We have informed you previously that most of the space available in a coconut plantation is wasted and the importance of intercropping to utilize the area meaningfully. Pepper crop is one of the most profitable intercrops for coconut plantations in a humid region. Pepper intercropping is beneficial in increasing the land’s productivity, income, and efficient use of labour. In addition, growers can eliminate the risk of low income during the coconut harvest and use the leaves of the supporting plant Pepper as fertilizer for coconuts. Pepper, a perennial intercrop, can be grown well during the age of 15/20 to 50 years of coconut cultivation.
In pepper cultivation, primarily “supports” are used, and coconut trees can be used as a substitute for these supports. But Pepper should be planted at the proper distance from a coconut tree. While using the coconut tree as support, pepper vines should be kept from reaching the top of the coconut tree. Thus, well-managed pepper cultivation brings income for 3 to 20-30 years after planting.
Points to consider before planting Pepper
This intercrop is mainly suitable for coconut cultivation in many areas where the annual rainfall in the wet zone exceeds 1875 mm. Coconut plantations located in the humid intermediate zone, with a yearly rainfall (precipitation) of 1500 – 1875 mm, require additional water supply during the dry season (especially for the pepper seedling stage).
Pepper requires relatively deep soil with good water-holding capacity. Sandy soils and coarse clay soils, which have poor water-holding capacity, are unsuitable for this cultivation. Deep, well-drained loamy soil rich in organic matter is the best option.
Pepper should not be cultivated on low land as water flows on sloping ground. Also, cultivation should be avoided in areas where water retention is high in the upper parts of such places. Hence, the intermediate sections of the slope are suitable for pepper cultivation in sloping lands.
Pepper needs adequate sunlight, and coconut trees must be over 15 years old to provide regular space. However, with proper spacing, Pepper can be grown on a limited scale or during this low sunlight phase.
Local varieties and improved Panniyur-1 (Panniyur) and Kuching (Kuching) are recommended for coconut lands. The most commonly seen variety in Sri Lanka is Pannier-1.
e. Preparation of planting material
Stem cuttings is used to propagate Pepper. It is essential to choose good mother plants before getting cuttings.
Characteristics of a good mother plant
1. Being a well-developed healthy plant
2. Shorter distance between nodes of the main pepper stem, more lateral branches, and the production of more pods per branch.
3. Pepper Spike length of more than 7 cm.
4. Having uniformly seed-filled pods.
5. Free from disease and pests.
6. Good rooting ability
7. Ability to bear fruit continuously and uniformly
8. Ability to yield from a 3.5 – 4.5m tall pepper vine 2 kg of dry Pepper at least once a year.
f. Pepper Vine – Shoots/ Leaves
There are different types of parts in a pepper vine. At the top of the vine are “top shoots.” “Primary branches” can be obtained from the main pepper stem. Drooping vines are known as “straw vines” and are unsuitable to use in plant production.
Vines that grow from the bush’s base along the ground are called “foot vines” and are used for nursery seedling production. But these shoots can be damaged by soil-dwelling organisms such as bacteria.
Among the above types, the most suitable style is “top shoots,” which can produce high-quality seedlings with high vigour. However, it is challenging to find a large number of top shoots at the same time.
When nursing pepper domestically, use “top shoots” whenever possible.
1. Cut off 2 knots of the procured shoots into one cut
2. Leave a leaf from one node and cut the leaf from the other node
3. After that, apply a cross-cut close to the roots of the existing knot extending from the knot where the leaf has been removed, as shown in the figure.
4. Plant the leafy parts of Pepper on polythene beds containing composted soil. (Use a propagator to make plants)
5. After about two months, these seedlings (with 3-4 leaves) could be planted in the field.
In addition, growers can obtain planting material from nurseries approved by the Department of Exports and Agricultural Crops.
Planting pepper with coconut
Pepper should be planted at least 2.4 – 2.6 m (8 feet) from the coconut tree to avoid competition for nutrients and water. Pepper rows shall be directed from east to west.
a. Dual row planting system method of pepper planting
Here, two rows of Pepper are placed between two rows of coconut. For example, the standard spacing between two rows of coconuts is about 24 feet. In such cultivation, pits are used for pepper plants with an interval of 8 feet to each row of coconut trees. As shown in the figure, the distance between two pepper plants in one row is 8 feet, and the distance between pepper rows is also 8 feet. A double-row formation like this system is an excellent help in crop management.
b. Field preparation and starting manure
It is best to plant Pepper with the onset of monsoon. Pits prepared for planting Pepper should be 0.5m x 0.5m x 0.5m in hard soil and 0.3m x 0.3m x 0.3m in sandy loam soil. After planting, it is essential to protect the seedlings from direct sunlight and mulch the ground around them with weeds or coconut husks.
As the starter fertilizer mix,
1) A layer of coconut husk to cover the bottom of the pepper pit,
2) About 25 kg of dung or compost, and 100 g of rock phosphate can be used in soil filling.
c. Supports for Pepper
Pepper cultivation requires support for satisfactory growth and good yield. Concrete posts or live supports could be used for this purpose. “Gliricidia” is the most common and ideal plant support type. Before planting Pepper, plant mature Glyricidia stalks at a height of 3.0 – 3.5 m, with a diameter of about 2.5 cm and a distance of 2 – 3 cm from the pepper plant on the marked ground.
When Glyricidia stems begin to sprout, two well-growing buds should be left near the top, and all others should be removed. Growers should train these branches to grow straight and pruned during the rainy season to control growth.
d. Vine Training
When a plant has produced 8-10 leaves, remove all leaves except the lowermost three leaves. After one week, prune the defoliated portion of the vine when raining. This will encourage the growth of 2 or 3 vegetative shoots.
When these shoots produce 8-10 leaves each, remove all the leaves except the three basal ones of each shoot: A week later, prune the defoliate portion. It will ensure the development of more vegetative shoots.
Finally, each vine will have 7-9 branches and should be tied to the supportive stems. The apical buds should be removed when the vines grow to about 3 m to restrict vertical growth. The runners that grow along the ground should be removed during fertilizer application.
Fertilizer for Pepper
In addition to coconut, fertilizer is essential for pepper cultivation. Pepper recommends the following organic or chemical fertilizer mixtures twice a year. It is advisable to apply fertilizer after six months or a year after planting.
Chemical fertilizer mixtures
· Urea (46% – N) 4 parts by weight
· Rock phosphate (28% – P2O5) 5 parts by weight
· Muriate of potash (60% – K2O) 3 parts by weight
· Kaiserite (24% – MgO) 1 part by weight
If there is difficulty in finding chemical nutrients, such as use organic fertilizer as follows per year:
• 8-10 Kg of manure or compost
• Or 10-12 Kg of Glydiceria leaves can be applied.
Start fertilizing during periods when more rainfall is expected. Fertilizer should be applied circularly at a distance of 30 cm from the plant and 5 cm wide.
An adequately managed pepper plantation can yield within 2 or 3 years of planting. Local pepper varieties produce an average of 750g per year. After about 6-7 years, it reaches the entire fruiting stage. Usually, one pepper vine can yield between 1-1.5 kg. Approximately an annual Pepper yield of about 500-750 kg could be obtained by intercropping with coconut.