Twenty vegetables and a two foot pillar

Organic farm promoter Augustine Lopez. Photo: Thulasi Kakkat  

The elephant’s foot sat on the top, at five foot height, its big leaves forming a leafy crown on the pillar. Around the pillar’s girth hung deep purple eggplants, red amaranth clusters, green and red chillies and ladies fingers with yellow flowers. Aromatic mint sprang at the base. This was Augustine Lopez’s first experiment with pillar farming in 2012. His second one, under construction and planting, can be visited at Chathiath Church in Pachalam. The pillar farm is Augustine’s answer to the city’s growing expanse and consequent shrinking spaces for a full-fledged kitchen garden or even a vegetable patch.

A tour guide and an organic farming hobbyist Augustine has successfully experimented with a 2x2x5 foot pillar farm where one can grow 18 to 20 vegetables for a season. “It’s more than enough for a family,” he says with pride. Augustine embarked on the agrarian ventures after his father encouraged him to do so in an emotional parting on his death bed. “My father asked me to go ahead with my ideas in farming while on his death bed,” says Augustine whose inherent zeal drove him to collect know-how and material regarding different types of farming. He set up City Farmers, a compact outlet, four years ago and runs it from Revenue Towers opposite Children’s Park.

Sitting in his little office, full of seeds, saplings, pots, grow bags, pipe holders and books, Augustine runs classes for farmers and farming enthusiasts, sharing knowledge and materials on different kinds of farming. Here he also has a small reading space with books in Malayalam on agriculture and related topics. “Farmers young and old drop by and discuss issues; it is interesting to hear different points of view,” he says.

The pillar farm is built around a five foot central pipe through which watering is done. The soil, a mixture of coco peat, river sand, red soil and organic fertilisers, is packed around the pipe in sacks and held by a wire mesh. Saplings are planted sideways and grow around the pillar.

“The biggest advantage of a pillar farm is the limited space that it needs because space is the biggest challenge in a city,” says Augustine adding that a pillar farm has to be replanted after six months.

Besides this latest creation Augustine offers many other inexpensive farming options to green thumbs and budding farmers.

He has grown vegetables on a volleyball net as “a net receives sunlight from either side.” PVC pipes connected with T-joints are made into wall hanging pots; perforated grow bags, gunny sacks and small coco peat blocks too are used smartly. Augustine offers simple, cheap solutions to gardening issues like pest control, watering, manuring and harvesting. He is often invited to schools and colleges to spread awareness about organic farming. The insensitive use of pesticides is something he is vociferous about. “People drink bitter gourd juice in Kerala to ward off diabetes. They buy the best looking gourds but these are the most contaminated because we are now using oil based pesticides that seep below the skin of the vegetable and cannot be rinsed off. Hence people are indirectly consuming pesticides.”

For kitchen waste management Augustine has developed a simple mechanism which consists of a bucket with an emission pipe. He suggests that the collected waste which can include egg shells and fine fish bones be sprayed with EM solution (Effective Micro Organisms), a method developed by Japanese scientists that helps convert the mix into compost. The decomposing odours due to fermentation are flushed out through the pipe.

Farming is Augustine’s hobby but even as a tour guide, with tours to the Holy Land, he has carefully studied the agricultural practices in Israel. He is amazed at their skill of growing fruits and vegetables in a desert through drip irrigation and is now studying their fascinating method of rearing small fish in the deep sands!

“This business is not profitable. It is part of my social service,” says Augustine hoping that more people take up the organic way of life

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Printable version | May 18, 2021 2:06:16 AM |

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