A guide to Broccoli farming in Kenya
Farmers are fast adopting broccoli farming in Kenya as more people become conscious of their diets and embrace healthy eating habits. In the retail market, an average-sized head of broccoli retails at about Sh50. This means that farmers get as much as Sh25 for the same head. The income generating potential of this vegetable, coupled with the rising demand for the same is enough to make broccoli farming a worthy venture for any agripreneur.
Generally, broccoli grows well in cool weather. The vegetable also grows well in well-watered and fertile soils. Additionally, it requires at least six hours of sun every day. In Kenya, Broccoli grows well in central Kenya, Rift Valley, parts of Eastern and Western regions. Farmers are advised to grow broccoli in soils that have a pH of between 6.0 and 7.0 as this discourages clubroot disease. You can ask your local extension officer for advice.
Farmers can also mix compost manure and nitrogen-rich organic fertilisers in their soils in order to promote good growth in the broccoli plant.
Before planting, it is important to consult with the local seed stockist (e.g. Kenya seed) to understand the varieties that do well in different parts of the country. Seeds need to be planted in a nursery bed first. The farmer should also water the nursery regularly and put some shade over the germinated crop to avoid them stretching and getting ‘leggy’. Seedlings should be transplanted 14 days after germinating (or when the broccoli seedlings have two sets of leaves).
Broccoli should be planted in a well-drained, fertile but moist soil, and should be spaced at 2 ½ feet between rows and 24 inches between crops in the same row. Farmers need to use a low nitrogen fertiliser during planting. The same fertiliser should be applied when the crops are 12 inches tall, and when the first buds appear. In total therefore, broccoli needs three low-nitrogen fertiliser applications.
Smart farmers need to look out for aphids and cabbage worms, which can wreak havoc on an entire broccoli crop if not well managed.
Growing broccoli (Brassica spp.) is easy, if you plant it at the right time, and make sure it has steady, regular water.
There are some soil tweaks and pests to watch out for, but broccoli is as easy to grow as other cruciferous vegetables.
Home-grown broccoli can be harvested at the peak of freshness, and prepared moments after cutting it from the plant.
After harvest, most broccoli varieties produce a second crop of small side-shoots that can be harvested 2-3 weeks after the main head.
Broccoli has the same growth pattern as other fall vegetables. Broccoli grows best under cool, wet conditions.
As long as conditions remain good, it will continue to store nutrients in leaves and stalks. Hot, dry weather will cause it to head up prematurely, producing small, inferior heads.
Garden Preparation for Planting Broccoli
Broccoli is a heavy feeder, and performs best with a deep root zone in soil with ample organic matter.
When growing Broccoli, prepare the soil to a depth of 12-20” (30-51cm). Lay down a 2-3” (5-8 cm) layer of good garden compost or composted manure when you prepare the soil.
Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables grow best in soil with a slightly acidic to slightly alkaline pH, pH 6.8-7.4. See Changing Soil pH for tips on adjusting soil pH.
If your soil is lean or you’re short on compost, you can amend the soil with a good organic fertilizer and mix it into the soil before planting.
Broccoli also benefits from supplemental calcium in the soil.
Broccoli seedlings should have succulent stems and large, green leaves. Seedlings with hard stems or purplish, stunted leaves have been too long in small pots and will produce tiny broccoli heads.
In fertile soil, broccoli plants can spread 2-3’ across, by 2’ high.
If you’re growing broccoli in a single-dug bed (soil prepared to a depth of 10”—25 cm), set plants out 15-18” (38-46 cm) apart, in rows 18-24” (46-61 cm) apart.
If you’re growing broccoli in a raised garden or double-dug bed (soil prepared to a depth of 18-24”—46-61 cm), set plants out 18-20” (46-51 cm) apart, in rows 18-24” (46-61 cm) apart.
With most vegetables, deep soil preparation allows you to tighten spacing between plants, but with broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, the plants grow larger and need a little more space when planted in a deep, fertile soil.
Harvesting and storage
When the florets at the outer edges of the broccoli head begin to loosen, then it is time to harvest the crop. The farmer should cut the broccoli stems at an angle to prevent water settling in the stem and occasioning rot. It is important for smart broccoli farmers to understand that the vegetable has a relatively short shelf-life. It is therefore important to get it to the market (especially if you are handling the transport logistics) as soon as possible.
Things to note:
Too much nitrogen encourages leaf growth hence delaying the heads from setting
Weeding may disturb broccoli roots so its recommended that farmers mulch their crops to control weeds
Some side shoots may grow from the main stem where the head has been cut off hence providing several harvests to a farmer
Hot temperatures may become a hindrance to good head formation
Hot temperatures may also lead to immature flowering –i.e. broccoli plant forms a flower stalk before forming a compact head.
Bacterial Soft Rot is the only common broccoli disease I’ve encountered. Sections of the head darken, go soft, and begin to collapse.
The disease is more common under warm, wet conditions, and with broccoli varieties that have flat heads. Varieties with dome-shaped heads (e.g., ‘Arcadia’, ‘Marathon’, and ‘Shogun’) are more resistant.
Other broccoli diseases common to large-scale field production include Black Rot, Club Root, and Fusarium Yellows.
Most broccoli diseases enter plants through injured tissues, so garden practices that limit injuries to plants and organic pest control measures that reduce damage by chewing insects can go a long way toward preventing the spread of diseases.