Gardening: The Ultimate Solution to Lockdown Boredom
Lockdowns are boring. With too much time at hand and nowhere to go, most people struggle to survive the COVID boredom. Hobbies have grown rampant as people find newer, more innovative ways of putting their time to better use. Gardening is one such hobby, trending very fast across platforms as people grow more environmentally conscious and nature oriented.
One of the main reasons why gardening has grown so popular amongst youngsters is that it's largely therapeutic. The act of cultivating a vegetable or succeeding in growing a flower and seeing it bloom and come to life gives many a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Having said that, gardening is also beneficial in instilling a sense of connection with mother earth.
Biocarve: Making Horticulture and Agriculture Easier for Both Hobbyists and Local Farmers
Although Biocarve Seeds started in 2008, the seeds of the organisation were sown way back in 1993, with a similar venture focusing on selling plantsman seeds. The founder, Dr. Allah Rang, began Biocarve with the help of his younger son, focused on only selling vegetable seeds at first, and then expanding into flowers, herbs and other types of seeds. His extensive experience in the field can be seen in the well-researched, high quality seeds that do not fail to germinate. With pouches with detailed pictorial as well as written instructions on how to plant the seeds and take care of them, the organisation attempts to make gardening easier for everyone. Each packet, which has been named KGP (Kitchen Garden Packaging), comes with its individual instruction sheet and pictorial representation of each germination step, which makes gardening an easy activity for even illiterate people.
While successfully catering to young gardeners, Biocarve Seeds also aims to help local farmers and gardeners farming on their farms by providing high quality seeds at affordable costs and with greater accessibility. Their pioneering efforts have helped as many as 200 farmers replace wheat, a majorly winter crop, with flowers to help farmers earn more and diversify their crop production while increasing revenue generation substantially. The brand provides a wide variety of seeds ranging from marigold, sunflowers to other flora, while also offering herb and vegetable seeds.
With agile adoption of technology, Biocarve Seeds produces the highest quality of seeds. Our seeds have the highest germination, the required moisture content and do not carry obnoxious weed seeds. We have created a niche for ourselves in the global seeds market and are currently exporting more than 180 tonnes of seeds to our clients in several countries.
Dr. Allah Rang – Founder and CEO, Biocarve Seeds
Transforming India's Horticulture and Agriculture Landscape with Dr. Allah Rang, Founder, Biocarve Seeds
- Q. Tell us about yourself and your background.
- I retired as Professor and Head of Plant Breeding from Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana in 2013. I worked on rice throughout my career. I was interested in flower crops and started working on these in 1993 along with my brother. So kind of a modest start - started in a very small way, shipping 25 kg of seeds in 1993. For the next 2 years, however, we could not supply any seeds because of the inbuilt problems of this business. We were not sure how to produce, so we were learning how to produce - learning how to grow the crops, what is the season, whether to grow on flat soil or on beds, what is the irrigation schedule we should follow, how should we pick the seeds, what are the diseases, etc. We spent about three years doing R&D and learning about these problems and in 1996 we started doing exports.
- Q. Is this how Biocarve Seeds started?
- We initially started as Plantsman’s Seeds in 1993 with my younger brother but in 2007 we separated. Then I started Biocarve Seeds in 2008 with my younger son who joined me after doing his MBA. He had started working with us in the previous company but due to differences we could not continue. So we had to decide what to do. One way was to just leave it and do something else. The other way was to start a company and again produce seeds. So we chose to produce seeds, and in 2008 we started with this company, Biocarve Seeds.
- Q. Please can you explain how technology can improve seed quality for our readers who may be gardening enthusiasts?
- Technology always helps for better production and quality control, so technology is a must. We are working with 150 different varieties of crops and each has a different production technology, it has different protection technology - how to protect from diseases and insects - we had to learn everything. If we do not know or use the right technology, then what we produce will not be of quality. So to have a quality product we have to use technology. What we are using here ensures that very high-quality seeds are produced. We are exporting something like 30-34 container loads to different countries every year. If the quality is not good and we are not taking care of the quality then the seed may get rejected in the USA or somewhere in Holland and that will be a huge waste. So we have to apply all the technology so that whatever we ship has the highest quality, has the highest germination, has the required moisture condition and it does not carry any obnoxious weed seeds. Also, the seeds which we send abroad have very good flowering quality. When we say petunia red seeds it should have all the reds and if we have Petunia Alderman it should have all blues. So, in that case, we have to take help from technology that whatever we are producing is pure seeds, it is good quality seeds and it matches with whatever they have asked.
