Production Guide for Malunggay — MALUNGGAY (Moringa spp.) is not only one of the world’s most useful plants. Studies show that it is also the most nutritious. This lowly crop is grown for human food, livestock forage, medicine, dye and water treatment.
Based on the research conducted by Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), 100 gram of one cup of cooked malunggay leaves contain 3.1 g protein, 0.6 fiber, 96 mg calcium, 29 mg phosphorous, 1.7 mg iron, 2,820 mg beta-carotene, .07 mg thiamine, 0.14 mg riboflavin, 1.1 mg niacin, and 53 mg ascorbic acid or vitamin C. It also has antioxidant activity ranging about 71 percent with aetocopherol (vitamin E) equivalent of 45.
Malunggay leaves, according to DOST, are incomparable source of the sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cystine, the natural mineral that humans are often lacking of.
The following suggested cultural practices were developed at Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center (AVRDC) in the Taiwan lowlands. Growers may modify the practices to suit local soil, weather, and pest and disease condition.
CLIMATE AND SOIL REQUIREMENTS
Malunggay withstands a wide range of environmental conditions. It grows best between 25 and 35 degrees Centigrade, but will tolerate up to 48 degrees Centigrade in the shade. This drought-tolerant tree grows well in areas receiving annual rainfall amounts ranging from 250 to 1500 mm. Altitude below 600 m are best for malunggay, but it can also grow in altitudes up to 1,200 m in the tropics.
The plant prefers a well-drained sandy loam or loam soil, and tolerated clay and a soil ph of 5-9. However, it cannot bear prolonged flooding and poor drainage.
PREPARING THE FIELD
Malunggay requires thorough land preparation and a well-prepared seedbed. At AVRDC, malunggay is planted on 30 cm-high raised beds to facilitate draining. Bed widths being tested at the Center vary from 60-200 cm.
CHOOSING A VARIETY
Among moringa species, M. oleifera and M. stenopetala are the most commonly grown. M. oleifera is most widely cultivated and the focus of this guide. Varieties within M. oleifera differ in growing habit, leaf, flower and pod characteristics. Characteristics of superior type include wide and dark green leaves, long and tender pods, bushy habit and rapid regeneration after trimming.
Malunggay is planted either by direct seeding, transplanting, or using hard stem cuttings. Direct seeding is preferred when plenty of seed is available and labor is limited. Transplanting allows flexibility in field planting but requires extra labor and cost in raising seedlings. Stem cutting are used when the availability of seed is limited but labor is plentiful.
A. Direct seeding
Sow two of three seed per hill at 2 cm deep. Two weeks after germination, thin to the strongest seedling per hill.
For leaf, pod and seed production, space plants 3-5 meters apart between rows and plants. If using raised beds, form beds with 2 m-wide tops and space plants 3-5 m apart in a single row.
For production of leaves only, space plants 50 cm within rows spaced 1 m apart. If using raised beds, form beds with 60 cm-wide tops and space plants 1 m apart in a single row. For intensive production of leaves, space plants 10-20 cm within rows 30-50 cm apart. Closer spacing allows harvest of young edible shoots every two to three weeks.
Transplanting malunggay consist of two steps: seedling production and field planting.
Seedling production: Seedlings can be grown in divided trays, individual pots, plastic bags of seedbeds. Use of divided trays and individual containers is preferred because there is less chance for seedlings to be damaged when they are transplanted.
Fill the tray with a potting mix that has good water-holding capacity and allows good drainage (peat moss, commercial potting soil o a potting mix prepared from soil, compost or rice hulls and vermiculite or sand). If using non-sterile components, sterilize the mix by autoclaving of baking at 150 degrees Centigrade for two hours.
Grow seedling under shade or in screenhouse with 50 percent shade. Sow two or three seed per cell. One week after germination, thin to the strongest seedling. Irrigate seedling thoroughly every morning or as needed (moist, but not wet), using a fine mist sprinkler to avoid soil splash and plant damage. Transplant seedlings one month after sowing.
For larger transplants, pots or bags may be used. Fill the containers (0.5 kg by volume) with potting mix similar to that used in seedling trays. If potting mix is not available, use three parts soil to once part sand. Sow two to three seeds per pot or bag. One week after germination, thin to the strongest seedling and transplant plants in the field when they are 50 cm high.
If seedlings are started in a raised seedbed, the soil should be partially sterilized by burning 3-5 cm layer of rice straw or other organic matter on the bed. The burned ash adds minor amount of P and K to the soil. Sow two or three seeds in holes spaced 25 cm apart. Cover seedbed with a fine-mesh nylon net to protect seedlings from pests, heavy rain and harsh sunlight. Transplant seedlings one month after sowing or when they are 20-30 cm high. Dig seedlings using a trowel taking care that roots are not damaged. Place the bare-foot seedling in a bucker containing water and transplant them as soon as possible.
When transplanted in the field, the plant can be spaced similar to the recommended spacing for direct-seeded plants.
