A leisurely walk in this orchard is soothing. Here, farmers relax on well-furnished traditional huts as they enjoy a cool breeze amid a canopy of trees.
Finger licking fruits of different types hung loosely on various trees, beckoning visitors ‘eat me, eat me.’ On this day, the farm is flooded with local visiting farmers and international tourists who have come to see this marvel of a farm.
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Welcome to Eden Villa, mwalimu Charles Mureithi’s fruit orchard where he practises green tourism. Under the concept Green tourism, Mureithi, a CRE and Kiswahili teacher at Lariak Day Secondary School says farmers tour the farm, to come feed on its abundant fruits and learn conservation agriculture.
“The idea is to give visitors a romantic farming experience. A visitor gets to enjoy a calming nature walk, where they learn about various fruits and how they are grown,” he tells Smart Harvest.
The farm also acts as a training centre for farmers, students and researchers. For this service, he charges Sh1,000 for a one-day session. The training equips individuals with best practices in fruitproduction from seeding selection, nursery preparation, transplanting and grafting.
The teacher ventured into fruit production in 2004. To start off, he bought 150 passion seedlings locally at Sh50 each.
“I started this after a failed maize and wheat project. I planted maize on my farm but the crop withered at flowering stage,” says Mureithi. Step by step, the farm has grown in leaps and bounds.
No chemicals please!
The farm is also a picnic destination, where individuals tour the farm, learn various types of fruit trees, method of production and get to sample the tastey fruits. The beauty of it all is that he practises organic farming.
“I do not use any chemicals to grow the fruits. I let them mature before harvesting, which ensures they retain their natural sweetness,” Mureithi explains.
There are more than 30 variety of fruits in the 7.5 acre farm among them mangoes, passion, pineapples, oranges, pawpaw and avocados. All the fruits are grafted to boost quality and improve yields.
The farmer has planted tree tomato fruits grafted with soralam tree. The wild tree is used for grafting because it is drought resistant.
“Grafting is done to boost yields and produce quality fruits,” he explains.
Right in the middle of the is farm is pomegranate fruit. The fruit is biblical and central in the creation theory, says Mwalimu. He explains that while Israelites were migrating to Canaan, Joshua sent spies to assess the land. They brought back the fruit a clear indication the land was productive. Further, when God created the universe, he gave Adam and Eve dominion to rule, but warned them against taking the Forbidden fruit— pomegranate fruit.
Visitors on the farm are directed to feed on all fruits save for the pomegranate.
“My visitors can eat any fruit of their choice except the pomegranate. I am glad none has ever disobeyed,” he says.
Grafting is key
Next to the pomegranate fruit, are pawpaw trees planted on a quarter acre space. The variety is drought resistant, favourable for growing in dry areas. Harvesting of the fruit is continuous. Each fruit is sold at Sh100 locally.
Also on the farm are 3,500 pineapple plants that are harvested twice in a year. The fruits are sold to traders who later export to Europe. To boost fruit production, Mureithi practices mulching to retain soil moisture and capillarity. He also practice irrigation during dry spell.
The farmer has 320 mango trees that beautify the farm. The varieties include tommy, apple, kent and ngowa. Surprisingly, the farmer has grafted each branch of the mango trees with different species.
“I grafted all the branches with different variety of mangoes out of curiosity and also to understand production capacity. The experiment has worked because the fruits are richer and healthier,” says Mureithi.
There is ready market for mango fruit that are bought by traders who export to Europe. To boost his mango yields, he ensures every season, he clears weeds to prevent pests and diseases. The farmer also discourages unnecessary digging because it damages the roots. At flowering stage, he applies farm yard manure and for optimum growth and fruiting, pruning is advised.
During pruning, new shoots close to the main branches should be allowed to grow so that the tree does not develop a broad top with fruits on the outer edges, which are prone to wind damage.
“Trees require plenty of sunshine that is why I practice pruning regularly,” he says.
Top farming tips
Also at the farm are Hass avocados, fruits he plants for export to Japan where a single fruit fetches Sh500. A tree produces at least 300 fruits every season and bears fruits twice a year. Thriving as the farm may appear, it has its fair share of challenges. The main challenge is lack of adequate water.
“Fruits abort prematurely because of lack of water. To cope, I have dug a 20 feet well where I store harvested water, but it is not enough to sustain the farm during the dry spell,” he says.
Going forward, he plans to construct a dam for adequate supply of water for irrigation. To enhance production, the farmer has established bee keeping using Kenya’s top bar hives.
The bees kept in Kenya Top Bar hives are used for pollination of fruit trees on the orchard. Bee production is easier as compared to crop and livestock production because it is less labour intensive and require less space.
The hives are placed near a well netted k-apple fence that also act as bees foliage. The farmer is planning to establish a fruit shop where he can sell fruits directly to his customers. For those planning to borrow his agribusiness model, he has plenty of advice to dish out.
Agribusiness he notes, requires one to conduct proper research on type of farming, requirement, and availability of market and cost of production. Record keeping is also key to monitor expenses and profits. He also roots for mixed farming because of the many benefits.
“Food production can only be attained if we have farmers’ diversify to various crop and livestock projects. This way one has several income streams and fall back plan in case one venture does not do well,” he observes.
Mureithi’s farm has earned him several accolade including second best farmer in the country in 2016 National Farmers Award competition.