Drumstick (Moringa oleifera) is popularly known as moringa or horseradish tree. It is a medium-size tree and is known for its wide variety of uses and nutritional values. The tender leaves and immature pods are used in different culinary preparations. Pods are valued for their distinct inviting flavor. Different parts of this plant contain a profile of important minerals like iron and calcium and are a good source of protein, vitamins B and C, ß-carotene, amino acids, and various phenolics. In India, the drumstick is cultivated in 38,000 ha with an annual production of 1.1 to 1.3 million tonnes of immature pods. Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Gujarat, and Maharashtra are the major drumstick-growing states.
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Climate and Soil
Drumstick, a tropical plant growing well in plains, is found growing in the sub-tropical climate also. It is predominantly a crop of the dry and arid tract, where it performs well with high yields. The optimum temperature for better growth is 25-35°C. It is highly susceptible to frost and temperature exceeding 40°C, which cause flower shedding. June to October is the ideal season for sowing or planting.
Drumstick is not very exacting in soil requirements. It grows well in almost all types of soil except stiff clays. A deep sandy loam soil with a pH of 6.5-8.0 is the best suited for its cultivation.
The following are a few locally named types of drumstick cultivated in India.
Chavakacheri murungai: It was introduced from a village Chavakacheri near Jaffna (Sri Lanka). It is an ecotype of the Jaffna type that bears pods as long as 90-120 cm, which gets damaged during transportation. This type is grown mostly in home gardens and yields 500 600 pods/tree/year.
Chem murungai: It is another ecotype of the Jaffna type with a tip of the pod being red in color. It flowers and fruits throughout the year and yields 400-500 pods/ tree/year. Jaffna type: Yazhpanam Murungai, the Tamil equivalent of Jaffna type, is a popular drumstick in South India and is said to be introduced from Jaffna. It is highly suited for coastal tracts of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka. It bears long pods of 60-90 cm with the soft flesh of good taste. It yields 400 pods/tree/year from the second year of planting, which increases to 600 pods from the third year of planting.
Kodikkal murungai: This is cultivated predominantly in the betelvine gardens of Tiruchirapalli, Tirunelveli, Thanjavur, and Dharmapuri districts of Tamil Nadu. It is an annual type and seeds are sown in the field 3 months before planting of betelvine and the betelvine cuttings are planted near drumstick. The drumstick provides shade besides acting as a support for betelvine. The pods of this type are 20-25 cm in length with thick flesh.
Kattu murungai: This type is seen in the Chidambaram area in the South Arcot district of Tamil Nadu. This is a wild type producing small and inferior quality pods. The pods are 30-60 cm long and fleshy but used as cattle feed.
Moolanur murungai: It is a local type commercially grown in the Moolanur area of Erode district in Tamil Nadu. The fruits are 30-35 cm long with very soft flesh. The tree yields about 500-600 pods/year.
Pal murungai: It is also another ecotype of the Jaffna type. It is preferred for its thick pulp and better taste of pods. It yields 400-500 pods/tree/year.
Palamedu murungai: It is cultivated in the Madurai district of Tamil Nadu. Pods are 60-75 cm long with good taste.
Puna murungai: It is another ecotype grown in the home gardens of Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari districts of Tamil Nadu. It produces very short pods of 15-25 cm in length and yields 300-400 pods/tree/year.
Saragva: This is a perennial type, very much popular in Gujarat. The pods are 40-50 cm long, dark green in color, and stout with high pulp content.
Saragvi: This is also a perennial type, popular in Gujarat. The pods are light green and 40-60 cm long.
In addition to these types, the following improved varieties are under cultivation in different parts of India.
Anupama: It is a perennial type and each tree produces 300 pods/year with a yield of 18.75 tonnes/ha. The pods are 55.5 cm in length and 7.5 cm in girth.
Bhagya: The tree grows to a height of 2-4 m and comes to flowering in 100-110 days and harvesting in 160-180 days after planting. The pods are 60-70 cm in length and 350-400 pods are produced/tree/year.
Dhanaraj: The trees of this variety are dwarf (2.0-2.5 m) exhibit a self-pruning nature. It starts bearing in 9-10 months after planting. Each tree produces 250-300 pods of 35-40 cm long and 40 g weight.
GKVK 1, 2, and 3 (Gandhi Krishi Vijna Kendra 1,2, and 3): These are short-stemmed varieties growing to a height of 2-2.5 m. Each tree yields 120-200 pods/year.
KM 1: It is a selection from an annual type propagated by seeds. The pods are short (32-37 cm in length) and thick (5.5-6.0 cm in girth), each weighing 65-82 g. Number of pods/tree/year is 220-320, which weigh 15.0-27.0 kg.
Konkan ruchira: It is a selection from Vasai Local, which is an annual bushy type. Flowering takes place 90-100 days after planting. Each tree yields 275 pods weighing 30-35 kg/year. The pods are dark green, medium-long, and are of the best quality.
PKM 1 (Periyakulam 1): It is an annual type evolved through selection from Eppothum Vendran Local of Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu. The plants grow to a height of 4-6 m and come to flowering in 100-125 days after sowing. Each tree bears on an average 200-350 pod/year with a yield of 50-54 tonnes/ha. The pods are 60-75 cm long with 6.0 cm girth and 150 g weight.
PKM 2 (Periyakulam 2): It is a hybrid derivative of the cross between MP 31 and MP 28. The plants grow to a height of 4-8 m in 6 months. It bears flowers in clusters and 3-4 pods are produced in each cluster. The plant starts flowering in 100-110 days and pods can be harvested in 170-180 days. Each pod weighs 280 g with a length of 125 cm and girth of 8.0 cm. Seed content is less with more flesh. Each tree yields on an average about 220 pods weighing 62 kg with a yield of 98 tonnes/ha.
