By Vina Medenilla
Growing apples (Malus domestica) can be difficult in a tropical country like the Philippines since they thrive best in temperate regions.
Kapatagan in Davao del Sur, however, is located in an upland area at the foot of Mount Apo, where the climate is cool and suitable for producing exotic fruits.
Benzone Kennedy F. Sepe, 30, of Kapatagan, Digos City, Davao del Sur, has made it possible to grow apples in the country.
He grows this fruit in three separate areas: in a 600 sqm backyard, in front of their church, and in a half-hectare land where he rents and grows 250 to 300 apple trees.
Apple farm built out of sheer curiosity
Sepe’s interest in growing apples arose while eating apples at the mall seven years ago.
Out of curiosity, he extracted three seeds from an apple that he was eating. He planted them in seashells and transferred them to seedling bags when they grew to about five inches.
The young apple plants were six months old when Sepe planted them in the ground. Even though all seeds sprouted, only one tree survived.
During his trip to South Korea, he came across a local magazine showing local farmers growing mangoes in greenhouses.
The idea of planting crops in places where they aren’t typically cultivated piqued his desire to produce apples in the Philippines even more.
With this motivation and an apple tree already growing in his backyard, he came home and started reading up on apple cultivation.
In September 2018, Sepe started harvesting the first fruits of his apple tree. He collects 30 to 35 fruits from the same tree every harvest.
Can apples grow in the Philippines?
The answer is yes, but only if they are properly cared for and grown in an appropriate environment.
Apple trees take five to seven months to bear fruits in temperate countries. In Sepe’s experience, it only takes four months to start harvesting apples in his area.
However, the grower said that apple seeds have a very low germination rate and resistance to fungus. Climate is one of the many reasons.
“If you want to start growing apples from seeds, you have to plant as many as you can, 100 or more apple seeds if possible,” he added.
From one tree then to more than 300 trees now, Sepe raises most of his apple plants from seeds.
He grows varieties including Fuji, Golden Dorsett, Starking, Granny Smith, Gala, Redlove Odysso, Russet, and more.
Harvested apples, at this point, are just enough for family consumption. Sepe said, “By God’s grace, there is a good chance of supplying apples and other fruits in the local market in due time.”
Apple is not the only crop growing in his orchard. Sepe also cultivates pear, persimmon, peach, Hass avocado, orange, durian, grapes, strawberry, guava, vegetables, among others.
Kapatagan Apple Orchard, Rare Fruit Farm, and Nursery is the first ATI-certified Learning Site for Agriculture (LSA) for apple production in the Philippines.
It accepts visitors and learners who are interested in apple farming. An entrance fee of P20/person is collected.
Pests are the biggest nuisance to his farm. To control them, Sepe applies Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which includes creating homemade natural pesticides and foliar spray.
Sepe is in charge of all the farm work. He hires part-time workers when he needs help.
When he is not working in the field, he is updating his YouTube channel where he shares his agricultural techniques.
On top of being an apple farmer and vlogger, Sepe is currently a fourth-year student taking up a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture major in Horticulture.
He intends to grow apples even in the country’s warm regions in the coming years.
Photos courtesy of Benzone Kennedy F. Sepe
For more information, visit Kapatagan Apple Orchard, Rare Fruit Farm and Nurseries.