Dragon fruit Farming Guide
Brief Description of Dragon fruit
Dragon fruit or Hylocereus undatus is an exotic fruit from the family Cactaceae that is grown across the world native to Central America, Mexico and South America and has been introduced in India from Vietnam. Countries like Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh are also involved in the commercial production of Dragon fruit. The fruit is also known as ‘Pitaya’ which is from the genus Stenocereus and ‘Pitahaya’ from the genus Hylocereus, both from the family of Cactaceae.
The stems of the fruit are succulent and triangular in shape with high margins on the branches. The flowers are large, bell shaped and tubular in structure in white or pink colours. The plant blooms during the night and has an excellent fragrant smell. The fruits are fleshy with red, yellow or purple skin colours and the pulp of the fruit are in red, white, yellow or pink colours with black seeds.
The texture of the fruit is somewhat like Kiwi fruit because of its black crunchy seeds and the seed oil contains fatty acid, linoleic acid and linolenic acid. The red and purple colour of the fruit is due to a red coloured pigment from the family of betacyanins and it is the same substance that gives red colour to the Beets, Swisscard and Amaranth. In general, a Dragon fruit weighs about 200 grams to 1 kg and it has a sweet or a slightly sour taste.
The climatic conditions of India is highly favourable for Dragon fruit and it has provided a great source of income to many farmers and entrepreneurs by giving huge returns on their cultivation by practising proper orchard management practices.
This fruit is treated as an ornamental plant as well as a fruit producing plant and is generally consumed as a fresh fruit or in jams, Jelly, fruit juice, wines and ice creams and is also popular for using it in face packs. The fruit is used for flavouring and colouring the juices and alcoholic beverages such as ‘Dragon’s blood point’ and the ‘Dragotini’. The flowers are also eaten or steeped as tea.
Health Benefits of Dragon fruit
Some of the health benefits of Dragon fruit are:
- The fruit is low in calories but it has a high amount of Vitamins and Minerals with beneficial plant compounds such as Polyphenols, Carotenoids and Betacyanins. The fruit also contains Antioxidants, Vitamin C, Beta-Carotene, Lycopene and Betalain.
- It has an excellent source of fibre.
- It promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut which helps with healthy gastrointestinal tract.
- The fruit offers immune boosting properties because of the high supply of Vitamin C and Carotenoids.
- The fruit is rich in Iron which when combined with Vitamin C improves the body’s absorption of this important mineral. It has a rich source of Magnesium as well.
- The food helps in controlling diabetes, cholesterol and prevents arthritis.
- It improves heart health and fights against asthma.
- The fruit has anti ageing properties and treats acne, sunburned skin and promotes skin health.
- It promotes healthy hair.
- It improves blood haemoglobin.
- It is good for womens during their pregnancy period.
- It prevents renal bone disease and is good for bone health.
- It is good for dengue patients.
- It prevents congenital glaucoma and some types of cancers as well.
- It is good for eye health.
- It boosts brain functions.
- It repairs body cells.
- It helps in curing respiratory disorders.
Varieties/Cultivars of Dragon fruit
There are many species of Dragon fruit that are widely cultivated in the whole world but the popular types are:
- Red White variety (Hylocereus undatus) – The upper epicarp of the fruit is pink/red in colour and the edible portion i.e the flesh of the fruit is white in colour with black seeds.
- Pink Dragon fruit variety (Hylocereus polyrhizus) – The epicarp as well as the edible endocarp is pink/red in colour with black seeds.
- Yellow Dragon fruit variety (Hylocereus megalanthus) – The epicarp is yellow in colour and the edible portion is white in colour with black seeds.
- Purple Dragon fruit variety (Hylocereus costaricensis) – The epicarp is red colour and the edible portion is in dark red somewhat like purple in colour with black seeds.
Dragon fruit Farming
The Dragon fruit farming is relatively a new business idea and it is becoming very popular because of its health benefits and it has so many nutrients and is generally sold at a very high price in the market. In India, it has a very high demand and many people from Karnataka, Gujarat, Assam, Haryana, Punjab and Maharashtra are showing interest in Dragon fruit cultivation. The farming and the profit depends on many factors and here we will discuss these factors and the cultivation requirements.
Advantages of Dragon fruit Farming
The Dragon fruit farming also offers some advantages due to which people’s opt for cultivating it on a commercial basis. They are:
- It can be grown on a wide range of soils.
- It can be grown in both tropical and subtropical regions.
- The fruit can be easily grown in pots or containers or on terraces or backyard of the home garden and it can also be grown indoors.
- It requires very little water and less maintenance.
- It can tolerate Indian or Asian climatic conditions.
- It gives investment returns in the second or third year itself depending on the variety.
- The tree cuttings can be used for further propagation or for reselling it.
- The fruits have an excellent demand in local and export markets.
Now let us learn about the Farming Requirements.
Climate Requirement in Dragon fruit Farming
The fruit can survive in temperature variations but the ideal temperature is 20 °C to 30 °C with an average annual rainfall of 50 cm at the minimum. Tropical climatic regions are best for its cultivation and too much sunlight should be avoided.
For high sunlight areas, shade should be provided for better yielding of the fruits. The fruit is sensitive to frost conditions as well.
Soil Requirement in Dragon fruit Farming
Dragon fruits grow in a wide range of soils but well drained sandy loam soils that are rich in organic matter are ideal for its growth. Water stagnation should be avoided as it can cause root rot disease which can cause crop destruction.
