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Date Palm Cultivation: Basic Guide for Beginners

Shipra Singh
Shipra Singh
Date Palm Cultivation
Date Palm Cultivation

Date Palm Scientific Name  

Phoenix dactylifera   

Producing Countries 

The biggest producer of date palm in the world is Iraq. Date palm cultivation is widely done in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco, Pakistan, Spain, and USA.  

In India, date palm cultivation is done in the coastal belt from Mandvi to Anjar in Kutch and Saurashtra districts of Gujarat. It is also cultivated in Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala.  

Kutch is the largest producer of date palm in India.  

One of the successful farmers of Bhuj in Gujarat uses Israeli Technology for date palm cultivation.  

Origin of date palm is not clear. It is believed to be cultivated since 4000BC. It was found to be the staple food of people in the Indus Valley civilization and the Middle East.  

Date Palm Varieties  

Over 3000 varieties of date palm exist worldwide. However, not all are cultivated commercially.  

  • Soft-fleshed: HalawyMedjoot, Shamran (sayer), Hayani, Khadrawy, and Saidy. 

  • Dry and semi-dry fleshed: ZahidiThoory, Noor, Deglet, and Dayari. 

  • Non-astringent: HalawyBarhee, Chip Chap (Kip Kap), Bureim, Shaker, and Shahaani

  • Chaharamaking: KhadrawyZahidi, and Medjoot 

  • Pind Khajoormaking: Zahidi. 

Wild date palms can also be found across the world.  

Climate Required 

Date palm crop is very particular about the climate. It needs a long summer, mild winter, no rain during flowering and fruiting, low relative humidity, and lots of sunshine.  

Wild dates can grow upto an altitude of 1500 meters.  

The date palm is one of the chief crops of the deserts of the Middle East. 

Here is a quote from the book “Fruit Crops for Wasteland” by Dr. S. P. Singh: “the date palm likes to have its head in fire and its feet in water.”  

The quote means that the date palm crop likes heat (hot, dry climate) and also likes water (proper irrigation).  

Dusty winds are suitable for the tree, but they decrease fruit quality.  

The optimum temperature required for flowering and fruiting is above 70oF. Good ripening requires a temperature of above 80oF for less than a month.  

Soil Required 

Date palm cultivation can be done in a wide range of soils.  

Best soil: sandy loam and well-drained soils with no hardpan below within 60-90cm range and with a pH of 8-10.  

Although date palm farming can be done in saline and alkaline soil, the growth and yield gets affected.   

Mode of Propagation 

  • Off-shoots or suckers: This is the widely accepted mode of propagation. The off-shoots should be taken from the base of the mother tree. You must separate the sucker only after 4-5 years of planting. You can obtain 9-20 suckers weighing 9-15 kg during the 4thand the 10th year of the tree. A single date tree can generate 10-25 off-shoots in its whole productive life. This is a slow process of multiplication, yet gives a great yield.  

  • Seed: Farmers do not prefer to use this mode of propagation because it gives poor quality fruits. More than 50% of the fruits produce non-bearing males, which are useless for further propagation. 

  • Tissue culture: This technique induces rapid multiplication of date palm. 

Sowing Process 

Soil preparation:  

  • Plough soil 2-3 times. Level it and bring it to a fine tilth stage. 

  • Dig pits of 1m x 1m x 1m during summer as preparation for monsoon. 

  • Let the pits stay open for 15 days.

  • Use well-rotten FYM (Farm Yard Manure) + soil to fill the pits. 

  • Do the plantation. 

Best time for plantation: February and March. This lets the plant take complete advantage of the hot summer months.  

However, in Kutch areas, where the biggest production is done in India, the plantation is done in the beginning of monsoon.  

Irrigation Requirement  

Light irrigation is required immediately after plantation. Date palm crop is resistant to drought and excessive irrigation. Both are harmful though.  

Date palm likes constant moisture in soil. However, soil should not be water-logged.  

Irrigation is not required during monsoon. If there is flood, water should be drained out.  

In areas of high water table, 5-6 irrigations per year are enough.  

Take care to irrigate the soil just after plantation. Once the off-shoots emerge, you can decrease the frequency of irrigation.  

It is a good idea to use dry leaves and grasses for mulching. This helps to retain moisture in soil, especially in arid and semi-arid areas.  

Intercropping 

Date palm trees have a long life. Intercropping can be easily done with pulses like gram, peas, lentils, and vegetables. You can also grow pomegranate and papaya. While intercropping, make sure you have arrangement of additional irrigation and fertilizers.  

Pruning 

Pruning is essential to maintain enough number of green leaves for good growth and yield of date palm farming. Scientists believe that the tree should have 75-100 leaves at the bearing stage.  

