Bilva / Bael / Wood Apple Plant Cultivation and Farming
- Bael is used for its medicinal properties
- The leaves and fruits are commonly used
- Fruits are used for juices and jams
- They are found growing naturally in many states including UP Bihar, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh
- They are known to grow in high temperatures from 35-50 degrees clause with moderate rainfall of less than 200 cm per year.
- Grows in all soil types but is best in sandy loam soil with a ph between 5 and 8
- A range of hybrids is redeveloped by each state and they have their own set of qualities. Some yield better than others while some are suitable for certain weather conditions.
- Most hybrid plants are available in the market as budding. Patch budding is the most common and ideal way of reproducing a variety
- The plant requires minimal fertilizers except during the planting time.500 grams of urea 250 gm of phosphorus and 500-gram potash are applied with 10 kg FYM after transplantation.
- Minimal weeding is required for the plant. Weed once a year or once in 2 years. Weeding is done for accessibility to the plants. Weeds usually don’t affect the plant after they are established and are more than 3 feet tall.
- Irrigation is required only during the first year. Irrigation at least once a week in summer is mandatory. twice a week is recommended. During winters, water the plant once a month. From the second year onwards, the plants are usually well-established and don’t require human intervention. Irrigation is recommended during the leaf generation time only and it’s optional.
- Harvesting begins in 6-7 years and peak harvest in 10 years.
- Ethrel treatment is commonly done for the ripening of bael fruits (even premature fruits.)
- The average yield is 300-400 frigates per tree in a year
Cultivation of Bael or The bilva plant in India and its requirements
Climate for Cultivation: Bilva can be grown in any climatic condition as long as the temperature does not go below 4 degrees centigrade. Commercial cultivation is recommended in dry areas where the temperature rises above 35 degrees and tops 45 degrees. The bael plant is hardy and can withstand harsh climatic conditions as long as it’s on the higher side. The bael plant is known to survive desert conditions and come back to life every year without additional input in desert conditions.
Ideal Soil for Cultivation: The best soil conditions are sandy loam, but bael plants are known to grow just as easily in clay soil conditions in many areas. As long as the soil is well drained and does not accumulate water or waterlogging, the bael plant will survive quite well.
Varieties of Bilva: There is a range of hybrids which are developed by Agriculture universities and the saplings are available from the respective universities and nearby nurseries. Since the plants are not commercially viable by farmers, its not widespread and available in most nurseries. It’s best to purchase these plants from agricultural universities and recommended nurseries. The common Varieties are Narendra Bael, CISH, Goma Yashi, Pant Aparna, Pant Shivani, Pant Sujatha and Pant Urvashi.
Propagation: Propagation of Bael plants is done from seeds but if you require true plant varieties and assured quality, the best plants to purchase are the ones grafted. Grafted plants tend to yield fruits faster and guarantee you the same quality of the fruit as the parent.
Season: Bael fruits are ready during the peak of summer. It’s not amazing to see these cooling fruits when it’s in the peak of summer. these fruits are cool to your body and are used to cool your system during peak summer. it’s used in Ayurveda for just that purpose and who doesn’t want to cool down during those hot months? Though the flowers are set several months prior, the fruits take six to 8 months to mature and be ready.
Land Preparation: The bael plant requires minimal care and preparation. But when it comes to the initial preparation for planting these trees a bit of care could go a long way. The required nutrients, a Pit with loosened soil and at least a year of care could ensure good growth in the roots and a long healthy life for the plant. Dig a pit 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet and add at least 10 KG compost or Farm yard manure mixed with 1 kg of Urea and 500 grams of Potash and phosphorus to this pit before planting the saplings. This will ensure that the plant has everything required to grow for a year. There is no other requirement for the plant.
