Passion fruit is a perennial vigorous plant that produces fruits within a year after planting. It is shallow-rooted, woody and climbs by means of tendrils. Passion fruit contains an acidic juice that is full of flavour. They can be processed for juice or eaten fresh. Common varieties of passion fruit are purple, yellow, giant and banana. Like other citrus fruits, it is rich in antioxidants, fibre and low in calories. John Munene grows passion fruits in Thika and shares valuable lessons on production and marketing.
The crop does well in regions with rainfall of over 1,200mm well distributed throughout the year. Irrigation is recommended in areas with rainfall levels below 1,200mm.
Passion fruit farming starts with an establishment of an orchard which ensures a strong crop stand that withstands environmental stress.
According to Munene, the soil should be well-drained. Light to heavy sandy loams of medium texture with good drainage are most suitable. Passion fruits do well in a pH range of 5.5 – 6.5. Land preparation should be done two or three months before planting.
“Get seeds from certified suppliers,” says Munene.
Plant seeds in furrows. Mulch with a thin layer of grass and ensure to remove it after germination. Seeds germinate in 10 to 15 days and seedlings can be transplanted when they are about 25 to 40mm tall. Passion fruit vines should be spaced two metres between rows and 3 metres within rows. The planting holes should be 60cm by 60cm, separating the topsoil and subsoil two months before planting.
“Cuttings should be gotten from an actively growing young and newly mature wood with two to three internodes. Grafts are got by joining rootstock and scions of different passion varieties,” says Munene.
“The purple passion fruit should be grafted onto yellow passion rootstocks to prevent soil-borne diseases. Transplanting should be done on the onset of rains, early in the morning or late in the afternoon. The seedlings are covered up to the polytube, ensuring that the roots are not folded by cutting back long roots.”
Apply a good amount of well rotten manure to the plants and mix with the soil. Since passion fruit is a climber, the plant needs support. For this, dig holes to a depth of 50cm with a spacing of six metres apart along the passion seedling rows. Use poles with a height of 2.7m long.
Pruning is done to keep the vines lush and neat. It encourages new growth through the removal of weak and dead parts. This eases pest and disease management.
Passion fruit vines start fruiting after about 10 months. For the yellow type, fruits can be harvested when the skin appears deeply golden, while the purple ones are ready when skin turns slightly black.
“Slightly wrinkled fruits have a sweeter taste than those with smooth skins. When fully ripe, fruits drop off the vine,” says Munene.
Harvested fruits should be sold immediately to prevent weight loss that affects market value. If not, store in a refrigerator or mesh bags.
Market for passion fruit is available since it is a widely used fruit. Munene sells his produce at local markets and through referrals. He is also looking to venture into the export market, which has more returns.