DRAGON FRUIT FIELD CULTIVATION
Dragon fruits are hardy plants and will grow across all soil types-given they aren’t
waterlogged and not extremely cold. In Kenya, the crop is expected to perform best in
ASAL areas with sandy soils.
Climatic and Soil Requirements Dragon fruit adapts very well to most climatic conditions found in Kenya. It prefers a dry, tropical climate with average temperatures between 21 to 30 degrees Celsius and rainfall of 500-1500mm per annum. However, it can still survive 400 C and as low as 00 C though for short periods. Although the plant will still grow and fruit in the cooler highland areas, the farmers will have delayed fruit maturity as the crop will grow slowly. It therefore means that farmers in all climatic zones can plant this crop. Dragon Fruit plants can tolerate any type of soil; however, they grow best in well-draining soils that are high in organic matter. Dragon fruit are moderately to highly tolerant of salt in the soil. They prefer a rich, mildly acidic to neutral soil, within the pH range 5.0 to 6.5. Water retaining soils can cause root rot, and therefore in mitigation soil may be mixed with sand or tiny stone gravels to facilitate water drainage or planting on raised beds. Ground Preparation The plants should be planted in full sun and free from shading obstacles such as buildings for optimal fruit production. Clear the ground by weeding up to 1 to 1.5-meter diameter around the individual sites which are mounded to 150 mm and dig 1.5ft hole in the ground. Care should be taken when selecting the support post as the same should last upwards of 25 years and carry a weight of up to 200 kilos Spacing Density Plant spacing depends on production system and trellis used. Single post trellis with 3 to 4 plants per post in a 3metre by 3-meter spacing configuration is common and accommodates 1800 plants/acre). The Dragon fruit stems are planted right next to the post to enable them climb. The plant rib with flatter side is oriented to run parallel to the post as the aerial roots that cling to the post emerge from this side. The plants are loosely tied to the post (using a sisal twine) to train them upwards to the trellis canopy. It is a fast-growing vine which requires a strong vertical post support (preferably 7ft concrete posts) to grow on and then a ring of used motorbike tyre on top to fall like an umbrella. The total life span of a Dragon Fruit tree is 20 -50years and therefore it becomes important for proper selection of posts and rings to ensure a strong and lasting support. Basic nutrients and fertilizers are periodically applied as per the soil & water properties of each individual plantation. No Metal framing is to be done because it may damage the plant from sun/heat burns.
Irrigation and Pruning Dragon fruit being a cactus requires much less water as compared to other crops/fruits. When fully established, it can survive without water for weeks or sometimes months. Approximately 1 to 2 litres of water per week per plant is sufficient during the dry season. Water requirement may increase or decrease depending upon your soil type, moisture 4 holding capacity, plant age and climatic conditions. It is necessary to regularly prune the dragon fruits plants to obtain an open, manageable, and productive umbrella shape canopy. Also, it is advised to prune right after harvesting the fruits. Regular pruning will induce new shoots for the next cropping season. Dragon fruit plants should be pruned on a regular basis to control size and allow air circulation. Pruning also helps prevent fungal disease infections. Pruning has best results when done on the main branch that has reached the top of the post. From one branch you may allow six sub-branches with three branches each. Dragon fruit plants should not be pruned for propagation until they are at least one-year-old, and ideally not until they have had one good flowering and fruiting season. The most buds (by far) appear on downward growing branches. In addition, there are far more buds on branches that have been pruned (whether the pruning was done by chopping off the branch through the green section or cutting it off at a node) than on un-pruned branches. It has to be trimmed regularly to remove the dead and overcrowding stems apart from sustaining its height. Also, look out for aphids as they can be found on young buds and shoots that will damage the plant. Pests/Diseases There are no serious pests and diseases so far found in dragon fruit farming in Kenya. Nonetheless fruit should be protected especially from birds and other predators. In some orchards and nurseries, stem-rot and root- rot diseases have been observed. The fungal diseases are mainly caused by overwatering or heavy rains and they may be spread through cuttings from infected nurseries. To avoid stem and root rot, soil must have good drainage and overwatering should be avoided. The fungal diseases can be controlled by spraying a fungicide. Fruit flies are the commonest pests in dragon fruit plantation but these can be suppressed by use of pheromone traps. In other parts of the world, stem rot and anthracnose have been reported as serious diseases of dragon fruit. Other known pests include: Moles, squirrels, and rabbits. These can feed and kill entire plants and become a significant problem. Scale insects, mealybugs, Ants, aphids and snails have been reported elsewhere to cause damage by feeding on young shoots and flower buds. Weeds can be a problem that increases production costs. Mulching helps in weed suppression while retaining soil moisture. Harvesting and crop yield The best time to harvest Dragon Fruit is 35 to 40 days after flowering (anthesis). The maturity of fruit is normally identified by changes in fruit skin colour which changes from bright green to red or pink at maturity. The fruit is non climacteric, which means it does not ripen further once removed from the plant. For this reason, it is important for the farmer to choose carefully the most optimal time to harvest, usually 3 to 5 days after the start of skin colour change. Dragon fruit can last for up to three months if stored at 70 to 5 100 C and 90% to 98% relative humidity. In ordinary room temperature conditions, the dragon fruit will remain fresh for upward of 2 weeks. The yield of a dragon fruit crop depends on many factors such as soil type, climate, stock variety and most importantly, orchard management practices. Dragon fruit obtained from a mature, well rooted stem normally fruits after 9-12 months after field planting. It fruits in 2 to 3 waves during one season. Each pole normally yields 10 to 40 kg of fruits, though yield of 60/80kgs per pole have been reported. Each fruit weighs about 400 to 900 grams. Peak fruit production is usually from the 3rd year onwards and average yield per acre is 5–6 tons. Economics in Dragon Fruit Farming: – Dragon fruits are sold in the market at a retail price of Ksh.1000 to 2,500 per kg, and sometimes as much as Ksh 950 per fruit! The general farm gate price is approximately between Ksh. 500 to 800 per kg. A general calculation of annual income for 1-acre plot may be calculated as follows: One Acre x 450 poles x 10 kg (least) x Ksh 500 (minimum) = Ksh 2,250,000/- per acre per year.