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Unlocking potential of Apricot cultivation

Crop
 Annual pruning enhances air circulation, removes dead branches, and maintains shape. [Phillip Orwa, Standard]

Apricot cultivation in Kenya remains relatively limited despite its potential to thrive in various regions across the country. Typically grown on a small scale, these round fruits belong to the Prunus genus of the Rosaceae family, alongside peaches, plums, and cherries. While native to Central and East Asia, apricots are now cultivated worldwide in suitable climates.

William Musili, a farmer in Machakos, is among those cultivating apricots on a small scale. Although he notes challenges in the market, he offers insights for those interested in venturing into apricot farming.

Selecting the right location

Apricots flourish in well-drained soil with ample sunlight and protection from strong winds.

Soil Preparation

Ensure soil fertility and drainage, aiming for a slightly acidic to neutral pH (6.0-7.5). Incorporate organic matter like compost to enhance soil structure.

Variety Selection

Choose varieties suited to local climates and soil conditions, such as Royal Blenheim, Tilton, and Bulida.

Propagation

Grafting and budding are common methods, ensuring desirable characteristics from parent plants.

“Apricot trees are grown from seed, the ‘stone’ inside of the fruit. It takes three or four years to go from the seedling stage to a fruit-producing tree. Like other fruit trees, most people do not want to wait that long. Rather, home growers turn to garden nurseries to purchase young trees that can be transplanted,” says Musili. He adds these freshly obtained seeds should be planted as soon as possible to avoid seed dormancy.

Planting

Plant during the rainy season or provide irrigation in the dry season, spacing trees five to seven meters apart.

Watering

Regular watering is essential, especially during fruit development, while ensuring good drainage to prevent root rot. “ However, ensure that the soil has good drainage to prevent waterlogging, which can lead to root rot,” says Musili.

Fertilisation

Apply balanced fertiliser as per soil test recommendations or general fruit tree guidelines.

Pruning

Annual pruning enhances air circulation, removes dead branches, and maintains shape.

Pest and disease management

Implement integrated pest management techniques to combat aphids, fruit flies, powdery mildew, and brown rot. Pest netting can protect against bird damage.

Harvesting

Patience is key, with apricots taking three to four years to yield fruit. Harvest just before complete ripening to prevent bruising.

Market

While the apricot market may not be vibrant, exploring various outlets such as markets, supermarkets, and farmer markets can be lucrative, with prices averaging around Sh60 per kilo.

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