The dragon fruit is native to Central America, South America, and Mexico, but is quite popular among foodies and health-conscious individuals, in the US and across the world, who use it to make salads and smoothies.
When is dragon fruit in season?
The best time to get fresh dragon fruit is during the summer months, its season starts in June and ends up in September.
For some varieties, the peak months occur in August and September, even though other types will bear fruit during the winter months (November through February). Read on to learn the different varieties and find out more about this exotic fruit.
Varieties of Dragon Fruit
Dragon fruit, also referred to as the pitahaya, pitaya, or strawberry pear, is a sweet-tasting, white-fleshed fruit stippled with small, black seeds and vivid pink outer skin.
The fruit’s texture is like watermelon or kiwi, and it has a mild-sweet and subtle flavor.
Regardless of the variety you are farming, this fruit will remain green until it’s ripe. Most cultivators claim that the deeper pink flesh has the most incredible flavor, but other accounts claim the yellow variety is the sweetest.
A full-grown fruit weighs about 150-600g, which is roughly the standard orange’s size, but oval-shaped. Dragon fruit takes a long time to grow, several years actually. So if you’d like to grow your own dragon fruit you’r going to have to be patient.
There most commonly grown varieties of this fruit include:
• Hylocereus undatus – popularly grown in Australia, this variety has a white flesh with red/pink skin.
• Hylocereus Megalanthus – this variety is indigenous to Mexico, but currently grown in many countries. It has yellow skin and white flesh.
• Hylocereus costaricensis- this variety is indigenous to Costa Rica. It has a red/pink skin with red/magenta flesh.
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As highlighted above, the dragon fruit is indigenous to Mexico, South, and Central America. You can also find it cultivated in some parts of Taiwan, Australia, Southern California, and Indonesia.
This fruit grows like the cactus plant, which loves a warm and humid climate, which requires very little water. Since the dragon fruit is a subtropical plant, it needs about six hours of sunlight exposure a day. Besides, it can do well in a sunny or warm indoors spot.
The dragon fruit is mainly cultivated for the fresh market and primarily sold through specialty farmer’s markets and stores. Some sources highlight that the cultivators in 2011 could sell this fruit at $7 to $8 for every pound.
Over the last ten years, this fruit has been growing in popularity, mainly because of the numerous health benefits it is associated with, making it worth every single penny.
Furthermore, the fruit has an excellent potential of being processed into multiple products, hence adding to its value. It can make ice cream, pastries, pulp, yogurt, juice, jelly, fruit bars, preserves, and marmalade.
The juice of the dragon fruit’s red varieties can also be used as a natural dye and food colorant. Before the flower starts to bloom, it can as well be eaten as a vegetable.
Also, when organically-produced, this fruit’s value can tremendously increase. But if you wish to beat this high price tag, you can conveniently farm it yourself.
We will discuss the most significant factors to consider when cultivating dragon fruit later in the article. This fruit was only more popular among Latin American and Southeast Asian consumers in the US in the past.
Currently, the supply of dragon fruit in the US is way below the demand. Thus, it is creating an excellent opportunity for farmers in the US to grow this fruit for commercial purposes to fill this niche.
Another way to add value to an exotic fruit such as dragon fruit is through agricultural tourism. Agricultural tourism is the commercial enterprise of managing a ranch or working farm, primarily conducted for visitor’s education and enjoyment purposes.
The land invested in farming the dragon fruit in the US is currently limited but is steadily increasing. According to a recent review on this fruit, California’s state was the main growing area in the whole of the United States.
Other states that are commercially growing this fruit include Hawaii and Florida. Many other nations currently involved in the dragon fruit’s production commercially include, but are not limited to, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Malaysia, Vietnam, Israel, and Thailand.
In fact, the United States do most of their imports of this fruit from Vietnam.
Around 2016, California was doing poorly in terms of agricultural production as they were facing extreme drought. Thus, the production of certain crops was very challenging in this area.
Fortunately enough, the dragon fruit is quite drought-resistant. Therefore, it can still flourish in some areas, even under these conditions, to replace conventional crops like avocados and citrus fruits.
The dragon fruit only needs somewhere around 25 to 50 inches of water annually. Be careful not to overwater this plant as it can cause the flowers to drop and rot the growing fruits.
Because dragon fruits are a ‘climbing cactus,’ commercial cultivators should offer the plant some trellising for support function. This plant will bear fruit in about one month from the time it was planted and is capable of production for up to 30 years.
Also, don’t forget to fertilize and prune your plant regularly during its growing season. Another vital aspect of growing the dragon fruit should be the pollination requirements.
Most of the plants will self-pollinate themselves, but some will not. So, you will need to have to do some cross-pollination for it to bear fruit. Note that the plant blooms for a single night.
The dragon fruit is also prone to pests and diseases. So, put all the necessary measures to protect your plant- you can start by sterilizing the pruning shears to avoid transferring infections.
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The dragon fruit’s peak season is usually during the summer months and early fall. But thanks to the various growing locations and off-peak production methods, such as supplemental lighting, it’s well possible to get a fresh dragon fruit almost all-year-round.
If you’re not ready to start cultivating your own dragon fruit from a pre-existing plant’s cuttings or the seeds, visit your local grocery store or specialty farmers market to enjoy one.
The fruit is not easily perishable and can stay fresh on the counter for some days, but if you wish to keep it longer, place it in a refrigerator.