Digital farmer excels in tree tomato project
John Kiruthi is the founder of agricultural information portal Farmers Trend. However, he also indulges himself in farming, whereby he grows tree tomato and also sells tree tomato seedlings.
“I mainly concentrate on raising tree tomato seedlings in Nyeri and Limuru. I’ve managed to propagate more than 40,000 grafted tree tomato seedlings. I use about 0.5 acres for the seedlings project. The tree tomato farm is one acre each in Nyeri and Limuru,’’ says Kiruthi.
The farmer reveals that he was introduced to tree tomato farming by one of his clients, who was also carrying out this kind of farming.
He says that he ventured into this farming in 2015, spending the capital of Sh100,000.
“I first bought seedlings in a nursery in Embu and planted them in Nyeri in 2015. In 2017, I started propagating my own seedlings,’’ says Kiruthi, adding that he imports seeds from South Africa. I’ve 1,200 mature trees in Nyeri and 1,300 trees in Limuru. Tree tomatoes, unlike other fruits, do not have seasons; the fruits are harvested weekly. In a year, I harvest between 15kgs and 20kgs per tree,’’ the farmer reveals, adding that the highest they have ever had was 30kgs per.
“One thing I tell those planning to plant tree tomatoes is that it is a heavy feeder of water. Under proper management, the tree starts providing fruits in the eighth month after transplanting the seedlings. Irrigation is a key thing that we do on a daily basis. Tree tomato is also a feeder of chemicals. We keep monitoring pests and diseases that tend to affect them often,’’ he says.
Kiruthi adds that before planting the seedlings, the first till the land well to loosen the soil and then dig out planting holes.
“While digging the holes, we separate subsoil with topsoil. We then mix the topsoil with 10kgs of compost manure and return back to the hole, almost to the brim. It’s at this point that we plant the seedlings,’’ says the farmer.
He adds that the holes must be made wet prior to the planting exercise. However, the tree tomato market depends on various factors with prices ranging from Sh80 to Sh150 per kilogramme.
According to him, root rot and nematodes are sometimes a challenge since they attack the crop.
“These have always presented a major headache as they have no treatment. We had experienced this with non-grafted tree tomatoes, that is one of the reasons we advocate for the grafted variety. Red spider mites and thrips have also been a challenge, though some pesticides are known to get rid of them,’’ Kiruthi says.
He adds that tree tomatoes are labour intensive, hence finding skilled workers has always been a challenge to him.
Kiruthi sells non-grafted tree tomato seedlings at Sh50, each, while those which have been grafted using an indigenous tree called ‘Muthakwa’ are sold at Sh100 each.
“Muthakwa grafted tree tomato tends to have a longer lifespan and resistance to nematodes that normally attack the tree,’’ the farmer reveals, adding that such a grafted tree tomato tends to produce bigger and tastier fruits.
According to Kiruthi, tree tomato farming is not a venture for the fainthearted; it is labour intensive and requires careful monitoring if one expects to reap quality fruits.
He advises that farmers ought to have sufficient water or use drip irrigation to farm this kind of fruit trees.
Apart from tree tomatoes, they also propagate Hass avocado seedlings in plenty. “This year, we have propagated more than 200,000 seedlings for sale at Sh150 each,’’ he adds.