional Vinod Raj has turned his interest in farming into a profitable venture cultivating cucumbers
Techie Vinod Raj is nowadays rooted to the soil and is reaping rich rewards in the process. For the past several months now, the enterprising Vinod, a Test Manager at Allianz in Technopark, has been cultivating salad cucumbers on 15 cents of land in his home in Vattapara. He’s just completed his first harvest and in the coming week he will be sowing the seeds for the next lot of cucumbers, which, if everything goes to plan, will be ready for harvest by April.
“Ever since I was a child, I’ve always had a green thumb. In fact, until I was in class 10, I used to help my father, Gabriel a.k.a. Appu, in our little home farm, tilling soil, watering and fertilising the crops, and so on. I had to give it up because of my studies and, later, my job. Of late though, I am increasingly concerned about the way vegetable prices were soaring in Kerala and about the prevalent use of pesticides in cultivation. I wanted to try my hand at organic cultivation and do my bit to change the existing situation,” says the 40-year-old.
Thus, in June last year, armed with just a bit of know how gleaned from the internet and a one-week crash course in cultivation from a Government centre in Delhi, Vinod dug his feet into farming. He started off by setting up a polyhouse on his property. “Kerala’s climate and soil are well-suited for growing self-pollinated plants such as runner beans, okra, tomato, cucumbers, and so on, and also leafy vegetables such as red amaranthus (cheera), cabbage and cauliflower. Of the lot, I felt that cultivating salad cucumbers was the least labour intensive, which was a priority for me given my hectic work schedule,” he explains.
For three months he tended to the plants. “You’ve got to consider the plants as infants who need constant looking after,” he says, with a laugh. Consequently, Vinod would spend every free hour of every day on the farm, before and after office hours. “I would literally monitor each plant on each trellis, to keep pests and diseases at bay. To catch small pests, I used an old farming trick – placing yellow traps and blue traps (sheets covered with gum and those covered with castor oil or grease, respectively) at strategic locations through out the ployhouse. Each morning we’d get a bounty of pests stuck to the sheets. Some other things that need to be monitored constantly are the soil’s PH, the humidity, which tend to fluctuate a lot in a polyhouse and so on,” says Vinod. His perseverance and dedication seem to have paid off. The harvest yielded around 150 to 300 kg cucumbers per day!
That he says earned him a “tidy” enough profit. “It’s not about the money, really. Setting up the polyhouse cost me around 6.5 lakh and the rainwater-harvesting unit another Rs. 60,000. Coupled with other incidentals such as the cost of organic water-soluble fertilisers and labour charges I made a profit of around Rs. 35,000 to 40,000 per month over the three months of harvest,” explains Vinod.
Finding a market for his products was the easy bit. He would either drop off the produce at the World Market on his way to work or he directly sell to wholesale dealers who turn up at the farm. “In fact, a couple of dealers have already pre-booked the cucumbers from the next harvest!” he says. Apart from cucumbers, Vinod also grows snake gourd, red amaranthus, tomatoes and the like. He’s also got a small poultry farm.
Ever since his success with cucumbers, Vinod has become sort of an advocate for farming in Technopark. He regularly holds awareness classes for his colleagues and fellow techies, gives away seeds, sets those interested up with grow bags, and the like. He also takes sessions on farming, especially for local school children or anyone who drops by his farm. “Farming is a hands on job and is not easy on the pocket. It takes a lot of dedication and interest. But at the end of the day there’s something special, something hugely satisfying about eating something that you yourself have grown,” says Vinod. Now, that’s cool (…as a cucumber)!