Growing Dates, Cultivation Practices:
INTRODUCTION TO GROWING DATES:
The date palm is one of the oldest cultivated fruit trees around the globe. Date palm is scientifically named as the ‘Phoenix dactylifera’. The date palm tree belongs to the family of Arecaceae. This tree is considered as a symbol of life in the desert, as it can tolerate over-logging of water, high temperature and can also endure the salinity of soil when compared to the other crops.
The dates are popular food grown in the Middle East, North Africa, South Africa and other Arabic countries. These are also grown in warm areas of the United States. It is one of the crop which is categorized as desert growing crops. These are highly valued because theses can be found in places where there is no other option for any other food crops. The date-palm is closely-related to sugar-date palm ‘Phoenix Sylvestris’, which is also estimated to be an old tree species. As per the records the production of the dates has gradually increased from 1.8 million metric tons in 1961 to 2.8 million metric tons in the year 1985 and it further increased to 5.04 million metric tons by the year 2001. The production rate has come to 8.06 million metric tons in the present time. Middle East countries like Saudi Arabia and Iraq are the largest producers of date in the world.
The tree reaches 21 – 23 meters in height. They either grow singly or a group of trees to the single root system. The shape of the date fruit is oval-cylindrical, 3 – 7 cm long and 2.5 meters in diameter. They are bright red or yellow in colour which depends on the variety of the species. It contains 75% of sugar when it is dried. 220 varieties of palm dates are found all over the globe. But 20 of these are commercially popular.
The date fruits contain fats, vitamins, fibers, carbohydrates, proteins and minerals. Date fruit contains water levels in the range of 15-30%, which depends on the variety and maturity stage of the fruit. There are so many bi-products of the dates like chocolate, protein, yeast, liquor, sugar, vinegar, wine, organic acids etc.
The date palm also has religious importance. As per Christianity, the palm leaves are used in the celebration of Easter Sunday. In Islam, dates are used to break the fasting in the month of Ramadan.
COMMON NAMES OF DATES:
- Hindi: Khajoor.
- Bengali: Khejoor.
- Oriya: Khajura.
- Marathi: Khajur.
- Gujarati: Khajur.
- Telugu: Khajoora Pandu.
- Tamil: Pericham Pazham.
- Malayalam: Eetha Pazham.
- Kannada: Khajoor.
- Assamese: Kheju.
MEDICINAL BENEFITS OF DATES:
- It helps relieve constipation.
- Helps in gaining weight.
- It helps in preventing colon cancer.
- The dates are of much use to the patients of arthritis.
- A woman during pregnancy and delivery recovers faster by the consumption of dates.
- It helps in reducing the blood pressure.
- It controls the diarrhea.
- It improves the heart health and also reduces the risk of heart attack and other heart diseases.
- It prevents from respiratory and digestive problems.
- It helps overcome the iron deficiency, anemia.
VARIETIES OF DATES:
The number of existing varieties of dates is 100, but there are only 6 to 8 most commercial varieties of dates that are cultivated and are listed below:
Barhi: This variety is from Iraq and they are soft, syrupy and delicate in nature. These are small to medium sized fruits with firm flesh (Doka stage) and the skin turns into amber or golden brown when it is cured. The fruit has 32% total soluble solid level. The yield range is 60 to 110 kg per palm tree and mostly obtained during the first week of august.
Khadrawy: It is also found in Iraq and yield is obtained during the first week of august. This variety of date palm tree is not very tall, but the crop yield is good. During the Doka stage of the fruit it tastes bitter, so it can’t be eaten fresh. The TSS rate of the date fruit at doka stage is 29.5 – 42% at abohar, 34% at Jodhpur, 36.5% at Bikaner. The yield range of this variety is 40 – 70 kg per palm. The crop’s first yield is obtained in the middle of the June and the 2nd yield in the month of July.
Hayany: This variety originated in the United Arab Emirates region. These fruits have an attractive deep color and these can be consumed fresh in the stage of Doka. The rate of yield per palm tree is 30 – 40 kg.
Zahidi: This variety can tolerate rain and humidity. The fruit is small in size and yellow in color on Doka stage. It is a semi-dry date which is cultivated in Iraq not suitable for eating raw. The weight of this variety is at different places and is found to be 9.44 g at abhor, 10.8 g at hissar and 10.4 g at Bikaner.
Hallawi: This date variety is from Iraq. This variety is relished both in the Doka stage and dang stage and tastes delicious in the fresh form. The TSS range is in between 28 to 42% and the bitterness of the fruit is low or may be completely absent from the Doka stage. The yield of this variety of crop is 50 – 80 kg per palm tree.
Medjool: it originated in Morocco. It has large size fruits. This fruit ripens late and develops into bold size dry dates. It is not suitable for raw consumption. It is attractive in weight and colour. The weight of the fruit is different at different places such as 19.57 g in Jodhpur and 16.2 g in Bikaner. The total soluble salt level is also found to be different at different places like 36.9% at abohar and 39% at Jodhpur. The yield rate per palm tree is 35 – 50 kg per palm tree.
Shamran: It can tolerate high humidity and is a mid-season variety. These are soft in texture and are semi dry in nature. Fruit is medium to large in size, oval in shape and yellow in colour at doka stage. The weight of the fruit is 6.01-12.89 g under Indian conditions. The average rate of yield per palm tree is 40 – 70 kg.
