Agronomy

Caper plantings are productive for at least 25 to 30 years, so site selection is important. Soil, water availability and climate are the main aspects to be considered, with the caper growing best on non-stratified, medium-textured loamy soils.

The ground is prepared through mouldboard ploughing and harrowing or digging backhoe pits for each caper if the ground is rocky.

Plants are usually planted in a square design and spaced from 2 to 6 meters apart to accommodate their sprawling growth.

Fertilisation can take place 20-30 days before planting or be applied at planting. The type of fertliser used and application rates are related to plant age and soil nutrient content. Phosphate and potassium fertilisers are generally applied every two to three years.

Capers in the field (Photo courtesy of David and Kathy Cox)

First-year plants can be mulched and in low-rainfall areas approximately 200 l of water is applied to plants over the first year. Overwatering must be avoided: wet roots will kill the caper plant.

Water is the most limiting production factor and where possible plants should be drip irrigated to encourage productivity.

A yield of from 1.5 to 5 kg per plant can be expected in three to five years.

Plants are heavily pruned back while dormant in winter to remove dead wood and watershoots. This is essential for production as flower buds arise on 1-year-old branches.

Competition with weeds can be particularly serious while establishing young plants, and some herbicide treatment might be required along with mechanical weed removal. Mulch is also effective in limiting weed growth. Once the caper is established most of the ground is rapidly covered by the caper bush canopy and weed development is largely suppressed.

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