Areca nut or betel nut is an extensively cultivated tropical palm the nuts of which form a popular masticatory in India, the Middle East, and Far East. India produces annually 150,000 tones of areca nut from an area of 18,34,000ha. It is a tall-stemmed erect palm, reaching varied heights, depending upon the environmental conditions. Palms attaining a height of 30 meters are not uncommon.
CLIMATE. The altitude at which the areca nut palm can, be successfully grown varies to some extent according, to the latitude of the place. Though it grows at altitudes up to 1,000 m above the sea level, at higher altitudes it is not at all productive. The cultivation is mostly confined to 28′ North and South of the Equator. It is unable to withstand extremes of temperatures and wide diurnal variations. The range of temperature at which it can flourish is from about 15′ to 38′ C.
Areca thrives well in a variety of soils, the laterite soils of the West Coast, the red loamy soils of the Mettupalayam (Tamil Nadu), the alluvial of Assam and West Bengal and the loans of Orissa. The foremost factor that has to be considered in establishing an areca nut plantation is that the site selected should have adequate facilities for irrigation. The soil also should be deep and, well drained, without a high water table. Being, highly susceptible to a sun-scorch, the areca palms need adequate protection from exposure to the southwestern sun.
SELECTION AND RAISING THE PLANTING-MATERIAL. It is important to select genetically superior planting- material for which mother-palms possessing characters of high heritability, correlated with high yield are to be identified. Of the many mother-palm characters studied, the age at first bearing and the percentage of the nuts set were found to be correlated with yield and having high heritability. The selection of seed nuts may be commenced only after the stabilization of yield of the palm. This stabilization generally takes 4 to 5, years from the first bearing. Only fully ripe nuts should be selected as seed nuts, discarding underdeveloped and malformed ones.
NURSERY. The selected seed nuts are sown soon after harvest, 5 to 6 cm apart, in beds of sand under partial shade, with their stalk-ends pointing upwards. Sand is spread over the nuts just to cover them. The nuts are irrigated daily. Germination starts about 40 days after sowing and the sprouts are ready for transplanting when they are about three months old. Nursery-beds of 150 cm width and of convenient length are prepared for transplanting sprouts. The sprouts are to be transplanted at a spacing of 30x30cm with the onset of the monsoon. A basal dose of well-decomposed cattle manure at the rate of 5 tones per hectare may be applied. Partial shade can also be provided with an artificial pandal or by raising crops alike Coccinia indica. The seedlings are transplanted when they are 12 to 18 months old. Seedlings having max number of leaves and min height are selected for transplanting.
PREPARATION OF LAND AND TRANSPLANTING. The land is prepared well by digging or repeated ploughing and is leveled and terraced, if necessary. Channels are to be provided if the palms are to be grown under irrigation. The drainage of soil is to be attended to.
Pits of 90cu cm dug at 2.7m apart both ways are used for planting seeds. The seedling is to be planted in the center of the pit covered with soil up to the collar. The soil is to be pressed on all sides. Planting is done usually in May-June in well-drained soils, but in clayey soils, subject to waterlogging, planting can be postponed till August-September to obtain a better establishing of plants. A shade crop like banana can be rose which gives good return. A proper alignment of the plantation will prevent scorching of the stem. In the square system of planting at a spacing of 2.7×2.7m the north-south line should be deflected at an angle 35oto the west. Growing tall and quick growing shade trees can protect the outermost row of plants on the southern and southwestern side.
MANURING AND INTERCULTURE. A steady and high yield will depend much on the adequate availability of plant nutrients in the soil. This is all the more important in the case of such a perennial crop. Since almost all the areca nut-growing areas are in heavy-rainfall tracts the soils are liable to leaching and erosion thus making them poor in major plant nutrient and organic matter.
The annual application of 100g of N, 40g of P2O5 and 140kg of K2O in the form of fertilizers and 12 kg each of green manure and compost and cattle manure per bearing palm is recommended. The fertilizers may be applied in two split doses .For young palms a full dose of green manure and compost or cattle-dung may be applied from the first year of planting. The second dose of fertilizer can be applied to the base of each palm all around and mixed by a light forking. The soils are mostly acidic. The application of lime corrects this, increases availability of soil nutrients, reduces the phosphorus fixation and enhances the general condition of the soil. The application of lime has to be completed at least three weeks before manuring in September-October.
The palms may be irrigated once in 3-5 days. In southern Kerela where areca nut is mainly grown it has been found that manuring along with irrigation gives three times more yield than manuring alone. Adequate drainage should also be provided since the palms cannot stand waterlogging. The main cultural operations are performed close to monsoon generally in October-November. Where the land is sloppy, terracing has to he done to prevent soil erosion, the raising of green manure crops, such as Mimosa invisa, Stylosanthes gracillis and Calopogonum mucunoids was also found to be advantageous. Owing to the long pre-bearing age of this palm, practically no income is obtained during the first several years. Intercropping with suitable crops, such as elephant foot-yam, banana, guinea-grass or mixed cropping with cacao, pepper and betelyine can be taken up in areca gardens without any detriment to the yield of the main crop. The culling out of uneconomic trees and replacing them with good seedlings is important in maintaining a high level of productivity (of the garden).
HARVESTING. The pre-bearing age of the palm ranges from 5 to 8 years. Though inflorescence initiation has been observed in every leaf axis, there is absorption of infloroscences to about 5 per cent. The plant is monoecious, producing both male and female flowers on the same tree. The spedix of a grown-up palm produces on an average, 294 female flowers. The colour of the fruit during its growth changes from green to different shades of Yellow and red during ripening. In some places, tender cuts are harvested, whereas in others, both immature and mature nuts are harvested. Tender nuts are harvested from July to December and ripe nuts from December to March or from May to July. Three or four plucking are, done during the whole season.
PLANT PRODUCE AND PRODUCTS. Areca nut is consumed both as a raw/ripe nut (adaka or Kacha tamul) as dried ripe nut (chali supari) and as semi-mature cut and processed varieties ‘Batoldike” or ‘Kalipak’. There are over 150 trade types, differing in maturity, processing conditions and varying in their taste characteristics as per market conditions prevailing at different centres of the country. The drying of the whole fruits for making chali supari requires up to 40 to 45 days of good sun- shine, so as to get a moisture level of about 10 per cent. Drying ripe nuts on cement floors reduce fungal infection of the nuts to a minimum level of about 5 per cent. A drier designed recently has been found to be most suitable to produce good quality chali supari. The cup shaped nuts are prepared by boiling tender areca nuts after husking and cutting into halves. Frequent additions of the decoction commonly known as chogaru obtained by the pressure boiling of tender nuts are added to the nuts. Later the nuts are dried over mats in the sun for about 7 days. An important by-product is the husk of the nuts which can be utilized for making boards, paper etc. The spathe covering the inflorescence and the leaf sheath can be used for making caps and for packing. The palm trunk is a useful building material.
VARIETIES. Of the several varieties of the genus areca, A. catechu is the most commonly cultivated species. Five exotic introductions viz. VTL2, 11,12,13,17 and an indigenous one ‘mohitnagar’ have been found to be superior to the local variety in economic attributes. Of these VTL3 has been released by the Central Variety Release Committee under the name ‘mangala’. ‘Mangala’ is an introduction from the orient. It is a semi-tall early-bearing variety, about 70 percent more than the local variety.