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Steps to owning your tree tomato orchard

By Lydiah Nyawira
Tamarillo, whole and cut half-and-half.

Tree tomatoes also known as tamarillo are quickly gaining popularity among Kenyans due to its market potential.

The tamarillo is a small tree or shrub in the flowering plant family Solanaceae and is best known as the species that bears the tamarillo, an egg-shaped edible fruit. Agronomist Wachira Wambugu says while there are over 30 varieties in the market, the best variety is Red Oratia.

Tree tomato fruits on a farm at Amboni Village in Mweiga,Nyeri,on November 13,2018. Kibata Kihu/Standard

Red Oratia

“The market has red and yellow variety and while the yellow one is sweeter, the red is preferred because it has better yield in size and weight. You can process as much as 90 percent of the fruit,” he says.

For a good start, Wambugu advises farmers to get certified tree tomato seeds or cuttings from trusted dealers. Seeds produce trees with more branches that are erect tree and ideal for sheltered locations.

“If you buy seeds, plant them in a nursery for 54 days until they are an average height of 2-6 inches, after which you transplant them to the farm,” he explains.

Cuttings develop into shorter bushy plants with low-lying branches making them suitable for growing in areas prone to wind or areas without protection from wind. Transplanting can be done at six weeks. Tamarillo have similar features as other tomato fruits and therefore are affected by similar challenges. At fruit bearing stage, tree tomatoes need support to prevent branches from breaking when laden with fruits.

The trees can easily be blown away by the wind as they are shallow rooted. For some farmers, grafting the tamarillo onto bugweed (Muthakwa shrub) gives it the necessary root system and support incase of strong winds.

Once planted the best way to retain moisture in a tree tomato plantation is to apply mulch, which also reduces weed growth.

During the planting stage dig holes measuring1.5 feet deep, put the top soil on one side and the subsoil on the other. The distance from one plant to the next should be 1metre feet and space between one row and the next should be 2 metres.

Farmer John Githigia Kigo in his farm where he uprooted tea bushes and replaced with tree tomatoes which have better market and high returns. [Boniface Gikandi, Standard]

Planting

Mix one and a half wheelbarrow of well-prepared compost manure with two spadefuls of topsoil to plant the seedlings. Leave a shallow depression in every plant for placing the mulching material - only 1 feet of the tree tomato seedling should be buried while planting just enough to cover the root hairs.

Selection of planting site is key; tree tomatoes do well when planted on land that has not had any crop for two or three seasons. An acre can accommodate about 1,200 trees, says the agronomist.

The soils should be well-aerated soil. The soil must be fertile and light in texture and rich in organic matter. Good drainage is necessary since water logged soils can kill the plants. Tree tomatoes cannot survive in areas with prolonged drought. They must have ample water during the dry season. According to Wambugu, tree tomatoes perform well in coffee and tea growing zones. As you plant, do it in an area with adequate protection from wind and with sufficient water.

“Each plant will require, manure, and at least 20 litres of water per plant per week,” Wambugu says.

The farmer can expect the first harvest in eight months.

“... And you can harvest continuously for eight years,” he says. To maintain healthy growth, tree tomatoes require continuous fertilisation. Mix farmyard manure with water and apply as slurry in the shallow depression around the plant once every two months. Tree tomato is fairly resistant to most diseases and pests. However, the tree is prone to blight, which causes the leaves to turn yellow

Lnyawira@standardmedia.co.ke     

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