Sugandhadevi is a resident of Kollam, an ancient seaport and city located in southern Kerala, India. While she wanted to engage in farming activities for many years, she was finally able to pursue her dream in her 40s, inspired by a Facebook video about a woman running a large-scale farming operation.

To set her farming journey in motion, Sugandhadevi approached the local authorities, who supported her with some guidance and also supplied her 300 grow bags. Using scrap wood and plastic sheets, she created seat-like structures on her terrace to place the grow bags. She has been operating on her own, with support from her son-in-law who helps by sourcing the seeds, nutrients, pesticides and other inputs.

While most people learning about rooftop farming begin with fruits, vegetables or even herbs, Sugandhadevi chose to start hers with growing paddy, a water intensive monsoon crop. Her first batch of paddy produced around 45 kilograms of rice.

She did eventually expand her operation to include a variety of vegetables. Fresh organic nutrient-rich produce from her garden is mostly used in self-consumption, which Sugandhadevi credits for her family’s health and well-being, particularly during the pandemic.

As and when there is an excess after the needs of the family are met, the excess produce is sold to others who approach them.

Based on her experiences, Sugandhadevi shares some tips for others who may wish to start small scale paddy cultivation at home:

  • Her recommendation for adding any nutrients, is to dissolve them in water rather than introducing them directly into the soil.
  • Her preferred soil mixture for a high yield of paddy constitutes a 1:1:1 ratio of soil, sand/wood shavings and cow dung. Before planting the seeds, this mixture is to be kept moist for a fortnight. After the first seven days, she mixes dung powder, urea and potassium in a cup of water, adds it to the mixture and then continues to keep the mixture moist for another seven days. At the end of the fortnight, seeds can be planted in the soil mixture.
  • Watering needs to be done 2-3 times a day – ‘never let the grow bag go dry’, she says.
    If unable to practice frequent watering, she suggests installing a drip or spray irrigation system for the plants.
  • She also insists that one checks for pests on a daily basis. Neem oil or another organic pesticide can be sprayed/applied to the plant every 3-4 days.

After over a decade of growing food crops and optimizing use of space available around her home, Sugandhadevi has expanded her growing operation by growing some crops at her son-in-law’s house too.