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Edible Fig Fruit

Fig fruit is one of the ancient fruits known to mankind, mostly grown in tropical and subtropical areas of the world especially in the Mediterranean. It is a nutritious fruit that is richer in iron and copper contents than other fruits. Figs contain high sugar and low acid, and also rich in carbohydrates, vitamin A and C. Fig consumption and commercial cultivation has not taken root in Kenya, only few farmers and home gardeners have embraced this crop and in most cases only a few fig trees have been planted. Kamiti prisons have played a major role in the propagation of fig fruit seedlings and they are among the few fruit tree nurseries that do figs. In the marketplace figs can be spotted at Village market, a few traders deal with them at Gigiri and they don’t come cheap.  We are in the process of partnering with a farmer in the outskirts of Nairobi to set up a demo farm of around 100 plants targeting a specific market giving room for expansion and full commercialization if the market responds well.

Figs are low maintenance fruit crops that need less care and can grow in most parts of the country. Fig trees do well in a wide range of soil type the important factor being soil drainage.  Avoid areas that have poor drainage for this may lead to nematode infestation, stunted growth and eventual demise of the plant. Generally they should be planted in well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter that will enable them grow into drought tolerant crops once the plant has developed. Soil PH of about 6.0-7.0 is desired.  Farmers from arid and semi-arid areas should try out figs; they are among the fruit trees that can thrive in these areas. For maximum fruit production, Plant fig trees in areas where they will get plenty of sunlight and free from competing trees. Good water management, including regular irrigation during initial stages and mulching helps maintain tree health. Fig plants can be trained to tree or shrub form, it all depends with the farmers needs and which form does well in a given area.

Fig fruit

A young fig fruit

If figs are planted in the ground, fertilization is less necessary and should only be done after doing a soil test. Compost manure is sufficient to create an enabling environment for the fig plants to thrive. In case there is need to use fertilizers, it should not be applied at planting time. Generally, figs do not require regular fertilizing; excessive fertilizer application can have negative effects on fruit quality.  All in all, sufficient nutrients must be supplied to ensure the tree is healthy. Leaf analysis and soil test will come in handy when tailoring fertilizer needs.

With good preventative maintenance figs can be relatively pest and disease-free. Most common pests include; nematodes, mealy bugs, fig beetles, borers and scales. The most important disease is the fig rust, which is a fungus disease that attacks the leaves and anthracnose. This can be controlled by spraying copper fungicides from time to time as a preventative measure. Another important disease is fig mosaic virus, so far there is no cure, and affected plants should be removed so that the virus does not spread. Infected plants should not be used for propagation. Source disease free seedlings for planting and maintain proper sanitation during the lifetime of the fig plant to prevent any disease or pest attacks. Orchard hygiene is important and prevention is better than cure, prune to remove all weak, diseased or dead limbs each dormant season.

Fig Seedlings

Fig fruit seedlings

Figs take 3-4 years to start producing a viable crop. Sufficient irrigation will increase fruit size and production. Fruit thinning will also increase fruit size. Figs can bear two crops a year, the first crop produces substantially compared to the second crop.  Figs are Picked from the tree as they ripen, ripe fruits do not exude a milky sap when picked. One should be careful not to get in contact with the milky latex which can cause slight skin irritation.  Fig fruits are normally eaten fresh but they may be dried. So far we have seen two varieties doing well in Kenya, we don’t know their names but they can be differentiated by the fruit color. There is a variety that produces yellow figs when ripe and one that produces dark purple-brown figs. For those willing to plant a few fig plants can contact us and make an order.

Figs are among the underutilized fruits in Kenya.  At this moment we are not sure if it is commercially viable unless one has a special market. The fact that a fruit commands a high market price doesn’t guarantee commercial viability. Fruits like kiwi, litchi, pomegranate, raspberry, blue berry, goose berry and fig are retailing at more than 1000/= a kilo but the market is limited. Not many Kenyans are aware of the mentioned fruits, we are optimistic that as the masses get informed they will embrace some of these under-utilized fruits. It takes time and expertise to build an industry around a certain fruit crop especially if it is not a mainstream fruit crop. For starters plant a few fig plants for own consumption and sell or donate surplus. Fruitful season!

 

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FOOD FORESTS AS A LEARNING RESOURCE

Our flagship ‘education for sustainable development project’ at Kariobangi North primary in Nairobi was kick-started in 2012; 4 years down the line we have seen tremendous results. In between the years, great work has been done thanks to the more than 1000 people that took part in the project. There are those who contributed financially and those who offered their time to work in the project. We can’t mention everyone but we have shared photos of a good number of persons who took part. Our gratitude goes to the staff and leadership of Kariobangi north primary for their support despite the many challenges. Many thanks go to Eco Schools who saw the potential of the project and offered to boost and push it to another level.

