POMEGRANATE PRODUCTION

Pomegranate fruits are considered super fruits due to their nutritive value it is now a sought after fruit in both the Kenyan market and European market prompting many farmers interest to venture into the business and establish pomegranates farms with the hopes of earning from it.  In Europe, pomegranates are considered luxury fruits that well in the higher segments. Furthermore, farmers are leaning towards replacing the traditional maize and wheat type of farming with more profitable and climate-resilient ways that both sustainability and profitability the effect of climate change on rain-fed agriculture is making this traditional farming system increasingly untenable.

The pomegranate is the most widely adaptable due to the plant being drought tolerant, does not require a lot of water, and can be grown in semi-arid areas with altitudes of about 500-1000m above sea level.   In Kenya, pomegranates perform well in areas such as Machakos, Makueni, Kitui, parts of North-eastern Kenya like Wajir and Mandera, parts of Central Kenya such as Nyeri, the coastal region, and most parts of Western Kenya. They also thrive in parts such as Kisumu.

Pomegranates varieties are grown in Kenya.

  1. Kandhari
  2. Ganesh
  3. Jyothi
  4. Matula
  5. Bhagwa
  6. Phule Arakta

Factors to Consider When Growing Pomegranates.

The establishment of an orchard is a long-term investment and deserves very critical planning. The primary consideration before setting up an orchard is to analyze the available resources in the context of those, which are essential for successful fruit production. Careful planning results in optimum production, high returns, and long tree life. Poor initial decisions can be costly and difficult to correct later. All available pertinent information should therefore be sought out before final commitments are made. Site selection is one of the most important decisions a grower will make over the life of an orchard. Virtually every aspect of production and marketing is, to a degree, affected by the site. It affects cropping consistency, fruit quality, pest pressures, and marketing success. Choosing an area conducive to growing pomegranates is a critical step in commercializing pomegranates cultivation.

Water: Choose a site where there is ready access to a water supply. This can be a permanent river, spring, reliable water project, or borehole.

 Soil Type Pomegranate can successfully be grown on a wide range of soils. The trees can tolerate fairly alkaline soils and also grow in soils with a certain amount of salinity. Optimum growth conditions though will be achieved in deeper well-drained loam soils with good moisture and nutrient retention and a pH ranging between, 6.5 to 7.5. Trees will also grow in light-sandy soils – provided that the orchard is well irrigated.

Avoid the growing of pomegranates on poorly drained and soils with a high clay content as this might lead to root rot. In areas with clay soils, it is recommended to use organic manure as this will further improve drainage and soil fertility.

Site Selection and Preparation

Aside from soil type and drainage, site selection should also take into consideration sun exposure and air circulation. Pomegranates require at least six hours of direct sunlight a day to ensure good fruit color and productivity. Aligning the orchard rows and planting slopes according to optimum sun exposure (but minimize sunburn) is important. Soil drainage is as important as row orientation and trees should be planted in the best possible position related to these factors.

Frost protection

Pomegranate trees are especially sensitive to wind and extremely windy areas should be avoided when planning production sites. Frost could be a real threat to young pomegranate plantings and special care should be taken to reduce the danger of frost in certain areas. Trees planted in open lower areas and trees exposed to cold prevailing winds are most likely to suffer frost damage.

Soil preparation and soil corrections

Pomegranate can successfully be grown on a wide range of soils. The trees can tolerate fairly alkaline soils and also grow in soils with a certain amount of salinity. Optimum growth conditions though will be achieved in deeper well-drained loam soils with good moisture and nutrient retention and a pH ranging between, 6.5 to 7.5. Trees will also grow in light-sandy soils – provided that the orchard is well irrigated It is Important to collect a representative soil sample in the orchard, and If, according to the soil analysis, corrections need to be made – it should be done before planting. If test results show high PH lime should be applied before planting and tilled in thoroughly with the soil. Common amendments are lime and manure.

ORCHARD ESTABLISHMENT

Pomegranates require a spacing of around 3.5m x 4m. The tree density should permit adequate sunlight penetration for growth. The light penetration from between the rows depends on the distance between the rows and the height of the trees. The ideal tree height should be 3.0-3.5 m.

Management Practices for Pomegranate Orchard

De-blossoming: To increase fruit production, prune off the flowers the first time they appear. This flowering and fruiting are are the expense of growth and hindrance of the formation of a strong framework of the plant.  It may lead to stunting and poor development of the crop. These inflorescences, therefore, need to be removed immediately after emergence not to disturb vegetative growth. Pomegranates grown from cuttings should be de-blossomed until they are 5 months old after planting.

Weed control

Weed control in pomegranate orchards is important as it creates competition for water and fertilizer and in the case of newly planted trees – sunlight. Weeds could also host insect pests that could create problems in the orchard. Weeds can be managed by mowing, covering crops in the inter-row space, or application of weed killer chemicals. Weeds are controlled mainly with pre-emergence weed killers while after germination, in the plant rows, glyphosate can be applied throughout the season but special care should be taken to avoid applications on windy days. Consult label for application instructions.

