Plums are a rare seasonal fruit common from around December to early March in Kenya. In terms of value addition, plums have unending possibilities. From being served as a snack or dessert, to making jams, sauces, puddings, jellies, wine, baking and even dried to extend shelf life.
When in season, a kilogram can retail at Ksh 300 to Ksh 350. Even with the pricing being higher compared to other fruits, people still buy this fruit. Plums have more than 2,000 varieties all over the world. In Kenya, some of the common varieties include Shiro, Harry, Cherry plum, Santa rosa, Methyl among others.
They come in different shapes, sizes, colours and flavor profiles, the inviting colours red, yellow and green spread the markets and grocers with great display. When ripe, they can be sweet and juicy to a luscious tart.
Plums are beneficial and good for your health as they relief constipation, reduce blood sugar, heart diseases and are rich in antioxidants.
So how do you grow this fruit?
Plums can be grown in a wide range of soils. They however thrive in soils that are well drained and with a pH of 5.5-6.5. Regions with temperatures between 15◦C-24◦C, rainfall above 1000mm and at least 8 hours of sunlight exposure is ideal for the cultivation of plums.
To begin, you will require to purchase a grafted tree because plum trees if left to grow alone, result to the tree having extremely large roots. Planting is recommended right when the rains begin or as an alternative, use drip irrigation.
The holes need to be deeper and wider, and compost manure or fertilizer properly worked in the soil ahead of transplanting. When transplanting, it is important to ensure that the grafted region is at least an inch above the ground and roots safely secure to avoid delays in tree establishment.
After planting, each tree needs to be thoroughly watered. Mulching can be incorporated as a technique that locks the moisture to prevent the tree from drying out and plum skins from splitting.
When the plant is flowering, well-aged organic and compost manure are best. Fertilizers that are rich in phosphorous can also be used for proper tree establishment. If the trees growth is vigorous, plant a cover crop around the tree so that it can use up some of the excess nutrients.
- Pruning and disease control
At one year, prune the tree to ensure seasonal growth of the plant and sunlight penetration. At this stage, remove all diseased, dead and broken branches, vertical growing branches, crisscrossing branches that can harm each other and thinned out stems and branches with no fruits.
Birds are likely to eat the buds or ripening plums. Invest in a net cage that can be secured around the farm. To control pests and diseases like stem borer, aphids, root rot can be controlled by applying insecticide and chemicals as advised by an agro vet.
- Harvesting and Post-Harvest Management
To determine whether plums are ready for harvest, apply gentle pressure and if the skin feels supple then they are ready. For a longer shelf life, harvest the plums with a short stalk attached to the fruit to prevent skins from tearing. Slightly under ripe plums can be kept for up to two weeks after harvest.
Ripe plums can be frozen for up to six months, while dried up plums can be stored for up to 12 months. Both can be used to make jam, smoothies, sauces, bake, etc.
There is endless possibility of markets for growing plums even after its season.