Growing passion fruits: What you need to know

Wednesday January 20 2016

A farmer dressed in an overall sprays a

A farmer dressed in an overall sprays a plantation. FILE PHOTO 

By Pauline Bangirana

Passion fruit farming is still an unexplored kind of fruit farming in Uganda. Apart from the fact that passion fruits, just like any other fruit, has its good and bad seasons, but when properly looked after, these fruits can enable a farmer generate significant income. However, they cannot just blossom, they must be properly planned for to get the best fruits and results.
Thus, knowledge of the best agronomic practices is vital. Lydia Nantabo, an agronomist, highlights the following that can be applied from preparation of land to harvest, storing and marketing.

Land preparation
The best soil for cultivation of passion fruits is sandy loam soil. But that is not a limitation on where to grow them. Once you have set the land for planting the passion fruits. Do the following:
Properly plough the land to allow easy penetration of water and nutrient before making the planting holes. Make them 60cm by 60cm (2ft wide and 1ft down)
Separate the first 30cm of the soil and mix it with the manure you are going to use for refilling.

Get well-decomposed manure and place it in the hole you are going to plant in, two weeks before planting.
You can drench the soil-manure mix with fungicide to kill any fungi that might be in the manure.
If you are preparing to plant during a dry season, water the holes a day before but if it is during the rainy season, you can go ahead and plant.
The spacing from hole to hole or plant to plant is 3m by 2m or 10ft by 7ft. The size of the holes is determined by the labour for at the pruning stage. If you are doing it on your own, you could make bigger spaces or according to your preference.

If you have no labour, avoid planting them too close to each other as this will be tedious during pruning.
During planning, make sure you remove the polythene bags that wrap the seedlings and dispose them off properly because they prevent water retention in the soil.
You can dip the seedling roots into a root stimulant. This allows proper and easy growth of roots.

The major ones are the local purple traditional and the local purple hybrid. However, there are different varieties of passion fruits although, these are identified or classified according to the areas such as Masaka, Mbale and Kasese.

Soil and nutrition
This involves indulging in practices or applying substances that improve the soil’s qualities. This can be in terms of how fast the soil absorps nutrients or the rate at which the weeds will grow during the planting season.
Applying the right soil nutrients can improve its structure and yield better results.
Nantabo recommends using organic manure as this helps to balance up the soil although it is better to take a sample of the farm soil for testing so that you know of any missing nutrients.

Passion fruits grow best with soil nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. The amounts of these nutrients vary at the various stages of growing.
You can add a soil conditioner such as humate. Application of the conditioner helps in soil enhancement, which allows the soil to quickly absorb of necessary nutrients.
If you used manure while planting, you are advised to add NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) after a month. In the second month, use TSP (Triple Super Phosphate) or SSP (Single Super Phosphate). You can then interchange it with CAN (calcium ammonium nitrate), which helps in the fruit tissue development and strengthening of the cover of the fruit.
Once you give the plant good manure, at planting and after three months, you can start harvesting as early as after six months although poor manure distribution to the seedlings delays harvesting even up to nine months.
It is recommended to use the fertilisers (organic and inorganic) interchangeably.

There are different buyers depending on the target market.
These different markets or buyers range from traders, wholesalers, retailers, hotels, restaurants, supermarkets and individual customers. Depending on availability of market that is where the farmer will sell. Prices range from Shs1,500 to Shs10,000 or more depending on the market.

During land preparation, the garden must be free of weeds. After planting, introduce grass bands which should be kept short to prevent it from overgrowing. The dry grass can then used to mulch or feed animals.
If you decide to weed, do not leave the ground bare.
You can intercrop the passion fruits with strawberries. They are good cover crops, which help to keep the soil covered.

The fruits can stay for more than two weeks when stored in a place with room temperatures. It is advisable to apply CAN before harvesting so that the shelf life of the passion fruits is prolonged. However, for many local farmers, what is produced is sold immediately.

Care and management

Pests and diseases in passion fruits are a result of planting infected seedlings or using infected seeds, over cropping or transfer by animals from one place to another.
Here, Lydia Nantabo, an agronomist, notes some of the common pests and diseases that affect the fruit and can result in poor fruit quality and quantity.

Aphids: These are pear-shaped, soft bodied insects, with long legs and antennae and are usually green or yellow. They can appear dark or black with or without wings.
Aphids suck the sap, which causes curling or cupping of infected leaves. These insects spread the virus that is responsible for woodliness. Their excreta coats the leaves and prevents photosynthesis from taking place.
Control can be through use of pesticides such as imidachroprude, Jackpot or Aabamectin. You can grow strong-scented plants such as onions, garlic or parsley at the boundaries of the garden. These attract aphids such that you trap them there and thereafter spray them. Avoid excessive application of nitrogen fertilisers as these attract aphids.

Leaf miners: These are black or yellow small flies of about 2mm long when adult. They lay eggs on the leaves that hatch into larvae, which feeds by mining the lower and upper parts of the leaf making long tunnels as they move.
Natural control can be through placing a yellow basin in the garden filled with water. The adult leaf miners are attracted to bright colour. When they fall in the basin, they can be trapped and killed.
Use chemicals that are systemic in nature. These are able to pass through the leaf layers into the plant sap. They include abamectin, thiamethoxam, cyromazine. Other pests that affect passion fruits include bugs, root nematodes, snakes and termites to mention but a few.

The common diseases include the following:
Fusarium wilt (Fusarium oxysporum fsp): This disease is also referred to as colar rot. This is because it affects the stem (colar) much more than any other part of the plant.
This disease may be spread through infected planting materials such as seedlings and seed. Farm tools and animals from infected sites can also carry the disease.
It deforms the xylem vessels that are responsible for the movement of water and nutrients in the plant system. This leads to the yellowing of leaves.
If the colar (stem) is attacked, it becomes brown, peels off and cracks vertically. This makes the vine wilt.

For a control measure, graft weak passion fruit varieties on to yellow root stock. This is because yellow root stock is resistant to the disease. Fields that are already affected with fusarium wilt should be left to rest from passion fruit for about six planting seasons.
During this period; other crops can be planted to break the cycle. Keep the orchard clean and free from plants that are affected. In case, there are affected plants, pruning should be done, the plants removed and disposed of. Avoid excessive use of fertilisers.
For chemical control, paint the colar with macozeb mixed with metalyxl to prevent further development of the fungus. Copper-based fungicides are also very effective.

Passion fruit blight (phytothora nicotiamea var parastica): This usually affects the leaves, which become thin, water-soaked, light brown in colour and eventually fall off. The stem turns brown, weak, wilt and later collapse and die out.
Good field practices can help reduce the disease drastically. All weeds should be kept low by slashing, plants should be pruned regularly and the pruned materials should be disposed of properly. Fruits that fall on to the ground should be picked and disposed of. Avoid vines touching the ground.
Chemical control includes use of macozeb, macozeb + metalyxl to spray on the crop. Farmers should spray at least once a week in case the prevalence of the disease is high, and once after every two weeks in case the disease incident is low.

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