Cover crops could be considered to get rid of competing weeds and act as hosts for natural enemies of potential pests.

Fertilizing

Pomegranate being a perennial crop, producing a huge quantity of biomass generally demands specific amounts of nutrient elements. Depending on the soil analysis results, about 200kg/acre nitrogen is given annually. As for other macro-nutrients, phosphorus and potassium need only be applied if soil tests or leaf analysis indicate a deficiency. One of the few common deficiencies found in pomegranate is zinc, which appears as unusual yellowing of the leaves. If required, a foliar zinc application in the spring after fruit set is recommended. It is recommended to reduce the N: P to the minimum closer to fruit ripening, to ensure good development of the color and accumulation of sugars in the arils. It is important to get advice from an expert on the most suitable fertilizer programs for your orchard.

Watering.

Although pomegranates are very drought tolerant, ensuring adequate soil moisture will result in a substantial improvement in plant vigor and fruit yield. Most commercial pomegranate orchards are irrigated and drip irrigation is normally recommended (one or two lines of drippers per row)

Care should be taken, as excessive soil moisture in the summer can lead to an abundance of vegetative growth, but the fruit produced will tend to be softer, resulting in poor post harvest quality.

Trees are irrigation according to an irrigation schedule developed for the specific soil and climatic conditions in the orchard. An average of 350mm to 500mm of irrigation water is required over the growing season.

Pruning

Proper pruning and thinning of fruit for sun protection and larger fruit yields. Each tree has a limited capacity to supply nutrients to foliage and fruit. With adequate pruning and thinning of underdeveloped or poor quality fruit, those nutrients can be more beneficial to a smaller number of fruit, producing better yields.

Trees should have three to five lateral branches as opposed to the conventional 12 or 15. Trees should be pruned to maintain a height that provides easy access to fruit on top branches. (Taller trees do not provide more fruit.) Trees should not be more than 5m in height. Prune older trees more heavily than younger trees so that they are reinvigorated. Remember that fruit will form mostly on the outer part of the canopy where light penetration is best.

Pruning should take place before full bloom takes place.  Prune the top portion more heavily than the bottom, as this is where most vegetative growth occurs.

Thinning of fruits

Too many fruits on trees may hurt the following season’s yield and will also impact the current season’s fruit size. To avoid this, thinning of fruits 4 – 5 weeks after flowering could be useful. It is also important to thin fruit in clusters as fruit clusters usually create an ideal environment for insects to survive and thrive! A general rule will also be to thin out the fruits borne on weak spurs, deformed and damaged fruits. Generally, the early flowers will result in a large fruit.

Fertilization

Nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium are the major nutrients required for proper pomegranate growth. Nitrogen (urea) should be applied by hand during the first two years, the amount increasing each year up to the fourth year. Trees can be given 200 grams of NPK in the first year of planting. After that, little fertilizer is needed (although the plants respond favorably to a mulch of rotted manure or other compost). After harvest and when the trees have lost their leaves, 300g of urea and 250g of diammonium phosphate (DAP) fertilizer should be applied, with plenty of irrigation afterward.

Sunburn protection. Pomegranates are mainly grown in the warmer areas where temperatures normally rise above 40°C. Exposure of the fruit to intense sunlight can cause sunburn damage in the form of large black spots on the fruit skin, which render the fruit unmarketable. Fruit from young trees is especially sensitive to sunburn as a result of insufficient leaf coverage on the tree. Several approaches could be taken to reduce sunburn incidence such; Avoid heavy pruning and ensure that the tree has adequate growth to allow sufficient leaf growth to protect the tree and  bagging of fruit (paper bags), adjusting of fertilization and irrigation regimes as well as orchard covering

Maturity, harvesting, and post-harvest management

Harvest maturity is normally determined by sugar and acid contents, sugar: acid ratio, and the color development of the fruit.

A pomegranate is easy to harvest and if trees are properly trained, minimal ladder work is required. Fruit is harvested by clipping them with shears – as close to the fruit as possible to prevent a sharp point of wood from piercing and rubbing against other fruit in the bin. Fruit are placed directly into picking trays or bins in the orchard. Pomegranate fruits are quite sensitive and should be handled with care to minimize bruising or scuffing.

After harvest, fruit is transported to a sorting and packing facility with or without pre-cooling of fruit. Fruit will benefit from being placed into cold storage as soon as possible after packaging. Quality criteria such as cracks, defects, insects’ presence insect damage, rot, color, size, and weight are the most pertinent criteria used during the sorting process. Fruit could also be treated with a post harvest fungicide especially if they will be subject to longer-term cold storage. Cold damage (or chilling injury) can be observed as the browning of the white interlobular membrane and arils. Arils will also soften, resulting in higher levels of rot, and could occur if fruit are stored at too low temperatures for long periods

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