Cultivation of Coconut: Complete guide on Coconut tree farming involves in seed treatment, planting, pest management, irrigation, harvesting and uses.
Scientific name of Eriophyid mite damage to coconut COCONUT (Cocos nucifera L.) Palmae:
The coconut tree is a member of the family Arecaceae (palm family). It is the only accepted species in the genus Cocos. The term coconut can refer to the entire coconut palm, the seed, or the fruit, which, botanically, is a drupe, not a nut. The spelling cocoanut is an archaic form of the word. The term is derived from the 16th-century Portuguese and Spanish word coco meaning “head” or “skull”, from the three indentations on the coconut shell that resemble facial features.
Traditional areas of coconut cultivation in India are the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Puducherry, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Maharashtra, Odisha, West Bengal and the islands of Lakshadweep and Andaman and Nicobar. Four southern states combined account for almost 92% of the total production in the country: Kerala (45.22%), Tamil Nadu (26.56%), Karnataka (10.85%), and Andhra Pradesh (8.93%). Other states, such as Goa, Maharashtra, Odisha, West Bengal, and those in the northeast (Tripura and Assam) account for the remaining 8.44%. Kerala, which has the largest number of coconut trees, is famous for its coconut-based products—coconut water, copra, coconut oil, coconut cake (also called coconut meal, copra cake, or copra meal), coconut toddy, coconut shell-based products, coconut wood-based products, coconut leaves, and coir pith. Various terms, such as copra and coir, are derived from the native Malayalam language. In Kerala, the coconut tree is called “Thengu” also termed as kalpa vriksham, which essentially means all parts of a coconut tree is useful some way or other.
Per 100 gram serving with 354 calories, raw coconut meat supplies a high amount of total fat (33 grams), especially saturated fat (89% of total fat) and carbohydrates (24 grams) (table). Micronutrients in significant content include the dietary minerals, manganese, iron, phosphorus and zinc
Coconut water serves as a suspension for the endosperm of the coconut during its nuclear phase of development. Later, the endosperm matures and deposits onto the coconut rind during the cellular phase. It is consumed throughout the humid tropics, and has been introduced into the retail market as a processed sports drink. Mature fruits have significantly less liquid than young, immature coconuts, barring spoilage. Coconut water can be fermented to produce coconut vinegar. Per 100 gram (100 ml) serving, coconut water contains 19 calories and no significant content of essential nutrients.
Coconut milk, not to be confused with coconut water, is obtained primarily by extracting juice by pressing the grated coconut white kernel or by passing hot water or milk through grated coconut, which extracts the oil and aromatic compounds. It has a total fat content of 24%, most of which (89%) is saturated fat, with lauric acid as a major fatty acid. When refrigerated and left to set, coconut cream will rise to the top and separate from the milk. The milk can be used to produce virgin coconut oil by controlled heating and removal of the oil fraction. A protein-rich powder can be processed from coconut milk following centrifugation, separation and spray drying.
Another byproduct of the coconut is coconut oil. It is commonly used in cooking, especially for frying. It can be used in liquid form as would other vegetable oils, or in solid form as would butter or lard.
- The palm has adventitious roots continually produced from the base of the trunk, which is the swollen part or what is termed ‘bole’, in tall types and in some dwarf hybrids.
- It has no taproot or root hairs but has lots of primary roots which bear large quantities of rootlets.
- The main roots grow out somewhat horizontally from the bole and are mostly found within the topsoil. The main branches grow deeper and may extend laterally to as much as 10 m.
- The roots, having no cambium, are noticeably uniform – the main roots reaching a maximum diameter of about 1 cm. The root tip is the actively growing region and behind it is the absorbing area whose epidermis is a single layer of thin-walled cells that gradually thicken and become impervious with age.
- In old roots, the epidermis disintegrates and exposes the hard hypodermis which is generally red.
- The root centre has a stele surrounded by a single-celled pericycle sheath from which rootlets and aerenchymatous (respiratory exchange) protuberances or pneumatophores arise. The respiratory exchange occurs more abundantly nearer the soil surface to allow easy diffusion of root.
