EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 8, 2012

A beanstalk that would make Jack jealous

Man grows unusual plants in his Andover backyard

By Jonathan Phelps jphelps@eagletribune.com
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — ANDOVER — The towering beanstalk in his backyard has earned him the nickname “Jack” — as in “Jack and the Beanstalk.”

While his plant doesn’t quite reach to the clouds like the folktale, Muniyapla Eswarappa said his 25-foot beanstalk is gaining attention from neighbors and people who walk by.

Eswarappa, 61, who goes by “Eswar,” said he expected the plant to only grow about 5- or 6-feet-tall, but it kept growing … and growing … and growing. Once it reached 10-feet, he decided to place a 20-foot pole in the ground to support the growth.

“The neighbors are all amazed,” Eswarappa said. “The neighbors would ask what I was doing and I told them ‘I am trying to see how high it will grow.’”

The beanstalk isn’t the only unusual part of his garden. He successfully plants fruits and vegetables that normally grow in other climates, such as his native East India — including Indian string beans and luffa.

When he told a friend he wanted to grow peanuts, his friend told him it would be a miracle for them grow in New England’s climate. But Eswarappa was up for the challenge.

While it isn’t impossible, peanuts aren’t typically grown this far north.

“It was a challenge to even find the seeds,” he said. “(Store clerks) look at you like ‘what are you trying to do here.’ They said they don’t sell them because nobody grows them in the region or Massachusetts.”

Eswarappa had to have seeds shipped in from North Carolina and months after planting them, now he can eat them as a snack. He said they are good boiled and plans to make a batch for his neighbors.

He has been growing vegetables and other plants in his backyard for several years. “I wanted to see if organic gardening can be done in the backyard and I just proved it can be done very well,” he said.

He doesn’t use insecticide and collects rainwater in a 250-gallon tank in his yard. For planting, he uses compost that the town provides to residents who buy a permit.

“(The rainwater tank) has been supporting what I grow here,” he said. “I haven’t been using any town water for gardening.”

When he has trouble with insects, he said there are natural soap solutions you can use instead of chemicals.

He grows over 30 different varieties of plants in his garden, including tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, mint, eggplant, asparagus, okra, pumpkins, and chili peppers.

His crop has been so bountiful that he shares some of it with neighbors. He only has to buy selective vegetables at the supermarket, such as carrots and onions, he said.

Back in India, Eswarappa parents were farmers and his brother recently won a “model farmer” award in the state of Karnataka in India, he said. His brother tends to a 43-acre farm in India, while his backyard garden is about 1/8 of an acre.

“Now, I am doing that here in a smaller way,” he said, noting tending to his garden is a way to pay tribute to his parents and his heritage.

Eswarappa, who is now retired, grew up in India and got an engineering degree from Banglore University in his home country. He lived in Kenya for three years working as an engineer before moving to the states in 1982 to pursue a masters degree in plastic engineering at UMass Lowell.

He has lived in Andover since 1987 and raised his two kids here who both attended Phillips Academy. The main reason he likes maintaining the garden is because he is curious and he likes to experiment with planting different crops, he said.

What is his next challenge for the garden?

Because he likes to occasionally smoke tobacco from a pipe, he’d like to try growing tobacco next.

We’ll have to wait until next year to see if he’ll succeed.