Black pepper is the most important item in export basket of spices from India. It is produced in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, besides very negligible quantities in certain nontraditional states.
The methods for organic production of black pepper when grown as an intercrop or pure crop should conform to the standards laid down for the purpose. An isolation belt of atleast 25 m wide is to be left from all around the conventional plantation. The produce from this isolation belt shall not be treated as organic. In sloppy lands adequate precaution should be taken to avoid the entry of run off water and drift from the neighbouring farms.
For an existing plantation, a minimum of three years is required as conversion period for organic cultivation. For a newly planted or replanted area raised through organic cultivation practices, the first yield itself can be considered as organic produce provided chemicals have not been used in the previous cropping. In the case of cultivation on virgin land and for farms where records are available that no chemicals were used previously, the conversion period can be relaxed. It is desirable that organic method of production is followed in the entire farm, but in large estates the transition can be phased out for which a conversion plan is to be prepared.
Sources of planting material
The runner shoots or aerial shoots, collected from elite mother vines grown organically, shall be used for generation of planting material. However, initially the cuttings can be collected from conventional plantations in the absence of purely organic source. The management practices followed in raising of rooted cuttings should conform to organic standards. The nursery techniques such as bed nursery or rapid multiplication using bamboo splits can be used for production of rooted planting material. The following practices may be adopted for better results.The soil should be solarised prior to use.Such soil should be inoculated with cultures of VAM and Trichoderma (250 g mass multiplied media in 25 kg compost)The vines in the rapid multiplication units may be sprayed with vermi wash (50 ml per unit) for enhancing growth.
The two important nursery diseases viz., leaf rot caused by Rhizoctonia solani and basal wilt caused by Sclerotium rolfsi can be minimum if solarised soil inoculated with VAM and Trichoderma is used. However, if isolated incidence of these diseases is noticed, timely adoption of phytosanitary measures and spot application of Bordeaux mixture 1 % may be done. In areas where nematode problems are likely to occur, addition of crushed neem seed is recommended.
Preparation of land
In sloppy lands adequate soil and water conservation measures are necessary at the time of preparing the land for planting. While doing so, the soil may be disturbed to the minimum in all agricultural operations.
While choosing the live standards, as many number of recommended species as possible may be used to ensure better biodiversity. Use of Erythrina sp. should be minimized as the plant harbours root knot nematode.
With the onset of monsoon two-to three rooted cuttings are planted individually in the pits on the northern side of the standard. Application of two kg compost or rotten cow dung mixed with 125 g rock phosphate may be made as a basal dose at the time of planting the rooted cuttings.
As the cuttings grow the shoots are to be tied to the standard as often as required. The young vines should be protected from hot sun during summer by providing artificial shade. Regulation of shade by lopping off the branches of standards is necessary not only for providing optimum light, but also for enabling the standards to grow straight. Excessive shading during flowering and fruiting of pepper vines is likely to encourage pest infestation. The lopping so obtained should be utilized properly either for mulching or for composting immediately without losing moisture.
Adequate mulch with green leaf or organic matter should be given towards the end of the north-east monsoon. The base of the vines should not be disturbed to avoid root damage. Weeding may be done only when necessary by slashing and the materials should be used for mulching. Growing cover crops like Calapagonium mucunoides, Mimosa invisa is recommended to provide an effective soil cover to prevent soil erosion during the rainy season and weed growth. The borders of the farm and road edges should be raised with suitable leguminous cover crops to prevent soil erosion and for use in composting.
Compost or farmyard manure may be applied @ 20 kg/vine/year during May-June. This can be partially or completely substituted by vermicompost in which case the quantity needed will be half. If found necessary based on soil test, application of rock phosphate, bone meal, lime and dolomite may be carried out. Wood ash may be used in potash deficient areas. Compost made from green loppings, crop residues, grasses, cow dung, poultry droppings etc., fortified wood ash and/or rock phosphate should be used regularly instead of farmyard manure alone. Such compost can be further enriched with non-edible oil cakes and right microbial cultures prior to withdrawal from compost pit and before applying to the field. Crushed neem seed @ 2 kg/vine/year may be applied in areas infested with nematodes. Use of bio-fertilizers can also be resorted to in a restricted manner.
The major disease of pepper is foot rot caused by the fungus Phytophthora capsici (P. palmivora). The minor diseases are pollu disease caused by Colletotrichum gloeosporioides, stunted disease and slow decline. For the control of foot rot disease, regular adoption of phytosanitary measures is most important. Tillage operations are to be kept to the minimum to avoid soil disturbance and root damage. Proper drainage is essential.
Application of Trichoderma multiplied in a suitable carrier medium @ 500 g/vine/year is also recommended. Whenever pollu disease or aerial symptoms of foot rot is noticed, restricted spraying of Bordeaux mixture 1 % may be done. Planting materials from mother vines showing symptoms of stunted disease and phyllody should not be collected for raising rooted cuttings. Application of crushed neem seed mentioned earlier will be useful to check the slow decline or slow wilt disease.
Pollu beetle (Longitarsus nigripennis) and leaf gall thrips (Liothrips karnyl) may be managed by spraying neem oil 400 ml per 100 litres of water or other neem preparations as per recommendations. Tobacco decoction may be used to control the scale insect. Where nematode problem is serious, Marigold (Tagetus sp.) may be grown as a trap plant. They are to be uprooted at the flowering stage and the root portion burnt.
Harvest and post harvest operations
In India, pepper flowers in May-June. The crop takes about 6-8 months from flowering to harvest. The harvest season extends from November to January in plains and January to March in hills. During harvesting the whole spike is hand picked when one or two berries in the spike turn bright orange red.
At the time of harvesting no chemical should be applied to ward off red ants. The berries are separated from the harvested spikes and dried in the sun for 7-8 days, on a clean concrete floor or bamboo mat till they are crisp. During sun drying it is important to turn over the material periodically to facilitate uniform drying. Without turning, mould contamination may result in a poorly dried product with greyish unattractive appearance.
For the preparation of good quality black pepper, a simple blanching process which can be easily adopted by even small and marginal pepper growers, has been developed in India. For this the mature greenish yellow, pepper spikes are de spiked after harvest. The pepper berries after cleaning are transferred to perforated aluminium vessel or bamboo basket and dipped in boiling water for a minute, drained and spread out on a clean cement floor or bamboo mat for sun-drying. The water should be clean and uncontaminated.
Advantages of blanching pepperThe blanched berries required only 3-4 days for drying in the sun, thus a great saving in timeThe dry pepper has an attractive uniform black colourBlanching minimises microbial contamination and dust accumulation and thus gives a hygienic product
For making white pepper, harvest only well mature spikes with at least three to five berries ripe. Separate immature ones from the lot. Then keep berries in the corner of a room covered with clean gunny bags for one or two days to hasten ripening of remaining berries. Separate ripe berries from spikes.
Fill berries loosely in clean gunny bags of 50 kg capacity. Keep bags immersed in a canal/stream where clean and uncontaminated water is flowing (the situation can be created by artificial means as well) for 6-9 days till the outer skin of berries decays by fermentation.
Take out the bags and empty the berries to a tank partially filled with water. Knead berries to completely separate out the skin and adhering loose tissue. Clean the corns by washing with fresh water and remove damaged ones. Dry immediately to avoid fungal infection and discolouration. For sun drying, spread thinly the corns on a bamboo mat or cement floor. Repeat heaping and spreading at two hour intervals for uniform drying. Once dried to a moisture level of 11 % may be stored in clean gunny/polythene bags or bins.