- The stem is called as trunk
- It is unbranched, erect, stout and cylindrical
- The leaf base encircles the stem as they have scars with pit mark on the trunk
- The scars are helpful in determining the age of the tree. Based on these 12 to 14 scars, the age can be computed for a year
- First few years there is increased growth in the thickness of the stem
- The girth remains uniform for a number of years and finally tapers in growth when the tree grows very old
- The trunk carries a big crown with large sized leaves and bunches of fruits
- The leaves are crowded together at the top of the trunk in the form of a crown
- The young leaf appears in the centre of the crown as a pointed structure having all the leaves closely held together
- It takes five months for the complete development of a leaf from the time of initiation to its complete emergence
- The crown has 15 open leaves, 15 younger leaves in different stages of development
- The leaf consists of many leaflets arranged obliquely on the mid-rib or rachis
- Each leaflet is long, linear, has a strong mid-rib with narrow lamina and parallel venation
- The petiole is flat, very thick, broad and sheathe with fibre at the base and encircles the stem
- It takes 34 months for the inflorescence to develop from the initiation to the opening of the spathe
- The spadix is stout and erect, enclosed by the tough spathe which splits when inflorescence is mature
- The axis of the inflorescence is branched, with the branches bearing sessile flowers, both staminate and pistillate
- The palm is monoceious with male and female flowers on the same plant
- Staminate flowers are small, numerous and are arranged closely on the secondary branches of the inflorescence
- They have six perianth lobes in two whorls and the outer perianth are small, the inner perianth is bigger
- Stamens are six and plenty of pollen is produced. An abortive psitillate or rudimentary ovary is present in the staminate flower. The pollen grains are spherical in shape and are smooth
- Pistillate flowers are at about the base of the branches substened by one or two staminate flowers
- They are small spherical structure known as ‘button’
- Six perianth lobes in two whorls arranged imbricate and more or less of the same size and shape
- The perianth is rounded, concave and whitish, the stigma is found at the base of the ovary
- Once pollination and fertilization occur, fruits set and develop to maturity in about 12 months, or less than 1 year for some dwarf cultivars. A count of bunch and fruit set can give a reasonable estimate of yield.
- Fruit is drupe, having three regions and one seeded .On the outside is the husk
- The fruit is developed from a tricarpellary ovary
- The outer layers of pericarp are fibrous called as husk which is initially green but turns brown after being picked and dried.
- The endocarp is very hard and forms the shell
- Within the endocarp, soft white endosperm enclosing inside a big cavity filled with extra-cellular fluid called as “coconut milk.” The seed coat, which is thin, and then the white flesh or copra. Both the copra and the milk are the endosperm of this seed
- Initially the milk is fairly sweet and the copra is thin, but as the seed matures, the liquid is converted into solid endosperm rich in oils (triglycerides)
- The endosperm or the kernel also contains sucrose, fructose, galactose, glucose and raffinose
- The moisture content in the kernel diminishes as the maximum quantity of oil is formed when the nuts are 9-10 months old
- Liquid endosperm contains large quantities of cytokinin hormone which is useful to grow plants in test tubes from single cells and this develops into embryos
List of Tall Varieties:
- West Coast Tall
- East Coast Tall
- Chandrakalpa or Lakshadweep Ordinary (LCT)
- Phillippines Ordinary Kerachandra)
- VPM – 3 (Andaman Ordinary)
- Aliyar Nagar 1 (ALR 1)
- Aliyar Nagar 2 (ALR 2)
- Tiptur Tall
- Kera Sagara (Seychelles)
- Benavali Green Round (Pratap)
- Phillipines Tall (Chandrathara)
- Assam Tall (Kamaroopa)
- Kalpa Pratiba
- Kalpa Mitra
List of Dwarf Varieties (Tender coconut):
- Chowghat Orange Dwarf (COD)
- Chowghat Green Dwarf (CGD)
- Chowghat Yellow Dwarf (CYD)
- Malaysian Dwarf Yellow
- Strait Settlement Dwarf Green
- Kalpa Raksha
List of Hybrid Varieties:
- Kerasankara (WCT x COD)
- Chandrasankara (COD x WCT)
- Chandralaksha (LCT x COD)
- Keraganga (WCT x GBGD)
- Lakshaganga (LCT x GBGD)
- Anandaganga (ADOT x GBGD)
- Kerasree (WCT x MYD)
- Kerasoubhagya (WCT x SSAT)
- VHC 1 (ECT x MGD)
- VHC 2 (ECT x MYD)
- VHC 3 (ECT x MOD)
- Gadavani Ganda (East Coast Tall X Gangabandom)
- Kalpa Samrudhi
- Kalpha Shankara (Chowghat Green Dwarf X West Coast Tall)
Light sandy soils to heavy soils with a pH – 5.2 to 8.0. Proper drainage, good water-holding capacity, presence of water table within 3 m and absence of rock or any hard substratum within 2 m of the surface.
Altitude: 600 to 900 m
Rainfall: 200 cm per year.
June – July, December – January
The planting can also be taken up in other seasons wherever irrigation and drainage facilities are available.
