Tree tomato, also known as tamarillo, is a small, half woody plant with shallow roots. The tree grows to an average height of about 3.5-5 metres, depending on the variety.
The crop takes about nine months to mature and its peak production is usually in the first to second year.
The varieties grown in Kenya include Goldmine, Ruby Red and Solid Gold. One should choose a variety to grow in line with their ecological conditions, resistance to pests and diseases and customers’ preferences.
The tree yields 50-60 fruits per year and is eaten raw, unlike the normal tomatoes that can also be cooked.
Tree tomatoes grow well in areas that are well-drained and receive adequate sunlight. The soil should be well-aerated to allow root penetration.
Well-drained soil is important as waterlogged areas result in the death of fruits. The trees grow well in pH of about 5-8.
The spacing is usually three-by-three metres for the inter-row and inter-crop distance. During transplanting, one should mix well-decomposed farmyard manure and 200g of Diammonium Phosphate (DAP).
They should also ensure that the crops remain healthy through continuous fertiliser application during the growing period.
Foliar organic fertilisers are essential in enhancing faster and stronger growth of crops.
After two months, farmyard manure mixed with water to form a slurry should be applied to supply nutrients to the plants.
Watering should be done at least three times per week, though the crop is mainly rain-fed in Kenya.
Management practices include training the crop while still young to prevent breakages and also when it reaches fruit-bearing age. The plant should be pruned after achieving a height of about 3-4 feet.
Weeding should be done since weeds harbour pests and diseases, which affect the tree. Mulching is important since it helps conserve moisture, control soil erosion and controls weed germination.
The crop is relatively resistant to diseases. However, it is affected by powdery mildew, which makes leaves whitish and eventually fall off.
Application of copper-based chemicals helps control the disease. Other diseases that affect the crop include the fusarium wilt.
Just like tomatoes, tomato trees are also affected by early blight, especially during the cold weather and when temperatures are warm. Management practices should effectively be done to prevent the occurrence of the disease.
The tree tomato is also affected by pests such as thrips, whiteflies, and aphids that suck the sap. All these pests can be controlled organically by continuous application of neem extracts, chilies and marigolds.
Consider using different active ingredients when applying pesticides.
For effective pest and disease-control, field sanitation should be observed as this acts as a hiding place and infestation areas for the diseases. With proper management practices, harvesting of the fruits can be done for five years continually.
Ripe fruits are egg-shaped, the skin colour may be deep purple, orange, bloody red or yellow. Currently, a kilo of the fruit is retailing at between Sh100 and Sh150. The fruits are also used to make juice, increasing their shelf-life.