Land Preparation and Planting

In Kerala (India), pepper cultivation was not done in an intensive way, unlike in most other countries. When pepper is planted in an already cropped area, pits are dug usually at 3x3 m spacing. The recommended dimensions of pits are 50x50 cm, but usually the growers use smaller pits. Standards (stems of Erythrina, Garuga or Glyriddia) are planted on the west or south-west side of the pits. The pepper plants are planted usually only after one year. The pits are usually left fallow, allowing to accumulate organic matter, mainly stubbles, agricultural wastes etc. Some farmers resort to burning the pits. When new areas are cleared for planting (such plantings are no more possible due to the non availability of land) farmers usually plant Erythrina or Garuga stems in the first year and a crop of tapioca (Manihot) or other tuber crops or upland rice is grown. In the second year, pits are dug adjacent to the support trees, filled with top soil and organics and pepper cuttings are planted on the north or north east side of the support. The intercropping continues for another one or two years. When silky oak (Grevillea) or Ailanthus are used as standard, one year old seedlings are planted at 3x3 m spacing and pepper plantings are taken up only after three years. During this period the land is used for other crops. When pepper plantings are taken up in hilly tracts and on slopes, serious soil erosion problems arise as a result of the above cropping activities and the fertility of soil declines rapidly, which in turn leads to poor, unsustainable pepper crops. Contour terracing and other operations to prevent soil erosion and moisture conservation are usually not adopted by most growers.

The growers earlier used runner shoots for planting. Two to three nodes are kept below the soil and the top portion is tied to the standard. Now pre-rooted cuttings are used for planting. Application of a nematicide at the time of planting is recommended to prevent nematode infestation and to encourage better establishment.

In Sarawak (Malaysia), the Chinese growers have developed an intensive cultivation practice. Here most pepper plantations were raised earlier on virgin forest lands; now pepper is also grown in areas released from other crops. The land is given one to two good diggings to remove the tenacious grass weeds (such as lalang grass—Imperata cylindrica Beauv). The stubbles and roots etc are used for making burnt earth. Then mounds are made from top soil and subsoil over which the burnt earth is applied and mixed. The mounds are about 50-60 cm in diameter and 30 cm in height at the centre. These mounds are maintained by periodical addition of burnt earth, topsoil, compost etc. Temporary stakes are placed at the centre of the mounds and cuttings are planted in the mounds, usually using fresh orthotropic shoots. These cuttings that are 30-35 cm long with 5-7 nodes are taken from young vines only. Before cuttings are collected, the terminal bud of the shoot is removed and also most leaves, retaining only the top two or three. Such cuttings are separated after 7-10 days and planted in a nursery for rooting (Anon. 1967). The rooted cuttings are planted in the fields. In Micronesia the common practice is to place a bamboo pole down the centre of the bed and furrows 5 cm deep and 10-12 cm apart are taken and the lower portion of the cuttings are kept in the furrows. Before covering the cuttings with the nursery mixture a spray of 0.2 per cent fungicide (capstan) is given. The upper portion of the cuttings that carry the leaves are kept on the bamboo pole. When the terminal shoots grow and develop three to four leaves the cuttings are carefully removed from the furrows and planted in the field (Zaiger 1964). They are planted in shallow slanting furrows, four lower nodes of the cuttings are kept inside the soil and pressed firmly, and the aerial portions are tied to the stakes. These stakes are later replaced with the poles of Borneo iron wood. During the first year, annual crops such as chillies, soyabean, groundnut or tobacco are grown. Sometimes cuttings are also planted in furrows after 1-2 diggings without going on for preparation of mounds. In all cases the pepper basins are kept clean, often with the addition of rubbles or burnt earth. In the Malaysian mainland, in Johore region, pepper is raised mostly on living standards such as Erythrina and here pepper is planted in pits after filling up with top soil and organics and not in mounds.

In Lampung and Bangka, cuttings obtained from the pruning of one year old plants are used for planting. All leaves except those on the lateral shoots are removed before planting (Anon. 1967). Similar planting material is used in Brazil and Cambodia also (Alconero 1969).

In Philippines (especially in the Batangas Province) there is a unique way of planting pepper using the trench method (Anon. 1990, deGuzman 1991). Pepper cuttings—either rooted or unrooted—are planted in trenches of about 60 cm deep and 60 cm wide along the planting rows. Organic matter is allowed to accumulate with time in these trenches. Support trees are established on the edges of the trenches and pepper is established on them. The recommended spacing is 2.5x2.0 m, accommodating 2000 vines ha-1. The growth of pepper planted like this is reported to be much better than the conventional method. Trench method of planting is also good for protecting the plants during prolonged drought. However, because of the high input cost, this method has not been adopted in most pepper growing provinces in Philippines.

Another method known as hedge growing has been introduced in Sarawak by the Department of Agriculture (Anon. 1967). Here the pepper vine is trained not only on the standards, but then growth is further extended to a wire net frame set up between standards. The frame work consists of Belian poles of about 3 m, sunk into the ground (about 0.5 m) and arranged at 1.5 m apart in 3 m rows. The supports are connected by galvanized wire which form a trellice like frame work. On the vines, seven leader shoots are pruned and then trained to grow along the frame work in a fan-like manner. Out of the seven shoots, three are allowed to grow up while two each are trained along the wire, before they were also allowed to grow up (Lawrence 1981). Such frame work can be established along rows in a field, and long hedges or walls of pepper can be developed. The advantage of the method is that it allows the expansion of surface area many fold. A comparison of the performance showed that the mound system is superior from an yield point of view (Lawrence 1981).

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