Frequently Asked Questions About Dates Farming (FAQs)

FAQ’s on Dates Farming / Frequently Asked Questions About Dates Farming:

If you are going to plant date palms, you must be aware of Frequently Asked Questions About Dates Farming.

  1. Which country produces the largest quantity and what are the top ten countries producing dates?

Egypt produces the largest quantity of dates, accounting to almost eleven lakh metric tonnes, followed by Iran (9.5 lakh metric tonnes annually) and Saudi Arabia (8.5 lakh metric tonnes annually).  The rest of the countries where date cultivation is popular are Iraq, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Sudan, South Sudan and Oman.

  1. Can we grow dates in India and where are date palm trees found in India?

In India, date cultivation is done on approximately 12,493 hectares of land, mostly in the kachchh district of Gujarat with an annual production of 86 thousand tonnes. Yes dates are grown in India, but require specific conditions for successful cultivation. Some specific conditions required for date cultivation are prolonged hot dry summer, moderate winters and rain free period at fruit ripening stage. In India there are problem like no proper availability of quality planting material, low quality fruit due to dust storms and damage of fruit by the birds. In spite of these problems there is possibility of date cultivation in India with the use of tissue culture plants.

  1. How long does it take to grow a date palm tree and when does it bear fruits?

Date palm trees take almost 4 to 8 years to grow after planting. Small quantities of fruits are produced after 4 years, but for commercial harvest the trees need to get to the age of 7 to 10 years.

  1. How long does it take a palm tree to grow to maturity?

Tree maturity depends on the variety being cultivated. Maturity of the tree generally indicates the time period after which the tree starts producing fruits. So typically it is around 5 to 8 years. Some species may have even lesser growth periods and start producing after 2 years.

  1. Do dates ripen after picking?

Yes, dates can be ripened after picking through artificial ripening method, i.e. by dehydration process. Normally, dates are left on the tree to ripen and are hand-picked when required.

  1. How long do dates last and do they need refrigeration?

Dates can last long depending on the storage condition. At room temperatures dates can last for about 2 months and under refrigerated conditions they last for about 12 months. Dates can be packed in an airtight container or sealed plastic bag so as to store them in a refrigerator for longer shelf life.

  1. Can you grow a date tree from a seed?

A date seed is always referred to as a date pit. Yes, it is possible to grow date tree from date pit. Before sowing the seed, one has to soak it for a week in cold water and change the water daily to prevent mold or bacteria. The seed has to be then sown in a pot and should be protected from cold climatic conditions.

  1. How long do the date seeds take to germinate?

The time required by the date palm seeds to germinate is approximately 14 to 21 days under ideal growing conditions. If the region of cultivation doesn’t have ideal growth conditions, then even healthy date seeds may take almost 100 days to germinate.

  1. How many date seedlings are required per acre of land?

Depending on the area of the farm and the spacing recommendations, it can be estimated that approximately one acre of land with a plant spacing of 6 m can accommodate 112 seedlings. Similarly, for a spacing of 8 m, one acre of land can accommodate 63 seedlings.

  1. What should be the depth of planting for date palm trees?

The offshoots or suckers are transplanted into the main field where pits of dimensions 1 x 1 x 1 m are created. Half of the pit is filled with a soil mixture and over it the offshoots are planted. The approximate depth of planting is 40-50 cm.

  1. What are the growing conditions for date trees?

Date palm trees need special conditions and possibly grow well only if the conditions are satisfied. The requirements are:

  • Loose soil with well drained nature
  • Moderately dry soil
  • Soil with high magnesium content
  • Region with full sun
  • Frequent fertilization with micronutrients
  • Protection from frost
  1. What are the different types or varieties of dates commercially grown around the world?

Approximately 20 varieties of dates are grown commercially throughout the world. Some important commercial varieties are Medjool date, barhi, deglet nor, halawi, Khadrawy, thoory, zahidi, dayri, hayany, maktoom, sayer, khastawi etc. Some Indian state varieties other than barhi and hillawi/halawi are khalas, jamli, khunezi etc.

