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Abu Dhabi Farmers' Service Centre open-field

vegetable production guide

Growing capsicum for profit and sustainability


2013-2014 Season Guidelines

Introduction
Capsicums (Capsicum annuum) are one the UAEs highest volume vegetable crops with steady all year demand. Consistent year-to-
year prices provide good margins to local growers. Premiums are paid throughout the year for good quality fruit and for high end
specialty varieties. Careful selection of varieties, adoption of appropriate technology and good management of capsicum crops
throughout the production cycle allows growers to maximize production of marketable fruit.

This guide outlines the key practices essential for producing high yields of good quality capsicums under UAE growing conditions
over the growing season to meet market demands.

Growing season
Sowing: September to mid-November
Transplanting: October to mid-December
Harvest period: mid-December to late March

Table 1: Capsicum growing season

Month Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun
Sowing
Transplanting
Harvest

Growing period
Nursery sowing to transplant: 4 weeks
Transplant to harvest: 10 to 15 weeks
Total crop cycle: 19 weeks

Table 2: Capsicum growing period

Week 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25
Growth stage S T F F H H H H H H

Key to colours and symbols: S Sowing T Transplanting F Flowering H Harvesting

Varieties
Varietal selection is important for the success of your crop. Varieties selected should suit local climatic conditions, have good pest and
disease resistance and meet market needs

Bell type capsicum varieties attract the best market prices in the UAE.

Communicate with your marketer and seed supplier to determine the most suitable variety for UAE growing conditions and that gives
you best returns.

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vegetable production guide

Irrigation layout, plant density and expected yield


In Abu Dhabi capsicums have traditionally been planted with a between row plant spacing of 90 cm resulting in a per donum plant
density of 2,200 with a typical yield of 2,000 kg. Yield can be increased to 3,200 kg using new pressure compensated inline drip
irrigation systems and higher plant density.

Plant capsicum seedlings in 70 cm rows and within row plant spacing of 40 cm. Each two rows are trained together to form a hedge
row which provides an access path for workers between the hedge rows.

Table 3: Plant arrangement and density

Plant spacing Drip line spacing Plant density

Layout de- Potential


Plant arrangement Be- Be-
Within Within tail Number of marketa-
tween tween
rows lines plants/ ble yield
rows lines
(cm) (cm) donum (kg/
(cm) (cm)
donum)
Recommended Plants to
High density planting 70 40 70 40 form 1 line 3,600 3,200
hedge

Plants to
Not recommended
90 50 90 50 form 1 line 2,200 2,000
Traditional planting
hedge

Soil analysis and water quality requirements


Capsicum plants can generally tolerate slight salinity. At the nursery stage and soon after transplanting, it is recommended that
irrigation water should not exceed 1.5 dS/m (960 ppm). Prior to field preparation, soil and water samples should be taken and sent for
analysis. Once plants are fully established, a water salinity of up to 6.25 dS/m (4,000 ppm) can be used to grow the crop providing
leaching requirements are strictly followed. Salinity levels higher than 8.5 dS/m (5,440 ppm) will however severely restrict growth and
impact yield. Your local ADFSC extension engineer can assist you with soil and water sampling techniques and help interpret results
from the lab to grow the crop successfully.

Land preparation and pre-planting fertilising


Thoroughly cultivate the area to be planted four weeks prior to transplanting. Apply pre-planting fertiliser and well composted manure
in a 30cm wide band along each drip line and mix thoroughly into the top 10cm to 15cm of the soil along this band. The fertilisers that
should be incorporated into the soil at least two weeks prior to transplanting are shown in Table 4 below.

Table 4: Pre-planting fertilisers

Pre-planting Composted manure (kg/donum) Triple super phosphate (kg/donum)

Total application 1,500 40

Pre and post-plant fertiliser applications provided are only a guideline. Fertiliser recommendations should be based on soil and
irrigation water analyses and experience of soil conditions in your local area. Contact your ADFSC extension engineer for assistance

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vegetable production guide

with testing water and soil on your farm and formulating fertiliser schedules.

