Ash gourd ( Benincasa hispida) is an annual vine which trains on the ground. Its high in nutritive value and is excellent for its shelf life of 2 to 4 months. Popular sweets are also made using this vegetable.
Deep loamy soils are best suited. Can be grown on most soils, where the Ph should be in range of 6.5 t0 7.5
here the base of a hillock is chosen. All weeds must be removed & manual ploughing/tilling is recommended to bring the soil to fine tilth. Terracing is often carried out & the vines are made to grow along the side of the slope.
Pits measuring about 45 cm width, height must be dug maintaining about 2 meter distance from each pit. Upto 5 seeds must be manually sown in each pit. After germination 2 seedlings can be retained in each pit. This is done to prevent overcrowding of the vines as they grow. In some cases, 2 seeds are sowed in nursery bags prepared with a mixture of fine soil, sand & organic manure. The healthy seedlings are then transplanted to the main field.
It is advised to use foratox granules at the time of transplanting to prevent the young seedlings of potential risk from soil borne diseases causing pathogens, insects, nematodes.
Up to 10 kg of organic manure should be added in each pit & mixed well with the soil before sowing/transplanting. The germinating seeds will derieve much of its nutrients from the soil.
Irrigation & fertilizer management
Watering is done immediately after sowing/transplanting. The growing vines require large quantities of water. However with proper mulching, the water requirements can be halved. Plant residues, greens, dried leaves, etc can be added to the pits. The main advantages are it prevents the loss of water in the effective root zone due to rise in temperature. It also minimises water requirement. Watering 2 or 3 times weekly is sufficient.
50 to 100 grams of NPK can be added to the pits at regular intervals, during its vegetative growth. Some people practise the use of split doses. the safest is to add organic manure once a month till flowering starts.
Above 2 photos show the plants at 20 days after sowing.
Care must be taken to see the vines do not get wet during watering. This will otherwise lead to fungal infections & the flowers & fruits will rot
The above 2 photos show the plant at above 50 days after sowing. This is the most crucial stage, as manuring is again done to replenish the soil with nutrients.
Flowering and harvesting
Flowering can be seen at 50 to 60 days after sowing. Honey bees and other pollinators have known to increase the yield of the crop up to 15 percent in some cases.
Young gourds start to develop ash formation
the above 3 photos show the flowering & later the harvest index.
Ideally, the ash gourds are harvested, 100 days after sowing. Due to its excellent keeping quality & long shelf life, it can be stored in good ventilated stock rooms, or used to transport in long distances
the above photo shows how a barren hillock can be made productive
The average yield per acre is between 5 to 10 tons.
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Photos and content by Pritham 'Heavy metal farmer' denzil dsouza