Ugwu is known as the Fluted Pumpkin. It 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 ugwu leaves. Whether rich or poor, ugwu is an affordable option for many families. It can be used to prepare popular soups like egusi, ogbono and edi kain kong. 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 ugwu leaves in your meals comes with many natural benefits. Ugwu 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, ugwu plant contains high level of phosphorus and can help prevent kidney diseases.
Telforia Occidentalis is a drought-tolerant, dioecious perennial crop that is indigenous to Southern part of Nigeria and it does belong to the family of Cucurbitaceae. Common names for the plant are fluted gourd, fluted pumpkin and ugu. The fruits are not edible but seeds produced by the gourd are high in protein and fat meaning that they can be included in the dishes to make a well-balanced diet.
Ugwu is estimated to be consumed by 30 to 35 million people in Nigeria with a larger percentage of the plant been consumed in the South East of Nigeria. It is noted to have healing properties and it has been used as a form of blood tonic, to be administered to anemic patients.
Telfornia Occidentalis is majorly a dioecious flowering plant, which means that, it produces separate male and female parts on different plants, with very few documented cases of monoecious (both male and female parts in the same plant) flowering. The plant is large ranging in size from 16 to 105 cm in length with an average diameter of 9cm. The seed count in the fluted gourd can be up to 196 and above per gourd, typically 3.4 to 4.9cm in length for both pistillate and staminate varieties. Fluted pumpkin flowers grow in sets of five showing a creamy-white and dark red petal unlike the light green colour of the young fruit and yellow colour when ripe.
Propagation and Planting
Ugwus’ growing period begins in April or May, it is a fairly drought resistant, vine grown plant which can be grown on a wide range of soil. The seeds are viviparous (germinating in the fruit) and due to the recalcitrant nature of the seeds it can only be stored for a maximum of 3 days after extraction from the fruit. The critical moisture content below which the seeds cannot recover from desiccation is 40 to 60%. It can be intercropped with other food and vegetable crops such as yam, maize and cassava, or it can be planted against fence or bamboo stakes can be prepared for it. It is propagated by seeds sown directly into the soil typically in groups of 3 to increase output in a case of failed germination or at the rate of 30, 000 to 70,000 seeds/Ha with a spacing of 0.3-1m x 0.3-1m. For fruit production wider spacing is required when using stakes while densely spaced stand are best for leaf production.
Staking can be carried out during rainy season to prevent disease infection; the plant can be stacked individually with bamboo trellis especially for fruit production. It can be planted without staking during the dry season for leaf production as disease attack is not that prevalent during this period and it should be noted that staking has no significance on the leaf yield. During the dry season, weeding can be done twice before the plant’s leaf canopy is fully developed to smother the weeds by itself, while three times weeding may be required in staked crop during rainy season. The first pruning can be done 4 weeks after emergence to increase growth and stimulation of branching. Watering is done once every 3 days. Organic manure or inorganic fertilizers are used in traditional systems, but for an optimal leaf yield the recommended fertilizer application is 100 kg K2O and 50 kg P2O5 per ha. Female plants are more vigorous than male ones and produce higher vegetative yields. A high proportion of female plants by removal of a part of the male plant is desirable for high leaf and fruit yields.
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 Phoma sorghina, 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. Erwinia aroideae causes soft rot of the leaves with yellowish ooze; it also affects the fruits. A prevalent virus disease is Telfairia Mosaicvirus (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 (Aphis spiraecola) via the seed. The storage diseases of fluted pumpkin, (diseases that affect the seeds during storage) are Rhizopus stolonifer, Aspergillus niger, Botryodiplodia theobromae 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.
7 Concise Steps by Step Guide
Now that you know a few things about this amazing vegetable plant, the next logical step for you is to find ways to cultivate it. Interestingly, it’s not so difficult a task and we’ve made it easy for you through this step by step guide. With these 5 concise steps, you can easily become a commercial ugwu merchant. But if you don’t want to go that route, you can still plant as much ugwu that your family needs for life with very little upfront investment.
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 ugwu 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 ugwu is that it can be planted virtually anywhere in the country. Although there are ideal conditions for optimal growth, the ugwu 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. Ugwu 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 ugwu 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 ugwu 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 ugwu farms. Also, there are some common pests that destroy ugwu 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 ugwu farming.
An important cultural activity in ugwu 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.
You can start harvesting your ugwu 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 Ugwu plant doesn’t produce seeds until 6 months after planting.
Fresh shoot yield can be as high as 500-1000 kg/ha and can also be as high as 3-10t/ha depending on the management system. The seed yield can be up to 1.9 t/ha derived from 3000 fruits.
The harvested leaves maintain its freshness for just a day but they can be stored in jute bags for 3 days in an airy place but they lose turgidity and become limp. The fresh shoots are usually sold wholesale to the traders, who retail them in bundles. The large bundles are usually wrapped with plantain leaves or covered loosely with old jute bags for transportation and sparingly watered to preserve it freshness. The fruit can be stored in open shades for a period of 1-2 months and they are graded according to size (small, medium and large). In the market they are arranged in heaps and sold as heaps or singly. The seed are left in the fruits until they are ready to be used for planting or consumption.