Malunggay may also be planted 1 m apart, or closer, in a row to establish living fence posts. Trees can be planted in gardens to provide shade for vegetables that are less tolerant to direct sunlight, and as a support for climbing crop. Trees can be planted also in hedgerow forming wide alleys where vegetables are planted within. Choose vegetables that can adapt to alley cropping, since malunggay hedgerows are highly competitive and can significantly reduce yield of companion plants.
C. Using Stem Cutting
Compared to trees planted from seed, trees from stem cuttings grow faster but develop a shallow root system that makes them more susceptible to moisture stress and wind damage.
Make stem cuttings using branches of a tree that is at least one year old. Use hard wood and avoid using young green stem tissue. Cuttings can be 45-150 cm long with diameters of 4-16 cm. Dry cuttings in the shade for three days before planting it in the nursery or in the field. Cuttings may be planted directly or in plastic pots or bags in the nursery or screenhouse.
When planting directly, plant cutting in light, sandy soil. Plant one-third of the seedling length in the spoil. Add a balanced fertilizer or compost to infertile soils to encourage rot development and irrigate regularly to keep the soil moist but not wet. Cutting planted in a nursery are ready for field planting after 2-3 months. Follow the field planting recommendations mentions for direct seeding and transplanting.
Malunggay grows well in most soils without fertilization. Once established, its extensive and deep root system is efficient in getting nutrients from the soil.
For optimum growth and yields, fertilizers are applied at planting time. Dig trenches around the base of the plant (10-20 cm from the base) and apply approximately 300 g of a commercial nitrogen fertilizer per tree. If commercial nitrogen fertilizer is not available, use compost of well-rooted farmyard manure at the rate of 1-2 kg/tree.
Irrigate seedlings immediately after transplanting to promote early root development. In dry and arid climates, irrigate regularly for the first two months. Once established, malunggay rarely needs watering because the well-rooted tree tolerates drought and needs irrigation only when persistent wilting is evident.
Cultivate the soil thoroughly before planting to suppress early weed growth. Apply straw and/or plastic mulch around the base of each young tree. Control weeds by regularly cultivating between beds and rows.
CONTROLLING PESTS AND DISEASES
Malunggay is resistant to most pests and diseases, but outbreaks my occur under certain conditions. For example, Diplodia root rot may appear in waterlogged soils, causing sever wilting and death of plant. Mite populations can increase these pests cause yellowing of leaves, but plants usually recover during warm weather. Other insect pests include termites, aphids, leafminers, whiteflies and caterpillars.
Chemical control of insects pests should be use only when sever infestations occur. Choose a pesticide that targets the specific pest causing the damage and avoid pesticides that kill or inhibit the development of beneficial organisms. Choose pesticides that last only a few days.
Cattle, sheep, pigs and goats will eat malunggay seedlings, pods and leaves. Protect seedling from livestock by installing fence or by planting a hedge around the plot.
Malunggay should be trimmed to promote branching, increase yields and facilitate harvesting. If left to grow without cutting the main trunk, the fast-growing tree will grow straight and tall, producing leaves and pods only on the primary stem. To encourage the development of many branches and pods within easy reach form the ground, prune the apical growing shoot when the tree is 1-2 m high. Use a sharp knife, machete or pruning saw to make smooth cuts. New shoots will emerge from just below where the cut is made. Thereafter, cut the growing tips of the branches so that the tree will become bushier. Another pruning strategy is to cut back each branch by 30 cm when it is 60 cm long. This will produce a multibranched shrub.
If the tree is being grown for pod production, remove the flower during the first year. This will channel the entire young tree’s energy into vegetative and root development, leading to more vigorous growth and productive yields in the future.
Older tree that are unproductive or too high for easy harvesting can be pruned at ground level. New shoots will emerge quickly from the base.
Leaves can be harvested when the plants are 1.5 – 2 m high. This usually takes at least one year. Harvest leaves by snapping leaf stems from branches. Harvesting young shoot tips will promote development of side branches where cuts along the main branches are made. Allow plants to develop new shoots and branches before subsequent harvests. If plants are grown at closer spacing and higher density, cut plants about 10 – 20 cm above the ground.
Older leaves will need to be stripped from their tough and wiry stems These are more suited for making dried leaf powder since stems can be removed during the sifting process. For fresh vegetables, tie harvested leaves in bundles and place them under shade to maintain freshness. Leaves easily lose moisture after harvesting, therefore, harvest early in the morning and if possible, sell it on the same day.
The leaflets can also be dried in the sun for a few hours and then stored for consumption during the hot-wet season, a time when minerals and vitamins are mostly lacking in diets.
Flowers and pods are normally produced during the second year of growth. Harvest pod when they are young, tender and green; they are eaten as green beans. Older pods, on one hand, are fibrous and develop a tough shell, but their pulp and immature seeds can be use in recipes similar to green peas. Fresh or dried flowers are used for making teas.
COLLECTING AND STORING RIPE SEEDS
Mature pods contain ripe seeds that are use for planting the next crop or for extracting oil. When producing seed for oil extraction, allow the pods to dry on the tree. Harvest pod before they split open and fall to the ground. Store seed in well-ventilated sacks in a cool, dry and shaded are. Seeds remain viable for planting for two years.
Source: Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center (AVRDC)