A Nandi County farmer, Zabdi Chumba is earning approximately Sh120, 000 in profits every three months after abandoning maize farming in 2015, a crop he had grown since he was in primary school.
The farmer supplies vegetables such as cabbages and kales to schools, groceries and consumers within Nandi County and its environs.
The amount he makes currently is 12 times more what he used to earn as a maize farmer considering that he was harvesting an average of 20 bags from his two acre farm with each 90kg bag retailing at an average of Sh3,000 on a good season. (Source: http://farmbizafrica.com)
This testimony lead me to find out more about sukuma wiki farming and give the farmer some helpful guidelines.
Kales are one of Kenya’s most demanded green vegetables especially due to their nutritional value. The Kales business is extremely vibrant both in urban areas and rural areas. Selling Kales is very easy and offers you an opportunity to make a decent living.
The kale (Sukuma wiki) is a member of the cabbage family with a wide ecological adaptability. Kale is very high in beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, lutein, zeaxanthin, roughage and reasonably rich in iron and calcium. The leaves are widely utilized mainly alone or in mixture with other vegetables, meat and pulses.
The following steps should be followed before growing your kales:
- Till your land to loosen the soil
- Apply the fertilizer, compost manure preferably
- Mix the soil and the manure thoroughly using a garden fork
- Plant your sukuma wiki seeds on the ground
- Water your plants regularly
- Apply top dressing after you’ve planted your sukuma wiki seeds five weeks for better leaf growth
- Harvest your spinach on a regular basis removing the outer leaves first
- Mulching will help in;
- Increases organic matter in the soil
- Conserves soil moisture
- Prevents soil erosion
- Suppresses splashing of rain or irrigation water and spread of diseases
- Good during dry periods
Kale is grown in a wide range of climatic conditions provided water is available.
- Soils- perform best in well drained soils which are rich in organic matter with a pH of 5.5-7.5.
- Altitude- does well at altitudes of 800-2200M above sea level
- Temperature- requires an optimum temperature range of 16-21o
- Rainfall- the crop requires sufficient amounts of moisture throughout the season. A well distributed rainfall of 30-500mm is ideal for optimum yield. Irrigation is recommended if rainfall is inadequate.
Common Kale varieties include
- Marrow Stem,
- Thousand Headed,
- Sukuma Wiki Hybrid,
- Thousand Headed,
- Collard Southern Georgia and
- Collard Mfalme F1.
The Thousand Headed variety:
- Is very tall, leafy and indeterminate. This means you can harvest more than once
- Matures in 60 days after planting
- Has a yield potential of 8 tonnes( 8000kg) per acre
- Has very good heat tolerance.
- Is light green in colour
For best result particularly high germination and good crop, always use certified seeds. Certified seeds:
- Give high yields of good quality
- Minimise the likelihood of crop failure
- Are resistant to some pests and diseases
- They grow fast, strongly and uniformly.
Buy certified seeds from agrovets. Thousand Headed seeds come in pack sizes of 10g, 25g, 50g, 100g, 250g and 500g.
It is recommended to grow your seedlings from a nursery or buy from a reputable Seedling Nursery.
Kale seeds are sown into nursery structures like open land, wooden, plastic or seeding trays.
Open field nursery establishment Procedure
- Site nursery where vegetables in the same family as kale have not been grown for 2 years.
- The nursery beds should be about 1 meter wide (so as to undertake cultural practices without injuring the plants) and of the required length. In wet areas and sites with heavy soils, raised beds are recommended to prevent water logging.
- Manure and phosphate fertilizers like DAP should be applied and worked well into the soil. Manure improves the soil structure and moisture holding while phosphorus helps in root development. A nitrogen fertilizer like CAN is top dressed two weeks after germination only on poor soils since excessive nitrogen results to weak plants.
- The drills are made across the beds at a spacing of 10-15cm apart and 2cm deep.
- The seeds should be sown thinly and covered lightly with soil. Cover the nursery bed with a thin layer of dry grass (mulch) to avoid unearthing the seeds. This is removed after germination.
- In hot areas, a shade (about 1m high) is necessary. However, excessive watering and shade favors the development of powdery mildews.
