Cultivation

Preparation for sowing

The successful cultivation of gherkin depends on many factors like the climate, soil, etc., like any other crop. An optimum temperature of 18 to 32 degrees centigrade and well drained sandy loam soil with a 6.5 to 7.5 pH would be the best choice. The soil should be in good tilth up to 45 cm and 10 to 12 tonnes of farmyard manure should be added to it per acre. The basal dose of chemical fertilizers (Nitrate 30, Phosphate 20 and Potash 32 Kilograms per acre) and neem cake should be applied to the furrows and covered with soil.

Sowing

300 to 320 gms of seed per acre should be sown on the ridges at a depth of 2.5 cm and a distance of 30 cm. Water should be let into the furrows soon after sowing. Seeds germinate within a week. Gaps should be filled by re-sowing within 3 days and closely growing plants removed. After the fourth leaf stage, cotyledon leaves should be removed and burned to avoid infestation by leaf miners.

Weeding and staking

Weeding, as and when required, followed by top dressing and raking up the earth will be necessary as the crop is of short duration and heavy fertilization is done. After 16-20 days, staking is done with wooden stakes of 2.4 metre length and 5 cm diameter held serially by galvanized iron wire, at top and bottom, with jute thread joining them. The vines should be manually trained to grow along the jute thread. Staking makes the plant stand straight, facilitates ventilation and makes all cultural operations, like weeding and harvesting, easier and faster. Vines with no stakes to climb on are more susceptible to diseases.

Fertilization

After the basal fertilization mentioned above, 5 or 6 split doses of fertilizers should be applied, as the crop is a heavy feeder of fertilizers. The University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, recommends only 60:20:32 Kilograms per acre and, that too, making adjustments according to the soil fertility status. But, the companies recommend twice and thrice the quantity for optimum production. The fertilizers should be applied in pits made between the plants to avoid contact with roots and irrigation should follow immediately. Though the frequency of irrigation depends on the crop season, an average of 10 to 12 is recommended.

Plant Protection

Integrated pest management (IPM) combining preventive measures like crop rotation, manual destruction of pests, usage of baits, keeping distance from crops that are hosts to common insects and pests, etc., are employed by farmers. Chemical pesticides have to be used at the barest minimum as any pesticide residue on the product will disqualify it from selection as export-worthy. At the same time, improper care against the pests, insects and viruses might result in a 50% loss in the quantity and quality of the product.

Pollination

Honeybees are the agents of cross-pollination among the gherkin plants. Care should be taken to avoid spraying chemicals in the morning time when the bees are active in the field. Proper fruit development depends on effective cross-pollination.

Harvesting

The fruits can be harvested when they are of the size specified for the first grade which commands the highest price. Just one month growth would be sufficient for this. Daily harvesting can be done for the next two months without any break. Nails should not be used for plucking and bamboo baskets are compulsory for collecting the fruits. Fruits are temporarily stored in netted bags or big baskets under shade. Fruits which are defective in any way, through disease, damage, foreign matter, etc., must be removed. The first and foremost consideration in harvesting should be the company's specifications and requirements regarding size and quality.

Storage and inspection

A rectangular shed with the top and three sides covered would be sufficient to function as a temporary storage facility till the fruits are handed over to the company people. A clean tarpaulin may be spread on the floor and the fruits spread out on it for a last inspection for disqualifying defects. Ventilation and protection from sun and rain are important. After screening the fruits for defects, they should be transferred into big bamboo baskets or netted bags before the collection vehicle arrives. No fertilizer, empty fertilizer bag, pesticide or sprayer should be kept inside the shed, as these may contaminate the fruits.

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Cultivation