Selection of Seed Gardens
- Gardens should have palms with a high proportion of heavy bearers but it should be kept in mind that this must not be from very favourable conditions Garden should be free from the pest and disease incidence.
- Trees growing closer to households, cattle shed, compost pits should be avoided.
- Certain centres are well known for good quality seed nuts and seedlings, e.g., in Kerala, Kuttiadi in Kozhikode and Chavakkad in Thrissur districts.
Mother Palm Selection
For production of quality planting materials it is essential to have good quality mother palms of the desired varieties. In the absence of commercially viable vegetative propagation techniques only seed propagation is possible. Therefore mother palm selection is a key factor in planting material production of coconut.
The important features of superior mother palms are:
- Regular bearer : A good regular bearing mother palm produces on an average one leaf and an inflorescence in its axil every month. So, there will be twelve bunches of varying stages of maturity at any one time with strong bunch stalks. Avoid trees producing habitually barren nuts.
- Straight stout trunk with even growth and closely spaced leaf scars.
- Spherical or semi spherical crown,
- High rate of leaf (more than 30 fully opened leaves) and spathe production (12 inflorescences)
- Short and stout petiole and wide leaf base firmly attached to the stem,
- Short and stout inflorescence stalk with bunches, preferably resting on the leaf petioles of the lower whorl and more number of female flowers (25 or more)
- The age of the palm chosen be middle age i.e., from 25 to 40 years. Even trees with 15 years age can be selected, if it is high yielding and has stabilized yield.(e.g., Chowghat dwarf). Avoid palms that are above 60 years.
- High yielding mother palms giving not less than 100 nuts/palm/annum under irrigated condition (70-80 nuts/annum under rain fed conditions) should be chosen for collecting seednuts
- Husked nuts should weigh not less than 600 g.
- Mean copra content of 150 g per nut or more
- Free from pest and diseases.
Avoid palms which have the following characteristics
- Palms have long, thin and pendulous inflorescence stalks
- Palms produce long, narrow, small sized or barren nuts
- Palms showing alternate bearing tendency also should be avoided.
- Palms show shedding of immature nuts in large numbers and
- Palms are grown under favorable environmental conditions. E.g. Trees near manure pits.
Strategies for Root Wilt Diseased Tracts
In the root wilt disease prevalent tracts, in the midst of heavily diseased palms, high yielding disease free West Coast Tall (WCT), Chowghat green dwarf (CGD) and Chowghat Orange Dwarf (COD) palms are found. Such palms can be selected as mother palms and open pollinated nuts of those palms can be used for large scale planting material production. Seedlings produced from these palms are expected to be high yielding and disease free.
Maturity of Seed Nut
The mature nuts are harvested when at least one nut in the oldest bunch starts becoming dry. In Tall varieties, it takes 11-12 months to become a matured seed nut whereas in dwarfs, nuts will mature in 10-11 months after emergence of the inflorescence. They produce a resonant and ringing sound when hit with the harvesting knife or tapped by finger indicating that the husk is dry. Immature nuts will produce a dull sound. Harvest the bunches intended for seed nut by lowering them to the ground using a rope to avoid injury to seed nuts when palms are tall and ground is hard. The seed nuts should be medium sized, round or oblong in shape.
Selection of Seed Nuts
Harvest seed nuts during the months of February – August in Tamil Nadu, December to May in Kerala to get maximum germination and good quality seedlings. Tall varieties are sown one or two months after collection whereas dwarfs should be sown immediately after harvest (within 10 to 15 days).
Storage of Seed Nuts
To get more quality seedlings, the seed nuts of tall and hybrid are to be air cured for one month followed by sand curing for two months. For dwarf varieties, the air curing should be lesser than one month followed by sand curing for two months. In general seed nuts of tall variety are stored up to two months after harvest and dwarfs are sown within 15 days. For storing, arrange the seed nuts with the stalk-end up over an 8 cm layer of sand in a shed and cover with sand to prevent drying of nut water. Up to five layers of nuts can be arranged one over the other. The nuts can also be stored in plots, provided the soil is sandy and the ground is sufficiently shaded. In the case of nuts harvested in May, heap them in partial shade, till husk is well dried and then sow them in the nursery. Nuts without splashing sound indicate that the nut water has become dry and hence they should not be used for sowing.
Seed Nut Dipping – Dipping in Copperoxychloride (COC)
- Select nursery area in a well drained plot with coarse texture soil near water source for irrigation. Nursery can be raised in the open space with artificial shade or in the adult coconut garden.