- Q. Why should someone buy seeds from Biocarve Seeds? Do you also provide guidance and training for planting and care?
- The first thing in seed growing and flowering growing is that whatever seeds you buy they should germinate. Most of the seeds you buy from the market do not germinate. So these are the first quality parameters, if the seeds germinate 50% of the work is done. So whatever seeds you buy from us it is sure that they will germinate because no seeds go out of our premises if they are not tested for germination. So the seeds are tested for germination, and every 90 days all seeds are tested again. So whatever seeds go out, they have good germination. Secondly, the flower enthusiasts are happy if they get a flower that looks different.
For example, marigold, everybody knows - if instead of yellow marigold or orange marigold somebody gets a red marigold they will be very happy to see that. If he buys a white marigold, he will be happy to see that. So in that sense, the novice gardeners learn about growing the seeds.
What we do is that in each seed packet, what we call ‘KGP (Kitchen Garden Packing)’, we put an instruction sheet on how to grow the seeds because seeds are very small. In petunia, there are 16,000 seeds per gram and in one packet there are hardly 100 or 200 seeds. They may not be able to even see them very well. So we have to teach and so we give a write up. Though it is in English and some people might have problems reading it. But there are pictorial instructions also on how to grow the seeds. So following that they can germinate the seeds very well. When the germination is done, they can transplant it into the pots and they can really get a good flower.
Also, on our website we have various blog posts where we teach everybody how to grow and germinate the seeds, what are the problems faced while growing, how to set up a good garden, what are the requirements of a garden so all those things are there on the website. So looking at biocarve.com one can get to know how to grow the seeds.
- Q. How did you go from supplying seeds to the agricultural and horticulture industries to selling to gardening enthusiasts?
- We started selling in India online 5-6 years ago where we now get around 100 to 200 orders a day. India is a very small market as far as flower seeds are concerned as compared to our export quantities. We are exporting something like 1,800 quintals of seeds. Whereas in India the total sale may not be more than 600-700 kg. So that is a small quantity which we sell in India as compared to what we export.
When we started it was not a good market but now it has improved. Now things are changing because of a few things - one is that people are sitting at home due to COVID for the last two years and they need something to do, so they start growing flowers. The second reason is a lot of flower exhibitions are being held in the country. When people see flower exhibitions and others winning awards, they think ‘why should I not grow such a flower which should win prizes’.
More people are now getting interested in growing flowers and they want something which is unique. As compared to a few years ago, there wasn’t so much interest. I know people who at one time knew only about rose and marigold. We are now selling 150 varieties, which means about 60 crops. Things have changed with time, everybody now wants to have at least a few pots at home whether it is a terrace garden or a balcony or somewhere else. Online sales of flowering plants have also started. It is very good for us and it's very good for the seed industry also.
- Q. What are you trying to achieve through Biocarve Seeds?
- Well in Biocarve Seeds what we are doing is we are producing in about 80 acres of our own farm and we have around 180-200 farmers, who are doing contract farming. The idea is that we are replacing wheat - instead of wheat, we are growing flowers. Wheat crops are grown in winter so in winter we replace them with flower crops. Wheat gives something like ₹ 40,000.00 per acre (the gross return), and out of this about ₹ 8,000.00 is the expenditure and the farmer is left with around ₹ 32,000.00. Whereas flower crops give something like ₹ 1,00,000.00 - ₹ 1,50,000.00 per acre. Out of this the expenditure is about ₹ 30,000.00. So he gets around ₹ 70,000.00 - ₹ 1,20,000.00, which is about 3 to 4 times that of the wheat crop.
