The annual plant Fabaceae, known as “Abish” in Amharic, is a member of the Fabaceae family (former Leguminosae). It is native to southern Europe and Asia, and it is mostly grown in semiarid climates across the world. India, Argentina, Egypt, Morocco, Southern France, Algeria, Ethiopia, and Lebanon are the largest fenugreek producers.
Fenugreek is the only leguminous spice that is extensively sold, and it may be used as a rotating crop to improve soil fertility by fixing nitrogen. It’s been used for food, spices, and medicine, as well as hay for green manuring. The leaves are valued as culinary herbs in many nations, even though it is mostly grown for their fiery seeds. The seeds are also used in Ethiopia as a milk enhancer and as a component in the manufacturing of clarified Ethiopian butter.
Fenugreek-growing regions in Ethiopia are the high plateaus (1800-2300 masl.) with a subtropical environment of rainy and dry seasons. According to the Ethiopian Central Statistics Agency (2013), the total area under fenugreek cultivation was 24, 426.24 hectares, with a production of over 45.626, 62 tons.
The varieties of fenugreek seeds
Fenugreek is available in two different kinds. The leaves of the most popular big seeded variants are slightly larger, and the blooms are white. Because these types may only be trimmed once, they must be sown in order. The smaller seeded types, which may re-grow after cutting and have somewhat smaller leaves and yellow blooms, are the second kind. During the winter season, these smaller forms might continue to develop slowly.
Climate and soils
Fenugreek grows from tropical to temperate zones because of its versatility. It is an excellent source of crop rotation for other plants. It is best to grow at a sea level with altitude of 2000 meters. It is mostly cultivated in Ethiopia at elevations ranging from 1750 to 2200 masl.
Fenugreek is mostly a cool-season crop that tolerates frost and very low temperatures. During their early stages, plants require a relatively chilly temperature for optimum vegetative development, but a dry and relatively hot temperature promotes better ripening and seed production. It thrives in full light and is resistant to frost and temperatures as low as -5°C. It works well in areas with moderate to low rainfall. Dry weather is critical for crop maturation, and locations with significant rainfall should be avoided.
Fenugreek may be grown successfully in a variety of soil types (from loam to sandy), but the optimal soil is a well-drained loam. Heavy loam soils with appropriate organic content and drainage can also be utilized. For healthy development, the pH of the soil should be between 6.0 and 7.0. It tolerates salt well and maybe cultivated on black vertisol with sufficient drainage.
To get good tilth, the fenugreek ground is plowed three to four times. During the final plowing, organic manure is added. If the soil is vertical, soil management practices such as BBM can be employed to make planting beds with 120-130 cm spacing. Sowing times might change based on the agro-ecological circumstances. For example, in Debrezeit, and Wolo regions, fenugreek is sown in the first and second weeks of August, but in Bale and Gondar, it is sown from the end of September to the middle of October. Similarly, seed rate depends on the area, based on soil quality, seed germination capacity, and various kinds. However, on average, the seed rate used in Ethiopia is 25 kilograms per hectare. If sown in a row, a spacing of 20 cm to 30 cm between rows and 10 cm to 15 cm between plants, at a planting depth of 2 cm to 3 cm should be maintained not to affect the germination rate. Seeds germinate and emerge from the soil in 4 to 10 days depending on planting season, growing conditions, and planting depth.
To create succulent leaf matter and support early development, the soil for fenugreek cultivation should be thoroughly manured. Generally, 150 quintals of well-rotten FYM are advised. Fenugreek is known to extract NPK from the soil in a 2:1:2 ratio, and it has a high Ca and Fe absorption. Other nutrients known to be abundantly absorbed are Fe (123g/ha), Mn (14g/ha), and Zn (14g/ha).Cu (12g/ha) and Zn (39g/ha). As a result, to maintain a consistent level of production, a suitable amount of NPK, as well as the above-mentioned nutrients, should be considered in fertilizer application. Several studies have also found that fenugreek fixes about 283kg of nitrogen per acre. Nitrogen application (20- 30kg/ha) immediately after the first cutting increases leaf output.
Fenugreek is typically grown as a rain-fed crop in Ethiopia. However, if cultivated under irrigated conditions, 6 to 8 irrigations in light soils and 4 to 5 irrigations in heavy soils are necessary. Weeds can be a concern at the early stages of growth, thus modest cultivation is required. After around 20-25 days after seeding, the crop canopy generally fills the region, preventing weed growth. Weeding and hoeing are required twice during the early development phases since crop growth is slower than most weeds at this period. The first weeding occurs during thinning (approximately 30 days after sowing), and the second occurs 45 to 60 days after seeding. Thin the crop at the 3-4 leaf stage to maintain a plant-to-plant distance of about 10cm. This stage is usually reached when the plants are between 20 and 30 days old. During this process, just one plant/hill is kept.
Harvesting and Yield
Fenugreek can be harvested for vegetable uses 25-35 days after seeding, when 3-4 leaves are present. With a sharp knife or sickle, the plants are cut 2-3cm above the ground, leaving the stubs to grow new shoots for subsequent cuts. If the chopped or nipped components are strung together in bundles for selling, they should be kept cold and wet. Leaves can also be dried and preserved for up to a year after harvest.
Even though the leaves have a high economic value, their overabundance might harm crop productivity. The stubs continue to grow new stalks, and additional cuttings can be made every 12-15 days. When plucked too late, the leaves might have a harsh flavor. Plants can be preserved for seed after taking 2-3 cuttings. They must, however, be completely removed after 4-5 cuts. Seed yields, on the other hand, are often much greater when the crop is produced just for seed. Fenugreek flowers in 70-80 days and matures in another 80-90 days.
Seeds typically reach physiological maturity 45 days following anthesis and should be collected as soon as feasible. Shattering occurs when the seeds are overripe, but shrinking occurs when they are harvested too early. Hand harvesting involves pulling the plants up from the soil with their roots and allowing them to dry in the sun. After that, the seeds are separated by threshing and cleaned by winnowing. The yield of fenugreek typically varies depending on the growth circumstances in different production locations, the growing season, the kind of variety planted, whether the crop is grown in a mixed or pure stand, and the number of cuttings made before seed set.
When no seed is collected, around 8.0 to 9.0 tons of green leaves are harvested per hectare. However, if the crop is produced just for the seed, a yield of 1.5-1.8 tons/ha can be obtained. However, some improved varieties may yield up to 2.2 tons per acre in the study field.