Cultivation of the Coco-nut.
[From the Bulletin of the Botanical Department, Jamaica, 2, 182.] Soil and Climate.—A moist, tropical climate, with good and somewhat sandy soil, near the sea, is the best for the growth of the coco-nut palm. If the tide rises so that the sea may flow in daily over the plantation, so much the better, but drains must then be made, so as to allow the water to run off freely.
Sowing.—Ripe, dry nuts only should be used, and the very largest that can be obtained. Nuts for seed should be gathered from trees that are mature, but not too old, and kept dry for five or six weeks before planting. The nursery bed should be made under slight shade, such as that of the coco-nut palm; it should be thoroughly dug to a depth of two feet, and the soil well mixed up with ashes and coarse salt. At the beginning of the season's rains the nuts are put into this seed-bed on their side, at a distance of one foot apart, and so that about two inches appear above the surface. The nursery bed should be kept damp, but not too wet. It is a good plan to transplant them into other beds at two feet apart when they are from two to six months old.
Transplanting.—When the seedlings are from six months to two years old they may be transplanted to their permanent positions in the plantation, at distances from each other of twenty feet. Pits should be dug for them, as large as three feet every way in poor soil; ashes and salt are useful additions to any soil, and it may be necessary to give also a top-dressing of manure, which should not be dug in. They should be shaded by bananas or plantains for two years.
Tillage and Manuring.—The Jamaica nuts are very small, and do not give much "meat" as compared with those from Central America, India and Ceylon. This may be due partly to unfavorable conditions of soil, climate, etc.; but much might be done to improve the fruit by careful selection of nuts for seed, and a liberal treatment of the trees in the plantation by tillage and manuring. It is calculated that in India there are 480,000 acres under the coco-nut, and the cultivation is attended to carefully. In Bombay, for instance, after the seedlings are planted out, they are watered every day or two for the first year, every two or three days for the second and third years, and every third day for the fourth and fifth years. "During the rains, from its fifth to its tenth year, a ditch is dug round the palm and its roots cut, and little sand-banks are raised round the tree to keep the rain-water from running off. In the ditch round the tree, 22 pounds of powdered dry fish manure is sprinkled and covered with earth, and watered if there is no rain at the time. Besides fish manure the palms get salt-mud covered with the leaves of the croton-oil plant, and after five or six days with a layer of earth; or they get a mixture of cow-dung and wood ashes covered with earth, or night-soil, which, on the whole, is the best manure." (Watt's Dict.)
In the tropics of the old world generally, it is customary, when the plant is one year old, to dig round the roots and apply ashes once a month; when the tree is two years old, to open up every year, at the beginning of the rains, the roots to a distance of four to six feet from the stem, to apply ashes and dry manure to the roots, and leave the opening until the end of the rainy season; then to fill in again the soil which has been removed, and level the ground. During the time the roots are exposed, the older worn-out rootlets may be cut away and the roots of other plants removed. Cattle should on no account be allowed in the plantation, as it is most hurtful to the tree to have the leaves bitten, and if the unfolded leaf is injured the tree dies.
Yield.—A tree in good condition yields from fifty to one hundred nuts every year, but good climate, soil and cultivation may bring the yield up to as many as 200 nuts.