For poor soils, garden soil should be mixed with sand. The ideal pH range should be 5.0 to 8.5. The commercial growers should however go for a soil test before planting the seeds and supply the essential nutrients or micronutrients that are required for their growth.
Propagation in Dragon fruit Farming
Dragon fruits are propagated from seeds and cuttings as well. Seed propagation is a little tough and takes time to grow so the commercial growers generally prefer cuttings propagation. The cuttings are taken from a quality mother plant for planting.
The cuttings are piled up 2 days before potting. The cuttings should be potted with a mixture of dry cow dung, topsoil and sand in the ratio of 1:1:2 respectively and these pots should be placed in shade before planting them. The spacing should be 2×2 metres between two plants and the pit size should be 60×60×60 cm that should be filled with topsoil and compost along with 100 g of super phosphate.
Land Preparation, Planting and Spacing in Dragon fruit Farming
The land is ploughed 2 to 3 times till the soil achieves a fine tilth and is free of any weeds. The soil is mixed with organic compost in proportionate ratio for better results. The field should be fenced around to protect from predators.
The beds are prepared with loose soil of 50cm height and 3 m width. Supporting poles of about 1200 to 1300 in number should be provided per hectare with a spacing of 3×3 metres between two trees. The poles should be 12cm in diameter and 2m in length which should be inserted in the land with at least 1.4 to 1.5 m high from the ground level.
The cuttings selected for propagation should be 2 to 3 years old with strong, dark green and healthy free of any damage or pests. It should be 45 to 50 cm long with good eyes covered with strong thorns. Thereafter, it should be treated with pesticides, 30 days before the plantation.
The best time of the year for planting is after the rainy season ends. For every supporting pole, 4 cuttings can be planted which should be then covered with soil and straw. The cuttings should be tied properly for vertical growth.
Plant Density in Dragon fruit Farming
For 1 acre of land, 1700 plants can be accommodated.
Irrigation Requirement in Dragon fruit Farming
Dragon fruits require very less water as compared to other fruits of this family and it can even survive without water for months but requires water every 4 days during drought conditions or fruit setting phase. During summer or drought days, it is recommended to give 1 to 2 litres of water daily on average.
However, irrigation depends on the type of soil and its moisture holding capacity and also on the plant variety, its age and the climatic conditions. Drip Irrigation method is the best Irrigation method for Dragon fruits as it utilises water to a good extent and is also good for suppressing the weeds.
Manures & Fertilisers Requirement in Dragon fruit Farming
Organic matter plays a key role in the development of fruit. The fruit should be given more of Nitrogen during the initial stages and Phosphorus and Potassium during the flowering or fruit setting stage. Urea should be avoided as it can cause rotting of stems.
It is recommended to apply garden compost or a well composted Farmyard manure of 5 to 10 kg per plant for every 45 to 60 days. The fertiliser dose should be increased depending on the plant size and during the flowering and fruiting stage, an additional fertiliser of N:P:K can be applied. For maximum yield, biofertilizers or liquid organic fertilisers or fruit stimulating hormones can also be applied.
Intercultural Operations in Dragon fruit Farming
For proper development and growth of the fruits, intercultural operations should be done timely. The following intercultural operations are done in Dragon fruit Farming.
- Pruning – After planting, light Pruning is done in the 2nd year. Unhealthy and Ineffective branches are to be removed to create an umbrella shaped tree.
- Weeding – Big weeds are removed using weedicides and smaller ones are left so as to conserve water moisture and loss of fertilisers. Mulching is also practised for weed control and conservation of water.
- Flower stimulation – The flower stimulants can be used 2 times during the flowering stage, 3 days before flowering and 7 days after budding.
- Training – For proper growth and development of plants, concrete or wooden columns are required for supporting the immature plants which are tied with them. Lateral shoots should be in limited quantity with only 2 to 3 main stems to be allowed for growing.
Pests & Diseases in Dragon fruit Farming
There are no pests and diseases as such that are found in Dragon fruits. However, the fruits should be saved from birds and predators. Also, over watering or heavy rains should be avoided as it can cause fungal or root rot diseases.
The Soil quality should also be good for better growth. However, if you get any type of pests or diseases in your farm, you can contact your local horticulture department for solutions.
Harvesting in Dragon fruit Farming
The plants start bearing fruits in the first year itself. The flowering generally starts in May to June and fruiting in August to December. The Fruits become ready to harvest after one month of flowering and they can be picked up 6 times during the fruiting period till December.
The harvesting can be done when the fruit becomes ripe and turns into red or pink colour from bright green coloured immature fruits. The Dragon fruit is oval to ovate in shape with 12 to 15 cm in length. The ideal time is after 3 to 4 days of colour change. But for export, it should be harvested just after 1 day of colour change. For picking the fruits, use sickle or do hand picking.
Yielding in Dragon fruit Farming
The yielding depends upon the soil type, climate, variety and the farming methods and management practises. However, on an average, 6 to 7 tons of Dragon fruits can be obtained from 1 acre of land per harvest and about 45 to 50 tons in a year per hectare under ideal farming conditions, where every plant produces about 1kg of fruit or we can say 4kg of fruits per supporting pole (as each pole has 4 plants).
Marketing in Dragon fruit Farming
The freshly harvested fruits can be transported to local fruit markets and it can also be sold to the local fruit agents. For exporting, the fruits require extra care and maintenance. It has a very high demand so marketing is quite easy and it also gives a great value for the products.
Dragon fruit has excellent health benefits and has a great demand and value in local as well as national and international markets. Therefore it can provide great returns if proper management and care is taken for its cultivation.