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Eco Day Celebration

The children of kariobangi north now have the opportunity to see first-hand best horticultural farming activities being implemented in their school. Those with a passion for farming will have a platform to transform that passion into an enterprise or career. The school’s food forest has different fruit trees that include: apples, grape, sapote, loquat, breadfruit, mangoes, pears, guava, peach, Jabotica, brazillian cherry among others. The school has also planted sweet potato, banana and vegetables which they sell to the local community. This project offers a great learning experience, there is so much practical knowledge on different fruit types one can acquire when she/he visits the project.

This project plays an important role of connecting students with nature at an early age converting them into better stewards of our environment. We need to resurrect the tree planting culture that was emphasized by our former president His excellency Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi, and we believe the best way to do that is to target school going children. Of great importance is the acquisition of food growing/production skills that will go a long way in helping the students later in life. Students gain hands on experience in a hands off environment where they are allowed to experiment and make their own decisions. Students acquire practical knowledge in areas like; Composting, group dynamics, food safety, how to market their produce, pest management, fertilization, seed propagation, record keeping among others. The project also offers great benefit to the entire surrounding community who are free to visit the school orchard and learn one or two things from the different fruit species. Soon they will be able to purchase seedlings from the school’s tree nursery.

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Students taking notes at their food forest.

As an organization, we have no share in the projects we implement; anything we plant belongs to the school and all proceeds thereafter are reverted back to the project. Our purpose is to ensure the fruit trees planted are well taken care of and to develop a training and business model that will generate income and make the project sustainable. We take a maximum of 3 years in a school project and then we hand it over to the school after we have trained project beneficiaries to take part in the day to day running of the project. There after we only act as consultants in areas of: seedling production, crop protection, production planning, spray techniques & Schedule, irrigation & fertilization, adult learning, market strategy and sustainable farming.

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Members of the community visiting the school project.

We are seeking partnerships to ensure such a project is replicated in at least 2 schools in each county to enable students to plant, manage and harvest their own produce as they learn important life skills. Developing an orchard as a learning resource creates an opportunity for the students to be aware of environmental issues and come up with simple solutions to address them. Food security at a local level is tremendously important, especially when crisis hits. Farming is the foundation, as humans we need energy to function and the only source of energy is food. It’s high time we support farming and conservation initiatives both at a personal and institutional level; teach your kids to grow food, support tree/food growing programs in local schools, make donations to credible organizations such as the Green Belt movement among others. We all can be part of the solution by simply planting and taking care of a single tree.  And to our dear leaders who ride on any food crisis to gain economically and politically, we only have this to quote; “If you can’t feed them, you can’t lead them”- Anonymous. Plenty be found within our boarders.

 

Soursop fruit farming

Soursop is a tropical evergreen tree that produces fruit with a prickly yellow-green skin. Also referred to as graviola, all its parts from the root to leaves are edible or has medicinal value. It is a fast growing tree that starts producing fruit in the third year. The soursop fruit is sold in some of the major markets in Nairobi that include; Ngara, city and wakulima. There is no documentation on any commercial soursop plantations in Kenya but a few plants have been spotted in coast, Nyanza and central regions. Soursop (annona muricata) is often mistaken for or referred to as custard apple (annona reticulata) , they belong to the same family- annona, but they are two different fruits. We will explore Custard apple in our next article.

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Soursop fruit tree

Soursop grows in a wide array of soils as long as the soil is well drained. A soil PH of between 5 and 6.5 is ideal. The soursop tree is small in size and may serve as an intercrop between large fruit trees. Soursop can be propagated from seed or cuttings. Plant well developed seedlings and ensure they are mulched to suppress weeds and to improve moisture retention in the soil. Soursop trees prefer warm and humid conditions to thrive, they are very susceptible to low temperatures. On maturity fruit may emerge anywhere on the tree ; trunk, branches or twigs. The tree will require adequate fertilizing of which we recommend organic compost and mulching using organic material. Young trees can be supported using bamboo sticks.

soursop flowering stage

Flowering Stage

The tree starts to flower and eventually fruit in the third year, fruits are harvested when they are fully developed but still green. Thereafter it takes 2-4 days to ripen. A single tree can produce 60-70 fruits in a year. The fruit should be handled with care when harvesting to avoid bruising it. After harvest prune slightly as you eliminate dead wood. Soursop may be directly consumed when ripe or processed into ice cream, syrup, smoothies, juice, pulp etc. The fruit has a white fleshy and fibrous pulp with a sweet sour flavor and is rich in vitamin B and C.

soursop tree

Mature soursop tree

There are various pest and diseases that attack the soursop tree. Locally it is more vulnerable to the fruit fly and aphids. Plant disease free seedlings and monitor your plants for any pests and diseases. In case of any attacks consult your extension officer; we do also assist farmers by offering them professional advice concerning the same. We have stocked a few soursop plants that are ready for planting, feel free to visit our demonstration project at kariobangi north primary or our main nursery at Thome, Kasarani. Happy gardening and make sure you plant a fruit tree.

