When pastor P.D. Yohannan took a flight to Kerala in March 2020, he had his return ticket ready. But COVID-19 disrupted all his plans, confining him to his homestead in Kottarakara. Since lockdown meant zero routine business, he started cultivating pepper plants on terrace and today his little garden is attracting visitors, including scientists, researchers, and students, from all parts of the State.
“I have been living outside Kerala for the last four decades and suddenly there was no church or prayer meetings to conduct. I started looking for productive options and started researching about crops that require minimal maintenance. Since we have vegetables and tubers in the compound, I decided to cultivate pepper in our 1,500-sq ft terrace,” he says.
At innovators’ meet
The method he developed was unique and it was later selected for Rural Innovators Meet (RIM) 2021, an annual programme conducted by Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment (KSCSTE). Since pepper plants have long life, nursery pots and polythene bags were ruled out and a customised method similar to drip irrigation was installed. Big plastic drums were cut into two and filled with a mixture of trichoderma-enriched cow dung, neem cake, coir pith compost, bone meal and soil treated with limestone powder.
Steel wire mesh was cut into cylinders and covered with green net to make poles for the runner shoots and they too were filled with the same mixture. “Usually pepper vines cling to trees or trellises with adventitious roots. But when we use PVC pipes or concrete poles, the grip will be very weak. Since our poles are filled with the soil-manure mix, the roots will grow stronger. I planted the saplings in May 2020 and now they are ready for harvest.”
Yield all through the year
Pastor Yohannan adds that pepper vines growing on trees take more time to develop berries. “In this method we will get yield throughout the year and after three years I am expecting 3 to 4 kg of pepper from each plant,” he says. At present his garden has 48 plants and three varieties that include the popular Karimunda, Panniyur 2 and 7.
Pastor Yohannan says he plans to continue farming along with his duty and the schedule will be arranged accordingly. “Recently teams from Kerala Agricultural University, Thrissur, and Pepper Research Station, Panniyur, had visited my garden. I was given Panniyur 1,3, 4, 8 and 9 by the research station and I will plant them soon,” he says.