The recommendations above (Table 4) are for a typical sandy soil in Abu Dhabi. Growers may achieve a similar result if necessary using
N:P:K compound fertilisers that supply the same amounts of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K) and magnesium (Mg).

The composted manure provides organic matter to the soil to help with retention of irrigation water and nutrients for a strong healthy
root system. Organic material must be thoroughly composted to avoid introducing weed seeds, pests, diseases and causing seedling
root burn from high temperatures produced during the composting process.

Installation of new irrigation lines


Existing irrigation systems can be adapted to the new layout by attaching new drip lines at the required spacing to the existing
underground sub-mains or lateral water pipes. Existing outlets that do not align with the new spacing should be blocked off. In some
situations farmers may choose to install new sub-mains or lateral pipes to facilitate the new drip line layout. Always test the irrigation
system and dripper prior to transplanting to ensure all drippers are working properly. This is ideally done as part of the pre-planting
weed control.

Capsicum nursery
Sowing capsicums in a well managed field nursery has the following advantages over direct sowing in the field:
A more favourable and even germination
A protected location on the farm under Agril row cover provides a good seedling environment and minimises the risk of virus
infection through whitefly infestations
Improved irrigation control and crop monitoring during the sensitive germination and seedling stage
Minimised irrigation water use and salt accumulation in the field for the nursery period between 3 and 4 weeks. This effectively
reduces irrigation water consumption, potential salt build-up and the leaching of nutrients from the root zone
Selection of strong evenly sized seedlings for transplanting and good production

Capsicum nursery requirements are as follows:

Table 5: Capsicum nursery planting and seed requirements

Seed requirements

Number of g/ donum
Number of plants/donum (with 20% additional
Recom- Sowing allowance for germi-
Crop mended sow- depth nation and replace-
ing method (mm) Number of
ments)
seeds/g
Recom- Tradi-
In recom- In tradi-
mended tional
mended tional spac-
plant plant
spacing ing
spacing spacing
Capsicum Nursery 6 3,600 2,200 120 to 160 27 to 36 17 to 22

Capsicum seedlings can be produced in the ground in nursery beds, in flat-cell trays or in Jiffy pots. Potting mix should be preferably
mixed with water before packing the mix into the trays or Jiffy pots. When seeds are started in cell trays, a good commercial potting
mix should be used to improve water and nutrient availability, provide correct aeration and minimise pests and diseases. In the field,
capsicum nurseries can be established using a good potting mix that provides appropriate soil conditioning. An Agril row cover should
be used to protect seeds from excessive surface temperatures and disease carrying insects. Good aeration, temperatures not
exceeding 35C and adequate moisture are necessary to encourage rapid even germination of seeds and growth of seedlings. Over

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vegetable production guide

watering will result in seed death from lack of oxygen leading to poor germination and should be avoided. Production of capsicum
seedlings in ground nurseries is generally not recommended as bare root transplants are slow to establish in the field, lead to higher
seedling mortality and reduce yield. Moreover, it is difficult to maintain a root ball during the digging out process as the soil is light
and friable resulting in bare root seedlings for transplanting.

The nursery should be observed twice daily to make sure that optimum conditions are maintained during the germination and seedling
development. Soon after emergence, the seedling should be exposed to adequate sunlight to support good strong growth. Early
detection of problems allows a rapid response when extra water, nutrient or pesticide applications may be required. Seedlings are
ready for transplanting at the fully expanded four leaf stage, approximately 4 weeks after sowing.

Seedlings can be hardened to better prepare them for transplanting, as follows:


Stop fertiliser applications seven days before transplanting.
Reduce irrigation to stress the seedlings two days before transplanting.
Resume normal irrigation the day before transplanting.
Transplant the seedlings in the cooler part of the morning or evening.

It is important to minimise stress on the seedlings by keeping them out of direct sunlight and not letting them dry out.

ADFSC extension engineers can provide advice about the best approach for nurseries on your farm.