BREADFRUIT PROJECT 2015

We are looking forward to a fruitful 2015 as we continue to encourage farmers and home gardeners to embrace eco-friendly agriculture that adapts to climate change, and achieves higher productivity while delivers economic and social benefits. In partnership with Bonsai Global (http://www.bonsaiglobal.co.ke) we are embarking on a journey to sensitize Kenyans on the economic and environmental benefits of Breadfruit. A single tree can produce enough fruit to calorically sustain a modern family of 4 for six months over 75 plus years. Breadfruit can be used as a substitute for rice, and it can be processed into a glutten-free flour can serve as a replacement for wheat flour in making muffins, pancakes and bread. We have identified farmers from different parts of the country who will be trained on Breadfruit best production practices and given seedlings to kick start their practical project. The Breadfruit Institute (www.breadfruit.org) in Hawaii will be providing the seedlings to be distributed to farmers and schools in different selected areas.

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Breadfruit tree

Food self-sufficiency and sustainability are becoming hot topics and such an initiative will come in handy. Breadfruit is a fast growing versatile fruit that can play an important role in combating food insecurity and deforestation especially in different countries in Africa. With proper maintenance breadfruit can easily be grown in places with little space in urban areas and can also be inter-cropped with different plants on farms. Breadfruit farming is not labor intensive, requires less inputs and produces yields greater than any other starch alternative,including wheat, maize and tuber crops. Nutritionally, it is rich in iron, calcium, fiber, potassium, magnesium and its high in carbohydrates. Breadfruit can be boiled, roasted, baked or fried and has great potential to be featured in the everyday diet. There are more than 100 varieties of breadfruit but most prevalent ones are the Ma’afala and Ulu Fiti, provided by tissue culture through Global Breadfruit (www.globalbreadfruit.com).

For high produce and quality fruit, one should plant mature and healthy seedlings in a place where there is good air circulation. Breadfruit is an energy rich food that requires sufficient nutrition and regular watering during the first 6-12 months. The trees should be mulched after planting and beneficial cover crops planted around the tree to also increase biological activity. It is advisable to test your soil before applying any fertilizer and should be applied before the fruiting season. Healthy seedlings are disease resistant but one should watch out for snails, slugs, ants, termites and mildews. When it comes to pest and diseases, prevention is the best cure. Ensure the area surrounding your plants is clean and weed free to avoid pests.

breadfruitBonsaiglobal team presenting breadfruit seedlings

Within 2-3 years the breadfruit tree starts fruiting and with proper care the tree can produce fruit for more than 75 plus years. A single tree can produce 150-200 fruits in a year at peak production. We are in the process of identifying markets for breadfruit as well as creating an increased demand for it especially among gluten free persons and those who suffer from celiac disease. This will be achieved through the production of quality fruits, value addition and showcasing the immense nutrition and health benefits of consuming breadfruit and its potential to address hidden hunger. We are targeting farmers and schools in areas with slightly high temperatures that do not go below 16 degree Celsius at night and have irrigation or receive 1500mm of rain annually. Regions from Western, Coast, Eastern, North Eastern and parts of Rift Valley are areas where plants have already been experimented with. Drop us a mail in case of any inquiries admin@plantafruit.org

Working with kids

The first phase of our project at Karen can be deemed a success. Together with the kids at Mokoyeti Brook centre- a CBO in Karen and various stakeholders, we planted 30 fruit trees. There are many joys and rewards received while working with kids. The major score of this project was guiding these young ones into becoming responsible citizens of Kenya and the planet as a whole.

The kids themselves planted the fruit trees and up to now still take care of the planted fruits. Each and every kid has his/her week to look after the fruit trees and ensure they get enough water. As the kids grow they have to take it upon themselves to ensure the culture of planting fruits is extended to the rest of the neighboring communities through various strategies adopted amongst themselves.

Our prayer is that the rest of Kenyans should join us in our mission to ensure each and every Kenyan has a fruit tree in their yard. Kenyan kids and youths should encouraged to embrace agriculture. As big governments are reluctant to combat climate change, we believe its up to individuals and the private sector to lead the way in conserving the environment. We have to lobby for homegrown policies that ensures the environment is conserved, and don’t have to wait for some big foreign government to come to our rescue.

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