- The seedlings should be thinned out to 2-3cm apart. Crowded seedlings compete for nutrients and space resulting into weak seedlings. Crowding also creates conducive environment for damping off disease.
- Water once or twice daily. Irregular watering also promotes dumping off disease. Pests and diseases in the nursery should be controlled to ensure healthy seedlings.
- The seedlings are transplanted when four to five true leaves are formed. This takes a period of about four weeks.
SPACING: Varies with varieties: 60cm x 60cm for large-headed varieties, 60cm x 45cm for medium sized and 30cm x 30cm for small heads
MULCHING: this is recommended because it helps in conservation of soil moisture, prevents soil erosion, increases organic matter into the soil after decomposition and suppresses splashing of rain or irrigation water and spread of diseases. It is very important during the dry seasons.
WEEDING: kale does not compete well with weeds and therefore the field should be kept weed-free. Weeds cause significant losses as they compete for growth factors like nutrients and water and harbour pathogens which could attack the crop.
MAJOR PESTS AND DISEASES
Cutworms– these are soft bodied, smooth caterpillars, brown to black in colour, which cut seedlings or young plants near the soil level mainly during morning and evening hours. When disturbed, they curl up tightly. Heavy infestations cause significant crop loss.
Diamondback moth (DBM) – the larva is a green caterpillar which feeds on the leaf tissue except the veins. Infestation causes significant losses if the pest is not controlled.
Aphids– these are tiny black and green soft –bodied sap sucking insects usually on the undersides of the leaves or stems. They cause damage by sucking sap from leaves and stems of plants causing leaf curling and distortion. In severe cases of infestation, wilting of the crop occurs. They also excrete a sticky sugary substance called honeydew, which encourages the growth of sooty mold.
Sawfly– the larvae feed on the leaves creating small regular holes and this leads to production of poor quality leaves.
Thrips– these are small, slender sap sucking insects with fringed wings. As they feed, they damage the crop, causing distortion of leaves, stunted growth and sunken tissues on the undersides of the leaves.
Whiteflies–These are small white insects which suck plant sap and excrete honeydew where molds grow, affecting plant’s growth and vigour. Their feeding cause crop damages and reduces the crop’s vigour.
Root knot nematodes– these are microscopic parasites found in the soil and whose infestation leads to formation of galls/swellings on the roots, which reduces plant vigour thus causing stunting of the crop and eventual death.
Damping-off– this is a soil borne disease caused by Pythium spp, Rhizoctonia spp, and Fusarium spp which frequently occurs in the nurseries. The diseased seeds do not germinate while the emerged seedlings rot and eventually die. White cottony growth is seen on the roots of the infected seedlings.
Black rot– this is a bacterial disease whose symptoms are seen as v-shaped yellow to brown lesions which start forming from the leaf margin. In severe cases of infection, leaves drop and subsequently the crop dies.
Leaf spots – infection leads to development of small dark spots on leaves which enlarge forming brown lesions, become brittle and eventually the necrotic centres crack. The lesions can also develop on stems and petioles.
Powdery mildew -symptoms first develop as whitish talcum like powdery growth on upper leaf surface and as infection progresses, the stems also get infected. Severely infected plant parts become chlorotic and eventually wilt. Infection also causes stunted growth.
Downy mildew– infection leads to formation of yellow patches on the underside of the leaf. These patches turn light brown and eventually fall off as disease progresses. Stunted growth occurs.
- Kale is ready to harvest when the leaves are about the size of your hand.
- Pick about one fistful of leaves per harvest. Avoid picking the terminal bud (found at the top center of the plant) because this will help to keep the plant productive.
- Kale will continue growing until it’s 20 degrees F. It tastes even sweeter with a touch of frost. If you wish to extend your harvest, shield your kale from the cold with row covers. Or, create a makeshift cover with tarps and old blankets propped up by hay bales.
- The small, tender leaves can be eaten uncooked and used in salads.
- Cut and cook the larger leaves like spinach, but be sure to remove the tough ribs before cooking.
- You can store kale as you would any other leafy green; put the kale in a plastic bag and store it in the refrigerator. It should last about 1 week.