Ber (Zizyphus mauritiana) is very common fruit in the warm subtropical regions of Pakistan. Ber is an indigenous and ancient fruit of Pakistan, India, China, and Malaysia region. It is regularly grown as border trees or windbreaks. The fruits are very much nutritious and rich source of vitamin C, A and B complex. It is very common and significant fruit of rural areas in Pakistan. Ber is commonly known as poor man’s apple due to its nutritional value. Owing to its wide cultivation, it is also called as poor man’s fruit.
H. Kashif Ali*, Dr. Zaid Mustafa**, Mujahid Ali*
(*College of Agriculture, UOS; **Horticultural Research Station, Nowshera)
Ber trees are used for rearing lac insect, the leaves along with tender shoots are used as fodder, wood is used as fuel and for medicinal purposes. Ber fruit is usually eaten fresh. It can be used for the preparation of murabba, candy, and chutney. Squash or nectar can be prepared from its pulp. The fruits of wild varieties particularly Malah ber (Z. numularia) are dried in sun and are sold during offseason. The tree is recumbent and spreading in nature, branches are vine-like. Leaves are dark green and hairy on the underside. Leaves shed after crop harvesting or during summer. Flowers produced on the fresh growth in autumn. Fruit starts ripping in winter or early spring.
Interestingly among the fruit trees, ber cultivation needs perhaps the least inputs and care. It gives good production even without irrigation. The tree can, therefore give assured income even under marginal growing conditions and provides nutritious food at very low cost. The fruit is dried and is used as a dessert fruit. It can also be preserved as a candied fruit. The ber is a hardy fruit and grows well all over the country under varying climatic conditions and up to an elevation of 1000 meters above sea level. For its successful cultivation, it favors a hot and dry climate.
Ber plant can be grown on a variety of soil but grow well on the deep, well-drained soil, extreme drought-resistant plant, also tolerate waterlogged conditions, survive the temperature up to 45-500C and ber plant cannot tolerate severe frost in winter. The plant develops a very deep tap root system in a brief period of growth. There are some important varieties of ber like Umran No.13, Umran No.9, Karaka, Gola, Seb, Chhuhara, Mehrun, cv. Umran, Kernel Local, and Gohar.
The ber is commonly propagated by seeds during the earlier period, but the problem of this method is heterozygosity and variability in the progeny of seedling. Therefore, asexual propagation is recommended usually shield budding is used. 3-4 seeds are planted at a site, which germinates in 4-5 weeks. They are shield budded at the age of 19-21 months in situ. Ber plants start bearing after 3-4 years of planting. They have planted at the distance of 12-13 m apart in an orchard, if planted as a windbreak then distance is 8-10 m apart.
Monsoon season is the best season of ber planting. In Northern India, planting is done either in February-March or July-September. After the layout, pits of 60x60x60 cm are dug. About 100 g of 10 percent carbaryl or Aldrex dust is sprinkled on the bottom sides of pits to prevent termites. Pits are filled with topsoil mixed with 20 kg farmyard manure and 1 kg superphosphates. Treated seeds or bud grafts are planted in these pits at the onset of Monsoon. The area around the young plant is kept clean by weeding and hoeing. Under irrigated conditions, low growing vegetables can be grown as intercrops. Under rainfed conditions legume crops like moong, moth, cowpea can be grown as intercropping.
Ber trees would attain bushy, large unmanageable form but the production per unit area is quite low. To keep the plant in manageable shape and size, trees be trained properly during first 2-3 years to build a strong framework. By providing support with the bamboo stick to the new growth of sprout from either in situ or transplanted seedling, vertical growth is encouraged. Once the growth is about 1-1.5 meter, the terminal growth is pinched, allowing lower buds on the main stem to sprout and form main branches. Thus, plants are trained by pruning and kept in manageable shape, size with a well-developed framework.
Pruning is an essential operation in ber production as fruits are borne in the axil of leaves on the young shoots of the current season. Pruning is, therefore, done every year to induce the maximum number of new healthy shoots which bear excellent quality fruits.
The growth regulators like GA, NAA, CCC, and Ethephon were used. Gibberellic acid (10 ppm) and NAA (10 ppm) during fruit development and ethephon, one month before harvesting were sprayed. Application of NAA increased the yield of fruits with the cost-benefit ratio of 1:3:30.
Ber is a drought-resistant plant but irrigation during fruit development improves fruit quality and yield. Like other fruit trees, ber also requires regular application of manures and fertilizers for good yields. Application of 3-5 baskets of Farmyard manure, 250 g N per tree (split into 2 equal doses) and 250 g P2O5 per tree + 50 g K2O per tree (single dose) per year for the full-grown tree (5 years and thereafter) is recommended for better yield and quality of fruits.
Ber fruit fly is one of the important pests of ber, which is extensively distributed throughout India. The infested fruits turn brown, rot and smell offensively. The pest can be controlled by spraying 3 to 4 times with Carbaryl-50 WP 0.2% or Dimethoate-30 EC-0.03% commencing from the attainment of fruits of the pea size. Among the diseases, powdery mildew is very common on ber fruits. Small whitish spots appear on young fruits, which later enlarge and cover the entire fruit. The affected fruits either drop off or become corky, misshapen and under-developed. The disease can be controlled by dusting with sulfur @ 150 to 200 g /tree and subsequent 3 dustings at an interval of 15-20 days. Alternaria leaf spot and Cercospora leaf spot also appears in the form of grey spots on leaves. Both these diseases are effectively controlled by spraying dithane M-45 (0.25%) or foltart (0.1%) as soon as the disease appears. Subsequent 2 to 3 sprays can be given at an interval of 15 to 20 days depending upon the intensity of the disease.
The ber fruits are harvested in 4 or 5 pickings since all the fruits on the tree do not mature at one time. The fruit picking is done by hand using a ladder. The fruits should be harvested at the proper stage of maturity. The best index of the correct picking stage is the characteristic maturity color and softness of cultivar after the fruit has attained the full size.
Under dryland (when just depend on rainfall) conditions, on an average 60-80 kg fruits per tree per year can be harvested. Under irrigated situations yield will be 3-4 times higher. The under-ripe, over-ripe and damaged fruits are sorted out. The remaining healthy fruits are graded in two grades, large and small according to size. Fruits are packed in gunny bags, wooden boxes and in cardboard boxes.
There is need to enhance cultivation of ber. Now a day ber seedless varieties are becoming popular due to consumer preference. The government should act by starting a project for its quality seed production and its recommended management practices which have been ignored in the past. They should encourage its cultivation as an agro-forestry Agri-scientist should focus its breeding for its dwarfness and quality of fruit to remove its sour taste.