The custard apple which is popularly known as sugar apple and sweetsop is a native of West Indies and tropical America. It is grown in a wild form in many parts of the world. The custard apple tree can reach up to a height of 4 to 7 metres and the structure of the leaves is thin and oblong. However, the flowers are greenish to yellow. The fruit is spherical through conical with a usual weight of about 125 to 250 grams. The fruit is 7 to 9 cm long and has a diameter of 6 to 10 cm. Custard apple has knobby segments with a flesh of fragrant and sweet, creamy white. The flesh the fruit resembles custard. Based on the variety each fruit can have up to 20-30 black seeds. The colour of the root varies from pale green to deep green.
During the early stages, custard apples are hard in nature. Custard apples can be eaten fresh and its pulp is used in sweets like ice cream, smoothies, cakes, fruit salads etc. Along with great nutritious value, custard apples come with good health benefits. This tree’s leaves, root, seeds and unripe fruits have medicinal values as well. Many hybrid varieties of custard apples have been developed in Asian countries. Since this fruit has an excellent seasonal demand, the cultivation of custard apple is growing annually. Decent yields and profit can be obtained from custard apple cultivation, provided that good orchard management practices are followed. Another attractive feature of custard apple cultivation is that they can be cultivated in containers, backyards, pots as well where at least 6 to 7 hours direct sunlight is available.
A wide variety of soil is suitable for custard cultivation provided that there is a good drainage facility. Fertile sandy, shallow, marginal lands and wastelands are all suitable for custard apple cultivation. This tree shouldn’t be cultivated in regions where the sub-soil is ill-drained. Soil with high alkalinity, chlorine, poor- drainage is to be avoided when it comes to custard apple cultivation. Waterlogged soil should be avoided. 5.5 to 6.5 is the ideal pH range for custard apple cultivation.
Seed Sowing, Planting and Spacing
The planting method of triangular or square systems can be adapted in custard apple cultivation. The seeds can be directly sown on the field or seedlings can be grown on nursery beds. For quick plant growth grafting method is ideal than sowing method. In the case of seed sowing, there is an ideal temperature requirement of 18°C to 26°C. Until full germination, direct sunlight must be avoided. Seeds that grow in these conditions usually produce seedlings within 3 weeks. However, germinating these in colder climates may take up to 60 days.
The pits are dug with a size of 60cm x 60cm x 60cm at a spacing of 5cm x 5cm (plant to plant and row to row distance). The above-said measurements can vary according to soil variety and planting method. The pits should be ready prior to the rainy season. Fill these pits with topsoil and 25 kg of farmyard manure (like cow dung). Along with FMY, you can also apply single super phosphate and neem cake under dry conditions. Saplings are planted in the centre of pits once the rain starts. The basic requirements like staking, providing shade and watering should be done after planting in the field. You can buy high yielding hybrid custard apple varieties in certified nurseries for your plantation.
Manures and Fertilizer
1 to 2 years - 75:50:50 (NPK) kg/ha
3 to 5 years - 150:100:100 (NPK) kg/ha
Above 5 years - 250:125:125 (NPK) kg/ha
Apart from above NPK, you can add any green manure or farmyard manure every year before the monsoon.
Pests and Diseases
It is of critical importance that timely control of pests and diseases is done so that the crop can produce a good yield. Being hardy trees, they are less susceptible to pests and diseases. However, you should be aware of plant protection in case of any disease attack. Trees may suffer from:
Fruit boring caterpillar
It is advisable to use appropriate chemical controls. If you are doing organic cultivation then herbal based controls should be applied. Spraying with neem oil is recommended. Your local horticulture department will be a good source of seeking information about pests and diseases in Custard Apple Cultivation. Don’t attempt or experiment on your own without knowing the symptoms and causes of pests and diseases.
Generally, there is a colour change of the fruit during maturity (from dark green to light pale green). Fruit maturity after flowering takes three to four months. Ripening fruits indicate cracking in carpels. You can hand pick them before sending to market. If you delay in harvesting, they will ripe on the tree and falls off.
On an average, a well-grown tree can produce about 100 fruits. The fruits can weigh from 100 to 250 grams. Arka sahana hybrid variety produces 25 tonnes of fruits/ ha. There are many growth regulators available in the market for improving fruit set.
The fruits that are freshly harvested are packed in cardboards and transported to local markets or fruit processing factories. Distant marketing requires extra care as custard apples have a poor shelf life
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