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A beginner's guide to tree tomato farming

MONEY & MARKET
By Jennifer Anyango | August 28th 2021

Tree tomato fruits on a farm at Amboni village, Mweiga, Nyeri. November 13, 2018. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

The tamarillo, commonly known as tree tomato, is a subtropical fruit that is grown in many parts of the world.

Enock Wambui, a farmer in Nyeri, says demand for the fruit is rising fast in the local market. 

Its main investment appeal, he says, is that it requires minimum care and can be done as a side hustle. 

Mr Wambui explains what is needed to successfully grow the fruit and get the expected returns. An acre can accommodate about 1,000 tree tomato plants.

“Regardless of size of the land, one can start small, meaning even with a quarter of an acre one can become a tree-tomato farmer and make a living out of it,” he says.

Land preparation and seed selection

Recommended spacing is six feet by six feet, with deep holes measuring two feet by two feet. This helps in root penetration and also to accommodate enough manure.

“Add a bucket of well-rotten manure per hole and mix well with topsoil,” he said.

Farmers are advised to buy seedlings from certified dealers to be assured of quality.

There are various varieties of tree tomato grown in Kenya and they are distinguished by colour. The yellow fruit variety has a superior flavour and is, therefore, good for preserving.

Red fruit has an appealing colour and is a favourite in the Kenyan markets, while the black or dark-red variety has a higher quality and is large.

Planting

Plant grafted seedlings by first ensuring the soil is well watered, or plant during the rainy season. Add mulching to every stem of your plants. “You may need a source of water in case of a dry season,” says Wambui.

“Plant and wait for about eight months, this is the time it takes to see the first fruits. Remember to set aside a small budget for insecticides because aphids can sometimes be a bother.”

Care

Protect your plant from pests and diseases from the early stages by spraying at a good interval depending on the rate of infestation. Use pesticides and fungicides that are both protective and curing.

The tree tomato is fairly resistant to most diseases and pests. However, the plant is prone to powdery mildew, which causes the leaves to fall off. Application of copper oxychloride (allowed in organic farming) can control the disease.

The main pests that attack the tree include aphids, whiteflies and nematodes. Grafted tree tomato is best in control of nematodes.

Spray your plants with foliar feed to ensure faster and stronger plants and also during flowering to boost more flowers and ensure they do not drop.

Returns

Expect average output of 20 to 50 kilogrammes per tree for the first year. A kilogramme sells for about Sh80. “So if you have 1,000 trees and get about 40kg, that is 40,000kg of tree tomatoes, which translates to over Sh3 million,” Wambui says.

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