Abaca (Musa textiles), known internationally as Manila Hemp, is indigenous in the Philippines. It is similar to banana, canton and pacol. However, It can be distinguished by the formation and coloration as well as by the size and shape of its leaves, heart, trunk and fruit. The roots of the plants are added externally - not becoming an essential part. It arises from the corm lying between 15 to 25 cm below the surface of the soil. The leaves are tapering, narrow and glossy-green with pointed end petioles. The trunk, heart and fruit of the plant are smaller than those of banana and pacol. Its height reaches an average of 2.44 meters.
(Source: Department of Agriculture Bicol Region l, Date accessed 20 March 2014)
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The land is cleared during the dry months of the year to prepare for the eventual planting at the onset of the rainy season. Grasses and vines are cut first then plowed. The first plowing should be shallow to bring the weeds just at the proper depth for germination then followed by deep plowing 10 to 14 days to kill the germinated weeds before harrowing
Materials for propagation should be chosen carefully. The source of seedpieces must be from healthy or pest and disease free high yielding varieties. The sucker or whole plant and the corm or rootstocks are the two types of planting material.
Planting is best done during the onset of the rainy season since dry periods can stunt the normal growth and development of young plants.
Methods of Planting
The square method is commonly used in the Bicol region. In the square method, hills are set apart in equal distances. If the farm is fully planted, plants should be spaced at 2.5 x 2.5 meters apart with 1,600 hills accommodated in a hectare.
In the double row or avenue method, abaca are planted in two rows at about 1.5 x 1.5 meters apart with a distance of 2.5 meters from each set. Cash crops like peanut, soybeans and others can be intercropped in this method.
In the Quincunx or triangle method, 1852 hills are planted in a hectare with hills set at a distance of 2 x 2 meters.
Abaca plantations should be provided with shade trees to prevent excessive heat from damaging the plants and serve as windbreaks since typhoons in the Bicol Region are frequent. Permanent shade trees such as anii, dapdap, ipil-ipil and temporary shade trees like katuray and madre de cacao are recommended. Shade trees provide and maintain a favorable temperature for abaca. They also conserve soil moisture and prevent weed growth to a certain degree.
Abaca, like other perennial crops, occupies the same land for several cropping years. The same crop is harvested year after year resulting to the gradual removal of the essential nutrients from the soil. When the supply of these nutrient elements are not replenished, the soil gradually looses its fertility.
Abaca requires large amounts of nitrogen (N) and potassium (K) but less of phosphorus (P). About 40 % of the ash from abaca fiber is potassium.
Nitrogen greatly improves its growth and suckering ability while Potassium increases the tensile strength of its fiber.
For established plantations, annual application of 187.5 grams per hill or 12 bags per hectare of complete fertilizer (14-14-14) every year is recommended. Fertilizer is applied in split of equal doses annually. Fertilizer is applied in a ring one foot away from the base of the pseudostems, the area where the roots are shallow.
Cleaning and Mulching
The removal of dried leaves is necessary because they are fire hazards in the plantation, they serve as favorable media for fungal,, bacterial and insect growth and they impede the growth of suckers by limiting sunlight penetration thus, making regular inspections and indexing difficult.
Dried or yellowing leaves must be severed from the stalks with the use of a double-bladed scythe attached to a long pole. Old and yellowing leaves are cut at the petiole further from the stalk so that the leaf sheaths are kept fresh. The cut leaves are laid on the space between hills and used as mulching materials to preserve soil moisture and inhibit the growth of weeds.
Weeds are not much of a problem in a well-established and maintained abaca plantation. The tall plants shade the grounds such that weed growth is effectively checked or minimized. However, if weeds are abundant, they can be easily controlled manually or mechanically by hand-weeding, plowing or underbrushing at 2 to 3 months interval or as necessary.
Stalks are harvested three to five months before the flagleaf appears. Abaca growth has been observed to slow down a few months before flagleaf appearance. The practice in the region is to harvest abaca twice a year. A longer interval may result in overmatured stalks which consequently yields fibers of low quantity and poor quality.
Three steps are involved in the harvesting of abaca, the cleaning, topping and tumbling. In cleaning, the area surrounding the base of the stalk is cleared of dried leaves, grasses and other weeds. Thinning of floaters and spindly suckers and cutting afflicted plants and dead stalks are also done during cleaning.
Topping is done with the use of a curved knife fastened at the tip of a long pole and then cutting the leaves. It eases harvesting and minimizes the damage to follower stalks in the surrounding area.
Tumbling, on the other hand, is done using a sharp tumbling bolo. A smooth and slanting cut is made on the stalk about 5 cm from the last leaf scar to prevent the accumulation of sap. The topped stalks are then tumbled by cutting them close to the ground with the direction of the cut portion inclined towards the base.
Source: Department of Agriculture Bicol Region, Date accessed 20 March 2014