The mornings in the UAE are turning foggy and while still cold, these cold wet mornings herald the arrival of spring. And a look at the date palms will confirm this – as all over the region, the millions of date palms will burst into bloom. Traditional farming techniques combined with modern scientific applications have played an important role in the development of date farming. The date palm has been an integral part of the country’s heritage and its cultivation is closely linked to the indigenous farming methods rooted in traditional wisdom.
What most of us do not realise is that the date palm is pollinated manually for if one were to depend on wind-aided natural pollination, 50 per cent of the trees should be male, which would make date farming uneconomical. If half the palm orchard was male trees, it would never be fully productive. This is because the plan is unisexual, being either male or female, and male and female flowers grow on buds called Spath, which open naturally when fully mature.
To experienced farmers, identifying the male and female flowers come naturally, and using the manual method of pollination, pollen from a male flower is smeared over female flowers. This works very well and guarantees higher yield, and male flowers from a single tree can be used to pollinate 40 to 50 female date palms. Eventually, the farmer gets rid of the excess male plants and nurtures female plants in their place.
The farmers keep an eyes on the flowering process and as soon as the buds carrying the pollen split naturally, the buds are fully cut to dry the pollen in the sun, protected from wind. They are turned frequently to ensure that both sides are dried evenly and once don over a period of two to there days, the pollen is carefully stored in boxes avoiding any humidity.
Farmers then press the pollen onto small pieces of cotton or cloth, and two such pieces are tied lightly onto every female flower, and soon, subject to goo weather conditions, the pollination process is complete.