Homes and gardens

Santhosh Kumar S is testing the water with hydroponics

Santhosh Kumar S at his hydroponics mint farm   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

A refreshing scent envelopes me as Santhosh Kumar S leads me through his house to the rooftop. It is the aroma of fresh mint! A lush green carpet covers a network of PVC pipes. Welcome to Santhosh’s hydroponic farm.

Santhosh dabbles with software to make a living. However, for the last four years, he has been a homestead farmer as well, cultivating various crops atop his house on four cents of land at Karyavattam with the help of hydroponics. It is a soil-less farming method that uses water rich in soluble nutrients. He has also been selling the farm-fresh produce under the brand name, Fresh Leaves.

“I deliver mint leaves in bulk by 5 am at Horticorp’s stall at the world market at Anayara almost daily. I also supply it to organic stores in and near Technopark,” says Santhosh, an User Interface (UI) designer with a leading telecom company in the city.

It all started with a piece of the herb given by a friend. Mint, known for its vigorous growth, can easily be grown using hydroponics. “Plant a small cutting and it just grows. Usually, a plant can be harvested three times in one season. Organic, microbial method helps to tackle pests,” says Santhosh.

The leaves fetch him ₹90 per kilo and the yield comes to at least 200 kilos a year. “Although we may not use mint a lot in our dishes, it is much in demand among the North Indian community in Technopark. We pack fresh leaves and sell it in small packets, primarily for the techie crowd,” he says.

He started cultivating paddy using the same technology on a trial basis. “Even though it is a success, parrots, squirrels and rats are reaping the harvest for the time being!” he laughs. Bird’s eye chilli (kanthari mulaku) and bok choy/pok choi, a variety of Chinese cabbage, are grown in the same way.

Fact file
  • Grow light is an artificial source of light, usually an electric light, used in indoor gardening. The light helps the plant in photosynthesis.
  • Light Expanded Clay Aggregate (LECA) or clay aggregate is a clay module formed by heating clay at high temperatures. In hydroponics, it serves as a growing medium for the plants.

So why and how did he zero in on hydroponics? “I took to organic farming while working with an MNC in Technopark. I was among the founders of Prakruthi, a voluntary group formed by employees at Techopark to promote green and healthy living habits among IT employees. Initially, I cultivated vegetables in grow bags on my terrace. I got excellent yield for nearly a year until pests damaged the entire crop. That’s when I switched over to hydroponics. YouTube has been my guru,” Santhosh says.

He first tried and tested the concept by growing tomato in a pot filled with nutrient-rich water. When it succeeded, he built a hydroponics system to cultivate brinjal. “My background in electronics helped me in designing the present system. I needed help only to install the pipes. Once it was ready, an official with the agriculture department visited the space and, eventually, I got a subsidy of ₹10,000. I planted spinach (palak), which gave me a bumper harvest, before I moved on to mint,” he says.

“Minimum space, maximum yield. That’s what hydroponics is about. Once you understand the process, it becomes easy and saves you the trouble of watering the plants daily or changing the soil,” he says.

For homesteads

Now, Santhosh’s focus is on constructing and maintaining small hydroponic systems for homes. He has made the prototype of an indoor hydroponics system, which has multiple levels of space to grow plants. “This can be used for plants that need moderate heat. I have planted bok choy to see how it works,” he says. The system has LED grow lights and the facility to control temperature and humidity along with smart sensors to monitor these parameters.

Smart vertical rack system

Smart vertical rack system   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

He has also built a smaller unit with space for nine plants. “You can keep it in the kitchen counter to grow fresh herbs and as a touch of green for your interiors,” he says. It has specially-designed grow lights and clay aggregates, which hold the roots. “One doesn’t have to know any farming technique to operate this. Those who don’t have the space and time to maintain a kitchen garden can use this unit,” he adds. The balcony planter is another product Santhosh wants to market. “It can be used to grow flowering plants or vegetables in your balcony and has the facility to attach it to the trellis.”

The farm also has microgreens such as red cowpeas, amaranthus, coriander, sunflower and palak. “I use them at home to make thoran or mezhukkuperatti. Or I distribute it among my friends,” he adds. Santhosh is an artist as well and mostly does works in acrylic and watercolour. “My art has taken a backseat at least for now,” says the 37-year-old. His wife, Karthika R., a software engineer, and their daughter, Niranjana KS too lend a helping hand in his farm.

Red cowpeas microgreens

Red cowpeas microgreens   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

And his advice to any prospective hydroponics farmer would be, “You will face umpteen challenges initially. I too faced a lot of problems, but you have to keep trying,” he emphasises. Contact: 9746719785

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Printable version | Nov 25, 2020 3:25:38 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/homes-and-gardens/santhosh-kumar-s-promotes-homestead-hydroponics-farming/article28721175.ece

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