Seed Nut Planting
- Plant seed nuts in a long and narrow bed at a spacing of 30 x 30 cm either horizontally or vertically in deep trenches with 20-25 cm depth. Five rows of nuts may be planted in each bed accommodating 50 nuts per row.
Planting Seed Nuts
Intercultural Operations in Nursery
- Irrigate the nursery beds once in three days.
- Keep the nursery free of weeds. To manage the weed problem in coconut nursery, growing sun hemp 2 times (each harvested at flowering stage) followed by one hand weeding at 6th month was found to be very effective besides yielding green manure for manuring the adult coconut palms.
- Provide shade to the nursery by raising Sesbania or Leucaena on the sides of beds.
- The seed nuts start germination 6 – 8 weeks after planting and germination continues upto six months. Select seedlings that germinate before 5 months after planting. Remove those nuts which do not germinate 5 months after sowing.
- Regularly survey for pest and diseases.
Selection of Seedlings
- Select seedlings 9 to 12 months after planting. Seedlings, which have germinated earlier, having good girth at collar and early splitting of leaflets, should be selected for planting.
Do not select the seed nuts which have just germinated. Eliminate the seedlings which are deformed or having stunted growth.
- Remove the seedlings from the nursery by lifting with spade. Do not pull out the seedlings by pulling leaves or stem.
- Select quality seedlings with a minimum of 6 leaves and girth of 10 cm at collar.
Adopt a spacing of 25′ x 25′ (7.5 x 7.5 m) with 175 plants/ha. For planting in field border as a single row, adopt 20′ spacing between plants.
Dug pit size of 3’ x 3′ x 3′. In the pits, Fill the pit to a height of two feet (60 cm) with FYM, red earth and sand mixed in equal proportions. At the center of the pit, remove the soil mixture and plant the seedling after removing all the roots. Press the soil well around the seedling and provide the seedling with shade by using plaited coconut leaves or palmyrah leaves. Keep the pits free from weeds. Remove soil covering the collar region. As the seedlings grow and form stem, fill up the pits gradually by cutting the sides.
From 5th year onwards, adopt the following irrigation schedule based on pan evaporation for drip irrigation and basin irrigation.
* Quantity of water to be applied in the basin. Add 30 – 40 % of the above quantity of water (135 -165 litres/palm) to meet the conveyance loss.
Drip irrigation in coconut
Root zone of coconut for moisture absorption is concentrated in a circular area of 200 cm radius around the base of coconut tree up to a depth of 100 cm. Irrigating coconut trees by a set of four drippers set equidistant in a circle 100 cm away from the base of the tree and discharging water at the rate of 30 l/h for 2.5 h with a irrigation frequency of 8 days can maximize the wetting area of soils in the effective root zone of coconut.
Drought management and soil moisture conservation
a. Mulching with coconut husks/leaves/coir pith
Apply coconut husks with convex surface facing upwards (100 Nos.) or dried coconut leaves (15 Nos) or coir pith up to a height of 10 cm in the basin of 1.8 m radius around the palms as mulch for soil moisture conservation particularly during summer season.
b. Burial of coconut husk or coir pith
Husk burial can be done in coconut basins or in the interspaces to overcome drought and button shedding. Bury husks @ 100 Nos. with concave surface facing upwards or 25 kg of coir pith /palm in circular trenches, dug 30 cm width and 60 cm depth at 1.5 metres radius. The husk can be also buried in the trenches at a distance of 3 m from the palm with a size of 45 cm deep and 150 cm width in between two rows of coconut. The soaking of the coconut husk or coir pith as the case may be preserves the monsoon rains.
Apply manures and fertilizers in circular basins of 1.8 m from the base of the palm, incorporate and irrigate. The fertilizers may applied in two split doses, in June – July and in December to January.
For nut bearing coconut, root feed coconut tonic @200ml/palm once in six months.
Mix 50 g of Azospirillum, 50 g of Phosphobacteria ( or ) 100 g Azophos and 50 g of VAM in sufficient quantity of compost or FYM and apply near feeding roots once in 6 months / palm starting from planting. Don’t mix with chemical fertilizers and pesticides
Any one of the green manure crops like sunnhemp, Calapagonium or Daincha may be sown and ploughed in situ at the time of flowering as a substitute of compost to be applied. Sow sunnhemp @ 50 g/palm in the basin and incorporate before flowering. Coir pith compost/vermicompost made from coir pith/ coconut leaves/ other wastes from coconut grove can be applied.
Inter-cultural operation weed management
The inter-space in the coconut garden has to be ploughed twice in a year in June – July and December – January. Intercultural operation is essential to keep weed population under check, to enhance the utilisation of the applied plant nutrients by the coconut trees, to facilitate proper aeration to the roots of coconut, to induce fresh root growth.
