It is popularly known as the king of spices and mainly cultivated in the southern parts of India, comprising of states Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Pondicherry. India is a major producer, consumer and exporter of black pepper.
Being a crop of warm humid tropics, black pepper requires approximately 250 rainy days with a total annual rainfall of 2,000–3,000mm for its vigorous growth. A dry spell of 30–45 days before flowering is required for successful fruit set. Black pepper also requires a high humidity of 75–95% for its healthy growth. The hot and humid climate of Western Ghats is ideal for the cultivation of black pepper and perhaps, this is the reason behind high productivity of black pepper plants in this region. Black pepper grows successfully up to 1,500m above MSL (mean sea level). Black pepper tolerates temperature between 10°C and 40°C.
Virgin soils are ideal for black pepper cultivation. Soil should be well-drained and rich in organic matter (humus). Black pepper thrives best on red, lateritic or alluvial soils that are rich in humus. The pH of 4.5–6.0 is ideal.
Panniyur 1: Suited to all regions. Not suited to heavily shaded areas. Average yield is 1242 Kg/ha. Oleoresin is 11.8 %.
Piperine is 5.3 %. Essential oil is 3.5 %.
Panniyur 2: Shade-tolerant variety of black pepper. Average yield is 2570 Kg/ha. Oleoresin is 10.9 %.
Piperine is 6.6 %. Essential oil is 3.4 %.
Panniyur 3: Late-maturing variety of black pepper, suited to all pepper-growing regions. Average yield is 1953 Kg/ha. Oleoresin is 12.7 %.
Piperine is 5.2 %. Essential oil is 3.1 %.
Panniyur 4: Performs well under a variety of conditions. Stable yielder. Average yield is 1277 Kg/ha. Oleoresin is 9.2 %.
Piperine is 4.4 %. Essential oil is 2.1 %.
Panniyur 5: Tolerant to nursery diseases and shade. Average yield is 1098 Kg/ha. Oleoresin is 12.33 %.
Piperine is 5.5 %. Essential oil is 3.8 %.
Subhakara: Suited to all pepper- growing regions. Average yield is 2352 Kg/ha. Oleoresin is 12.4 %.
Piperine is 3.4 %. Essential oil is 6.0 %.
Sreekara: Suited to all pepper- growing regions. Average yield is 2677 Kg/ha. Oleoresin is 13.0 %.
Piperine is 5.1 %. Essential oil is 7.0 %.
Panchami: Late-maturing, suited to all pepper-growing regions. Average yield is 2828 Kg/ha. Oleoresin is 12.5 %.
Piperine is 4.7 %. Essential oil is 3.4 %.
Pournami: Tolerant to root-knot nematode. Average yield is 2333 Kg/ha. Oleoresin is 13.8 %.
Piperine is 4.1 %. Essential oil is 3.4 %.
Propagation of Black pepper is through shoot cuttings. Black pepper has three types of aerial shoots—terminal shoots, runner shoots originating from base of vines and fruit-bearing lateral branches with limited growth. Out of these, runner shoots are used for raising shoot cuttings. Runner shoots from high-yielding and healthy vines are kept coiled on wooden pegs fixed at the base of the vine to prevent shoots from coming in contact with soil and striking roots. Then runner shoots are separated from vines during February–March and after trimming leaves, cuttings of 2–3 nodes each are planted either in nursery beds or in polythene bags filled with fertile soil. Adequate shade should be provided and watering be done frequently. The cuttings strike roots and become ready for planting in May–June. Recently micropropagation of black pepper using tissue culture technique has also become quite popular.
Black pepper can be cultivated either as a monocrop or as a mixed crop. Being a climber, black pepper needs support for its growth and it is not an issue in a mixed cropping system as the growing vines can be trained on other crops like coconut, arecanut or jackfruit tree. But in a monocropping system, live standards should be raised before planting the cuttings in the main field.