Growing stage

Transplanting
Capsicum seedlings are transplanted into prepared rows at 40cm spacing between plants within the rows. Whether seedlings to be
transplanted are lifted from the nursery bed, from seedling trays or Jiffy pots it is important that the roots are not disturbed and the
soil surrounding the roots maintained. Plant seedlings, just below the first true leaf, in the soil. Bare root transplants are discouraged
as they will take longer to establish in the field and reduce yield.

Crop nutrition and application of soluble fertilizers through irrigation (fertigation)

Weekly or more frequent fertigation is recommended according to the following schedule:

Table 6: Recommended weekly rates for fertigation fertiliser and trace element application for UAE sands

Potassium sul- Magnesium sul- Calcium Trace element


Weeks after trans- Urea
phate phate Nitrate iron chelate
planting (kg/donum)
(kg/donum) (kg/donum) (kg/donum) (kg/donum)
Week 2 1.0 1.0
Week 3 1.0 1.0 0.5 0.1
Week 4 1.0 1.0 0.5 1.0 0.1
Week 5 1.0 4.0 0.5 1.0 0.1
Week 6 3.0 4.0 0.5 1.0 0.1
Week 7 3.0 4.0 1.0 2.0 0.1
Week 8 3.0 4.0 1.0 2.0 0.1
Week 9 3.0 4.0 1.0 2.0 0.1
Week 10 3.0 4.0 2.0 2.0 0.1
Week 11 3.0 4.0 2.0 2.0 0.1
Week 12 3.0 5.0 1.0 2.0 0.1

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vegetable production guide

Week 13 2.0 5.0 1.0


Week 14 1.0 3.0 1.0
Week 15
Week 16
Total 28.0 44.0 12.0 15.0 1.0

Notes on fertigation
1. Commence calcium nitrate application 4 weeks after transplanting or close to blooming to help prevent blossom end rots in
fruit.
2. Calcium nitrate should be applied separately from other fertilisers to prevent precipitates forming in the fertigation tank.
3. Depending on the soil and water analyses it may be necessary to supply other chelated trace elements.
4. Continue irrigation for 5 minutes after fertigation to flush the system.

The above schedule of weekly applications (Table 6) is only a guideline for the sandy soils typically found on Abu Dhabi farms. The
exact fertiliser recommendations should be based on soil fertility levels and irrigation water conditions in your area. Contact your
ADFSC extension engineer for assistance with testing water and soil on your farm.

Weekly or more frequent fertigation ensures that nutrient levels are maintained in the root zone of the crop throughout the important
growing and production periods.

These recommendations are based on good irrigation practices. Excessive irrigation will leach nutrients away from the root zone.

Crop water requirements


Young capsicum transplants or seedlings have a low water requirement. However, water requirement increases rapidly as complete
canopy cover and development occur. This rapid growth is generally followed by flower formation and fruit development.

Irrigation must be closely monitored to ensure soil moisture remains even in the beds during the cropping period. It is particularly
important in the days following transplanting when seedlings are establishing new root systems. Excessive irrigation promotes root
rot and results in leaching of nutrients away from the root zone. Irregular irrigation increases potential for blossom end rots during
fruit formation and can lead to splitting and cracking of the fruit as it matures. Thus, proper and timely irrigation is essential to prevent
early plant stress and reduced fruit size and quality.

Application of soluble fertiliser as fertigation can be carried out during a normal irrigation. Continue irrigation for 5 minutes after
fertigation to flush the system.

Plant protection
Many pest and disease problems can be avoided through Integrated Pest Management (IPM) procedures.

The following will help to ensure any pests and diseases in your capsicum crop remain below the economic threshold and swift
action is taken should they become a problem.

Use of pest resistant varieties


This ensures your crop has natural resistance to pests and diseases, minimising the need for expensive chemical control.

Row covering
These should be put up immediately after transplanting and left up for 30 days. They protect your crop from numerous insect pests,
such as whitefly, Tuta absoluta, leafminer, aphids, thrips, Heliothis and mites the diseases they carry, which include cucumber
mosaic virus and tomato spotted wilt virus .

