|Latin Name : Piper Nigrum Linn|
|Family : Piperaceae|
|Genus : Capsic|
|Colour : Clear or Whitish to pale olive|
|Common names : Black pepper, Green pepper, Pink pepper, White pepper|
Pepper, the king of all spices is considered as the oldest and best known spice in the world. The name pepper comes from the Sanskrit word 'pippali' which means berry. Native to Western Ghats in India, this perennial climbing vine is now widely cultivated not only in India but also in countries like Thailand, Africa, Brazil etc. It is ideal for planting in the ground as well as in a container. Pepper corns are very strong in aroma and taste and can be stored for many years without losing its flavor. It is commonly used in all dishes as a very popular spice and in canned foods as a flavouring agent. It has medicinal properties for fighting colds, flu and infections, to energize, increase circulation, to warm and relieve muscle aches and stiffness etc.
Pepper vine grows to a height of about 10m. The woody stem is smooth but swollen at the joints. The dark green shiny leaves are broad and pointed (heart shaped), and arranged alternatively on the stem. The white, small flowers are borne in clusters in a slender spike and bears 50-60 small round green fruits, each about 1cm in diameter. When ripe, the fruits become yellowish red.Propagation, Planting and Harvesting
Pepper is grown in all seasons through out the year. There are different varieties of pepper such as Betal pepper (Piper betle), Indian long pepper (Piper longum), Java long pepper (Piper retrofractum), Rough leaved pepper (Piper amalago) etc.
The plant prefers well drained loamy soils rich in organic matter with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. The plant requires partial shade but fairly high temperature and sufficient water. The plant can be kept in full sun but must be shaded during the heat of day to protect against sunscald. Too much heat can damage the fruit. They need a long season to ripen, so choose an early variety.
Propagation is usually by stem cuttings and also by seeds. The vine is usually grown near a tree so that the tree trunks will serve as a support or a pole is set near it for the vine to climb up. Water to keep the soil moist but not soggy. If buying a pepper plant, choose ones with dark green leaves with no blossoms or fruits.
Pepper plants start bearing fruits 2-3 years after planting. The fruits are ready to be harvested 6-8 months after flowering. They are usually harvested while they are still green and the best time to pick them is when fruits lower down the spike begin to redden. But sometimes the fruits are allowed to ripen before they are picked. Always cut the fruit spikes from the plant. Avoid pulling them. A plant can keep on producing for many long years under favourable conditions.
The fruits are treated in many ways. The green fruits are sun dried for 7-10 days until the flesh around the single hard seed is wrinkled and become grayish black, then ground into black pepper or sold as whole peppercorns. The green pepper picked much earlier before ripening is air dried and used as such. The milder white pepper is made from the same fruits which are allowed to ripen. They are soaked in water for a week before drying and the flesh is removed before the seeds are ground.Problems and Care
In Bacterial spot disease, spots appear on leaves, stems, and fruits. These spots enlarge up to 1/4 inch in diameter, turn dark brown, and are slightly raised. Eventually the leaves yellow and drop off. Leaf symptoms appear first on the undersides of leaves as small water-soaked areas. Phytophthora blight or Quick wilt disease (root rot) is another destructive disease and occurs mainly during monsoon season. All parts of the vine are vulnerable to the disease and sudden wilting and death occur as plants reach the fruiting stage. The plant is also susceptible to many viral diseases of which Cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) is one of the major virus. The symptoms often appear on lower, mature leaves and on fruits as ring-spot or oak-leaf necrotic patterns.
The best protection against diseases is to choose resistant varieties and to rotate crops as much as possible. Avoid planting the peppers where other members of the nightshade family have been previously planted as they are subject to similar diseases. Sunscald is caused by too much sun on the pepper, due to inadequate leaf coverage. Shade pepper in the heat of the day. Water to keep the soil moist but not soggy to encourage root development and prevent blossom wilting and bitter tasting peppers.
Fertilize occasionally with a seaweed foliar spray (always under clouds or shade - never in full sun). A spray of a small spoonful of epsom salts in water rectifies magnesium deficiency and coffee seeds powdered and tea leaves, fish leftovers add nitrogen, banana peels add potassium and egg shells add calcium to the soil. Mulch with partially decomposed compost after soil has warmed, to prevent weeds, keep soil evenly moist, and provide disease protection. Don't put mulch in contact with plant stem.
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