Agriculture

Dragon fruit is making its way to terraces and home gardens in Kerala

Hussan S from Mukkom, Kozhikode

Hussan S from Mukkom, Kozhikode | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

It was indeed a big moment for Rajan Varghese and his wife, Shailaja, when they plucked the first dragon fruit from the terrace garden of their house at Kanippayyur in Thrissur. “We planted the stem last November and have been looking forward to this day,” says Rajan.

Shamna PK, a primary school teacher from Kavaratti in Lakshadweep is waiting for the plant on her terrace to flower. “Ever since I found that you could grow this at home, I wanted to try it out,” says Shamna.

Rajan Varghese and wife Shailaja Rajan

Rajan Varghese and wife Shailaja Rajan

They are among gardening enthusiasts in Kerala who are planting dragon fruit, which has emerged as a super crop in the last few years. With dragon fruit farming catching up in Kerala in a big way, besides commercial farmers, the number of people who are growing it in their homes are also going up.

It is not the look of the fruit alone that has caught everyone’s fancy. A low maintenance (less water and nutrient requirement) climbing cactus vine, a plant yields multiple harvests in a year and has a lifespan of about 20 years. Accent on the health benefits of the fruit (it is rich in antioxidants and fibres) ensure good market and therefore reasonable profits as well. The yellowish-green fragrant flower of dragon fruit is another attraction.

“It is usually grown on the ground with a sturdy material (like concrete pillar) for support and ring-shaped structure (usually a tyre) for the vine to droop down. But when you grow it in homes, you can plant it in grow bags, paint cans or large containers. Ensure that the vines have a strong support to climb and spread out in such a way that they are not weighed down by the weight of the fruits,” says Hussan S from Mukkom, Kozhikode, who has been selling dragon fruit stem cuttings.

Shamna PK with the dragon fruit grown at her home at Kavaratti in Lakshadweep

Shamna PK with the dragon fruit grown at her home at Kavaratti in Lakshadweep

There are over 400 plants on the terrace of his home and shop, on around 3,400 square feet. “It is my mission to make dragon fruit farming popular. Besides planting them in containers and grow bags, I am also growing them on soil laid on the terrace of my shop,” he adds. Hussan found more customers after videos of his nursery came out on YouTube. “There has been a huge leap in the number of clients during and post the lockdown. I have sold over 20,000 stems in the last one year. Only a few of them have taken it to start farms,” says Hussan.

Originally from Central and South America (Southern Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica), dragon fruit, also known as pitaya or strawberry pear, can be grown from seeds or stem cuttings /rooted cut/ rooted sapling in soil bags. The potting mixture has soil, cow dung manure, river sand, cocopith, bone meal and neem cake.

A plant usually bears fruit within a year but it can take up to two years in some cases. It takes 30-35 days for the flower to become the fruit. April-October is usually the fruiting season.

Hussan S from Kozhikode

Hussan S from Kozhikode

“We have been getting enquiries about growing dragon fruit at homes. Some have planted it out of curiosity. The most important necessity is that the plant should get enough sunlight. There should be no water logging. One should be careful about fungal attacks,” says Simi S, assistant professor (horticulture), Department of Fruit Science, College of Agriculture, Vellayani. The Kerala Agricultural University has initiated studies on aspects of cultivating exotic fruits, including dragon fruit.

The fruit comes in four types: red skin, white flesh ( Hylocereus undatus ), red skin, red flesh ( Hylocereus polyrhizus ), red skin, purple flesh ( Hylocereus costaricencis ) and yellow skin, white flesh ( Hylocereus (Selenicerus) megalanthus ).

The saplings are priced from ₹100 onwards and the fruit costs ₹200-250 per kilogram these days. Anit Thomas, a science teacher from Thodupuzha, started growing it two years ago after she was fascinated by the vine and the fruit. Now she has started commercial cultivation. “It is an easy-to-maintain plant. I have been getting a lot of enquiries after I posted a video about cultivating it on my YouTube channel. I also sell stem cuttings at ₹75 per piece,” she says.

Anit Thomas from Thodupuzha 

Anit Thomas from Thodupuzha 

Baby Girija, a homemaker, also has plans to go commercial even though she is yet to get the first fruit from her plant. “I was hooked to the taste of the fruit and that is why I bought the cutting. I have some land nearby, which I think will be ideal to grow it on a large scale,” she adds.

Meanwhile, there are early birds in the field such as Anitha CS who took a fancy for the fruit at a time when a stem cutting cost ₹300-350! “During a trip to Kodaikanal four years ago I found a nursery from where I got a cutting for ₹35. It flowered two years later. Now I grow the fruit in six pots on my terrace. I get at least 10 fruits from a plant, which I usually give away to friends and relatives as gifts,” says Anitha, assistant director with Farm Information Bureau.

Dragon fruit grown on terrace

Dragon fruit grown on terrace

While Vietnam is the world leader in dragon fruit supply, other dragon fruit producing countries include China, Mexico, Colombia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the United States. Although India is far behind in production, according to a bulletin on dragon fruit cultivation in India published by ICAR-National Institute of Abiotic Stress Management (NIASM), Pune, in December 2020, the area under dragon fruit cultivation has increased by leaps and bounds. The production increased to 12,000 metric tonnes over an area of 3000-4000 hectares (ha) in 2020 (it was just 4 ha and grew to 400 ha between 2005-2017).

In Kerala, the State Horticulture Mission is giving a subsidy of ₹30,000 per hectare for cultivating dragon fruit. Meanwhile Pangode panchayat in Thiruvananthapuram has initiated steps to become the first dragon fruit panchayat in the State inspired by the success story of K Vijayan from Thannichal in the panchayat. He grows different varieties of the fruit on 15 acres. “When I started this on commercial basis in 2014) there were few people cultivating it. Things have started looking up now and people are coming to my farm for cuttings for their homes or to start cultivation on a small scale,” he says.


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Printable version | Feb 13, 2022 7:32:58 am | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/agriculture/growing-dragon-fruit-terraces-home-gardens/article36338081.ece