Planting of Cuttings
Ideal time for black pepper planting is at the onset of south-west monsoons. Rooted cuttings, lifted from the nursery beds or polybags are transplanted in the main field during morning hours. Two or three rooted cuttings are planted together on the northern side of the standard or the support tree. Recommended spacing is 2.7 × 2.7meters (row-to-row x plant-to-plant). Plant density in a monocropping system is 1,100 vines/ha but in a mixed cropping system, it is 540–560 vines/ha.
Training and Pruning of Vines
Training of growing vines is a general practice in black pepper cultivation. Training of vines on the support trees is highly recommended as it facilitates the vigorous growth of the fruit-yielding branches. Removal of unwanted terminal shoot growth and hanging shoots should be done as and when necessary.
Pruning of the Standards
Pruning of the standards is also a general practice carried out in a commercial black pepper garden. This is normally done in March–April every year. Major purpose of this practice is to remove excessive over-growth of the live standards and to give them a proper shape. The effective height of the standards is to be limited to 6 meters.
An application of 140gN, 55g P2O5 and 270g K2O/vine/year is optimum for major pepper growing tracts of southern India. NPK at 100:40:140 g/vine/year is recommended for Panniyur region, northern part of Kerala and similar agroclimatic conditions and NPK at 50:50:200g/vine/year is recommended for Kozhikode and similar agroclimatic regions. One-third of the recommended dose is applied during the first year which is increased to two-thirds in the second year. Full dose is given third year onwards. The fertilizers are applied in 2 doses, the first half in April with the onset of monsoon and the second half in August–September. The fertilizers are applied at a distance of about 30cm all around the vine and at a depth of about 15cm and the soil is forked in after application. Besides, organic manure in the form of cattle manure or compost is given @ 10kg/vine in May. Application of lime @ 500g/vine during April–May in alternate years is also recommended.
Carry out digging around the standards and vines at 1m radius from the base or in the entire plantation, twice during the year, the first at the onset of monsoon and the second towards the end of north-east monsoon. Frequent weeding around the plants is also recommended. After digging and weeding. The base should be covered with mulch. Mulching during summer months is essential. In commercial cultivation of black pepper, cover cropping and intercropping are highly recommended. Lowering of vines after first year’s growth promotes lateral branch production. Shading is a must for young plants. Frequent watering of young plants is necessary for the first three years of the plants’ growth.
Black pepper starts yielding from third year onwards. Average pepper yield in India is 273kg/ha, while it is 425kg/ha in Indonesia, 2,000kg/ha in Malaysia and 431kg/ha in Sri Lanka. Black pepper has an economic life of 20 years and after regular bearing for about 20 years, the vines start declining in yield. So, underplanting is highly recommended and the old and senile vines must be removed 3–5 years after underplanting, depending on the growth of young vine.
Frequent irrigation from November-December till the end of March is recommended and afterwards, irrigation must be withheld till monsoon break. This may increase pepper yield by about 50%. Basin irrigation at a depth of 10mm @100 liters of water/irrigation at 8–10 days interval is highly recommended under Panniyur condition. Basins should be mulched soon after irrigation to prevent moisture loss.
HARVESTING & POST HARVEST MANAGEMENT
Pepper berries are ready for harvesting in 180–200 days of planting in the main field. Spikes are harvested when almost 90 % of berries are mature. Then the mature berries are separated from spikes by threshing.
The major products are black pepper, white pepper, canned tender green pepper, bottled green pepper in brine, dehydrated green pepper, pepper oleoresin and pepper oil.
Black pepper (dried)
Black pepper is produced by sun-drying the mature pepper berries for 3–5 days. A heat treatment is recommended to give a uniformly lustrous black colour to the finished product and to prevent moldiness of the berries.
Heat Treatment of Pepper Berries
Collect suitable quantity of separated berries in a perforated basket/vessel or clean gunny bag. Dip the berries along with the container in boiling water for one minute, take out, drain and spread on a clean surface for sun-drying.
Production of White Pepper
White pepper is produced by collecting fully mature berries (yellow or orange), retting them in clear water for 5–7 days, removing the outer skin completely and drying the seed after thorough washing and cleaning.