  1. What are the different stages of date fruit ripening?

Generally date fruits have three different stages of ripening: first stage is khalal followed by rutab and Tamar stages respectively. The khalal stage starts 17 weeks after pollination, 6 weeks later the rutab stage follows and finally enters the Tamar stage on the 27th week. The Tamar stage of the fruit is considered to be the fully ripened stage.

  1. What is freeze ripening of date?

The dates which are on the khalal stage are picked and cleaned thoroughly to remove the dirt. A solution of lemon juice and water is prepared and the dates are soaked in it for 10 minutes as an attempt to pre-treat the dates. The solution is drained and the dates are wrapped in freezer paper or placed in freezer bags. They are freezed at a temperature of -64 to -122˚F (-53 to -85˚C) for 24 hours so that they reach the rutab stage. This process is called freeze ripening.

  1. How are dates ripened through dehydration?

This method of ripening is similar to freeze ripening until the soaking stage. After that the dates are spread over a cookie tray (use a cheese cloth before putting dates into it) in a single layer and it is placed in an oven set at 120˚F. Keep checking the fruits every 4 hours for the stage of ripening. Normally, a green date (unripe) would take almost 32 hours for getting fully ripened. The time of ripening depends on the stage of the fruit when it was picked.

  1. Why are dates air-dried?

This is another method of ripening dates. The steps involved are:

  • Clean the immature dates properly.
  • Soak the dates in a solution of lemon juice and water for 10 minutes.
  • The dates are placed in a single layer on a non-metallic slotted tray so as to facilitate air around them.
  • Place the trays in a room where the humidity level is 70% and temperature is 80-95˚F.
  • If the temperature cannot be set, then place the dates under direct sun and cover them.
  • Bring the dates inside during the night.
  • This drying under sun takes 3 to 7 days so as to reach the desired level of ripening.
  1. How can one hand pollinate a date palm?

The male tree produces pollen during the spring season in the form of sheaths. Collect this pollen and store it in a bag. As the female flowers bloom, this pollen is dusted over them. This is how hand pollination is done.

  1. What climate do dates grow in?

Date palm trees are cultivated in arid and semi-arid regions with long summer months and scanty rainfall. The region should have very low humidity level during the ripening period. The trees can survive well under extremely high temperature, i.e. 56˚C with proper irrigation facilities. The trees can also endure winter temperatures up to 0˚C. The date palm tree exceptionally needs a temperature range of 7-32˚C for vegetative growth, beyond these temperatures the growth becomes stable and starts decreasing after 38˚C.

  1. How much and in what months is rainfall required by the date palm trees?

Date palm trees are mostly cultivated in regions with winter rainfall. Rain during the flower and fruit set period is considered to cause problems in flowering and fruiting due to low temperature. Rain during pollination washes away the pollen from the trees and pollination operation should be repeated after at least 6 hours of rain. The minimum average rainfall should be less than 50 mm during August, September and October in the northern Hemisphere; January, February and March in the southern hemisphere.

  1. What kind or type of soil is best suitable for cultivating dates?

The date palm trees need sandy loam, sandy, clay or other heavy soils for proper growth and establishment. The soil should be well-aerated and should have proper draining properties. The plants can tolerate alkali soil conditions, but excess salt in the soil is expected to stunt the growth and lower the quality of the fruit.

  1. How is propagation carried out in dates?

Propagation of date palm trees is done using seeds and seedlings. The most common way to grow date trees is by transplanting suckers or offshoots that are 3 to 5 years old and weight around 18 to 34 kgs. These offshoots are initially grown in the nurseries until the formation of roots. Offshoots are obtained from the healthy parent date tree when they are 10-15 years old. At least 2 suckers or offshoots are obtained from each parent plant.

  1. How much fertilizer is required by the date plants/trees?

The general recommendations for the use of fertilizers for the growth and establishment of date palm trees is 1.5 to 3 kg of nitrogen, 0.5 kg of phosphorous and 2 to 3 kgs of potassium per tree annually. The total manure requirement for each date palm tree is around 10 to 15 kgs for young plants and 30-40 kgs for mature plants. The quantity of fertilizer required may change as the plants age.

