Udumalpet is rain starved. You wouldn’t think so as you take in all that green and the bounty of vegetables growing in front of you. Row upon row upon row of tomatoes, green chillies, bell peppers and brinjal grow on a 10-cent land. But these vegetables are growing out of what looks like coir foot mats inside grow bags.
“That is coco peat,” explains R.K Raghunandan of Green Terra that promotes coco peat as an alternative growing medium to soil.
Mr. Raghunandan pioneered the use of coco peat in the country and in 1991 exported to Australia and the UK.
In 1992, he won the Commerce Ministry Award for pioneering work.
He supplied coco peat to Sicilian farmers too to grow the famed Mediterranean veggies.
“But they usually grow them in green houses. This is the first time I am trying it out in the open air,” he says.
So far, the experiment has been successful. The tomato is blushing, the capsicum is shining, the brinjal is a beautiful purple and the green chillies look sharp.
“They are growing well and all the harvests have been successful. For the 480 bags of vegetables, we water them once in a week for 10 minutes” explains Mr. Raghunandan who says only when he is fully convinced the coco peat method of growing vegetables outdoors works will he persuade the farers around him to try it.
In fact, vegetable farmers from the area are helping him look after these plants.
They have seen for themselves how low maintenance and successful it is and are convinced that this method will work back in their own farms, he says.
Mr. Raghunandan feels coco peat method of agriculture is ideal for small farmers who work with just an acre or so. “Weeding takes up a big chunk of expenses in conventional agriculture. Coco-peat is weed-free. And it is low maintenance. And the yield is enormous. One can have 4,000 grow bags in each bag. And each bag can have three plants, which means 12,000 saplings. The minimum yield is 24 tonnes of produce per crop cycle. The same thing when grown on soil will be approximately eight tonnes per crop cycle.”
He says he dreams of promoting a mini green-revolution in drought prone and dry regions besides encouraging organic vegetable cultivation in every home so that there is easy availability of fresh and toxin-free vegetables.