For centuries, people have consumed dates in a variety of ways, including food and medicinal purposes. Dried dates, most typically sold in Western countries, are chewy with a sweet flavor, but most importantly, they contain some vital nutrients with various advantages and uses. Cultivation of date palm, or simply dates, has been on practice for centuries.
Dates have been a staple food of the Indus Valley and Middle Eastern region for centuries. Date palm is spread across the Persian Gulf region, Morocco, Africa, and Israel. Now, date palms are grown in most parts of the world.
History of Date Palm Cultivation
Although the exact origin of date palm cultivation is not recorded and unknown, experts speculate that it originated from a region around modern-day Iraq. Date palms can be grown in both subtropical and tropical areas of the world. The commercial cultivation of dates has been very successful as dates have tremendous demand in local and export markets. Apart from the edible part, date seeds can serve as animal feed when soaked and in ground form. Date oils are used in cosmetic industries.
Growing Date Palms – An Introduction
Phoenix dactylifera or Date palms grow about 70 feet in height, growing singly or several stems from a single root system. Typically, the date palm leaves are about 15 to 20 feet long, having spines on the petiole and pinnate with about 120 to 150 leaflets. The leaflets of the date tree are about 25 to 30 cm long and about 2.5 cm wide. The entire span or the crown of the date palm ranges from 20 to 30 feet.
Date fruits are oval-cylindrical with 3cm to 6cm in length and 2 to 3 cm in diameter. These dates contain a single seed about 2 cm long and 7mm thick. Dates can be bright red to bright yellow based on their variety.
There are four stages of dates ripening, namely
- Full-size, crunchy.
- Ripe, soft.
- Ripe, sun-dried.
UAE is ranked fourth among the world’s top ten producers. The top ten producers are as follows.
- Saudi Arabia.
- United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Health Benefits of Date Palms
Dates are healthy, and a few of their health benefits are as follows.
- They help in lowering cholesterol levels.
- Dates are a rich source of proteins.
- They are rich in vitamins like B1, B2, B3 and B5, A1 and C.
- Dates help in strengthening the nervous system.
- They assist in promoting digestion.
- Dates are good for skin health.
Conditions for Growing Date Palms
Dates crop thrives along summers with long days, high temperatures, and mild winters without frost for ideal growth. During the flowering and fruit set stage, date palm does not prefer any rain but low humid conditions and plenty of sunshine.
Date palms can grow on a wide variety of soils. However, they require well-drained deep sandy loam soils (soil fertility) with good aeration, having a pH value of 8.0 to 11. The growing soil should have good moisture-holding and retaining capacity. It also requires that the ground should be free from calcium carbonate. When it comes to soil salinity, the date palms can tolerate up to 4dsm-l.
Seeds, offshoots, and tissue culture can propagate date palms. Germination success depends mainly on the growing medium and viable dates. Seeds can germinate within 2 to 3 weeks after sowing under ideal conditions. Commercial growers consider offshoot propagation to be a better choice as compared to seed propagation. Both male and female palms result in seedlings on seed germination, which can be recognizable only at the flowering stage. Additionally, seed germination will result in many variations in flowering and fruit qualities.
Land Preparation, Planting, and Spacing
The farmer should prepare the land well enough to remove old trees, branches, and stones from the field. Dig the plant size of 60 cm by 60 cm by 60 cm. The distance between the two plants should be maintained as 6 meters x 6 meters. Additionally, the farmer should use bio-composting products such as cow dung, farmyard manure, organic compost (from earthworms), or dry sheep manure.
Although Date palms are desert trees, the farmers should arrange for timely and uniform irrigation for better fruit yields.
- With the help of drip irrigation, provide 30 to 35 liters per tree for up to 1 year .
- Provide 50 to 55 liters/tree/fortnight (2 weeks) for the next two years with the help of drip irrigation.
- Provide 100 to 110 liters/tree/month for subsequent two years with the help of drip irrigation.
