When Abdurazak, a resident of Tirur, Kerala, returned from Dubai in 2018, he wanted to plant fruit trees at home. But these trees usually grow better on land, and he realised his terrace his might not be enough.
He knew he could grow them in grow bags like most home gardeners. “But this actually stunts the growth of the trees, often rendering them fruitless. So, I wanted an alternative to grow bags that are practical and more efficient,” Abdurazak tells The Better India.
So instead, he decided to grow the trees in plastic drums. Today, he maintains a fruit orchard of 250 trees, of which 135 grow in drums.
Finding an alternative to grow bags
After spending around 30 years in Dubai, Abdurazak returned to his hometown in Kerala. He says he had always loved nurturing trees, especially fruit bearing ones, and would plant many in his house his whenever he was home from work.
“But when I planted the trees on the land, they didn’t grow well due to the unavailability of enough sunlight. So, I decided to try planting them on the terrace,” says Abdurazak, who was part of a wholesale fruit and vegetable business in Dubai.
He says his experience dealing with fruits for around three decades helped him understand the scope of growing different varieties across the world. Even the idea of growing them on plastic drums was inspired from a fruit farm in Thailand, he says.
“While working in the fruit wholesale business, I had the opportunity to interact with several farms and agencies from over 56 countries. One of the fruit farms in Thailand, who used to send us fruits, had adapted this technique of growing fruits on plastic drums. They used to grow fruits in thousands of such plastic drums and reap high yields,” explains the 50-year-old.
“This method was adapted to reduce labor and waste of fertilisers. When we plant these trees on land, around 75% fertiliser is wasted, as it goes underground along with water. This leaves just 25% to be absorbed. So, this method actually stimulates the growth of the trees,” he adds.
Razak wanted to test the waters. So he decided to plant a few trees in plastic buckets first. “I took paint buckets, filled them with soil, and planted them to check whether the method would work in our climate conditions. It did, so I bought used plastic drums from scrap shops and started growing trees in them,” he says, adding each drum costs around Rs 700.
“Unused and new plastic drums are twice as expensive,” Abdu says. “I would suggest this method only if someone is passionate about growing fruit trees and not growing them for commercial purposes. If you grow fruit trees this way, you could get a yield enough for you and your family,” he says, adding that it is therefore important to find varieties of fruit trees that yield fruits in all seasons.
Razak’s fruit orchard currently houses around 250 fruit trees from different parts of India, as well as from countries such as Thailand, Pakistan, Brazil and Australia. “I mostly buy foreign varieties online. There is a Kolkata-based agency through which I source different varieties of mangoes,” he adds.
He has around 70 foreign varieties of mangoes, different varieties of guava, and jackfruit trees.
He says that fruit trees grown in drums yield much faster than those growing on land. “If the trees that grow on land take five years, the ones planted in drums would just take two years. But even with faster yield, the number of fruits produced will be less in drums.”
“If you get 100 mangoes from a tree growing on land, you will only get 25 or 50 from the ones planted in drums. But you could use the space consumed by a big mango tree to grow around 10 to 15 trees in drums, that too of different varieties,” he explains. “Therefore, it is important to plant trees that could yield fruits in all seasons.”
Trees growing on land don’t require frequent watering, but those in plastic drums need it at least twice a day, he says. “I have set up a drip irrigation system on the terrace and water them once in the morning and once in the evening. Since they are on the terrace and exposed to sun, they need more water than those on land, which are able to sustain even without water, as their roots have the capability to find water from the soil,” he elaborates.
“I use a bioslurry made out of cow dung, neem cake, bone meal, jaggery, and sheema konna leaves (Gliricidia sepium). I mix this with water and spray it on these trees,” he says when asked about what fertiliser he uses.
As the trees are kept in drums and on the terrace, Razak says that it is important to prune them from time to time to maintain their size to an optimum level. “It is important to keep them maximum up to 7 to 8 feet,” he adds.
How to grow fruit trees on drums
- Use plastic drums with capacities of 70 to 130 liters, and choose them according to the growth of the fruit tree.
- Make at least three holes of 8 mm to 16 mm at a distance of 3 inches from the bottom of the drum. The holes are for the water to escape.
- Fill a potting mixture of soil, bio fertiliser, and coco peat to cover 3/4th of the drum, and then plant the tree.
- Water them at least once a day or once in two days.
- It is suggested to spray fertiliser once a month or once in two months.
- Prune them from time to time and train them to grow at an optimal level.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)