Aranmula, a small village located in the district of Pathanamthitta in Kerala, is well-known for its famous temples and the annual snake boat races. But despite the town’s popularity for its historical and cultural significance, it gained admiration during the COVID-19 induced lockdown for an entirely different reason – Marigold.
Located at the centre of the town is an acre of land completely covered in thousands of beautiful, bright and yellow marigold flowers.
How did this beautiful flower field pop up out of nowhere amidst the ongoing pandemic? It’s all thanks to a 72-year-old ex-engineer who decided to make the most of his time during the lockdown.
NK Krishan Nair returned to Kerala in 2004 after working at an oil refinery for almost three decades in Libya, North Africa.
“I have been an NRI most of my life, and ever since I’ve been back, I’ve had the time to explore different things and make time for my passion projects,” he says.
After retiring from his job in Libya, Nair had been working as an investor in Kerala. But once the lockdown came into force, he decided to do something with the two acres of land that he owned.
“The land situated right next to my house was rocky and had been lying barren for many years. I never had the time to invest in farming. Moreover, I didn’t have any expertise in that area. Post the lockdown I noticed that a lot of flower vendors and trucks that used to come from North India had stopped coming. The market in Kerala was experiencing a slight dip, particularly in case of flowers like marigold,” he explains.
This was when Nair decided to create a marigold farm in his barren land. “I had the resources and time. And the market was open for flowers. So I thought, why not?” he says.
After getting in touch with his friends from Hosur, near Bengaluru, Krishnan Nair sourced around 1,000 marigold saplings from them. He also asked several of them for advice on cultivation and gathered information on how best to go about it.
“There’s a misconception that marigolds won’t grow well in Kerala, but that’s wrong. It’s one of the easiest flowers to grow, which is why I chose them,” he says.
While sourcing the saplings was easy, getting the soil ready for cultivation was quite hard with the land being rocky. “I had to bring in a JCB to till the soil. I also used organic fertilizers like calcium powder to boost the nutrient value of the soil,” says Nair.
“It was important that I used organic fertilizers for the plants because Marigold is a small and sensitive flower and spraying anything chemical will only stunt its growth,” he adds.
In one month, Nair’s farm was flourishing with beautiful and fresh marigolds.
“I was honestly surprised that they grew so fast and so quickly. I wasn’t sure that the climatic conditions would be right, but it turned out to be just perfect,” he explains.
Nair started harvesting almost 15-20 kg of marigolds every day, which he began selling to the markets, earning him close to Rs 35,000 per month. Over the last few months, vendors from Kozhenchery, Pathanamthitta who he has tied up with, have been collecting the flowers from the farm, every day.
“I had not started the farm for profits. It was solely a project to do something productive during the lockdown. But over these six months, it has become a business and a source of inspiration for several people in the town to start cultivating something on their own,” he adds.
Although marigold farming may seem easy, Nair adds that profit will only come your way if you are ready to put in a reasonable amount of time and hard work.
“Although it doesn’t require a large amount of water, it needs to be done regularly. The plucking of the flowers is also tricky and takes almost an hour and a half to pluck flowers from the entire field, which is a very tiresome task,” he adds.
But once the saplings take root, the maintenance becomes more comfortable. “Over these months, I’ve had a local farmer come and help me. Both my daughters have settled abroad, so it’s just been my wife and I, and she has been very supportive throughout this whole journey,” says Nair.
The best part, he adds, is that pest infestation does not affect marigold farming and a weekly application of organic fertilisers keep the flowers fresh and healthy. “With the current scenario, I hope to set a model for farmers so that they can start adopting alternatives like these as well,” he concludes.
(Edited by Tanaya Singh)