A few kilometres off Meru-Embu road in Central Imenti is a successful passion fruit farm.
The day Seeds of Gold team visits John Magaju’s farm at Baragu village, we find him busy removing suckers from newly planted fruits.
Mr Magaju has leased a three-acre piece of land from his neighbour since his farm is already occupied with tea bushes, bananas and coffee.
He reveals to us more about his farming business.
He has planted 600 passion seedlings but he will soon adding another 400 to make it 1,000.
He says farming passion fruits is very profitable compared to other farming activities he had been practising before.
Due to high returns, less labour and the fruit occupying less space, Mr Magaju opted to quit planting other crops and concentrated on this.
The 59 year-old farmer says what’s fascinating is that the fruits have a ready market. He sells some to locals direct from his farm and takes the rest to markets in Meru and Embu.
Some days brokers storm his farm to buy for export, he says.
The father of five says he started passion fruit farming back in 2009 but unfortunately his 1,000 trees dried up and he gave up on farming. But ever the go-getter, in 2013 decided to give it a try once more but carefully following instructions given to him an agricultural officer in Meru
With Sh450,000 as his capital, Mr Magaju was extra careful not to repeat the same mistakes he did during his first try in 2009.
The Form Four leaver acquired this money from savings he made from bananas, coffee and tea on his farm.
“To make sure I don’t fail again, I always attend agricultural shows, field days and farming exhibitions. These gives me the know-how,” Mr Magaju says.
To harvest big and well-ripened fruits, Mr Magaju says one should find a spot that receives full sunlight and one that does not have any competitive roots, like tree roots.
Also thorough site selection which involves soil testing, pest and disease survey, temperature and availability of water are key essentials in this type of farming.
To start with, he says, one is required to dig a two by three feet hole and apply compost manure which is mixed with top soil before planting the seedlings.
“I use about 20kg of farmyard manure and mix well with other fertilisers like Triple Super Phosphate to obtain high yields,” Mr Magaju said. Water it and after a few minutes, plant the seedlings and water them twice a day (morning and evening). This according to Mr Magaju, should be done repeatedly unless there is enough rainfall.
Mr Magaju grafts his own seedlings – imported giant yellow passion seeds from Tanzania with purple passion grown in Kenya. The giant yellow passion are commonly found in Tanzania.
“I graft the two fruits because yellow passion is best for production of rootstock and higher disease resistance while purple is good for fruit production,” he says. After planting, he directs the vines along the supporting wires which they later hold on with their tendrils when they start to germinate. He says this helps the shoots of the crop grow in both directions.
“As the vines spread out, you may need to train them to climb up along the supporting wires. The plant will be healthier if the vines are encouraged to climb, and a healthy plant will produce great yield,” he said. The posts and supporting wires need to be stout enough to withstand the weight of the vines and fruits produced throughout a season that is characterised by buffeting of strong winds.
PICK ONLY RIPE FRUITS
“Trellis, erected from wooden poles about 2.5m high and strong galvanised wires of about 7m (20ft) length should be oriented vertically for maximum exposure to sunlight, and the vines be allowed to grow along the supporting wires to promote cross-pollination.
Spacing between rows is 3m. Part of this space can be utilised by inter cropping with beans or peas. Spacing between vines in a row is 5m.
According, Mr Magaju, what is needed most is watering the fruit regularly and ensuring good soil fertility by incorporating large amounts of compost, mulching and monitoring potassium and calcium levels.
After this, the vines grow rapidly and the crop should flower after about seven months.
When ready for harvesting, fruit changes its colour from green to yellow or deep purple. For fresh market or use, the fruit is picked when colour changes occur.
Mr Magaju harvests the fruits after every three days and sells a kilogramme at Sh120.
In one week, he makes a profit of more than Sh10,000 while in a year, he makes a turnover of not less than Sh600,000.
In one week, he harvests more than 90kg of the fruit.
Patrick Kiunga, an agronomist from Mikinduri Hope organization in Meru County advises passion fruit farmers to use sufficient calcium, zinc and boron to reduce deficiencies of diseases.
He also recommended farmers to pick only ripe fruits which are not scorched because they will stay fresh for a longer time.