- Once trees attain 5 to 6 years of age, you can convert the watering method from drip irrigation to basin irrigation.
- As a thumb rule, grown-up date palm or adult trees require irrigation every two weeks during winter and every week during the summer season.
Intercultural Operations in Growing Date Palms
Pruning in Growing Date Palms
The pruning process involves removing diseased and old leaves, dried leaves, spines, cutting undesirable inflorescences, and thinning fruits.
The leaf count of a Date palm decides the number of retained inflorescences. An insufficient number of leaves on the date palm tree can affect the dates’ quality and lead to a reduction in the fruit’s yield.
Fruit Thinning Growing Date Palms:
To improve the quality of fruit, one must carry out fruit thinning. There are three ways of fruit thinning.
- One must cut the strands to reduce their length.
- The farmer should remove some strands from the center of the bunch.
- Should lower the number of fruits on each strand.
Pollination Growing Date Palms
Hand pollination is recommended because individual date palms are either females or males. About four to five male date palm plants are sufficient to pollinate hundred date palm female plants. The pollination process involves the placement of strands of male flowers that are ready to shower pollen grains on the stigmas of the carpels of the female flowers. Finding the appropriate time when the female flower is open and prepared to receive the pollen is dependent on individual skills.
Pests and Diseases in Growing Date Palms
Date Palms may suffer from Bayoud disease caused by the fungus ‘Fusarium oxysporum.’ If the crop suffers from this disease, the yield will be less. As a preventive method, The farmers can select disease-resistant varieties as a preventative measure. The red palm beetle is a significant threat to date production. The farmer can discuss with horticulture professionals for control measures of these diseases and pests.
The local horticulture department can act as a good source of information about pests and diseases in growing Date Palms. It is advised that the shpo;d npot b experiment on your own without knowing the symptoms and causes.
Harvesting in Growing Date Palms
First harvesting may be carried out after four years. Subsequently, all the fruits ripen at the same time so that several harvests may be required. To get the best marketable quality of dates, they must be thinned and bagged before ripening. Consequently, the remaining dates will grow larger and can be protected from climate and birds.
Yield in Growing Date Palms
The yield of Dates may depend on tree age, variety, irrigation, soil, and other best practices. Under ideal orchard management practices, healthy fruits can be produced by the date palms from the fourth year onwards. The yield will be good and commercially viable after seven years to ten years. The date palms can yield up to 60 to 70 years. On average, one can expect 100 to 200 kg from 1 adult tree.
Marketing in Growing Date Palms
The farmer can market harvested dates to any fruit processing companies in bulk or fresh fruits to your local markets. The farmer should take special care in case of exporting the dates.
Growing Date Palms From Seeds
Starting date palm from seed is an easy way to start growing more date palms.
- As a first step, remove the seeds from ripe dates.
- Soak the date seeds for at least 24 hours and discard any seed that floats on the top.
- Each remaining seed should be in its own container of well-draining soil, such as a sandy mix. You should press the seeds into the soil, so they are almost half covered.
- Keeping it moist and warm. It will be best , if they are placxed in a spot with indirect sunlight is best. You can place a plastic bag on top of the container to retain more moisture.
- Once the seed has sprouted a couple of inches, the bag should be removed and moved to a larger container.
- It would help if you kept the date palm in indirect sunlight until the end of its first summer, then slowly get it accustomed to more sunlight. By the second year, the user should be able to plant it in the ground.
The date palm tree plays a vital, indispensable role as a critical source of food and sustenance throughout the history of the UAE. The tree forms an integral part of the daily life of Emirati people. It has multiple uses with fruits for food, its trunk for building homes. Additionally, its fronds, leaves, and fibers for traditional handicrafts.
The UAE attaches great importance to agricultural development in general and date palm in particular. This special attention is evident in the continued expansion in farming resources and investments, in the fast growth in the number of palm trees, in the continued increase in the size and variety of date projects, in the extensive use of modern technologies, and the important initiatives undertaken in the areas of manufacturing and marketing of date fruits.