Tamarillo best known as tree-tomatoes in Kenya is a fast-growing tree that grows up to 2-5 meters. Grafted tree tomato reaches peak production after 1-2 years while the normal ones reach 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. Grafted Tree-tomato produce 6-10 fruits per cluster. Plants can set fruit without cross-pollination, but the flowers are fragrant and attract insects. Cross-pollination seems to improve fruit.
Grafted tree-tomato 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 tree-tomatos. Tree-tomato 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.
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.
NB! The above ways are not recommended since the plants are easily affected by nematodes and have a short life span.
THE EASIEST WAY TO GROW TREE-TOMATO IS THROUGH GRAFTED SEEDLINGS
The tree grows very quickly and is able to carry fruits after 10 months 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 60 kg fruits per year, an orchard yields in 30 to 40 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
- Spacing should be 6 by 6feet
- Dig 2ft by 2ft Mix one and a half wheelbarrow of well-prepared compost (chickens and pig manure are preferred) with two spade-full 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.
- An acre can be planted 1200-1500 tree seedlings.
PEST CONTROL & FERTILIZATION
When planting Tree-tomato’s approximately 200 grams of diammonium sulfate should be applied in each plant. After two months of planting each plant should be supplied with Ammonium nitrate or urea (the white fertilizer) in 250 grams per plant in a span of 4 months for 6 years.
Tree tomato is 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 kilogram of tree tomato fruits sells between Ksh 100-150.
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