Little by little and as the climate in the world evolves, it will become more familiar to see xerophytic gardens and plants. This is, for those who do not know the word, plants adapted to dry climates and with low water availability. The prickly pear or nopal is one of them, and above, apart from its ornamental value, its fruits and shovels are used in gastronomy. Does anyone give more?
YOUR XEROPHYTIC GARDEN WITH THE CULTIVATION OF NOPAL
The genus opuntia , to which the nopal belongs, is a genus of plants of the cactus family that has more than 300 species spread throughout the world. Its origin is American (who has not seen them in the great deserts of the United States or Mexico) but the Spanish conquerors brought it to the old world, finding an ideal habitat throughout the Mediterranean region.
Apart from the fact that, at least for us, it is a pleasant plant to look at, its fruits are used by many countries, including Spain. They are known as prickly pear or tunas and are part of the diet in Mexico, Morocco, Argentina, Chile, etc. As if that were not enough, the shovels or cladodes (little by little we will introduce specialized vocabulary).
Well, okay, but to eat the chumberos or cladodes figs, whoever likes it, it is necessary to cultivate the nopal, all the more reason to go to our typical and well-known section of plant cultivation. Go for it!
CLIMATIC CONDITIONS OF THE PRICKLY PEAR
It is adapted to dry and hot regions with a low or very low rainfall index, since they have a CAM ( crassulaceae acid metabolism) photosynthesis system , which is basically a specialized way of incorporating CO2.
This, in terms of cultivation, means that they grow in dry environments with a temperature between 15 and 30º C, typical of the Mediterranean climate, and of xerophytic gardens .
NOPAL SOIL REQUIREMENTS
The nopal or shovel, as they say in Spain, is adapted to calcareous soils, with a pH between 6.6 and 8 , and there is no problem regarding the structure of the soil, since it can grow in sandy, clayey or loamy soils. . However, if you can choose, we would choose sandy soils of medium depth (greater than 30 cm) and fertile.
The nopal can grow practically without incorporating artificial irrigation, since with the rain it is able to survive, but we qualify. A summer without rain and with high temperatures will affect the development of the plant (in winter there will not be so many problems) and it is something that we cannot allow in our garden. A solution is to establish, at least in summer, an irrigation every 15 days , not very abundant, since it is a crop that does not tolerate excess water and shows it with root rot.
FERTILIZATION OR FERTILIZATION OF THE PRICKLY PEAR
It is an aspect similar to irrigation. If it grows in deserts that means that the subscriber needs are minimal . Yes, they are, but they have something. If you do not do it well, there will be no serious problems, but if you want to get the best out of the nopal, you can make compost-based fertilizers in the flowering and fruiting periods, when water and nutritional needs increase. A recommended amount is about 5-8 kg per nopal of compost or manure before the development of flowers and fruits.
IS IT NECESSARY TO PRUNE THE NOPAL?
The prickly pear or shovel, if it has good care and watering, will have a very fast growth habit, wide and high. To prevent it from growing too tall , formation pruning is usually done annually , cutting the terminal leaves. Be careful with this operation because we can take some undesirable punctures. Sometimes poorly developed or diseased shovels are also formed that we must eliminate.
THE COCHINEAL, THE ENEMY NO. 1 OF THE PRICKLY PEAR
Like Lex Luthor in Superman or the green goblin in Spiderman, the cottony mealybug is the prickly pear cactus’s main problem. It is a kind of cottony white powder that if you squeeze it, it leaves a reddish liquid. In fact, this liquid was used and is used as a dye for fabrics.
It is a heavy pest to eliminate. Chemical or ecological treatments can be carried out such as application of soap and alcohol diluted in water on the blades (1 liter of water and a tablespoon of alcohol) or directly potassium soap .
Mealybug predators such as Rodolia cardinalis can also be used .