"The first plant I grew on my terrace was jasmine. Afterwards, I started cultivating many other flower varieties. I was making decent profits by selling flowers and saplings when I tried my hand at tomato cultivation on my terrace. I sowed some seeds in growbags on an experimental basis. The first yield itself exceeded my expectations. My passion for tomatoes earned me a nickname too. People around now call me Thakkali Thatha (tomato aunt)," says Latheefa smilingly.
A resident of Muttam in Kollam district, Latheefa now grows almost every popular vegetable variety, but it is tomato which changed her destiny. She now earns about Rs 10,000 a month by selling tomatoes grown on her terrace in the local market.
In fact, Latheefa got initiated into home gardening merely for a pastime. She started out with growing flowering plants on her courtyard with seeds procured from the local Kudumbashree unit. Initially, she only wanted to add some color to her place of living, but soon realized that this pastime could also be a source of revenue.
Soon, she started cultivating jasmine in her courtyard, but it was not on purpose that she turned to terrace farming. "I planted jasmine saplings on every inch of my land. As there was no more space left in the courtyard, I planted some saplings in a growbag and placed it on the terrace. Though I managed a bountiful harvest on the terrace, the main cultivation continued to be in the courtyard."
However, lower price realization from jasmine cultivation prompted Latheefa to turn to other crops. She sold the remaining plants and seedlings and used that money to make a fresh start in farming.
"I chose spice corps for my second innings as a farmer. The entire area was brought under spice crop cultivation, particularly pepper and vanilla. I also started growing roots and tubers such as kachil (yam), chembu (colocasia), and chena (elephant yam), as well as a couple of banana varieties. At that time, I had even engaged in lease-land farming on about three acres. People used to visit my farm and buy pesticide-free spinach, bitter gourd and long beans."
In order to marry off my three daughters, I was forced to sell my property and relocate. Though there was no space outside the new house, I did not want to abandon farming. So I decided to start growing plants on the terrace. I purchased some seeds and saplings and sowed them in growbags. There was a seed that accidentally landed in one of those bags which eventually changed my destiny and brought prosperity to our lives.
It was a tomato seed. It grew quickly and started producing plump, tasty fruits. Though I always had a special liking for tomatoes, I stayed away from cultivating them after many discouraged me saying that they are one of the most difficult plants to grow in the backyard.
However, that 'surprise guest' changed my assumptions. As there was no soil in the surface, I was not able to fix a free-standing pole to help the plant climb. The other greens were grown on a trellis, so I loosely tied the tomato plant up the structure and let it climb. To my surprise, the plant yielded as many as twelve juicy fruits. It was then I realized I have found my way at last.
I went to the Krishi Vigyan Kendra in Kottarakkara and purchased three varieties of hybrid tomato seeds, namely Anaswara, Manulakshmi, and Anagha. The officials also gave me training in cultivating these plant varieties. It was then I started growing tomatoes on a large scale. Now, they are the major source of my income.
At that time, I had thought about cultivating other vegetables too. My husband Haneefa too had encouraged me to try growing other greens, but I did not take it seriously. In the meantime, tomatoes from Tamil Nadu flooded the local market, bringing down the price drastically.
As a result, wholesalers in our area stopped procuring from us. To avoid losses, I started turning dehydrated tomatoes into powder. For making 50 grams of powder, you would need one kilogram of tomatoes! However, it can spruce up a bland dish or simply add a much-needed tomato element to any recipe. One packet of powdered tomato used to fetch me Rs 10 each. It helped us offset the losses we suffered due to the price slump.
That experience taught me a great lesson. I realized that if tomato prices suddenly fell, we would struggle to survive. That was how we started growing other vegetables varieties such as eggplants, chillies, ivy gourds, winged beans, cucumbers, cauliflowers, and capsicums along with tomatoes.
Whatever is produced in excess, we distribute among our three daughters. Now my younger son Shamas takes an active role in nurturing the terrace garden. The new varieties not only supplemented our income, but also helped us protect tomatoes from pests and diseases. Use of low yielding seed varieties and fungal wilts will have an adverse impact on tomato cultivation. Re-potting with new soil on the terrace will provide a nutrient boost that could give your plant what it needs to thrive.
Keep in mind
Over-watered plants are likely to get root diseases, primarily root rot. If you flood the pots, it will cause dampness in parapet walls or seepage in the terrace slab. You will have to ensure adequate waterproofing in this areas before placing the soil-filled containers on the terrace. Plants need to be tendered in the morning and evening. If you come across pests and diseases, a timely action is needed. Cut out any diseased or dead growth in a plant to reduce the risk of infection spreading.