Planting, spacing and density.: these trees do take up space. Unlike smaller plants, they need a bit of space and a lot of air moving through. Sunlight should touch the plant and it should not be crowded. A 10-meter by 10-meter distance between plants is recommended. though this may seem a lot, it’s important to understand that these plants love sunlight and are healthy when there is more sun. They survive harsh weather and at times it does enjoy it. A good distance from each plant also allows intercropping of other plants during the initial stage when there is no other revenue from the area. with a distance of 10 meters by 10 metres an estimated 45 plants can be accommodated in one-acre of land
Intercropping: The Bael plants grow quite slowly when you consider the space of 10 meters by 10 meters. There is plenty of space in between and it will take 3-4 years for the trees to fill in the area. During this 3 – 4 year, the farmers can take up a range of crops depending on the soil condition and weather to add value. All vegetables including cowpea, cucumber, ash board, pumpkin etc can be grown in ridges or open methods. ensure that the crops are not field crops like paddy where water is stagnant in the farm. Any other crop which is annual well suited. as a matter of fact, you could also cultivate papaya and bananas in the same area.
Irrigation: Bael requires minimal irrigation. Irrigation is recommended rarely as rainfed conditions in even the dry areas of the country are sufficient for this plant after the first years. the first year requires frequent irrigation to ensure that the plants establish themselves. Twice a month is preferred during the first year of the crop.
Fertilizers: Fertilisers are usually not applied for the Bael plant. The bael plant is usually one of those few which is not attended to. They grow wild and free in many parts of India and it is just harvested when it’s time. It’s one of those few trees which requires no attention yet gives year after year. Even in commercial cultivation, the bael plant is never fertilized after the first year. Maybe there is a chance of increased yield with bael with additional fertilizers but there are very few reports or studies in this area.
Pests and diseases: Most pests attack the fruits of the bael plant. The leaves are rarely in the attack. There are a few diseases too of concern. Fruit rot, gummosis, leafspot, anthracnose, lemon butterfly and termites are common pests and diseases which affect the bael fruits and trees. they are also affected by fruit cracking, which may be caused by irrigation during the fruit maturity stage.
Training and Pruning: Training may be required if you intend to branch out the plants and shape them to your desire. though it’s rarely done and practised, training and pruning have been proven to increase branching in all trees and are recommended. The same applies to the bael tree too. Increased yield can be a possibility with proper training and care for the ball plant
Harvesting: Harvesting the Bael fruit happens during April and May. The plants are picked from the trees using poles. the fruits should have a 1-centimetre stem attached to the fruit for a better ripening of the fruit and avoid diseases during the ripening. care should be taken so that the fruits are not dropped to the ground as the fruits with injuries tend to rot from the inside and also some may crack during the fall.
Post Harvest: Fruits are stored for up to 3 weeks for ripening. Harvested fruits are rarely ready to use and it takes 2-3 weeks for ripening of the fruits. The fruits are treated with three for faster and uniform ripening but can be done naturally within 3 weeks. Since the time to ripen the fruits are high, it’s easier to transport these fruits and not worry about them being perished. the bael fruit has a good shelf life from picking to ripening.
Yield: An average plant after the 15th year will give 300 – 400 fruits per tree. the trees are known to give up to 800 fruits a year when they reach 40 years. Each fruit weighs around 350 grams and around 5 tonnes per acre from the 12th year.
Area of cultivation: The dryer parts of the country are best preferred for bael plants. though it can be cultivated in humid weather conditions like Kerala, it’s not a recommended plant due to the possibility of more diseases. Areas like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Karnataka, Telangana and up are excellent for growing Bael. These areas are considerably drier and best suited for bael cultivation
Market information: The market for bael is slowly evolving. it’s impossible to say what the future has in hand but as of date, there are limited uses for the fruits. In the field of ayurvedic medicine, there are a lot of uses but the market is quite steady and there are a few players who are already supplying them. The fruits have a small market in rural areas but in urban India, the market is limited as many people are not aware of the fruit and its uses. there may be a chance that these fruits make it to tabletops in urban India with a bit of education and marketing.