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Growing Jatropha curcas L.

Germination of the seed, under ideal conditions, takes between 4 and 11 days (mean 8.5 days).  Pre-treatment of the seed is not necessary and in many cases either delays germination (although it is more uniform) or (more worryingly) leads to slow growth and deformed plants.  Stored seed may be sprayed lightly with tepid water in order speed things up.  A mist sprayer is ideal for this purpose.

I recommend sowing in batches a few days apart, just in case of bad conditions or disasters (like mice or birds eating all the seed).

In pots:

Sow singly in pots (deep pots or root trainers are best, cardboard tubes are excellent for the purpose – the type used in the centre of kitchen roll etc are the best) or several in a large tray in a mixture of soil and sand (50:50 sand and seed raising mixture).  Water so that the mix is moist and then either place under cover or somewhere that a germination temperature of 20 – 25 Deg C can be maintained.  If the trays/pots are not sealed in bags, then you will need to water the pots/trays, sparingly, on a daily basis – the seed mix must never fully dry out.  Low temperatures are to be avoided at all times during germination.

In open ground (only in frost free areas):

In a seed bed (an area that has been set aside for seed raising), sow the seeds to about 2cm deep and water the area well.  Water the area whenever the area looks to be drying out, this may means several waterings per day in very hot weather.

Growing on:

If pot grown, transplant the seedlings to their final position when they are too big for the pot.

Open ground sown seeds can be left in situ until they appear to be crowded (say 2 – 3 months) they should then be transplanted to their final spacing's in the cropping area.

Spacing:

For commercial cropping, space plants 2 metres x 2 metres apart.  Greater spacing is OK, but less than 2 metres will limit the eventual yield.

Cultivation:

Although a dry area plant, seed yields are higher and oil production greater if they are artificially irrigated and fed with a complete fertiliser (natural or synthetic). If sown early enough a light harvest may occur in the first year.   Yields of 12 tonnes plus (of seed) per hectare can be achieved in 5 year old plants and they will continue to crop at this rate for another 30 – 45 years.  Oil yield is around 25 – 35% of total mass of the seed.

In order to get the best out of your plants, it is recommended that you cut back the growing stem to 25 cm about 90 – 120 days after germination.  This encourages side shoots and maximises the crop.  In subsequent years, you may cut back the side shoots and main shoots to encourage further bushiness.  The more side shoots a plant has, the higher the yield will be.

Final Notes:

I have never grown J. curcas as a crop – only as an ornamental.  It is a fast growing plant capable of withstanding 2 years or more of drought and then growing back once water is available as though nothing had happened.

Please let me know how you get on.  Any photos you have once your plants are growing would be appreciated.