Beetroot Farming tips from John Koech, a successful farmer from Eldoret
After a long, winding and dusty 18-km road-drive from Eldoret town, I find John Koech tilling arduously on his one-acre farm at Plateau in Uasin Gishu County.
He is crouching as he uproots weeds on what looks like an overgrown plantation of spinach.
Plucking out a leaf, he says; “This is a nutritious vegetable, but it is not spinach. As you can see, this leaf has red veins and stalks which is very tasty when cooked,” Koech explains.
This bulbous beetroot crop borrows its name from its roots that bear a resemblance to those of onions. Beet, popular for its medicinal value, is grown mainly because of its round-like wonder roots.
The plant produces sweet red juice when graded or blended and most hotels use it as a food flavouring.
But there is more to this plant. “It used to be grown to feed livestock to increase milk production. Nowadays doctors recommend that one should take a glass of beet juice to boost blood levels,” says the father of five.
RICH IN VITAMINS
Beetroot (Beta Vulgaris) belongs to the Chenopodiaceous family along with quinoa and spinach. Medical research shows that the vegetable’s roots and leaves are rich in vitamins C and A.
So how did Koech end up growing the beetroot?
“I inherited beetroot farming expertise from my father who used to work at a horticulture farm in Nakuru before the 2007-2008 post-election violence.
‘He would bring some of these crops to experiment on the farm at home. I grow them to have an edge in the market,” says the farmer who also has capsicum, tomatoes, pepper, and seedlings of different trees on his farm.
He first experimented with 200 seedlings of beetroot in 2011.
“I found that the crop was doing well on my farm so I gradually planted more. At the moment, I grow about 2,000 seedlings.”
The farmer plants seeds in a six-inch-high nursery to ensure they are not washed away by run-off water.
“Its seeds take about 10-14 days to spring. Thorough watering is required for four days before top dressing with Di-Ammonium Phosphate fertiliser,” the 45-year-old farmer says.
One month later, he transfers the small plants on to land. It takes about three months to grow to maturity, which is marked by the cracking of the soil around the plant.
“These plants are seldom attacked by insects because their leaves are straight. So a notorious insect finds it hard to lay eggs plus the leaves are a bit cold so there is no fungal attack.”
Dr Nicholas Rop, the head of Seeds and Crop Production department at the University of Eldoret, says red beets contain high iron content while white ones are grown mainly to boost milk production in livestock.
He, however, says further research should be conducted to find out more about the plant that thrives in high altitudes of between 2,800m and 3,000m.
Koech harrows the farm occasionally to loosen the soil so as to allow the roots to increase in size and do away with weeds.
“I have conducted research in the market and discovered that beet lovers tend to go for medium-sized roots,” says Koech, adding that he regularly covers the roots with adequate soil.
He warns that if the roots are over-exposed, suckers sprout and consume the important nutrients — making roots to gradually shrink in size.
From the 2,000 seedlings he has grown on 10m-square section of his farm, he harvests 100 kilogrammes of the roots weekly. He then packs them and sells to traders in town.
“A kilo of beetroots goes for Sh30 at the moment but prices go up steadily to Sh100 during the dry season (which usually stretches from August to April) when the demand is high.
And since his farm borders the permanent River Chebaon, he grows beetroot throughout the year.