Onion farming is viable in Kenya
Onion is a main crop as it adds to the list of the high on demand vegetables in Kenya. Therefore onion growing is ideal as the market is readily available in the local markets up to the supermarkets. Again the crop is also highly profitable if proper management is done throughout the growing period.
The crop can be done by both small scale farmers and large scale farmers. Most of the parts in Kenya are viable for onion cultivation as it thrives in warm to hot climates. Hoteliers and homesteads use onions in food flavoring and making of salads. Before planting onions it is advisable for a farmer to do a thorough research on the onion variety that suits their area and one which can fetch good cash in the market. There are different onion hybrids which have been introduced such as Red creole and Jambar1. The hybrids are high performance varieties.
Conditions necessary for onion growing
The ecological requirements for proper growth of onions and better bulb development are;
- Warm to hot climates of 15°C-30°C
- Optimum temperatures for plant development ranging between 13°C-24°C
- Soils which are light, well-drained with high fertility. A soil rich in organic matter would be even the very best.
- A soil should have a pH of 5.8-6.5
Deep ploughing is done followed by harrowing to attain a fine tilth of the soil. Early ploughing is highly beneficial, it exposes pathogens to sunlight and kills the perennial weeds.
Transplanting and planting:
Onion seedlings are transplanted from the seedbed after 8-10 weeks and only pick the very healthy ones. The best seedlings have about 4-6 leaves. The seedlings are then planted on the prepared field. Spacing is done at 30cm between rows and 8-10cm between plants on soils with high fertility. Soils with low fertility require a spacing of about 20cm between plants. A farmer requires about 3kg of onion seeds per hectare.
The onion field is watered before planting in order to create moisture reserves for later use. The seedlings should be watered immediately transplanting is through and done more frequently. If the field is under irrigation, minimal irrigation is done daily just to keep the soil moist. Avoid excess water during the growing phase. Water-logged soils are not good for onion bulb development.
Field management practices
Weeding methods are either by use of hands, chemical application and mulching. Mulching is far better as it has multiple functions like suppressing weeds, temperature regulation, reduces infestation of pests and reduces evapotranspiration. Removal of weeds should be done carefully to avoid disturbing the plants. Weeding also help to avoid competition of nutrients, light and water with the onions.
Thinning and uprooting the infected plants helps to boost yield production.
Pest and diseases:
Onion diseases can be controlled by applying the suitable herbicides. The Kenyan farmer’s big threat is the thrips pest which can lead to a lot of damage to the onion crops.
After a period of 4-5 months the onion is already mature and harvesting is done. Yellowing of the onion leaves is an indicator that the crop has already matured. Harvesting is done during the dry weather to increase the shelf life. The produce is stored in a well-ventilated dry room.
Onion farming is arguably a money making avenue for Kenyan farmers. This is because there is readily available market locally. Onion is one vegetable that will always be on a high demand. Therefore farmers should take up onion growing to get huge returns within a short time.