Potatoes are a staple food crop in Kenya, providing a major source of carbohydrates for the population. They are also an important cash crop for farmers, providing a source of income through sales in local markets and beyond. This guide will cover the steps involved in growing potatoes in Kenya, from preparation of the soil to harvesting and storage.
Soil preparation of potatoes in Kenya
Potatoes require well-drained, fertile soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. The first step in preparing the soil is to clear the land of any debris, including rocks and weeds. It is important to remove any weeds, as they can compete with the potato plants for nutrients and water.
Next, the soil should be tilled to a depth of at least 20 cm to ensure that the soil is loose and aerated. This allows the roots of the potato plants to penetrate the soil more easily and absorb nutrients and water. It is also recommended to add organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, to improve soil fertility. Organic matter can help increase the water-holding capacity of the soil, which is important for potatoes, as they require regular watering.
Seed selection and planting of potatoes in Kenya
Potato seeds, also known as seed potatoes, can be purchased from agricultural suppliers or saved from a previous harvest. When selecting seed potatoes, it is important to choose disease-free, firm and healthy potatoes. Disease-free potatoes are important, as diseases such as potato blight can quickly spread and destroy an entire crop.
The seed potatoes should be cut into pieces with at least one “eye” per piece. The cut pieces should be left to dry in a cool, dry place for a day or two before planting. This allows the cut surfaces to heal over and prevents them from rotting when they are planted.
Potato farming is relatively easy, and with proper management practices, one can get high yields. To plant potatoes, you need to dig furrows with a spacing of 75cm from one furrow to another and 30 cm from one seed to another. The seed pieces should be planted about 10-15 cm deep with the “eyes” facing upwards. Mix the soil with D.A.P fertilizer at planting time at a rate of 200kg per acre (1kg DAP per 35m of furrow). Water the potatoes regularly every week with a water supply of about 25mm. Covering the crops with soil is required (Earthing) as they grow, with the final earthing up done at 25cm high.
Watering and fertilization of potatoes in Kenya
Potatoes require regular watering to ensure that the soil stays moist but not waterlogged. It is recommended to water the potatoes at least once a week, depending on the weather conditions. In dry areas, more frequent watering may be necessary to prevent the soil from drying out.
In addition to regular watering, potatoes require regular fertilization to ensure good growth and high yields. A balanced fertilizer, such as 15-15-15, can be applied at planting and then again at regular intervals throughout the growing season. It is important not to over-fertilize, as this can lead to excessive vegetative growth and reduced yields. Soil testing can help determine the appropriate amount of fertilizer to apply.
Pest and disease control of potatoes in Kenya
Potatoes are susceptible to a variety of pests and diseases, including potato tuber moth, potato blight, and bacterial wilt. It is important to monitor the potatoes regularly for signs of pest or disease damage, and to take appropriate measures to control the problem.
Cultural control methods, such as crop rotation and good hygiene practices, can help reduce the risk of pest and disease problems. Crop rotation involves planting different crops in a field each year, which can help break the cycle of pests and diseases that are specific to potatoes. Good hygiene practices, such as removing diseased plant material and properly disposing of it, can also help prevent the spread of diseases.
Chemical control methods, such as insecticides and fungicides, can also be used to control pests and diseases. However, it is important to follow the instructions carefully and to use chemicals only when necessary, as overuse can lead to the development of resistant pests and diseases.
Harvesting and storage of potatoes in Kenya
Potatoes are usually ready for harvest 3-4 months after planting, depending on the variety and growing conditions. The potatoes should be harvested when the leaves start to yellow and die back. This indicates that the potatoes have stopped growing and are ready to be harvested.
The potatoes can be harvested manually or with the use of machinery, such as a potato harvester. Care should be taken not to damage the potatoes during harvest, as this can reduce their quality and storage life.
After harvesting, the potatoes should be cured by leaving them in a cool, dark place for 1-2 weeks. This allows the skins to toughen up and helps to prevent bruising and damage during storage. The potatoes can then be stored in a cool, dry place, such as a root cellar or basement. It is important to store potatoes away from light, as this can cause them to turn green and develop solanine, a toxic substance.
Marketing and sales of potatoes in Kenya
Potatoes can be sold in local markets, to processors, or to exporters. It is important to ensure that the potatoes are of high quality and meet the requirements of the intended market. This may involve grading the potatoes by size and quality, and packaging them in appropriate containers.
Marketing and sales can be facilitated by joining a farmers’ group or cooperative, which can provide access to markets and support services. It is also important to keep records of production and sales, as this can help in planning and decision-making for future seasons.
Potato farming can be a profitable venture for farmers in Kenya, providing both food for the local population and income for farmers. By following the steps outlined in this guide, farmers can produce high-quality potatoes with good yields and minimal pest and disease problems.
Remember to select healthy seed potatoes, prepare the soil well, water and fertilize regularly, monitor for pests and diseases, harvest and store properly, and market the potatoes effectively. With proper planning and management, potato farming can be a rewarding and sustainable enterprise for farmers in Kenya.