Table of Contents
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Varieties
- 3 Planting dates
- 4 Growing dates
- 5 Diseases
- 6 Pests
- 7 Dates uses
- 8 History and facts
Date or date palm (lat. Phoenix dactylifera), is the only species of the genus Phoenix grown for commercial purposes. Other species of this genus, of which there are 12 to 19, are mostly wild dates that are not grown for commercial purposes. The tree most often can be found in Middle Eastern countries and North Africa, and there’s only one European plantation which is located near the Spanish city of Elche.
Another type of palm, the Canary date (lat. Phoenix canariensis) is an endemic species that can be found on the Canary Islands and is widely distributed in the Mediterranean as an ornamental plant.
The date tree reaches 21 to 25 m (69 to 82 ft) in height, while the canopy can be up to 10 m (33 ft) wide. The trunk, usually 2 m (7 ft) in diameter, is densely covered with a pruned stem of old leaf bases. It ends with a crown of graceful, shiny, blue-green and pointed leaves that are about 5 m (16 ft) long.
Flowers branch from leaf axils grown in previous years. Male and female flowers grow on separate plants, so female flowers are artificially pollinated during cultivation by the wind. The flowers are gathered in clusters and bloom in February. We can distinguish female and male flowers by color. The female flowers are white, while the male ones are light brown.
Dates are a single-seeded fruit, usually oblong, but dates vary in shape, size, color, quality and consistency of flesh. They are generally 3 to 7 cm (1.5 - 3 in) in size, 2.5 cm (1 in) in diameter, and their color varies from bright yellow to bright red. One tree can produce up to 70 kg (155 lb) of fruit for one year.
The botanical name of the date, Phoenix dactylifera, probably comes from the Phoenician word "phoenix" meaning palm date, and the Greek word "daktulos" meaning finger, due to the appearance of the fruit.
There are many different varieties of dates, and the most common are Deglet Nour, Medjool and Khadrawy
Often called the queen of dates, this variety is soft to the touch, bright in color and tastes like honey, which distinguishes it from other varieties. This species is very popular in Algeria, Libya and Tunisia.
This is a much darker variety of dates with mild caramel taste. It originates from Morocco, but today it is mostly grown in Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and the USA. They are most often cultivated for commercial purposes (dried dates).
This date is slightly sweet and contains less sugar than other varieties. Khadrawy means "green" and it refers to the greenish appearance of the fruit or to the light green leaves that are the main characteristic of this variety.
The tree can be cultivated either from seeds or shoots cut near the stem when they’re three to six years old and have formed their own roots. Trees begin to bear fruit in the fourth or fifth year and will yield 10 to 15 years. They can live up to 150 years, but as the tree ages, their fruit production drops significantly.
Best time to plant
Even though they can be planted throughout the year, the best time to plant is during moderate temperature seasons. Just make sure you apply sufficient amounts of water.
Planting from seeds
The seeds should first be cleaned with water and then placed in a container with water for a week. The water should be changed approximately once a day to prevent the formation of mold.
After a week, take the seeds and put them on a kitchen napkin, which then should be folded. Place the napkin in a plastic bag in a warm and bright place. Also, pay attention to the mold, and if it occurs, change the napkin immediately.
After about a month the seeds will germinate and are ready for planting. When the seed is planted, it should be watered and then covered with adhesive foil pierced in several places. Place the pot in a dry and warm place. A month later, the first palm tree will appear
Young seedlings should be planted in a hole 90 x 90 cm (3 x 3 ft) in diameter. The soil should be mixed with a mixture of organic fertilizer, sand and ash. Also, add composted organic materials to the mixture. It is recommended to prepare the holes 2 to 3 months before planting. In order to protect the seedlings, surround them by fences, and in addition, apply straw and palm leaves around the shoots in order to reduce water loss.
Growing in garden
In traditional orchards, the density of palm trees should be high with the intention of forming an almost enclosed canopy. The high density provides protection from the wind, thus creating shade and a microclimate in which the harsh conditions of hot and dry climates are mitigated.
However, the high density of palm trees reduces the possibility of growing secondary crops. In specialized plantations, the most common planting system is in a 9 x 9 m (30 x 30 ft) diameter because it provides enough space for the use of machines as well as for the cultivation of secondary crops. Palm trees also can be planted around arable land in combination with other fruit trees.
Dates can be easily grown from seed, but it is still recommended to plant them by shoots obtained by separating them from the mother tree. It is also essential to have at least one male tree on approximately 50 female trees in order for successful pollination.
Although they are most often grown in Africa or the Middle East, if you follow the instructions correctly it is possible to grow them in warm climates.
Since the palm tree has a big canopy it provides a lot of shade therefore carefully plant only those plants that grows best in shade. If you plan on planting vegetables choose leafy greens such as chard, beets arugula, peas, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, lettuce and kale.
If you plan on planting fruits go with blackberries, rhubarb and gooseberries as well as white and red currants, while for herbs choose tarragon, mint, bay, parsley, dill, lemon verbena, chives and lemon balm.
Growing dates require a warm and dry climate. The temperature should never be lower than -6°C (21°F), and the optimum temperature is between 25 and 32°C (77 and 86°F).
As a prerequisite for flowering dates, the temperature should not be lower than 18°C (64°F) in the shade. It requires long days with lots of sun and does not tolerate frost.
