You might think that the best way to grow trees is directly on the ground, but Kattappana-native Bijumon Antony disagrees.
“Even growing trees on land can lead to tangling of roots and thereby slow blooming. All the nutrients we provide at the beginning go directly to the roots. ‘Air pot gardening’ is a method to avoid this by planting saplings on pots full of holes, which can be placed anywhere,” says the owner of an exotic fruit farm ‘Miracle Farms’ in Idukki, Kerala.
Other than being a farmer, Bijumon also manufactures and sells his own air pots. He says that this method of farming is prevalent in foreign countries like Israel, China and Japan, and gives faster and better yields. “But due to the high price of such pots in India, most farmers don’t take up the technique here. One pot costs an average of Rs 650 on major e-commerce platforms,” he says.
Bijumon was a photographer by profession and used to run a studio near his home. Since he hails from a farming family, the 47-year-old had always engaged in agriculture as a secondary activity. But it’s been only five years since Bijumon completely turned his focus to agriculture.
“I started off as an integrated farmer, breeding goats, cows, black fowls, and fish, as well as growing several crops including cardamom and pepper. I constantly read and researched about new types of farming suitable for the climate of Kerala. Six years ago, I stumbled upon the idea of cultivating exotic fruits, of which certain varieties can withstand the heat and rain of the state,” the farmer says.
Today, Bijumon grows fruits like apple (25 varieties), orange, peach, pear, almond, walnut, and apricot at Miracle Farms. Their saplings, grown completely in air ports, are available for purchase on the farm and can also be couriered across the country.
What are air pots?
“Air pots are wide sheets made from flexible plastic with cone-shaped indents. The indents have small holes at the tip. The sheet comes with a few screw-like fasteners and a flat round-shaped piece made of plastic screen at the bottom,” says the farmer.
“The pots can be assembled by wrapping the mat on the bottom piece. The advantage here is that more air passes through the available holes, thus benefiting the plants. Also, when the roots come out exposed to the atmosphere, they dehydrate and new roots are produced. Those will be fibrous roots that require less nutrients. Rest of the benefits of the soil go to the plant directly,” he explains.
Bijumon initiated this method after planning to get into apple farming. He purchased a few pots online and says the results were great. But he couldn’t make decent profits as the pots were quite expensive, which led him to manufacture his own pots.
With the help of a Coimbatore-based company, he now makes them in different sizes. In the beginning, people visiting his farm were left intrigued by the pots and asked him to get them a few. This eventually turned into a business and his pots are named ‘Miracle Pots’.
“The price range of the pots is Rs 50 – Rs 1,000, and to grow an average tree, a pot of Rs 350 is more than enough. If purchasing wholesale, the price comes down. People usually come here and purchase directly. I also courier them to all parts of the world,” say the agripreneur.
Other than growing trees, the pots can also be used for composting. As the bacteria grows faster due greater presence of oxygen through the holes, composting takes fewer days if done in air pots, he assures.
Bijumon says that air pot gardening helps plants stay fresh and provides them with all their nutritional needs. It gives results within half of the prescribed time and requires less labour. Another notable advantage is that the trees grown this way can be commuted to any other spot easily, without damage.
“All you have to do is purchase pots of required size, fill it with soil, and plant the saplings. Occasional watering and fertilising is enough. Everything else is similar to normal gardening,” he says.
He is all set to expand his production and make the pots available in local farm shops. Bijumon, who has studied till Class 8, is accompanied by his sons, who provided technological support by starting a website and YouTube channel to popularise this method of farming.
The farmer has received the state government’s Karshakothama Award in 2019 and the Karshaka Tilak Award in 2020.
Interested in air pot gardening? Contact Bijumon 9048505848.
Edited by Divya Sethu
All photo credits: Bijumon Antony
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