HOW TO GROW DATES:
Soil requirement and Land Preparation for GROWING DATES: For growing the dates there is no specification for the soil, but for the high production of the crop sandy loam soil with good moisture retaining capacity and proper drainage facility and a pH of 8 to 10 is required. For better root development there should not be any hard pan till 2.5 meters and the soil should also be free from calcium carbonate. The soil for the offshoot should be prepared one or two months before planting and the holes for planting should have dimensions of 1 m x 1 m x 1 m. 10 to 15 kg of high quality manure, fertilizers and topsoil are used to fill the pits or holes.
Climate Required for GROWING DATES: long summer days with sunshine and high temperature and low humidity is required. Whereas in winter, mild cold place without frost is suitable. During the time of flowering, the crop should not be exposed to the rain and the fruits ripen at low humidity and plenty of sunshine. The date palm trees can endure high temperatures, i.e. 56˚C under better irrigation facilities. Winter rain is beneficial for date palm trees as it benefits the soil. These trees are resistant to hot, dusty summer wind conditions. Sunlight helps the active promotion of the photosynthesis process.
Propagation for GROWING DATES: The seed propagation is not encouraged due to various reasons. Offshoot propagation is highly recommended because they produce fruits 2 to 3 years earlier than the seed propagation method. It takes 11 to 15 years for the tree to produce offshoots and the minimum number of offshoots per tree are limited i.e. 20 to 30. The selected offshoot should be disease resistant and should be 3 to 5 years old with a base diameter of 20 and 35 cm. The weight of the offshoot should range from 5 to 10 kg and be not more than 25kg. These offshoots are planted in the nursery during September or October (late spring or early summer). The offshoots should never be planted in the main area directly instead they should be grown in the nursery for 2 to 3 years.
Spacing and planting for GROWING DATES: The seedling should be transplanted to the field at a spacing of 7 – 8 m distance between rows and 1 m between the plants during the monsoon. For the reproductive maturity there should be 3 – 5 male plants around the female ones. For best produce, the best fruiting females should be selected. The outgrowth stems are narrow in the adult stage of the plant. They get normal in the later 5 – 6 years. The best time for planting is autumn season in the southern hemisphere. The development of 4 to 6 pinnae leaves indicates the transplantation period.
Intercropping for GROWING DATES: The process of intercropping is profitable for the framers. The crops like papaya, vegetable crops, lentils, black gram, pomegranate, peas and green gram can be cultivated as intercrops. The additional requirements such as irrigation, manure, and fertilizers should be provided during the intercrop season.
Irrigation for GROWING DATES: The date plants can withstand dry and drought conditions, but generally require a water supply immediately after transplanting. The land where water is logged should be irrigated only for 5 – 6 times in a year. Or else the plants require frequent irrigation. The irrigation process depends on the soil moisture, its capacity to retain the water content and on the climatic conditions. Enrichment is the best method of retaining the soil moisture and preventing the weed growth. The frequency of irrigation can be reduced once off-shoot has emerged. There are different methods of irrigation practiced like the flood, furrow and basin, sprinkler, micro, drip etc.
Weed control in GROWING DATES: The only method of weed control is enriching or mulching the soil with wheat straw at the base of the plant. Mulching prevents loss of water, crust formation, controls weeds, improves humus content and also allows water penetration into the soil.
Fruit Thinning in GROWING DATES: For the proper nutrition and development of the fruit, thinning is important as it helps in improving the fruit quality. There are two to three methods for the fruit thinning.
- Reducing the lengths of the strands by cutting them.
- From the center of the bunch the stands can also be removed.
- On each strands the number of fruits has to be reduced.
Manures and Fertilizers for GROWING DATES: In the production of quality dates the organic and inorganic fertilizers are very important. Yield of dates is also increased by the fertilization. The decomposed mixtures are supplemented to the soil for the enrichment. The decomposed manure of 12 – 35 tonnes per hectare is used. The Nitrogen: Phosphorous: Potassium should be supplied to the farmyard in the ratio of 30: 20: 50 kg per hectare. This chemical fertilization is applied in the month of March and April. For a fully grown adult tree fertilization ratio of N: P: K is 600: 100: 75 grams per year.
Pests and Diseases in GROWING DATES: These are the following diseases and pests that affect the date palm plantation.
- Coconut rhinoceros beetle.
- Bayoud disease.
- Diplodia disease.
- Paralatoria date scale.
- Khamedj disease.
- Graphiola leaf spot.
The chemical hexythiazox EC 10% is used to control mites. Hexaflumuron, a Larvicide @ 2 ml/ l is used as a chemical control for diseases.
Harvesting in growing dates: After planting, the dates would be ready for harvest after 6 to 8 years. Initially the yield would be less, but gradually the yield increases. The yield of the plant also depends on the variety which is being harvested.
Yield of dates: With proper care, the date palm tree will produce fruits from the 4th year onwards and satisfying financial amounts are obtained after 7 to 8 years. The fruiting continues till the adult tree reaches 60 to 70 years. The average rate of the date palm yield is 100 kg and can elite up to 200 to 300 kg per year.
CONCLUSION OF GROWING DATES:
Research is being conducted to assess the germplasm value of the seedlings so that propagation through tissue culture of local varieties and imported cultivars can be established. This plant has its own importance in the agro-forestry and the product from the cultivation of these plants has an economic and social benefit of creating jobs. The garden of date palm trees in arid and semiarid areas would be an ecological benefit to the region.