An Overview on Tamarillo (Tree Tomato) cultivation in Kenya
Tamarillo best known by the name tree tomatoes in Kenya is a fast-growing tree that grows up to 2-5 meters. Peak production is reached after 3-6 years depending on the caltivar, and the life expectancy is about 12 years. The tree usually forms a single upright trunk with lateral branches. They produce 1 to 6 fruits per cluster. Plants can set fruit without cross-pollination, but the flowers are fragrant and attract insects. Cross-pollination seems to improve fruit set.
CLIMATE, SOIL REQUIREMENT & GROWTH
The tamarillo prefers subtropical climate, they grow in many parts of Kenya with rainfall between 600 and 4000 millimeters and annual temperatures between 15 and 20 °C. It is intolerant to frost (below -2 °C) and drought stress. It is assumed that fruit set is affected by night temperatures. Areas where citrus are cultivated provide good conditions for tamarillos. Tamarillo plants grow best in light, deep, fertile soils, although they are not very demanding However, soils must be permeable since the plants are not tolerant to water-logging. They grow naturally on soils with a pH of 5 to 8.5. they are as well planted by irrigation as they also do well.
The main varieties grown in Kenya are the Gold-mine, Inca red, Rothamer, Solid gold and Ruby red.
Most farmers in Kenya use seeds as a means of Propagation but its also possible by the use of using cuttings. Seedlings first develop a straight, about 1.5 to 1.8 meters tall trunk, before they branch out. Propagation by seeds is easy and ideal in protected environments. Seedlings should be kept in the nursery until they reach a height of 1 to 1.5 meters for efficient growth.
Plants grown from cuttings branch out earlier and result in more shrub-like plants that are more suitable for exposed sites. Cuttings should be made from basal and aerial shoots, and should be free of pathogenic viruses. Plants grown from cuttings should be kept in the nursery until they reach a height of 0.5 to 1 meter.
The most easy way to grow tamarillo is through seedlings
The tree grows very quickly and is able to carry fruits after 1.5 to 2 years though in some favorable conditions they carry fruits in a lesser span of time. The plant is day length-insensitive. The fruits do not mature simultaneously, unless the tree has been pruned.
A single tree can produce more than 30 kg fruits per year, an orchard yields in 15 to 17 tons per hectare. One single mature tree in good soil will bear more fruit than a normal family can eat in about 3 months.
PLANTING AND PRUNING
The distance from one plant to the next should be atleast 4 feet and space between one row and the next should be 5 feet. Dig 1.5 M by 1.5 M Mix one and a half wheelbarrow of well-prepared compost (chickens and pig manure are preferred) with two spadefuls of topsoil to plant the seed-lings. 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 very important.
When the tree is about 1 to 1.5 meters in height, it is advisable to cut the roots on one side and lean the tree to the other (in the direction of the midday sun at about 30 to 45 degrees). This allows fruiting branches to grow all along the trunk rather than just at the top. An acre can be planted 900 – 1200 tree seedlings.
PEST CONTROL & FERTILIZATION
When planting Tamarillo’s approximately 200 grams of diammonium sulfate should be applied in each and every plant. After two months of planting each and every plant should be supplied with Ammonium nitrate or urea (the white fertilizer) in 250 grams per plant in a span of 4 months for 4 years.
Tree tomato is fairly resistant to most diseases and pests. However, the tree is prone to powdery mildew, which causes the leaves to fall off. Application of copper oxychloride (allowed in organic farming) can control the disease. Neem extracts can also be used to control the disease. The main pests that attack the tree include the aphids, thrips whiteflies and nematodes. Pests can be prevented by continuous application of plant extracts (chilies, African marigold, garlic, neem) at least three times.
A killograme of tree tomato fruits sells between Ksh80-150