This means, no pruning is required for the first 4-5 years, as only upto 20 leaves are formed annually.   

It is important to maintain sufficient leaf bunch ratio to improve fruit quality. High ration invites high humidity, which can lead to the development of Blacknose disorder in dates.  

Pollination 

Date palm trees are dioecious in nature and highly cross-pollinated. Just 5-10% of male plants are enough to pollinate 100 female plants. Pollination is done through hand or machine in commercial date palm farming. About 3 male flower strands are inserted in female flower strands.  

Pollination is an important cultivation practice in date palm cropping, as it influences size and quality of dates palm fruits and time of ripening of dates.  

Fertilizers  

  • For rainfed areas, 30-40 kg FYM and 200 g each of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium (NPK) per tree is required. 

  • For irrigated areas, 50-60 kg FYM and 200 g of NPK per tree is required. 

  • Apply whole of FYM, half of N, and full of P and K in September-October. 

  • Apply the remaining half of N in January-February. 

  • Green manuring can be done with rotting leguminous cover crops. 

Pest & Diseases  

Pests:  

  • BlackheadedCaterpillar 

  • Red Weevil/Indian Palm Weevil

  • Rhinoceros Beetle/Black Palm Beetle

  • Scale Insects

  • Birds

Diseases are False Smut/Graphiola Leaf Spot and other similar fungal diseases. Use of fungicide and Bordeaux mixture is helpful.  

Harvesting  

Harvesting is done on the basis of growth and ripening stages. This is because dates are consumed at different stages of maturity.  

You can harvest the fruit in the following stages of ripening: 

  • When the fruit is still green and developing. It is known as Gandora or Kimri

  • When the fruit changes color from green to red or yellow and has achieved its full size. It is known as Dora or Khalal. 

  • When the fruit tip softens. It is known as Dang or Rutab

  • When the fruit is matured fully and dry enough to store without spoiling. It is called Pind or Tamar. 

Yield 

Date palm tree usually begins to bear fruit in the 4th year. It starts giving good yield (with proper care and cultivation practices) from the 5th year. 

Average yield:  

  • A 10-year-old date palm tree can yield 50-60 kg fruits per year.  

  • A 15-year-old date palm tree can yield 80-200 kg fruits per year. 

Yield depends on variety, soil, area, and cultivation practices.  

Storage  

Dates are usually harvested in the Khalal stage having high water content – upto 70-80%. They harbor poor keeping quality at room temperature. Cold storage is the best method to maintain its quality. Nonetheless, it is highly recommended to market them as soon as possible to maintain their freshness and crunchiness.  

Or they must be cured and processed to produce value-added products. Dried dates have a longer shelf life, upto a year.  

Date Uses  

Date palm fruits are eaten as a whole. They are quite nutritious.  

In addition, dates are used to commercially produce: 

  • Date juice

  • Liquid sugar

  • Date nectar/honey

  • Alcohol

  • Date clove

  • Beverage extract

  • Date “halwa”

  • Date vinegar

  • Date chocolate 

  • Date chips

  • Date lavash

  • Date sauce

  • Date paste

  • Date pickles

  • Date jam and marmalade

  • Animal feed

Date Nutrition Value  

A cup (100 g) of dates contains: 

  • Calories: 277 Kj/Kg

  • Protein: 2 g

  • Carbs: 75 g

  • Fiber: 7 g

  • Magnesium: 14% of daily value

  • Potassium: 20% of daily value 

  • Manganese: 15% of daily value

  • Copper: 18% of daily value

  • Iron: 5% of daily value

  • Vitamin B6: 12% of daily value

(Source: Healthline) 

Date Health Benefits  

  • Doctors regard dates to have an excellent nutrition profile. 

  • Dried dates have high calorific value, similar to that of figs and raisins. 

  • Dates have low Glycemic Index (GI), so are good for diabetics too. 

  • Their high fiber content helps in digestion and keeps bowel movement good. 

  • Dates have high antioxidant content.

  • They contain flavonoids that decrease inflammation in the body. Scientists are studying its potential to reduce the risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes. 

  • Date carotenoids encourage heart health and decrease macular degeneration, which is an age-related problem of eyes. 

  • Phenolic acid has anti-inflammatory property. It can reduce risk of heart disease and cancer. 

  • According to doctors, pregnant women can eat dates in the last two weeks of their pregnancy to induce easy labor, as dates are found to promote cervical dilation.  

Date palms are available for tissue culture and for cultivation for fruits at various nurseries.  

Article Reviewed by Dr. Sharad Verma, Ph.D, IIT, Delhi.

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