Nagarkurnool: Dragon fruit (Hylocereus Undatus), also known as ‘the fruit of dense nutrients,’ is fast becoming popular in Telangana, not only in terms of consumption, but also in cultivation. It is grown widely in several countries, including the North and South Americas, the Caribbean, Australia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, China, Myanmar and other countries in South-East Asia.
Dragon fruit is rich in phytonutrients and is abundant in antioxidants, essential fatty acids, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, iron, potassium, phosphorous, calcium, and protein. It helps prevent cardiovascular disorders, lowering the risk of prostate cancer, removing toxic heavy metals from the body, controlling diabetes, boosting the immune system, reducing the risk of respiratory disorders. Dragon fruit is believed to treat certain types of cancers too.
Though this wonder fruit found its way into Indian markets 20 years ago, it attained prominence in the Telugu-speaking States only in the last five years. The demand for the fruit increased in major cities and of late, a few farmers in Telangana have started experimenting with its cultivation.
Dr Padmaiah, retired principal scientist and former head of Social Sciences, ICAR – Indian Institute of Oilseed Research, experimented with this fruit-bearing plant from the cacti family on his rooftop. A native of Amrabad mandal, he came out with results, which would not only be of interest to horticultural farmers, but also to others who wish to grow dragon fruit in their homes.
Typically, the fruit-bearing period of dragon fruit is from May to October. This plant requires sunlight for extended periods of time to reach the flowering stage — the reason why it starts flowering from May. But, by following the method Dr Padmaiah adopted from some countries where artificial focused lighting is given to the plants, the plant can bear fruits throughout the year.
He planted the stem of the plant on his rooftop in a flower pot, provided support to the climbing cactus and used 9V and 12V LED bulbs to balance the light shortage during its off-season. The aspect which makes dragon fruit conducive for rooftop plantation is that its roots are like shrubs and can grow as deep as one foot into the soil. In open land they can grow as deep as a metre. They also have aerial roots, which supports the plant and absorbs atmospheric moisture.
By placing an LED bulb 2 ft above the plant, it continues its flowering process between November and April. Dr Padmaiah told Telangana Today that after the season, the plant needs to be given some time to rejuvenate. After that, by providing 12V LED light for seven hours, he said one can see the flowering after 35 days. By giving 9V LED light for 40 days, he said it would take 40 days for the flowering to occur again.
In the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and Sri Lanka, this experiment was done using LED bulbs. In the Philippines they used 6V LED bulbs and it took 46 days for the plat to flower, i.e. plant 2 kg of dragon fruit from each plant (3-4 fruits a kg). Dr Padmaiah said he was able to get nine flowers, out of which he could get seven fruits from his rooftop plant. By using LED bulbs, he said the cost reduction can be done and even nutrient distortion can be minimised.
Currently, in Sangareddy, a farmer is following this artificial lighting method on his farm to grow dragon fruit. In Artula village near Ibrahimpatnam, a farmer is cultivating dragon fruit in his farm (without artificial lighting). The demand for this fruit is high from health-conscious people in Hyderabad. In big retail marts in the city, it is sold anywhere between Rs 250 and Rs 300.
Dr Padmaiah worked out the economics of cultivating dragon fruits in open fields — it would cost Rs 4-Rs 5 lakh to start the plantation on an acre. He said it would take three-four years to breakeven for the farmer. In the first two years, a farmer can get a yield of 15 quintals per acre. From three to four years, he would be able to get 1-tonne yield per acre in season and two-three tonnes if artificial lighting is used.
“There are certain insects such as mites, red ants, certain types of beetles and others which tend to eat away the anthers inside the flowers. Stem rot, soft rot and root rot may also happen. In summers, the stem tends to turn yellow. But, by using integrated pest management methods, this can easily be overcome,” he said.
Dr Padmaiah plans to release a book on dragon fruits in Telugu soon. It could be distributed to farmers through KVKs and other institutions so that they are encouraged to cultivate dragon fruit on a large-scale in the near future.