Cabbages are one of the more popular vegetables consumed in Kenya. They are relatively easy to grow and manage and mostly require adequate water for optimum growth. There are many varieties of cabbage in the market. They prefer cool climate with fertile, well drained soils.
A head of cabbage
It is a dietary source of potassium, calcium, vitamins A and C. cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable and are thought to fight and protect from cancers such as colon, skin, breast, stomach, liver, bladder and lungs. I have tried growing a few of them and here is my experience.
To start off, you need to prepare a seedbed. The soil needs to be fine tilth and slightly raised for good drainage. It is also advisable to add well composted manure to add to the soil's fertility. The seedbed should be about a meter wide for easy accessibility. A good seed variety should be selected for the climate, disease and pest resistance. In Kenya there are many varieties like pruktor, haraka, queen f1, gloria f1, pretoria f1, coppenhagen among many others.
Once the seedbed is prepared, you will need to sow the seeds. This will require the formation of lines on the seedbed about 1 cm deep and 3 inches apart. Once this is done, sow the seeds trying to leave about an inch between seeds. Make sure you cover the seed with about an inch of soil, or just leveling the contours of the seedbed. A trick I was shown by one of the older farmer in my area is using a few twigs of a tree and proceeding with a light sweeping motion in one direction and you move from one end of the seedbed to the other.
Cabbage seedlings are affected by a number of fungal diseases. One of them is damping off. This is where the stem becomes thin and can no longer pass water and nutrients to the leaves and falls over and dies. I have found out that use of trianum-p helps the plants grow strong and robust and resist common fungal diseases. This can be added to the watering of the seedbed once the plants have germinated.
Once the seeds are covered, watering needs to be done. This should never be done directly using water from a hose or watering can. This is because it can cause the seeds to be washed away. Always use some dry plant matter as a mulch before watering with a watering can with a stream spreader or alternatively cover the mouth with one palm and let the water trickle out slowly from between your fingers. The modern alternative is to cover the seedbed with a shade net. This will assist in breaking the force of the water as well as acting as a mulch for the seedbed.
The watering needs to be done daily or as required. This is to always make sure the seedbed is moist but not soggy. After about 5 to 7 days the seeds should have germinated. In the case of plant mulch, remove excess mulch from planted rows, to expose the seedlings to sunlight for growth.
The seedlings remain in the seedbed for about a month. During this time other than watering, weeding and thinning should be done to make sure seedlings grow strong and robust. Insecticide, fungicide and a foliar nutrient can be started here for routine control and prevention of pests and diseases and optimum growth.
Transplanting comes next and should be done in a field that has been dug and prepared to a fine tilth and weed free. Holes should be bug about 3 inches deep and 2ft apart. Row to row spacing should be 2 ft apart. About a week to transplanting the water should be reduced on the seedbed. This hardens the seedlings to be able to withstand the shock of being transplanted. Transplanting should be done in early to mid morning to prevent damage to the roots. Also watering should be done immediately after transplanting.
Watering should be done everyday after the transplanting to make sure the seedlings are taking hold and continuing to grow. Weeding, pest and disease control are the routine things that need to be done over the next 2.5 to 4 months before cabbage maturity. The best practice I have found is to always go scouting in the field to make sure there are no growth and development issues. This ensures that any pest, disease or nutrition issues are caught early and can be corrected in good time. A great invention in later years has been the use of plastic sheeting for mulch and weed control.
Before the cabbages are ready, you should already have sourced a market to sell. This is because once a cabbage crop is ready, it cannot sit in the field waiting to be harvested. Thee are exceptions to this as some varieties are a bit hardy and can give a farmer about 6 weeks after maturity before they begin to rot or have split heads. A variety like queen f1 from simlaw has this good attribute.
Common fungal diseases to look out for in cabbages are damping off, black rot, etc. the best way to manage diseases is to get certified seeds, some of which are resistant to certain diseases. Use preventative means like triannum-p. The last one is to have a preventative spray regime of fungicides. These can be recommended by your agricultural officer or agronomist.
Pests that attack cabbage are cutworm, caterpillars, thrips, diamond back moth, slugs, ants, moths, aphids and white flies. These can be prevented by have a preventative pesticide spraying regime. The pesticides for use can also be recommended by your agronomist and agricultural officer.
Crop rotation should also be practiced after the harvesting of crops in keeping with good agronomic practices.
Is it worth it?
Cabbage farming is profitable as it is one of the most consumed vegetables in Kenya. The beauty of it is that is can have a shelf life of 1 week from harvesting with proper handling. This means it can be transported and consumed far from where it is produced. With proper planning and management it is a profitable crop to grow as currently prices range from ksh30 to about ksh 90 per head depending on head size and market.