By Malachi Motano
Pixie farming is taking farmers in the lower eastern all the way to the coast by storm, giving rise to agribusiness activities worth millions of shillings. Farmers in the regions have proven the climatic conditions of the area to be very suitable for the crop.
Pixie, yellow-orange coloured, is from the Mandarin or Tangerine family of citrus fruits. It has rough texture, easy to peel, fleshy, seedless and juicy. The tree grows up to 4 meters tall and 3 meters in radius. Pixie tangerines are propagated through grafting.
To produce a good pixie tree, grafting is done using lemon root stocks and pixie scions cut from a mature and vigorously growing pixie tree with bud grafting method being the most preferred. The rootstocks become ready for grafting once they attain a pencil thickness. Grafting can be done either after transplanting rootstocks (lemon seedlings) on the field, or on lemon seedlings prepared in seedling bags. An acre can be occupied by 200 pixie trees with a spacing of 4m by 5m. To plant the seedlings, holes size of 2ft by 2ft by 2ft should be dug and manure about 20kg mixed with top soil put in each of the holes. Profitability of the trees starts at around 5 years; each plant can produce more than 300 fruits.
Pixie thrives in a wide range of soils although they perform best in sandy loamy soils. For optimum performance, they should be grown in deep, fertile and well-drained soils with a pH range of 6.5 – 7.3. Like oranges, they also survive in in areas with low and moderate rainfall, that is why they perform well in arid and semi-arid areas. Ideal temperatures for pixie farming range from 100C – 300C. The plants are sensitive to extremely low or high temperatures. For instance, high temperatures above 380C causes fruit drop and scarring of fruits. They grow well in altitudes of up to 2100m above sea level and requires enough sunlight (at least 6-8 hours of sunlight) especially during flowering, fruit set and fruit ripening.
Pixie orchards should be weed-free. Mulching and planting cover crops minimizes the growth of weeds. Some of the common pests that affect the tangerine include mites, bark eating caterpillars, mealybugs, aphids, leaf miners and fruit fly while diseases include Gummosis, Collar rot, Twig blight, Damping-off. However, grafted varieties are resistant to many of the pests and diseases.
Gideon Kio is one of the growers who has embraced grafted pixie tangerine farming. He is farming pixie at Kinyongo village, Kaumoni sub location which is 11Km from Wote town, along Kilala – Ndumbi road, Makueni County. The size of his farm under pixie trees is 2 acres, while the farm under seedlings is approximately 0.5 acres (35,000 lemon seedlings, 2,000 grafted pixie seedlings and other fruit seedlings).
According to Gideon, growing and grafting pixie tangerines is lucrative business. It’s among the most profitable crops to grow since it has a higher demand for both the seedlings and the fruits. “Grafted pixie seedlings have a good demand in the market, a seedling sells at Ksh 150. The price of the fruit at farm gate is usually Ksh 20 per piece. This means one can get Ksh 1500-6000 per tree and with 200 trees per acre it is a good source of income,” Says Kio.
Peter Mwaka has citrus fruits at different stages (some ripe while others are still flowering) in his Joyland Farm at Muthyoi village in Makueni. The farm has over 4,000 citrus trees, mostly pixie. In a season; which is between June and September, the farm can produce between 50 and 70 tonnes of pixie fruits, not to mention the other citrus fruits. With a kilo going between KSh80 and 120, the farmer is always earning good money.
Another pixie farmer James Carlos Kilai owns an acre of pixies and further propagates some 10,000 seedlings in Kilamba village, same county. Having been in pixie farming for over five years, he confirms that the fruits provides a lucrative agribusiness. He sells his fruits for KSh30 each or Sh120 a kilo, making at least Sh20,000 every week during the April-September harvest window. He makes more money from the sale of seedlings which he sells at Sh250 each.
Judith Mwikali Musau is another pixie farmer in Mbiuni, Machakos County. She grows pixie tangerines among other high-value, drought-resistant fruits. In her farm, she has about 500 grafted mangoes, 800 orange trees, 150 tangerine trees and tens of pawpaw trees. She harvests about 40 sacks of oranges each season; which she sells at KSh1700 per sack to wholesale dealers, meaning that she earns about KSh70, 000 per harvest.
Pixie orange was developed in 1972 by Howard B. Frost of University of Califonia Citrus Research Center. The pixie tangerine resulted from open pollination between Kincy Mandarins, a cross between Dandy Tangerines and the King Mandarin.
In Kenya, pixie is alleged to have been introduced in the mid-1970s by Peter Mwaka, who noticed them during a trip in California. He then imported a few scions from South Africa and set up his orchard in Makueni. Neighbors who showed an interest purchased the seedlings.
The health benefits of the nutrients found in pixie fruits include reduction in the risk of developing liver and breast cancer. The fruit fibres helps in cleaning the intestines of the bad cholesterol. It also helps in maintaining normal blood pressure, preventing colds and is crucial for a well-functioning immune system, maintaining healthy-looking, glowing skin. And helps in healing wounds.