When you think of apple trees, you might envision them growing in mountainous regions such as the Himalayas. But 57-year-old Vivek Vilasini, a concept artist and photographer, has managed to grow them in the city of Bengaluru, on his balcony.
“Seven years ago, I began growing exotic varieties of fruits as part of a concept-based art project. While my farm is situated in Munnar, Kerala, I usually start with trials and grow these plants on my balcony. Then I shift them to the farm. My recent project entailed growing ‘low chill’ varieties of apples, which are meant for tropical climatic regions,” says Vivek.
He planted the saplings of the Anna apple variety in 2018 and before September 2020, the semi-dwarf tree yielded fruits. In an interview with The Better India, Vivek shares how he planted the saplings and nurtured them.
Growing the apples
Vivek came across the Anna apple variety at a farm in southern California, which he wanted to procure for his art project in Munnar. But when he contacted the farm, they refused to export it to India as shipping saplings was against the law.
“They referred me to a few farms in India that might be growing the same variety and I began reaching out to those. While most farms in North India did not have them, a nursery in Coorg did,” says Vivek.
Once he got them to his apartment in Kothanur, Vivek immediately got down to work.
The saplings were planted in Air-Pots, which are containers with tiny spikes or holes on the sides. This allows air to easily reach the roots and promotes healthy growth.
“The pots allow plants to grow faster. Root development of three years can be achieved within two years. Apart from this, the pots ensure that roots do not grow long and are instead pruned on the sides, making them thicker. This way, while transferring the plant to my farm in Munnar, the tree will have healthy roots and produce fruits faster,” says Vivek.
The pots were filled with a soilless medium, which is a mixture of peat, perlite and manure. He watered the sapling regularly but did not add too much, as the medium retains a lot of liquid.
Flowers to fruits
In March 2020, when the apple tree began to sprout flowers, Vivek and his wife had to travel to the USA for work. At that time, they had asked their friends to help them water their plants until they returned after three weeks.
However, after India announced the lockdown, the duo had to extend their stay in the US to four months.
“In the following months, the flowers produced fruits but my wife and I were unable to witness them. Most of them were small as we were not there to provide the plant with organic nutrients, which are essential during that time. Despite that, the fruits were healthy. We requested our friends to harvest all the fruits, leaving a few on the tree for us to see when we returned,” says Vivek, adding that he is looking forward to planting these on his farm in Munnar and watching them grow into fruits himself.
Apart from Anna apples, Vivek has also grown the HRMN-99 variety, Granny Smith, Gala, and Dorsett Golden apples. While the HRMN-99 gave him fruits, the others have only flowered. Till date, Vivek has tried growing 300 types of fruits including six varieties of avocados and 40 varieties of citrus fruits.