So what we are trying to do is to diversify agriculture though the area is less. This year we had contract farming at 634 acres and another 90 acres at our farm - so about 700 acres this year. The wheat crop in Punjab is about 36 lakhs hectares, so we are not replacing much but whichever farmer is doing production with us is really earning a lot of money. Some have been with us since 1996 and they have really become rich because they are earning 4 times more than what they were with wheat. Our idea is this - one, that we should provide quality seeds to the local farmers or gardeners who are doing farming at their home, and second, is to replace wheat and diversify the crop production with a very high return crop. We have been able to replace crops with 180 farmers but there are limitations because the farmers want the payment immediately when they bring the crop in. We use bank loans for that but the interest rates are very high because we are being charged the same as in the case of the industry, whereas we have just one rotation throughout the year. Like a cloth merchant, let's say he has a limit of 2 crores and he can rotate that 2 crore ten times a year, whereas we can rotate that amount just once. So the interest of the whole year is on us. There is no support from any other agency or government in this venture, otherwise we can increase it but the increase means a lot more money to give to the farmers.
Biocarve Seeds' Most Popular Products
Biocarve Perfect Summer Kitchen Garden Kit - 10 Packets
If you are starting out to set up your home and kitchen garden in summer then this kit will take care of your initial requirements. This kit contains 5 summer flowers seeds packets and 5 summer vegetables seeds packets. The summer flower seeds include Zinnia Dahlia Flowered Mix, Sunflower Teddy Bear, Gaillardia Aristata Mix, Amaranthus Love Lies Bleeding and Portulaca Grandiflora Double Mix. Whereas the vegetable seeds include chilli, beans, brinjal black beauty, tomato round and bitter gourd. Priced at ₹ 450.00 you can get buy it from here.
Marigold F1 Vanilla White Hybrid
If you want your garden to be the cynosure of all eyes why not grow this unique high quality marigold in vanilla white colour instead of the typical yellow and orange ones? This flower attains a maximum size of 6-8 cm and can be grown both in summers and winters. The ideal sowing time is when the night temperature is around 20-25°C and the seeds can be sown either in a pot or flower bed. Each packet contains 10 seeds and you can buy this packet for ₹ 125.00 here.
Best Selling Herb Kit - 4 Packets
Making herbs a part of your daily diet can improve your health, boost your natural immunity and prevent many diseases like cancer, diabetes, tumour, inflammation, etc. So, once you have progressed to an intermediate or skilled level of gardening you should definitely consider growing herbs in your kitchen garden. This Best Selling Herb Kit contains 1 packet each of mint, lavender, rosemary and Alpine strawberry seeds. Priced at only ₹ 320.00 you can but it from here.
Where Can You Find Them?www.biocarve.com
How Does Biocarve Seeds Deliver High Quality Seeds Meeting International Standards?
- Q. How do you ensure quality?
- Quality starts from the very beginning like from the sowing, what we are sowing. So whatever seeds we are sowing they come from the buyer, wherever the buyer is. He sends off the seeds. We bring into the country through the import process and those seeds are from him. So he knows what that seeds are, first thing.
Second, if there are some off-types in that crop we visit farmers at least once every month wherever the farmer is. We are producing in Punjab, Haryana, Karnataka, and Rajasthan. So wherever our crop is we visit them every month and ensure there is no off-type. If it to be one colour then there should be one colour, if there is a different shape of the flower it should not be there. So all off-types are removed. That is the second thing in quality.
The third is when the seeds come for grading or cleaning, we have to make sure that all the machines which we are using for cleaning are very well-cleaned. The cleaning process is not with a broom or something, it is with air. Every machine is fitted with air cleaners. We blow the seeds out from everywhere so that there is no mixture at all. And after that when the seeds are ready then we draw samples for purity. Purity means out of 100 seeds at least 99 seeds should be of that crop. And then there should be no obnoxious weed seed, there should be no diseased seeds and whatever 1% is left that may be some sand or chaff that’s all. So that is the quality we maintain. Once that quality is maintained then its germination is tested. Most of the seeds which we send out have 85% germination or more.
The fourth is moisture content. The moisture content of the seeds which we pack and export should not be more than 9%. So we ensure all these things. These are all quality parameters and once these are met, then there is no problem. We are known in the world for our quality, we compete with China, Tanzania, Denmark and with many other countries. People know our quality so they directly come to us. Every year we have to obtain new orders but those are not a problem as our quality is very good. Quality maintenance is the most important work in any export business.
- Q. Do you also provide training?
