Demystifying Pears, visiting one of the fruit farmer in Limuru

Consuming fruits of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk on a number of health conditions. Many studies have suggested that increased consumption of fruits like pears decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and overall mortality rate; while promoting a healthy complexion, increased energy, and a lower weight.
Pears are a mild, sweet fruit with a fibrous center. They are rich in antioxidants, bio-flavonoids and dietary fiber, cholesterol and calories.They are delicious fruits that can be grown in a wide range of soils especially cold areas.
In Kenya, Limuru, Kiambu County which is a cold area is a major pear growing zone. A cool weather is an important factor to be considered in pear growing as it is required to break dormancy. If the area is not cold, it delays leaf formation and leads to poor fruits development.
We meet Catherine Gathoni Kariuki a mother of three, who has been tending their pear trees since the demise of her parents in 1980. Currently she has close to two hundred pear trees. “Most of this pear trees on this land were planted by my late parents in 1964 shortly after Kenya got independence. They are the livelihood we depended on and still i am depending on them.We grew up seeing, eating them and feeding the cows with the fruit; only recently we realized its real value beyond the homestead, “she said.
Pears take 3 to 5 years for the tree to start fruiting. Management practices such as pruning, weeding and application of ash on the plant to prevent mites during growing period are some of the processes she undertakes. Removing the excess fruits also allows the rest to develop into a good marketable size. “Pear trees have a habit of producing too many fruits; when this occurs, the quality of the fruit declines. I usually remove some of the small fruits to redirect energy into the remaining ones,” Catherine explained.
“Pruning is very vital for this tree as it grows bushy, the central leader (the main stem), should be allowed to grow upwards, do not eliminate it. I prune away dead, damaged and diseased branches as well as those that growing in the wrong direction. Pruning allows air and light to penetrate the tree. I prune my trees when they are not flowering,” she continued.
Compared to other fruits, taking care of pear trees is easy. They don’t suffer from many diseases or insect problems, thus are easier to farm. Pears should be staked with a sturdy post driven into the ground to help the tree grow straight and withstand wind damage.
Weeding around the trees or mulching around them at a depth of 2-3 inches in a three foot circle, prevent weed competition for nutrients and water. She applies nitrogen fertilizers which boost fruiting. “Applying to much fertilizer especially manure should be taken care off to avoid over application which produces a lovely tree with less fruits or no fruits at all,” she said.
From each of the trees, she harvests between 100 and 200 quality fruits between February and May. She is a direct beneficiary of the rising demand of the fruit in Nairobi, Nakuru and other towns which have seen aggressive buyers roaming around the area even before the fruits mature offering varying prices. Being in the business for some time, Catherine has established connections with several people who inform her about the prevailing market prices before settling on any offer.
According to her, last season was better off than the current as she managed to rake in 100,000 thousands shillings. She attributes the season being down to this year adverse weather condition which have affected her produce.
The biggest challenge she grapples with are moles which feeds on the roots of the trees hence weakening them and they eventually fall and dry. To cushion this, she uses traps to capture the moles as well as placing poisoned food in the routes the moles travel.
Her Motto “hard work and patience” is the one that drives her to succeed.
Apart from growing pears, Gathoni is a jack of all fruits, which she is steadily becoming a master of them. She is also cultivating red plums and yellow plums which she was introduced to by one of her neighbors. “Farmers should cultivate several crops throughout the year to get good returns,” she concluded.

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