  1. When the fertilizers are applied to the date palm trees?

The fertilizing schedule is done based on the two different stages of plant growth, i.e. the vegetative phase and the reproductive phase. The application of fertilizers is recommended during February and July in the Northern Hemisphere and during June and November in Southern Hemisphere.

  1. What is the annual yield from a date palm tree?

5 to 8 years old date palm trees start producing fruits and the initial yield from the tree is around 8 to 10 kg. After 13 years of growth, the trees produce approximately 60 kg of fruits. Some improved varieties of date palm trees produce 100 kgs of fruits annually. Deglet nor variety yields around 4.5 to 7 tonnes of fruits per acre. It has to be noted that, the yield from different varieties of date plants vary depending on the region of cultivation and management practices.

  1. How much water is required by the date palm trees?

The irrigation requirement for trees depends on the age of the trees, soil type and weather conditions of the region. The actual water requirement by each plant is 2463.4 mm of water annually. It is also recommended that adult date palm trees need irrigation every 7 days during the summer and every 15 days during winter.

  1. What crops can be intercropped with dates in the farm and when?

The date trees can be harvested only after 4 years of panting. Meanwhile, the land is used for growing other crops (intercrops) such as guar gum, rice, chilly, peas, brinjal etc.

  1. What are the common pests that infect the date palm trees and how are they controlled?

The commonly found pests of date trees are termites, lesser date moth, birds, white or red scale, etc. The best way to prevent birds is by netting the fruit bunches during the doka stage. The other pests on the trees can be prevented or controlled by the use of recommended pesticides like chlorpyriphos, deltamethrin and acetamiprid etc.

  1. What are some diseases of the date palm with unknown causes?

It has been observed that the trees get affected by diseases and the cause of the disease is unknown. Some diseases occurring to the date palm trees are bending head, dry bone, faroun disease and rhizosis.

  1. What are some of the physiological disorders found in the date palm trees?

Physiological disorders are observed in date palm trees due to external factors like rainfall, humidity levels, soil conditions, temperature, frost etc. Some commonly found disorders are blacknose, crosscuts, whitenose, barhee disorder, black scald, leaf apical drying, fertilization injury and frost damage.

  1. What diseases are generally found to infect date palm trees and hat are the control measures?

The date palm trees may be infected with many bacterial and fungal micro-organisms,  which can cause diseases like Graphiola leaf spot, alternia leaf blight, fruit rot, black scorch disease, bayoud disease, Diplodia, khamedj, omphalia root rot, belaat disease etc. These infections can be prevented by the following ways:

  • Treat the soil with recommended chemicals (methyl bromide) before transplanting the offshoots.
  • Isolate the date palm trees by creating trenches of about 2 m depth around each plant so that the spread of infection is minimised.
  • Remove and destroy all the infected plant parts immediately.
  • Use cultivars or varieties that are resistant to diseases.
  • Keep the farm area clean because sanitation is the first step to avoid occurrence of diseases.
  • Use recommended chemicals or fungicides if the infection is severe else try to prevent the occurrence of diseases.
  1. How are the dates harvested?

Each variety of dates has a different harvesting period. Soft dates are picked early when they are light in colour. Semi-dry varieties of dates are picked when they are soft and later artificially ripened. The dry variety of dates are picked only when it is completely ripe. The harvesting should be completed before the monsoon season. Highest quality dates are hand-picked individually, but other varieties are generally harvested by cutting the entire cluster.

It is important to note that all the dates in the cluster do not ripen at the same time, so picking has to be done several times during several weeks. Normally, each date palm tree needs 6 to 8 pickings during the harvest season.

  1. How is the shelf life of dates improved or how are dates stored after harvest?

When dates are picked under slightly unripe conditions, they can be kept at 0˚C for 10 months. Fully mature dates can be stored for 5 to 6 months at the same temperature. It is important to note that freezing the fruit or dates increase the storage life to a much longer period.

  1. Why is fruit thinning done on date palm trees?

The thinning of fruits is the process of removing some young fruits from bunches so as to improve the fruit quality and ensure proper nutrition and development of the remaining fruits on the bunch. This is generally done in three ways, such as cutting the strands or reducing their length, removing some strands from the centre of the bunch and reducing some fruits from each strand.

Read: Growing Oil Plams.

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