- Yes, we do, but for the last 2 years that's not happening because of the COVID norms, otherwise we used to get about 40 different students from different places. At one time 10 students were allowed for one month. For those students they had 5 different modules which they learned from here: how to grow the crop, then how to grade the crops, how to grade the seeds, then how to taste germination quality and seed moisture, and how to packet. Then the last module is how to do online marketing. So all these things we teach to the final year students of BSc (Agriculture) who come to us. The last 2 years we are not allowing because it will be too rushed here. We already have 26 different staff members here. We do not want anybody else to come in and the virus problem may start.
- Q. Do you grow flowers yourself and which ones are you partial to?
- I like it if you go for a flower which is long lasting then petunia is the one. Sow this flower in the month of November and this keeps on flowering up to the end of May. And the flower that I start from the month of January and they are flowering for 5 months, so that's a very good flower. So far as other flowers like pansies, antirrhinum, calendulas, daisies - for me those flowers produce good seeds, because I export seeds. If the flower looks good but does not produce seeds it's useless for me. We like those flowers more, like pansies produce very good seeds, daisies produce very good seeds, even petunias are also very good. Our liking is different. As far as liking of gardeners is concerned - you want to look at the flowers but we look at the flowers also but we look at the seed first. If the seeds are not being produced, it's not good for us!
- Q. What are your own interests? How did you spend time during the lockdown?
- I do gardening at 90 acres as I told you. I read a lot - I never sleep without reading a book, I listen to old Hindi songs. Even on my desktop we have those Vividh Bharti songs playing all day and this gives me energy. I am 69 years old so I need energy to run. I get this energy from books. I like books. We have a group of friends who keep on bartering books. We generally don't purchase, we purchase rarely but a lot of books come to me, when somebody reads a book finishes a book he couriers it to me. Then we courier back to other people and the books keep rotating. And also flower is my business - bread and butter - and also I live in flowers. You know nobody can make a flower from paper. If anybody can make a flower from paper - it can have colour, it may not have the same scent. Even if it has scent, it may not flutter like a natural flower. So for me, God lives in the flowers, flowers are my life. I started with this in 1993 and now at the end of it my two sons are doing it with me. We are very happy doing flower cultivation.
What’s Next for Your Brand?
Lots of technology. We have been in the flower seed business for the last 30 years but every year we find new technology coming in. Like last year we adopted plastic mulch for one of our seedbeds. Punjab is a cold place and the temperature falls to 2°C in winter. The root zone of the plant planted on the plastic mulch is 3° warmer as compared to the one which is on our farm. So the plants keep growing despite the cold.
We are already producing our own electricity through solar panels, 53 kW. We have 4 ground water recharging wells, where whatever water comes from the sky goes down into the ground again. We are also using Google Sheets to share all our data with everybody and we have biometric attendance in our farms. We are also looking for new technology like the seed collection machine. We are trying to develop a combined harvester that can harvest our seeds. Few things whatever comes to mind we are trying to put it into practice and I hope it will be achieved in 1-2 years with the help of my sons we will be able to develop technologies which will be beneficial, and easy for the farmers.
Flower seed production work is labour intensive and labour management is very difficult. So we are trying to do something where minimum labour is involved and we mechanise all the processes. So our next goal will be that from sowing till harvest, the production is mechanised and we don’t have to use labour at all. It is good for workers - we have 70 ladies working at home and working at our farm but its very difficult to manage labour folks. So we are trying to mechanise, we are trying to evolve different things because there is not much research from universities or other agencies in our type of work. Because its a very small area, so in that sense, we are trying to evolve things by ourselves.
What Advice Would You Have for Someone Trying Their Hand at Gardening for the First Time? Which Plants are Easier to Care For?
Vegetables are the easiest ones. Start with the vegetables. If you put some seeds of spinach in a pot, it will grow. Put the seeds of coriander and it will grow too. Seeds are bigger and broader, and they will definitely grow. One should start with vegetables and then switch to flowers. Herbs are the most difficult ones to grow. Herbs like rosemary are one of the very difficult plants to germinate. First thing is to start with vegetables, then to flowers then to herbs then to hydroponics then to what not!
Take Up Gardening to Relax Your Mind and Soothe Your Soul
Gardening is without doubt one of the most relaxing and satisfying hobbies you can find. The magic of a plant growing in front of your eyes and finally the bright colourful flower blooming, is simply priceless. Moreover, gardening is an inexpensive hobby and free from space constraints - you can do it in your balcony, in flower pots and your flower beds, as per availability.