For the broad-leaved weeds, pre-emergence spraying of atrazine @1.0 kg a.i./ ha for the control of grasses and sedges. Post emergence spraying of glyphosate @ 10 ml and 20 g ammonium sulphate/litre of water.
Inter/mixed crops may be selected based on the climatic requirement of the inter/mixed crop, irrigation facilities and soil type. The canopy size, age and spacing of the coconut are also to be considered. Market suitability should be taken into consideration before selecting an intercrop.
A. Below 7 years of age: Any suitable annual crop for particular soil type and climatic condition may be raised as intercrops upto 5 years after planting depending upon the canopy coverage. Groundnut, sesamum, sunflower, tapioca, turmeric and banana can be grown. Avoid crops like paddy and sugarcane etc.
B. 7 – 20 years of age: Green manure crops and fodder crops (Napier grass and guinea grass) alone can be grown.
C. Above 20 years of age (20 years of age has to be adjusted based on the sunlight transmission of above 50% inside the canopy): The following crops can be grown depending on the soil and climatic suitability.
Annuals: Groundnut, bhendi, turmeric, tapioca, sweet potato, sirukizhangu, elephant foot yam, ginger, pineapple
Biennials: Banana varieties Poovan and Monthan are suitable.
Perennials: Cocoa*, pepper*(Panniyur 1 or Panniyur 2 or Panniyur 5 or Karimunda), nutmeg* and vanilla*
*Suitable areas in Pollachi tract of western region and Kanyakumari district. For vanilla, use disease free planting material and maintain high vigilance to maintain a disease free crop.
Multiple cropping system
Coconut + banana + sirukizhangu + bhendi is suitable system for the eastern region. Crops like banana, pepper, cocoa, nutmeg, vanilla can be tried under multiple cropping system in suitable areas in the western region. In all the systems, apply recommended quantity of water and manures and fertilizers to the intercrops separately.
- Twelve months old nuts are harvested at the interval of 30-45 days for seed as well as copra making and culinary purposes.
- For household use keep the nuts in vertical direction. However, for tender nut purposes 7 to 8 months old nuts are harvested. The nuts can be harvested using coconut climbers.
- Nuts which are 11 months old give fiber of good quality. This is suitable for coir fiber.
- In case of tall the nuts harvested for seed purpose can be stored for 2 to 3 months period before sowing, whereas in case of dwarfs and hybrids, nuts should be sown with in a period of 10 –15 days of harvest.
- On an average, we can have eight harvests, though the coconut palm produces inflorescence every month.
SPECIAL PROBLEMS IN COCONUT
1. Rejuvenation of existing garden
The low yield in vast majority of gardens is due to thick population, lack of manuring and irrigation. These gardens could be improved if the following measures are taken.
- Thinning of thickly populated gardens: In the farmer’s holdings where thick planting is adopted, many trees give an yield of less than 20 nuts/palm/year. By cutting and removal of these trees, the yield could be increased. Besides, there is saving in the cost of cultivation and increase in net profit. After removal of low yielding trees, the populations should be maintained at 175 palms/ha.
- Ensuring adequate manuring and irrigation: The yield can be increased in the existing gardens when manuring + irrigation + cultural practice is adopted as per recommendation.
2. Pencil point disorder (Micronutrient deficiency)
Because of micronutrient deficiency, the stem will taper towards its tip with lesser number of leaves. The leaf size will be greatly reduced and the leaves will be pale and yellow in colour. Along with the recommended fertilizer dose, 225 g each of Borax, Zinc sulphate, Manganese sulphate, Ferrous sulphate, Copper sulphate and 10 g of Ammonium molybdate may be dissolved in 10 litres of water and poured in the basin of 1.8 m radius. This disorder can be corrected if noticed early. Severely affected palms may be removed and replanted with new seedlings.
3. Button shedding
Shedding of buttons and premature nuts may be observed to many reasons: Provide regular irrigation, requested nutrition to reduce the button shedding.
Apply extra 2 kg of K2O with 200 g of Borax/palm over and above the usual dosage of fertilizer to correct the barren nuts in coconut.
- Regularly survey for pest and diseases
- Select seedlings 9 to 12 months after planting. Seedlings, which have germinated earlier, having good girth at collar and early splitting of leaflets, should be selected for planting.
Deficiencies for nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and micronutrients are very common in coconut cultivation. Symptoms are often observed in coconut gardens where the trees are not properly fertilized especially with organic manures.
1. Major Nutrients
2. Minor Nutrients
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