Palm dates will grow quite well in sandy, loamy and clay soils. They also tolerate alkaline and moderately saline soils well, but care should be taken with saline soils as too much salt can affect the quality of the dates. The soil should have a pH of 5.2 to 8 and be close to water. Before planting the soil should be well-drained.
Natural fertilizers are extremely important in growing dates, and they also increase yields. Fertilization should be done at the beginning of winter while in March and April it can be fertilized with NPK in the ratio 30:20:50 kg/ha.
The soil should be sufficiently moist and rich, but don’t exaggerate with watering. If the soil is moist enough, the root can develop in as little as 2 months. Palms like constant humidity, but they do not like saturation with water. During ripening, dry weather without precipitation is optimal.
The maintenance of palm trees is not a demanding process because, in addition to being accustomed to dry periods, they should not be over-pruned. The only thing they require is adequate fertilization in order to grow and bear fruit successfully.
Pruning is most often done in late spring or early summer when all old leaves are removed. In order to reduce maintenance, you can also remove some green leaves, but not too much. All weeds should also be removed.
The biggest problem with harvesting dates is getting on top of a palm tree to reach fruit by hand. This is why today mostly is mechanical aid. However, in most cases, many don’t have machines for mechanical harvesting so it is needed to climb a palm tree to get to the fruit. Date fruits ripen in different periods, so picking dates can be done several times a year. They can be picked fresh, semi-dry or dry, depending on the purpose and variety of date.
After harvesting, the dates are sorted, then washed in water and air-dried again (45°C / 113°F). They are then re-sorted and packaged. Sorting is done manually, during which fruits that are infected or damaged are removed. Air drying should result in moisture content of 20% or less to prevent the appearance of mold.
Storage depends on the variety of dates. The optimal storage temperature for dates is 0°C (32°F), which will keep them fresh for 6 to 12 months. Humidity in tanks should be between 70 to 75%. For longer storage, dates can be frozen.
The drying process begins with lying dates on a mat and exposing them to the sun. The required drying temperature ranges from 35 to 45°C (95 to 113°F) for 6 to 7 days. They are then sorted and packaged. Dried dates are sweeter with approximately 65% sugar. When drying in the sun, make sure that dates are not infected with bird droppings or any other disease.
Dates are most commonly affected by fungal diseases that can cause a lot of damage to the entire plantation. The most common ones are Bayoud, Ceratocystis paradoxa and Diplodia.
A fungal disease in which mature leaves become chlorotic (streaked with discoloration) at the bottom of one side resulting in progressive dying of the leaves. The disease is transmitted by soil and it is common in Morocco and Algeria. The infected tree should be uprooted and burned to prevent spreading, and the soil should be treated with methyl bromide or chloropicrin. The plantation area should be closed.
This disease is also of fungal origin and causes dark brown to black lesions on the leaves. It is necessary to cut the infected leaves at the base and burn them immediately.
Another fungal disease whose symptoms are withering of young shoots while still attached to the plant. The fungus usually attacks the palm tree over the pruned parts. To prevent this, tools and equipment should regularly be disinfected, and pruning wounds protected with copper-based fungicides.
Although date palms are mostly affected by the various diseases, there are some pests that can also cause a lot of damage if not taken care of in time. The most common one is Rhinoceros beetle.
The insect is a large black beetle with a curved spine on its head while the larvae are creamy-white with brown heads. The insects are inserted into the crown of the tree, resulting in holes in the leaves or V-shaped cutouts. To get rid of the insect, it is necessary to cut down and burn any rotten parts and remove them from the plantation. A cover crop can also be planted to deter females from laying eggs.
All parts of the dates give products of economic value. The trunk provides wood, the middle parts of the leaves provide material for boxes and furniture, the leaves are used for baskets, the seeds are sometimes ground and used as fodder, etc.
Use in cooking
The fruits can be eaten fresh or dried. When dried, the sugar percentage is as high as 75%. Dates, along with a variety of nuts, are often used to make the "dough" for raw cakes and pastries.
Syrup, alcoholic beverages and vinegar are also obtained from the fruit. The juice is used as a beverage, fresh or fermented, but since it is extremely damaging to the plant, only those trees that bear little fruit are used for the juice.
Use in medicine
Dates are an excellent food for improving health. They are rich in iron, potassium, and have a high proportion of fiber. Fluoride can also be found in dates, which is extremely important for the prevention of caries.
They also contain selenium, a mineral essential for the functioning of the immune system. Furthermore, dates contain as many as 23 types of amino acids and have a beneficial effect on the digestive system (soothe the intestines, prevent constipation, stimulate regular digestion), regulate cholesterol, lower high blood pressure, etc.
Due to their low-calorie content, they are very helpful in losing weight. They also contain phosphorus, but also natural sugars that give energy to the brain and muscles. Dates are important in vegetarian and vegan cuisine because they contain certain substances that are difficult to find in other foods.
History and facts
Fossils found show that the date palm exists for at least 50 million years. Dates are thought to originate from Iraq and have been consumed for thousands of years in the Middle East and Indus Valley area. They were subsequently brought to Southwest Asia, the rest of North Africa, and Spain when the Spaniards took them to Mexico and California in the 18th century.
Today, 8.5 million tons (18.7 billion pounds) of dates are produced in one year, and the main producers are the countries of the Middle East and North Africa.
Foto: Simon Steinberger / Pixabay