Rohit 1: The tree comes to harvest in 6 months and 2 crops are harvested in a year. The pods are dark green and 45-60 cm long weighing 60-70 g. The tree bears 400 600 pods/year. The tree can be retained for 8-10 years.
Annual types are propagated by seeds and 500 g of seeds are required for 1 ha. However, the perennial types are propagated by limb cuttings or air layers. Stem cuttings of 1.0 m length and 14-16 cm in circumference (limb cuttings) obtained from selected trees are planted in situ or air layers are used for planting during June October.
Mass multiplication of elite planting materials can also be taken up through micropropagation. Nodal bud and shoot tip explants are surface sterilized with ethanol (70%) for 30 seconds + sodium hypochlorite (0.5%) for 3 minutes + mercuric chloride (0.1%) for 3 minutes + streptomycin sulphate (1.0%) for 1 minute. Inoculation of explants in half MS medium for initial culture establishment, full MS medium + BAP 1.5 mg/liter for multiple shoot induction, and full MS medium + GA, 1.5 mg/liter for shoot elongation are ideal. Half MS medium has to be used for root initiation.
In perennial types, the limb cuttings or air layers are planted in well-prepared pits of 60 cm x 60 cm x 60 cm at a spacing of 3.0 cm x 3.0 cm in a square system. The air layers are better than limb cuttings with good establishment and growth. For annual types, pits of 45 cm x 45 cm x 45 cm are dug with a spacing of 2.0 cm x 2.0 m in poor soils and 2.5 m x 2.5 m infertile soils. The pits are filled with a mixture of topsoil and 15 kg of farmyard manure/pit. The seeds can be either sown in situ in prepared pits or 30-day-old seedlings raised in polyethylene bags can be planted. Additionally, 75 100 plants are to be raised in polyethylene bags for gap filling 1 month after planting. For leaf production, the seeds of PKM 1 can be sown at a spacing of 45 cm x 45 cm, and leaves cut periodically.
Besides the application of 15 kg of farmyard manure at the time of planting, a fertilizer dose of 45:15:30 g of NPK/pit has to be applied 3 months after sowing, followed by application of 45 g of N/pit 6 months after sowing.
High-density planting and fertigation
High-density planting at 1.5 m x 1.0 m spacing with 2 plants/hill and fertigation with 135:23:45 g of NPK/pit through drip irrigation increased the yield in PKM 1. The phosphorus should be applied basally as soil application and N and K are to be applied in the form of urea and muriate of potash, respectively, through a drip. In PKM 2, the spacing of 1.2 m x 1.2 m with pinching of main shoots on the 80th day after sowing is ideal to increase yield.
Drumstick is a drought-tolerant crop and as such does not require much irrigation. The pits are to be irrigated before sowing and on the third day after sowing. Later on, irrigation is given once in 10-15 days according to soil types. Water stagnation should be avoided.
Gap filling has to be done 1 month after sowing. When the seedlings reach 75 cm height, the shoot tips are to be pinched off to encourage side branches. In plants that are exposed to heavy winds, the slender branches break easily at the joints especially when fully loaded with fruits. In such situations, mounds are to be formed around the tree trunks up to a height of 30-45 cm from the ground level besides giving support to the branches. When the plants are young, short-duration vegetables like cowpea, okra, and tomato can be grown as intercrop.
In PKM 1, sowing on May 15 and spraying of Nitrobenzene (0.5%) twice at 15 days interval from the third month after sowing or pruning on July 15 for ratoon crop and spraying of Mepiquat chloride (50 ppm) twice at 1 and 2 months after pruning can be followed to obtain economic yield during off-season (November to February) under Tamil Nadu conditions.
Ratooning in Drumstick (Moringa)
In annual types, the trees are cut back to 90 cm from ground level after the harvest is over. In 4-5 months, plants will be ready for harvest and two ratoon crops can be taken. The fertilizer dose of 45:15:30 g NPK/plant along with 25 kg of FYM or compost is applied within a week after cutting back. In perennial types, the trees are maintained for about 15 years and then pollarded or cut back to about 0.3 to 0.45 m height from the ground level, followed by manuring.
Diseases and pests
There are no serious diseases affecting the economic yield of the crop.
Pod fly, budworm, leaf caterpillar, leaf Webber, and hairy caterpillar incidence have been reported.
Harvesting and Post-harvest management
The annual types come to harvest 6 months after sowing, while the perennial types propagated by limb cuttings or air layers take 8-9 months for bearing. Pods of edible maturity are harvested and will generally be ready for harvest 60 days after flowering. The period of harvest extends to 2-3 months and each tree bears 200-350 pods in annual types. The harvesting and yield trend will be similar in the ratoon crops. In perennial types, the yield will be 200-400 pods/tree/year in the first two years of bearing. Subsequently, it increases to 500-600 fruits/tree/year from the fourth year onwards. The pods are available mainly during March-June and a second crop can be harvested in September-October.
There are two methods of packing for marketing. In the first method, bundles of 25 pods are considered the basic unit for fixing price. In the other method, the pods are packed and sold on a weight basis.
A number of value-added products like leaf powder, dehydrated flower, pod powder, pulp powder, dehydrated pods, canned pods, pickle, chutney, and soup mix can be prepared. Seeds of drumstick are one of the best natural coagulants and possess antimicrobial properties. The seed powder can be used for water clarification.