|Can Apples Really be Grown in the Tropics?
It is a shock to many people
that yes, apples can be grown in a tropical climate, and have been grown
by the millions for many years.
against the conventional wisdom that apples need between 800-1,000 hours
below 7° C.
(45° F.) in
order to break dormancy and set fruit. But experience has shown that
using tropic apple culture methods can fool the tree into thinking that
it's chilling-hour needs- whatever they may be- have been satisfied and
it will then blossom and fruit. You still must be choosy about
which varieties to plant, and the tree will act much different than in a
cold climate, but the end result is crisp, juicy, tasty apples.
It was then assumed that apples could be grown only
in the highland tropic areas that receive quite a bit of cold weather,
but not down in the lowlands with the heat and humidity.
However a three-year study¹ in
Nigeria and Southwest Cameroon proved that this was wrong. In that study
18 localities in Nigeria and 8 in Southwest Cameroon comprising both
cool highlands and hot tropic lowlands were selected and planted with the
apple variety Anna and a pollinator. Several different cultural
methods such as planting density and irrigation were employed at each
location and an evaluation of the fruit pack-out was done at the
Researchers were surprised to find that some of the warmer
lowland areas produced well, and the limiting factor was not
temperature, but excessive rainfall. Heavy rains during blossoming
prevented pollinating insects from flying, knocked the flower petals and
young fruitlets off the tree, and led to problems with foliar disease
such as powdery mildew and scab. Better results were obtained with
areas with less rainfall but with the potential for irrigation.
So when people ask if apples can be grown in their area, I suggest to
plant a test plot of 10-20 varieties to see how they perform. Soil
and rainfall conditions can vary widely in a small area, and so all the
variables cannot be fully known until you stick some trees in the ground
and see what happens. Do not believe anybody who tells you it
cannot be done unless they have actually tried it (I used to believe
them for years, and they were wrong, very wrong).
However do realize that any time you are planting a
new crop in an area it should be considered entirely speculative, and
you should be prepared to absorb a 100% loss. Often this happens
several times until the right methodology is found that fits your unique
set of challenges and growing conditions.
There is always some pest, disease, or soil
deficiency to deal with; even growers in cold climates suffer losses and
very often have years when they have a poor or no harvest. The
cold winter may kill the trees to the ground, starving mice and rabbits
chew the bark off the trunk under the snow, the blossoms freeze in late
spring frosts, caterpillars eat all the leaves, deer eat the apples,
hornets eat the apples and strip the bark off. As these
cold-climate growers watch their trees fall over from an ice storm that
coats every twig with 2 cm of ice, they may longingly look at your
tropic apple orchard and proclaim you to be the wiser grower and sell
their orchard to come farm in Africa!
So come and explore the world of tropic apple
growing; we're here to help you every step of the way.
¹ Apple Production
in Strictly Tropical Zones: First Observations in Nigeria, Alum &
Dorsett Golden trees, Donald Jere, Kitwe, Zambia; Apple Orchard in
Kabale, Uganda by John Baptist Lwanga