There is a lot of market talk about Pepino melon which has taken the Kenyan market by storm. The fruit is gaining a lot of interest because of its high demand among customers who are after its health benefits. Also, there has been growing interest in the pepino melon especially from the exotic markets where a growing market exists and a chance to make some good money. As others market shrink or get saturated, those growing pepino are growing money on trees – literally. Speak to any farmer – or visit an agricultural show and chances are that this will be the wonder crop of the year 2017.
Besides the local market, the crop has a very good market in Europe and Japan. The questions people are asking are what is this fruit and why all the hype surrounding it introduction and integration to the Kenyan market? The Pepino melon (solanum muritacum) is an herbaceous Andean fruit grown mainly for its juicy and aromatic fruits. It has leaves resembling those plants and if left un-pruned grows into a low dense bush and has more a scrambling nature like a determinate tomato. It originated from the South America but can thrive well in tropical climate of Kenya and its soils. The fruit is typically a bright green or yellow green and often has some red or purple striations. The flesh is golden yellow when ripe with a narrow seed cavity. The melon is entirely edible; skin, flesh and seeds. The fruit is very sweet and juicy.
Growing the pepino melon
The pepino has similar requirements to those of tomatoes. There are two methods of propagation used; cuttings and seeds but it is usually propagated from cuttings. Germinating seeds require a minimum soil temperature of 12c and unlike some species of tomatoes it can survive mild cold snaps. The foliage is likely to be affected by excessive heat and moderate frost. The plant requires well drained loam soils with a pH of 6.5-7.5. The plants should also be well watered and weeded. It can also be grown in greenhouses.
For potential farmers in Kenya, these melons can be grown from cuttings because the plant is technically perennial – which means it can last for a long time. A spacing of 2-3 ft. between the plants is recommended. Remember that the harsh weather can damage the plant. The fruits have a distinctive teardrop shape and a yellow rind. Mature plants reach a height of about 1.2 meters and produces a cluster of purple and white flowers like those of the potato.
Maintaining the bush
The fruit tends to grow better over trellis usually necessary to stabilize the bush against strong winds and support the branches which grow quite heavy with fruit and, if left to trail on the ground, make an accessible and attractive meal for any wandering rodents. To do this, just tie the branches to the support as they grow. One bush will spread to about 1 meter high and wide. As it grows, it is best to remove some of the shoots, especially those that point away from the trellis, so that plenty of air and light reach all parts of the bush. If you want to propagate pepinos, cuttings strike easily and branches will produce roots if they are touching ground. They can be grown from seed, but resulting plants may not be the same as the parent.
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Fruits are harvested once they have fully ripened and can be stored for several days. They can be eaten wholly and are also useful in making desserts and as addition to fruit salads.
Don’t be tempted to harvest fruit before they are yellow since they won’t have acquired full sweetness. Ripe flesh is a very pale yellow-orange in color. Pick the ripest fruit in the cluster, and the others will continue to mature. Handle carefully since they bruise easily. They can be stored on the kitchen bench for several days, or in the refrigerator for several weeks provided the temperature is not below 5° C.
Pepinos are usually susceptible to pests and diseases which attack tomatoes. Such diseases include bacterial spot, anthracnose and blights. Spider mites, cut worm leaf miner and fruit flies are some of the pests that attack the plant. To control this, pesticides and other methods used to control pests in tomatoes should be used.
Nutritional facts of pepino melon
The pepino melon is referred to as the magic fruit in many parts of the world. It is very rich in vitamin c; a content of 25mg per 100 grams of fresh fruit. This Vitamin c is essential in the prevention of oral thrush and maintaining of healthy gums. It also has low content of calories that helps in reducing weight. It also contains many starch fibers; a carbohydrate that is essential for digestion. It is also a good source of Beta-carotene antioxidants essential in preventing disease.
Pepino melon also contains potassium and iron and is sodium free.
Pepino melon has large deposits of vitamin A, C, K and B. It is also rich in minerals such as copper and iron which are essential in blood formation and boosting immunity. Potassium in the fruit helps in lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow and central nervous system coordination. Pepino is also diuretic- it accelerates passage of urine, therefore, appropriate for diabetic patients.
How to grow
Pepino melon does well drained and fertile soils. Given that the plant is herbaceous, it may require support to keep fruits above the ground. In an acre, one can grow about 4900 sticks at a spacing of 3 feet by 3 feet. With proper crop management and rains or irrigation when it is a bit dry, every plant can yield six to eight mature fruits per month at a time.
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