FLUTED PUMPKIN (UGU)
Fluted pumpkin (Telferiaoccidentalis) popularly known as ugu is a vine plant that is native to West Africa and quite popular and heavily consumed in many parts of Nigeria. At least a quarter of Nigerians eat ugu leaves. Whether rich or poor, ugu is an affordable option for many families. It can be used to prepare popular soups like egusi, ogbono and edikainkong. Also, it is also used in the preparation of herbal medicines and can be used to treat common ailments like malaria and anemia. The seeds are edible and the oil from these seeds can be used for cooking and soap making.
Consuming ugu leaves in your meals comes with many natural benefits. Ugu is a natural hematinic due to its iron content as well as an immune booster. The leaves also have blood sugar reducing effects and can be included in the diet of diabetics. Also, ugu plant contains high level of phosphorus and can help prevent kidney diseases.
This vegetable has antibacterial effects particularly the root of the plant produces antiplasmodial and schizonticidal effects; hence it can be used to treat parasitic infections like malaria. The raw leaves can be combined with milk to help individual that have low blood levels. Also, the seeds can be eaten whole or grounded to be used to prepare soup or porridge. The seed is rich in protein and very nutritious. The pumpkin seed oil contains anti-oxidative properties which have been linked to treating infertility.
Establishing Ugu Farm
You need a piece of land with certain features. First, the pH of the soil should be neutral i.e 6.5-7. You can use a pH meter to confirm the soil pH. Also, the land should have adequate sunlight exposure. These two factors are very critical factors for the growth of your ugu plant.
You may be wondering what the size of your harvest should be irrespective of your farmland. Well, the size of your harvest is generally dependent on the size of your land. But you don’t need to have a large piece before you start planting, you can start with what you have.
One unique thing about ugu is that it can be planted virtually anywhere in the country. Although there are ideal conditions for optimal growth, the ugu plant has a unique ability to tolerate drought and even thrive in a poor soil. However, one important soil factor is that it must be well drained. ugu doesn’t do well in waterlogged soil.
After selecting your site, you’ll need to clear the farmland and apply organic manure 2 weeks before the start of planting. If you are using fertilizer, apply one month after your seeds have started germinating. A nitrogenous fertilizer such as urea is the best to be applied on the farm. The urea promotes massive growth of the leaves. Another option is applying the NPK fertilizer at the ratio of 15:15:15.
Seed Sourcing and Preparation
The next step is to buy the seeds you need. You can either obtain the pod containing the seeds or you can buy the dried seeds at the local market. You can also get it from other farmers that have ugu farms. After obtaining your pumpkin pods, you can scoop the seeds from the pods in preparation for planting. You can get as much as a hundred seeds from one pumpkin pod. The seeds often have some juicy flesh and strings around them. You’ll need to remove this flesh before planting. Failure to do this can lead to the seed getting rotten in the soil. The removal can be done by putting the seeds in a strainer while running water through it. As you do this you should use your finger to remove the juicy flesh and strings. However, this is only applicable to fresh seeds. If you bought the dried seeds then you can skip this part.
Sun drying is the next step. The process can last for as long as 7 days. Adequate sun drying is very important prior to planting. The process helps to reduce the moisture content and promotes germination. Also, you can treat the seeds with insecticide-fungicide mixture to prevent insect and fungi attack.
The ideal planting season of the ugu plant is between April and May. During this period the rains are minimal and the plant does quite well in such rainy conditions. You should plant the seed into the soil at a distance of one foot apart. The seed should be placed vertically into the soil with the pointed edge inserted in to the soil and the exposed part facing upwards. The depth of planting shouldn’t be too deep. A dimension of between 15 and 25cm deep is ideal for your seed.
You will need to water your seeds everyday for at least 2 weeks. Typically, plants begin to germinate after 1 to 2 weeks. Also, weeding should be done every 2 weeks to ensure that the growing plant isn’t starved of water and the vital nutrients.
Additionally, you should protect your farm from goats and herbivores. These animals are notorious for destroying ugu farms. Also, there are some common pests that destroy ugu leaves. These include grasshoppers, beetles, aphids, thrips and green shield bugs. Diseases that affect the leaves include the white leaf spot disease and the telferia mosaic virus disease. During storage, some fungal diseases may affect the seeds and render them useless. You can spray the seeds with insecticide-fungicide to prevent attacks of insects and fungi.
Once the plant starts to germinate, use a stick preferably of 1 – 2 meters length and place it close to the plant. After a while, the plant will begin to climb around the stick. Generally, plants that are assisted in growth with sticks tend to do better than the unassisted ones. This process of staking helps to prevent diseases especially during the rainy season however, staking isn’t necessary in commercial ugu farming.
An important cultural activity in ugu farming is topping of the vine. This is done to increase the offshoot and lateral growth of the vine. A good way to do this is by counting 8-10 leaf notches starting from the top, and then you cut it off with a knife. This is usually done 3 weeks after planting or 3 to 5 weeks after germination. This process is very important as it helps to increase productivity and yield on your farm. An alternative to this method is general pruning one month after germination. This will also improve growth as well as the quantity of your harvest.
Pests and Diseases
The common pests of fluted pumpkin are Grasshoppers which feed on the foliage and stems, Leaf and Flower Beetles which feed on the leaves, White Beetle feeds on the fruits and flowers, Aphids hinder growth by feeding on the stem, Thrips which causes flower abortion and Green Shield Bug feeds on leaves, stems and fruits.
White leaf spot disease, caused by Phomasorghina , reduces the leaf lamina. It also affects the seed. It is controlled by spraying with Dithane M-45 at a concentration of 500 ppm twice a week. Erwiniaaroideae causes soft rot of the leaves with yellowish ooze; it also affects the fruits. A prevalent virus disease is Telfairia Mosaic virus (TeMV), causing mottling of the leaves and low leaf yield; it also causes chlorosis, stunting and abnormal fruit development. It is transmitted by the Aphid ( Aphisspiraecola) via the seed. The storage diseases of fluted pumpkin, (diseases that affect the seeds during storage) are Rhizopusstolonifer ,Aspergillusniger, Botryodiplodiatheobromae and Erwinia spp. It was recorded that in the long term storage fungi is capable of causing 95% loss in storage while bacteria can cause only 5% loss.
You can start harvesting your ugu leaves 1 month after planting. However in commercial quantities, it is best you harvest you wait for 60 days before you start harvesting.. The plant can be harvested repeatedly for 8 months. This can be done at intervals of 15 days. The ugu plant doesn’t produce seeds until 6 months after planting.
This plant (ugu) has several health benefits both in the raw form and in the cooked form and has been shown to help anemics and diabetics.
You don’t need to be a farmer before you can cultivate this plant; you just need to be rightly informed on how to do it.
The plant is generally ready for harvest 1 month after planting and you can keep harvesting for as long as 8 months after the initial harvest.
ugu farming is very affordable and you’re sure to enjoy great returns on your initial investment whether you’re planting for subsistence or commercial purpose.