Crop rotation
Do not plant capsicums more than once every 3-4 years in the same field. This will minimise the risk of fungal and bacterial diseases
such as bacterial wilt, bacterial spot, Phytophthora blight, late blight and powdery mildew. Rotate with a non-host crop such as

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vegetable production guide

sweet corn, beans and cabbage.

Soil solarisation
This should be carried out each summer prior to planting to help control soil borne pathogens, soil insects, weeds and root-knot
nematodes.

Companion crops
Planting corn as a trap crop around the borders of your capsicum crop keeps aphids away, reducing the incidence of cucumber
mosaic virus.

Traps
Placing yellow and blue sticky traps and pheromone traps around your capsicum crop will help control Tuta absoluta, Heliothis,
thrips, whiteflies and aphids which cause viral diseases.

Removing and correctly destroying all crop residues immediately after harvest
This helps prevent last seasons pests re-infecting your new crop and will help to control Tuta absoluta, cut worm, early and late
blights, bacterial spots and anthracnose.

Good weed management


Irrigate the beds prior to transplanting to stimulate germination of weed seeds. Remove all weeds prior to transplanting.
Following planting, the field should be monitored regularly and kept free of weeds. Remove weeds by hand at early growth stages of
capsicum and before canopy covers over.

Crop monitoring
Capsicum crops should be monitored for pests and diseases every week. This is especially important during the early stages of
growth when capsicums are susceptible to pests and diseases . Consistent monitoring enables a swift and effective response should
an outbreak occur, which will minimise crop damage and expense.

Thorough composting of all manure and organic matter


All manure and organic matter put on the crop should be thoroughly composted to prevent pest and disease outbreaks.

In the event of a pest or disease outbreak please contact your nearest ADFSC extension engineer to correctly identify the pest or
disease and provide recommended control measures.

Harvest stage
Pre-harvest interval (PHI)
Pre-harvest interval is the time between the last pesticide application and harvests of the treated crop. The PHI must be adhered to
for all crops. Failure to adhere to the PHI will result in pesticide residues in the harvested produce, which will render the crop unfit for
human consumption and for sale. It is illegal to sell crops where the PHI has not been adhered to. For further advice on harvest
intervals please contact your local ADFSC extension engineer.

Field Hygiene during harvest


Good field hygiene is required to ensure your crop is free of contaminants . This is essential for it to be sold in the market. Good field
hygiene practices must always be adhered to when harvesting fresh vegetables.

Crop maturity, handling and storage


The fruit should be harvested when full sized, firm and glossy with crisp, juicy flesh. For green varieties, the fruit should be without
progressive coloration which indicates over-maturity and will reduce the value of the crop. For coloured varieties the fruit should have
a minimum colouration as stated on the ADFSC specification available from your procurement officer. Overripe and soft capsicum will
be downgraded or rejected. Product should be the correct shape and size for the variety according to the ADFSC specifications.

Capsicums should be harvested during the cooler parts of the day to avoid heat and sun damage. To ensure best prices, the fruit should

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be harvested complete with intact calyx and neatly trimmed stem approximately 3 cm long. The stem should be cut with a clean, sharp
instrument to prevent the stalk from rotting. Cutting blades should be cleaned regularly to prevent the spread of disease from one
plant to another.

Capsicums are prone to puncture and bruising which reduces shelf life and saleability of the product. They must be handled with care
and never be thrown or dropped. Care should be taken to ensure the canopy is maintained so that the remaining fruit left on the plant
are not damaged by the sun.

Harvested capsicums should be moved from the field to a cool shaded location for short term storage. They must never be left exposed
to direct sun. This is especially important during late season harvesting when air temperatures and intensity of the midday sun will
dramatically reduce quality.

Capsicums should be free from blossom end rots, splits, blemishes, cuts and mechanical damage and be of uniform shape.

Capsicums should be packed carefully to reduce risk of damage in transit. Crates must be stacked safely and securely so they are not
resting on the produce beneath.

Grading
To ensure capsicums receive the best price, they must be graded according to the current ADFSC specifications. These can be obtained
from your local procurement officer.

For further information and advice:

Contact your local ADFSC office for professional advice from our experienced team of extension engineers.