GROWING PEACHES IN KENYA

The nectarine, a close relative of the peach, is included in the following description because its requirements are so similar. Peach and nectarine cultivars are grouped according to a few distinctive fruit characteristics: soft or firm flesh, white or yellow flesh, and freestone or clingstone type (indicates whether or not the stone separates easily from the flesh).

The fruits vary in size (3–8 cm diameter), shape and colour, and their very hard stone seeds are deeply pitted and furrowed.

Depending on altitude and cultivar, planting distances of 5 m x 6 m and 6 m x 7 m are quite normal. All common peach cultivars are self-fertile and thus trees should be planted in solid blocks for easier spraying and picking.

IDEAL ECOLOGICAL CONDITIONS FOR PEACH CULTIVATION

Rainfall

Optimum fruit production is favored by an annual rainfall of 800-1000mm which should be well distributed. The trees require a large supply of water during their first year after transplanting.

Temperature

The ideal temperature for growing peach fruits is 25-30 0°C. However, different peach variety thrive in different temperature regions

Sunlight

The fruits require a lot of sunshine for bigger size, better taste and more yields.

Altitude

Height range between 1500-2500m above sea level is ideal for peach cultivation. The fruits do best in hilly areas.

Soil

The fruits can do well in a wide range of soil types. The soil should be deep and well drained. Sandy loam soil is preferred. Soil PH ranging from 6-6.5 is ideal. Ideally, a soil test prior to planting should be done and any deficiencies taken care of before planting commences.

PRUNING BUSH TREES

Immediately after planting, if the tree is a maiden, the main stem should be cut just above a bud at approximately 3 feet from the ground and any side shoots cut back to just 2 or 3 buds from the main stem. These young side shoots are called feathers, any which are closer to the ground than 2 feet should be removed.
Thereafter during subsequent seasons select a number of semi mature growths which should be pruned back by about a third each Spring. This encourages strong new growth which is what will bear the fruits next year.

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POLLINATION

There are no pollination issues with Peach and Nectarine at all as all varieties are self-fertile and lone trees will provide a good crop with no need for a pollinating partner. The only thing to remember is that trees grown under cover will need hand pollinating with a soft haired brush because there won’t be any flying insects around to do the job for you. Hand pollinating can also increase the yield employed outside, especially if the weather is inclement during flowering and insects may not be on the wing.

THINNING THE FRUITS

This isn’t really a necessary practice unless you want to concentrate the trees energy into a lesser number of larger fruits.

This of course has the effect of increased fruit size and the class of the fruit produced. It might be a consideration if your tree seems to be over producing because then you might end up with a lot of smaller fruit which may be no less enjoyable. For gorgeous big ripe fruits of peach and nectarine, remove every other fruit along the branch when about the size of an acorn, allowing the rest to develop to maximum magnificence.

Remember that the tree may shed some fruits of its own accord, and this is especially true if it becomes dry at the roots during crop formation.

MULCHING

Mulching has proved to be a very effective measure for improving the performance of many fruit crops. Mulching means covering the soil surface by spreading layers of leaf litter, grass, straw, compost/manure and other plant matter in order to:

  • control wind and water erosion, especially from rain splash;
  • improve water infiltration and moisture holding capacity;
  • conserve soil moisture by preventing desiccation through surface evaporation;
  • increase the activity of beneficial soil micro-organisms;
  • Improve soil structure and feeder-root development near the surface.
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To be effective, such mulch layers must be heavy enough to prevent the growth of weeds or other vegetation around the tree and should be renewed often, since most of the organic cover material decomposes very rapidly.

Mulching is particularly valuable for orchards located on steep slopes or in rocky soils where cultivation is difficult or likely to cause erosion. The greatest benefits from mulching are usually obtained in areas of relatively low rainfall where mulch has been applied during the rainy season. In order to avoid the transmission of fungal diseases the mulching material should never have any contact with the tree trunk. It is, however, important to cover the ground area under the tree, which is exposed to sunshine.

FERTILIZATION

Proper fertilization is essential for plant development, health and productivity. The major elements required in relatively large amounts include nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and sulphur. Minor elements are required in extremely small quantities and include boron, iron, manganese, zinc, molybdenum, copper, and chlorine.

Specific fertilizer recommendations cannot be given here because of the great variation in the physical and chemical composition of soils in different locations. Some soils may be deficient in one or more of the elements. In others these may be present but not readily available to plants. It is therefore important to have soil samples analyzed for pH, nutrients, and organic matter. Corrective fertilizer treatments can be used to rectify unfavourable soil conditions.

Organic fertilizers like sewage sludge, animal manure, green manure, and compost should be used whenever available. Their mineral content is rather low but they are high in organic matter which is necessary for maintaining or improving the soil structure. Depending on the soil’s organic matter content, a rough guide for a year’s application would be approximately one full 15-litre container per tree for each year of its age.

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In general, small amounts of an inorganic fertilizer applied several times during the year will result in more efficient use and better plant response than the same amount applied all at once.

DISEASES

  • Scab

It affects peaches by first causing small brown spots on the fruit skin. The centres of the spots become brown and corky, and deformation or splitting of attacked fruits follows.

  • Mildew infection

It starts as white, felty patches especially at the leaf margin, later extending over the whole leaf surface and down over the entire shoot. Young infected leaves and shoots are stunted and often die back.

  • Leaf curl

First appears soon after leaf emergence with the developing leaves showing yellow areas which become dark red, thickened and puckered. Infected leaves fall prematurely; even young shoots are distorted and may die.

  • Rust (also known as shot hole disease)

It can be one of the more serious diseases. Many tiny pale yellow/brown spots appear on the upper surface of leaves. In some instances severe defoliation occurs and weakens the trees, and can even result in off-season blooming.

  • Armillaria root rot

It is a fungal disease often present in newly cleared land where host plants like eucalyptus, acacia, pine, coffee, etc. had been grown before. Infected peach trees wilt suddenly and die. Cutting through the bark at the base of the trunk will reveal the fungus as a thin white strip.

 

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