Saturday, 23 June 2012

Growing Tree Tomato plants (tamarillo) in Kenya

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A single tree tomato grown in good fertile soil can bear 20-30kg of fruit per year earning the farmer over Ksh 500,000 from a single acre of land. The fruits can be eaten fresh by scooping the flesh from halved pieces. For other uses the skin must be removed which is easily done by pouring boiling water over the fruits and letting it stand for 4 minutes before peeling. The tree tomato flesh can be added to stews to make unique flavour. The tree tomato fruits are tasty and decorative in salads making appetizing desserts. Fresh tree tomato is frequently blended with sugar and water to make refreshing juice. The fruits should not be cut on wooden or other permeable surface as the juice will make an indelible mark. The tree tomato plants are small attractive, half woody and evergreen. The leaves are alternate and evergreen with a heart shaped base and a pointed apex. The tree tomato plants are brittle and shallow rooted growing to a height of 3M to 5.5M. The fruits are long stalked and dangling, in clusters of 3 to 12 smooth, egg shaped and pointed at both ends. The skin colour may be deep purple, blood red, orange or yellow.

The shrubs are subtropical rather than tropical and grow well in altitudes of between 1,500M to 3,000M, and grow best where the temperature remains above 50ºF with  well drained soils. The shrub requires fertile light soils rich in organic matter for vigorous growth. It cannot tolerate prolonged drought and therefore mulching and supplementary irrigation are beneficial. A compound fertilizer may be applied at sowing time if necessary. Seeds and cuttings may be used for growing tree tomato. Seeds develop into high-branched erect shrub while cuttings develop into shorter bushy plants with low lying branches. The plants from seed are not always true to type but are most likely if care is taken to extract seed from red fruits with black seed pulp or yellow fruits with yellow seed pulp. Germination is accelerated by placing washed and dried seeds in a freezer for 24 hours before sowing. Cuttings should only be from plants which are 1 - 2 years old with a thickness of 1.5 to 2.5 cm (3/8 to 1 inch) and a length of 45 to75 cm (18 to 30 inches)The leaves are removed and the base cut square below a node. When the plants are about 1-1.5 metres, cut the roots on one side and lean the plants to the other, in the direction of the midday sun at about 30 to 45 degrees. This allows bearing braches to grow along the trunk rather than just at the top.

The plants can grow up to 6M high but are easily damaged by wind and needs shelter.  Plants cuttings can be sown directly at a spacing of 3×3M in the ground, but should not be permitted to bear the first year. Newly grown tree tomatoes should be pruned to a height of 90-120cm (3-4ft) .Yearly pruning thereafter is recommended to eliminate branches that have already born because fruits are produced on new growth. Pruning also aids in harvesting and if timed properly can extend the total bearing period. The tomato tree plants will bear fruits after 2years. Tree tomatoes are ready to harvest when they develop the red or yellow colour. To harvest simply pull the fruits from the shrubs with a snapping motion leaving the stalk attached.  Well nourished plants can produce up to 66 kg per year. The fruits can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 10 weeks, but temperatures below 38ºF can cause the skin to discolour .Tree tomatoes are generally pest resistant other than occasional attacks of green  aphids and fruits flies. The principal disease affecting growing tree tomatoes is powdery mildew which may cause serious defoliation if not controlled. Other diseases during growth include potato virus, cucumber mosaic virus. Control the plants’ diseases using suitable pesticides.

Read also- Tree tomato farmers guide to millionnair status        

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