Despite the fact that the cyclonic rain makes it appear that the south-west monsoon is still active, the mango trees have begun to bloom. There is a mango tree in bloom near the first chapel in Porvorim built by the Franciscan monks opposite the Dr Pinto do Rosario Hospital. The pair of seedling mango trees at the Cortalim road junction and the Konkan Railway viaduct over the riverside road to Vasco, will soon be full of blossoms. It is just the mango grafts that we lovingly nurture at home that refuse to flower. And there is a reason for that.
Mango trees need heat and water stress to flower. The trees that flower first grow on rocky ground that heats up in the October sunshine. It is because of this that the Devgad Hapoos, ie the erstwhile Alphonso, is in the market a fortnight before the mangoes begin to mature in Sawantwadi or Kudal. It is the same reason why the neglected trees on the rocky hillside flower before the Hapoos or Malcurada mango grafts at home. Watering the plants in October is a bad idea. The ‘ladlo’ at home matures slower than the child facing the rough and tumble of life in a hostel.
Everybody loves a good mango at the beginning of summer. In the 1980s and 1990s, the mango growers in the Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri districts of Maharashtra extensively used Cultar or paclobutrazol, a chemical pruning and dwarfing hormone that triggered flowering in mango and helped them reap bumper yields to get bumper profits. It is now on the banned list of chemicals for certification under the Global GAP or ‘Good Agricultural Practices’. Some still use it and hence the early mangoes should be consumed only by those really eager to eat one! There are other practices which are marginally safer and are practised by the contractors (rendkar) that lease the trees for the usufruct for periods of one to a few years. They spray Ethrel or Ethephon which generates ethylene gas. This is the same chemical used for artificially ripening mangoes and bananas although its use for fruit ripening is banned by FDA in Goa. It is best to avoid its spray on the tree because we do not know about its residues in the fruit that we eat.
Smudging is a simple technique of generating smoke under a tree when it is misty in November. A piece of wood or dry cow dung cake can be set afire and the fallen dry leaves of the mango can be heaped on it to generate the smoke under the tree but away from the trunk. Smoke plus fog is equal to smog. Due to incomplete burning, smoke contains ethylene gas in addition to carbon dioxide. If done twice in the late evening time when it is foggy, the process is enough to trigger flowering. This method is simple and fully organic. Try it if your mango tree does not flower. Start now to enjoy a good crop of mangoes this summer.