Tradition and consumption
Pomegranate is one of the "seven kinds" mentioned in the Bible which Greece was blessed with long ago. It grew in the region for thousands of years and is very much adapted to it: it sheds its leaves in the cold of our winters, while it sprouts in early spring when temperatures rise.
Nice colour and crown are very important characteristics of the fruit. Consumers in Greece do not distinguish pomegranate according to names. Merchants know two groups: sweet and sour cvs. Therefore the price is decided mainly by appearance. There are objective difficulties in eating pomegranates. The edible grains have to be separated from the hard rind and from the bitter yellow diaphragms. The juice stains hands and clothes. Therefore "tools" are needed to prepare the fruit for eating while many other fruits can be eaten directly. There were attempts to serve the consumers with a "ready to eat" product of separated grains. Those products are hand prepared and have not gained popularity yet because of their high price. We believe that the market for the fruit can be expanded if good products are available to the consumers.
In the past, pomegranates were cultivated in Greece in mixed orchards like many other trees. They still grow this way in home gardens. Modern cultivation is in uniform blocks of 1-5 hectares size, which are cultivated using modern technology, as will be described.
The aim of the growers is to produce more than 30 tons per hectare of high quality fruits. Big fruit obtain higher price than small one. Fruit weight should be more than 400 grams. Small fruits have no market. The fruit should have nice colour, preferably red with a nice crown. Grains should be pink-red, large, sweet with pleasant aroma. The seeds should be soft.
Except for very calcareous or saline soils the pomegranate can be successfully grown in all soils. Most orchards in Greece are planted in medium or heavy soils with good drainage. In heavy soils ridges are sometimes prepared to have a better aeration of the root system in order to obtain higher production. There is no problem to plant in light-sandy soils as all orchards are well irrigated and can be irrigated even daily with the needed amount of water.
Tree shape and orchard design
The shape and size of the mature trees should influence the orchard design. Generally in Greece the trees are standing alone, producing all around the tree. No hedges are created. As the planting material of pomegranate is very cheap (many people just plant unrooted cuttings), there is a tendency to overcrowd the orchard. In a crowded orchard, production is lowered, fruits are set only at the top of the trees, colouring is bad and distribution of spraying materials is very bad. Therefore the planting distances are generally 6×4 m or 6×5 m, except for the semi dwarf cultivars where planting distances could be somewhat closer like 5×3 m.
Generally a tree will have few trunks 3-5 in a modern orchards while there were 5-12 in old
orchards. The trees are trained to grow as an open vase. In such a way that light penetrates the trees from between the rows as well as from the inside of the trees. If the main trunks are bent too much, binding them with strong material to the opposite side branches is carried out.
New branches appear on the exposed trunks. They are hand removed few times during the
season while suckers are sprayed by 2,4D compounds. For renewing old trunks, new branches are left one per trunk. They can replace a trunk within 2-3 years of growth.
The light penetration from between the rows depend on the distance between the rows and on the height of the trees. In the previously mentioned distances, tree height should not exceed 3.0-3.5 m. Higher trees will be more expensive to harvest as fruits will be mostly at the top of the trees. All manual treatments will be more expensive, and sprays of pesticides will be less effective.