Dragon fruit is a part of the cacti family. Even though it’s commonly known as an Asian fruit, this plant originated in Mexico, Central and South America. In 1870, the French brought dragon fruits from Guyana to Vietnam as decorative plants. Then, because the fruit tasted sweet, people started to consume them in Vietnam and China. In Indonesia, dragon fruit gained its popularity in 2000. It’s quite unclear where Indonesia first received it from but an educated guess would be from Thailand.
This day, there are some dragon fruit species that we farm widely:
- Hylocereus undatus, with red skin and white meat
- Hylocereus polyrhisus, with red skin and red meat
- Hylocereus costaricensis, with red skin and dark red, purplish meat
- Hylocereus megelanthus, with yellow skin and white meat
Dragon fruit farming suits the climate and nature of Asian and American countries. This plant grows well 0-350 above sea level with 720 mm per year precipitation in 26-36 degree celcius air.
Dragon fruit reproduces generatively and vegetatively. Generatively, it is done by picking seeds out of chosen dragon fruit from previous harvest. This way is quite difficult and usually done only by seasoned farmers. Vegetatively, everything is easier and quicker, too. Here’s how you do cuttings for your dragon fruit:
- Cutting is done on stems of plants that have been harvested at least 3-4 times in order to make sure of its productivity.
- Choose a stem that is at least 8 cm in diameter, 80-120 cm in length, tough, old, healthy, and gray green in color. The bigger the better.
- Cut 80% of the stem
- Cut it in 20-30 cm pieces with flat top and sharp slanted bottom to stimulate root growth.
- The cut pieces should have at least 4 buds. Your pieces could be shorter but that will affect how fast your plant would fruit.
- Let your pieces be until the sap is dry. To avoid the risk of fungus attack, dip your pieces in fungicides solution.
- Prepare your seedbeds or polybags.
- Water your soil filled seedbeds or polybags.
- Stick your pieces into your seedbeds or polybags, slanted part down, 5 cm deep.
- Make up some shade over your seedbeds or polybags.
- Water them 2-3 times a day.
- After 3 weeks, you will see the first bud starting to grow and you should get rid of the shade to make sure they get enough sun
- Seedlings cultivation usually takes about 3 months and your seedlings will be 50-80 cm in height by this time.
You need 6000-10000 seeds per hectare depends on planting methods and planting distance management. In this article, we will talk about farming dragon fruit using the singular climbing pole system that will need 1600 poles and 6400 seeds per hectare.
Climbing pole making
This pole is needed to support plant growth. It’s usually made of concrete. It can be square pillar or cylindrical in shape with 10-15 cm diameter. It’s usually 2-2.5 m high and planted 50 cm deep. On the top, there is a support made of wood or iron in the shape of ‘+’ and circular iron that will result in something that looks like a steering wheel.
Make those poles in rows with 2.5 m distance between one another and 3 meter distance between rows. Between those rows, make drainage channels that are 25 cm deep.
After you get your poles ready, make planting holes with 60×60 cm dimension that are 25 cm deep. Your poles should be right in the middle of those planting holes.
Mix 10 kg of sand with soil to increase soil porosity. Add 10-20 kg of ripe compost or manure fertilizers. Also add dolomite or agricultural chalk about 300 grams because dragon fruits need a lot of calcium. Mix well.
Fill those planting holes with mixed media you just made. Water them until thoroughly wet but doesn’t make puddles. Let them dry from the heat of the sun.
After 2-3 days, give them 25 grams of TSP fertilizer. Add your fertilizer in circular shape around the poles, about 10 cm from the poles. Let them be for a day. Then, your planting holes are ready for your seedlings.
You need 4 seedlings per pole. Plant your seedlings around the pole with 10 cm distance from the pole. Dig your soil about 10-15 cm deep depends on the size of your seedlings, then put your seedlings in then fill them with more packed soil.
After you’ve planted those four seedlings, tie the stems of your seedlings to the climbing pole. Do this every time the stems have grown 20-30 cm but make sure not to do it too tightly to give room for growth and avoid damage.
Care and fertilization:
In the beginning of plant’s growth, use fertilizer with a lot of nitrogen. In the blooming and baring fruit phase, use fertilizer with a lot of phosphor and potassium. The use of urea isn’t recommended for dragon fruits because it will cause stem rot.
Fertilization with compost or manure fertilizer is done every three months with the dosage 5-10 kg per planting hole. In the blooming and baring fruit phase, use additional 50 grams of NPK and 20 grams of ZK per planting hole. On to the next year, you can up the dosage. Additional fertilizers like organic liquid fertilizer, biofertilizer, or fruit stimulating hormones can be given for optimum harvest.
Watering can be done by streaming water down the drainage channels. It can also be done using the drip irrigation system which uses less water and human power but a pretty big investment.
Watering through the drainage channels is done by soaking the channels for about 2 hours. Using the drip irrigation system, you pour 4-5 liters of water into the planting holes three times a day in the dry season.
You can stop or lessen watering during the blooming/fruiting phase. This is done to stop new buds growth and to focus growth for fruits instead. Watering is still done when the soil’s too dry and your plant starts to wilt.
There are three types of pruning in dragon fruit farming: pruning to form main stem, pruning to form production branches, and pruning for youth.
Pruning to form main stem is done on the seedlings. A good plant has long, hard, and sturdy main stem. To achieve that, choose the bud on the top of the starting stem and get rid of the rest of the buds.
Pruning to form production branches is done on buds that grow on the main stem. Choose 3 – 4 buds that will then grow into production branches that grow limp downwards. You should choose buds on the top part of the stem, about 30 cm from the very top.
Pruning for youth is done on production branches that are not productive enough, usually after 3-4 times of harvesting. You can use these branches for new seedlings.
Pay attention to the shape of your plants. Dragon fruits don’t grow in certain shapes so make the effort to get them to shape well and not too shady because that can shade the lower branches from the sun.
Dragon fruit’s productive cycle lasts 15-20 years. First harvest can occur after 10-12 months of planting or even 1.5-2 years if your seedlings are small. First harvest productivity is quite low and certainly not optimum.
One plant can produce 1 kg of dragon fruits. In one climbing pole, there are four plants so with 1600 poles per hectare; you can get 6-7 tons of dragon fruit per harvest season. Successful dragon fruit farming produces 50 tons of dragon fruits per year.
Here are some characteristics of dragon fruits that are ready to harvest: shiny skin, reddish frills, small petals, wrinkly base, rounded fruits with 400-600 grams per fruit.