Eight years ago, while surfing through Facebook, Thrissur resident Prajeesh Janan stumbled upon a video about Brazilian grape trees. “Unlike the grape plants we see around, this grows into the form of a full tree and bears fruit even on the stem. It will look as if the tree is covered with bugs,” he says to The Better India.
Prajeesh, a clerk by profession who is interested in gardening, had been maintaining a kitchen garden for years. He started searching for a sapling of Brazilian grape trees. As it is a tropical fruit not widely seen in Kerala, his attempts to purchase it from garden nurseries failed.
“There is a Facebook group called ‘Plinia Growers’, which is a community of gardeners in Kerala who grow exotic tropical fruits from different parts of the world. It was through the group that I got the saplings of Brazilian grape trees, along with some other grape varieties, and started farming in 2014,” he says.
A guide to tropical fruit cultivation
“Through the members of this same community, I came to know about ‘Frutas No Brasil’, a Portuguese book written by Harri Lorenzi, a Brazilian agronomic engineer. The book describes about 950 fruits of Brazil. This became my guide. I read about several other varieties of fruits, plants, their growth, steps to take care of them, and more. With the help of Google Translate, I read the book completely and still refer to it,” says the gardener.
Through his friends from the group and garden nurseries, Prajeesh collected over 250 exotic fruit plants including polpa rossa, branca mel, grosso, yasuni, aipuma, cupuacu, maracuja do mato and more.
“Most of these fruits are grown in the tropical rainforests of Brazil. Therefore, to cultivate them in our climatic conditions, irrigation is most important. Till the plant reaches a healthy state, it should be watered regularly without fail,” notes Prajeesh.
He adds that unlike local varieties of fruits, these items take years to bore fruit. “Out of the 250 exotic fruit trees, 165 are varieties of Brazilian grape trees. Among them, only 18 have borne fruits so far,” he says.
Prajeesh is assisted by his mother in the farming process. While he’s busy with work during the day time, his mother takes care of the plants. Prajeesh spends at least two hours in the garden everyday. This can go up to five hours on holidays.
“We don’t sell the fruits to anyone. It is because most people haven’t even heard of these items and will be reluctant to buy. Also, gardening is a passion for me and I have never considered it as an income source. We do share the fruits with neighbours, friends and family. The saplings are also given to them as per need. Several members from the Facebook group also contacted me for the saplings,” he says.
While the first batch of each fruit variety is consumed directly, the remaining is turned into jams, jellies and wines. “My mother is an expert in all these. We have made at least 20 types of jams so far,” he adds.
All the plants are cultivated in the 31-cent plot of Prajeesh around his home in Palakkal, Thrissur. Cement rings and plastic pots are used to plant them. Some others are directly placed in the ground.
“It is better to plant these saplings in pots. It takes them time to adjust with the type of soil, and once the plant becomes healthy, it can be moved to the ground if needed. Remember that all these plants will grow into large trees that take up a lot of space. Plan accordingly before planting,” he notes.
He adds that proper sunshine is required during the first phase of their growth. Planting must be done accordingly.
Prajeesh is on a continuous hunt to collect more tropical fruit plants. “Slowly, space will become a constraint, but till then, I will go on. Once everyone gets to know about these fruits, I may start planting them on a large scale for commercial purposes. But as of now, gardening is something that makes me feel happy and brings my mind at peace. My mother, who is in her late 60s, also finds the process so satisfying. The happiness in spotting a new flower or fruit on a plant is unmatchable, and we toil for that alone,” he says.
Edited by Divya Sethu; Photo Credits: Facebook/Prajeesh Janan