Capsicum Farming in Kenya
Capsicum (called pilipili hoho in Kenya) are a hardy type of plant. It is rarely attacked by diseases or pests though it still needs proper preventive care. Capsicum farming in Kenya does best in hot areas the likes of the greater Eastern Province, Coastal region, temperate central areas etc.
Capsicum Farming in Kenya – Varieties
Most commercial varieties are hybrids. These varieties have a green primary mature colour, but may also be yellow. They also have a secondary mature colour that is red, but may also be orange or yellow or other colours. Capsicums picked at this stage are much sweeter than green capsicums and have more pro-vitamin A.There are also black, cream, and brown and lime coloured varieties.
New varieties that are more resistant to disease, produce higher yields of capsicum, produce more uniform capsicum or be more suited to the latest market requirements for quality are always been introduced to the market.
Capsicum Farming in Kenya – Requirements
Soil: Soil requirements for capsicums are not strict as they can grow on most well-drained loamy or heavy cracking clay soils with an optimum pH range of 6.0 to 6.5.
Temperature: Capsicums are sensitive to frost and the optimum temperatures for proper growth is 15 to 25ºC.
Altitude: The Capsicums grow well in altitudes of up to 2,000 metres above sea level.
Season: The low night temperatures in July and August in Kenya are good for this crop.
Spacing: Seeds should be sown in drilled rows spaced 15cm and thinly covered with soil.
Top dressing: When the capsicums reach 15cm, top-dress with 100kg/ha of nitrogen (from CAN or equivalent source) and four weeks later another 200kg/ha should be applied.
Seed Germination: Seeds take 12 to 21 days to germinate with optimum soil temperatures of between 13 to 21 degrees centigrade.
Thinning: Thinning or pricking out should be done to a final seedling spacing of 5cm to allow growth of healthy seedlings.
Fertilizer Application: At planting, 250kg/ha of double super phosphate fertiliser should be applied.When the capsicums reach 15cm, top-dress with 100kg/ha of nitrogen (from CAN or equivalent source) and four weeks later another 200kg/ha should be applied and compost manure is used in the nursery.
Pinching out: As part of horticultural management to maximise production, the growing tips can be pinched out when the plants are 3cm high to encourage branching.
Seed Rate: Capsicum seed rate is 0.5kg/ha in the nursery and 1kg/ha for direct sowing.
Capsicum Farming in Kenya – Nursery
It is from the nursery that planting starts. Sunken or Raised nurseries can be made though sunken nurseries are preferred since they retain water more than raised nurseries. After sowing the seeds, it takes about 2-3 weeks for them to germinate. Capsicums will be ready for transplanting after 6 weeks.
Seedling beds can be lightly shaded in the first two weeks of germination and seedling development and watering done twice a day if in a hot environment.
In the nursery, add a small amount of totally dry compost manure and mix thoroughly with the top soil. Adding manure on the nursery ensures a strong and healthy seedling hence a healthy capsicum (pilipili hoho) when transplanted.
In a capsicum nursery, ensure that the distance between the rows is about 1.5 inches. This will help leave enough space for watering and spraying
On spraying, if mornings are too cold, spray the nursery with a mild mix of mildew preventive herbicide. Do not spray anything else on the nursery; remember the seedlings are too weak for any strong sprays or fertilizers.
Capsicum Farming in Kenya – Transplanting
Transplant in the evenings or early in the morning though it can also be done during the day with no adverse effects. One week before transplanting, harden off the capsicum seedlings by reducing frequency of watering gradually, don’t do it abruptly. On the day of transplanting, wet the nursery enough to wet the soil and allow easy uprooting of the capsicum seedlings from the nursery without damaging the roots. A garden trowel should be used to uproot the seedlings.Have the farm field irrigated before planting to allow easy planting .
Planting on the farm field is done on wet furrows by pressing the seedling down with your index finger deep enough – roughly one inch this is by creating of irrigated furrows
Plant the seedlings on both sides of each furrow. Make sure the capsicum seedlings are planted close to the floor of the furrow to make sure the plant has maximum uptake of irrigated water.
First 2-3 Capsicum leaves dropping off
Note that the just transplanted capsicums will loose the first 2-3 leaves. At planting, 250kg/ha of double super phosphate fertiliser should be applied.
Capsicum Farming in Kenya – Pests
Spider Mites attack: These are very small red mites. They mostly survive in hot weather and under intense heat and windy conditions can quickly multiply and spread even to nearby farms. During dry weather farmers can spend lots of money on sprays to prevent or cure spider mite attacks.
Note that spider mites can be extensively destructive, clearing a whole crop at any stage. They are a big headache to a farmer.
Thrips attack: These mostly attack the flowers. They are less sited on capsicums but it is good to always spend some time hunting for them weekly. You will have to sample quite a number of flowers across the field. Hold the flower carefully and look inside for any insects.
White Flies Attack: For White Flies, you can sight them early in the morning by tapping on the crops. You will see them flying off in big numbers. They have little effect on the crop.They mostly come around during the rainy and cold seasons.
Cutworms: This nocturnal caterpillar curls around seedling stems and eats through them. They are controlled by using cutworm collars and applying beneficial nematodes to the soil.
Capsicum Farming in Kenya – Diseases
Early/Late Blight: This makes the leaves start folding up. That means less photosynthesis, hence a poor fruit and crop. At the end, low harvest.
Blossom-end rot: The disorder is caused by lack of calcium. It creates dark brown or black spots on immature fruits. To overcome it, plants should be evenly watered to ensure a steady flow of calcium to the fruits, especially at the forming stage.
Damping-off: Here, seedlings suddenly fall over and rot. This is caused by fungus and can be prevented by keeping the soil in which seedlings grow slightly dry to avoid excessive watering.
Root-knot nematodes: These are microscopic soil-dwelling worms that can invade roots and make them wilt. They can be eradicated by growing a cover crop of marigolds or rye in infested fields for rotation
Capsicum Farming in Kenya – Irrigation
Capsicums need uniform soil moisture conditions for high production. Dry periods may cause shedding of flowers and young fruits, and blossom end rot on the fruit. During hot weather, water crops in sandy soil twice daily.
Trickle irrigation is recommended when combined with black plastic mulch, this results in fewer weeds and a saving in water. It is also useful for capsicums under cloches to increase soil temperatures in cooler weather.
Capsicum Farming in Kenya – Harvesting
Harvesting starts 2.5 to three months after planting and can continue for four to six months with good management. Only mature fruits should be picked and packaged for market. Sweet peppers should be harvested when filled out and still green.
Harvested fruits should be placed under shade for grading, sorting, and packaging to avoid shrivelling. Export produce should conform to the required standards with respect to quality, packaging and labelling.