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Feedback: Easy way to better alkaline soils

Friday March 29 2019

A farmer (left) applies lime to the soils in his farm before planting Irish potatoes and the same farm (right) a few months later.

A farmer (left) applies lime to the soils in his farm before planting Irish potatoes and the same farm (right) a few months later. Since lime reacts relatively slowly, it needs to be in place well before planting acid-sensitive crops to allow adequate time for the pH change to occur. PHOTO | JECINTA MWIRIGI | NMG 

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I own a farm, one part of which was not being cultivated. It had lush grass where cows used to graze and during heavy rains, water used to settle there.

I did soil analysis and the results indicated the soil pH was highly alkaline for crop growth. That is it had high values of electric conductivity and sodium, suggesting saline-sodic conditions.

Nitrogen and zinc were deficient. After applying manure, zinc sulphate together with ammonium sulphate as advised, the area is still not productive as the vegetables I grew there died.

How can I make this area productive as well as control flash flooding?



I wish you indicated your geographical location because this would have helped me know the exact soil type in your locality for specific advice.

Nevertheless, in your analysis, it seems you based much on the chemical and nutritional aspect of the soil characteristics, which was a good idea.

However, the problem might be emanating from the physical conditions. The long-term grazing of the livestock on the farm has beneficial effects on the soil properties as it leads to addition of nutrients to the soil through the incorporation of the animal droppings (after decomposition).

On the other hand, it also has detrimental effects on the soil’s physical properties as it leads to compaction. Compacted soil leads to high bulk density and low water infiltration.

The low water infiltration rate might be the reason for the collection and settlement of rainwater on the farm surface for quite some time.

When soil is compacted, it hinders root penetration and development, leading to crop failure. Compacted soil also leads to less porous soils.

This has an impact on the soil air circulation, hence not supporting the micro-organisms in the soil, and as mentioned earlier, the animal droppings need to be decomposed for them to release nutrients, a process that is facilitated by these soil micro-organisms.

When soil aeration is affected, water circulation in the soil is hindered since they both use the pore spaces for their flow through the soil.

It is a good attempt to add manure into the soil. You are headed in the right direction since the compost can help in bettering the chemical as well as physical problems of your soil.

Vegetables require a fertile, well-aerated and well-drained soils, resulting from a gently sloping landscape. Another way of solving the compaction problem is through the use of good ploughing methods that would turn the soils and break the debris into smaller pieces, which in turn will improve aeration.

I would recommend that you do the physical analysis, then know the best amendment to apply for favourable output.

Sillus Otieno Odour,
Department of Crops, Horticulture, and Soils, Egerton University.


There are a number of ways you can continue to improve the productivity of your farm. One, you can use gypsum or agricultural lime to reclaim the sodic soil. Also, add organic matter such as straw, livestock manure or green compost.

Do deep ripping of the soil to break up sodic and other hardpans to provide internal drainage. To control floods, you can dig a deep trench around the farm to divert the flush waters to other areas.

Plant crop varieties that have higher tolerances for salt or sodium such as sorghum.

Hezekiah Korir,
Crops, Horticulture and Soils Department, Egerton University.



I need help on arrowroot growing, specifically the upland variety.

Stephen Amusala

Arrowroot is healthy food rich in starch and a good source of dietary fibre. The tubers are mostly grown along riverbeds because of their high consumption of water.

They can, however, be propagated away from riverbeds by planting them in trenches. Successful farming involves the digging of trenches and use of heavy gauge polythene as lining at the bottom.

A mixture of soil and manure is then put in the trench. Planting is then done. The trench should not be more than a meter wide to provide ample space for proper weeding.

Watering is done every week to keep the soil moist. Mulching will help in keeping the moisture in the soil. Harvest time is after about six months and a good indicator is the shrinking and colour change of the leaves.

The Eddoe variety does well in areas away from riverbeds because it tolerates less water, unlike the Dasheen variety.

Faith Ndungi,
Department of Human Nutrition, Egerton University.



My day-old calf's poop is black and it gnaws its teeth. Any alarm?

Sophie Mbali from Tiwi

It is normal for young ones to pass such poop, known as meconium. These contents have been in the system during gestation and passing it is a good sign of functioning gastrointestinal system of the calf.

The colour usually changes after suckling to yellowish or whitish due to colostrum. After birth, suckling reflex is triggered, causing the calf to suckle and that may cause movements of the jaws. So if these are the only peculiar signs you are observing, there should be no cause of alarm.

Dr Ngetich Wyckliff, Department of Veterinary Surgery, Theriogenology and Medicine (VSTM),
Egerton University.



I am interested in growing the mighty fruit in my small compound after reading Faith Ndungi’s article. My question is, can the fruit do well in Kitengela? Also, where can I get the seedlings?

E. G Kirubi

Jackfruit tree requires well-drained, fertile soils with a pH of 6.0 to 7.5 and will not tolerate moisture stress or waterlogging.

Supplementing the soil with organic fertiliser will help in growth of the tree. Generally, it grows under rain-fed conditions. If grown in hot dry weather, the tree needs regular watering during the initial two to three years.

The frequency of irrigation depends on soil moisture-holding capacity. Watering is not needed in rainy seasons. In case of heavy rains, water should be drained out of the soil to avoid waterlogging, which affects the tree’s growth and fruit development.

General weeding and mulching should be done for proper growth of the tree. The seedlings are available at Tree Biotech nursery in Karura, off Kiambu road. Call 0725886014/0202020641/0202519959.

Faith Ndungi,
Department of Human Nutrition, Egerton University.



I would like to start mint production. I have already done research on the crop and I am ready to try it out and see how it will fare.

I, however, do not know where to get the seeds. If you could refer me to someone who has them, I would be grateful.


They are available at Tree Biotech nursery in Karura, off Kiambu road. Call 0725886014/0202020641/0202519959.

Faith Ndungi,
Department of Human Nutrition, Egerton University.



I have a small cow whose skin is peeling off. Recently, the ears got cut off, as happens with a dog bite. Please help.

Such skin conditions are common and the cause depends on the breed and skin colour of the cow. For light-coloured animals, photosensitisation can be the common cause of skin discolouration, thickening, pruritus, exudation and peeling off.

The signs are commonly seen on the white parts of the skin, muzzles, around the nostrils and ears. This is as a result of energisation of photodynamic agents in the skin, which cause tissue injury. This could also be hepatobilliary disease that causes hepato-genous photosensitisation.

A closer examination of the animal by a veterinarian is advised so that he can rule out other possible causes. Management includes keeping the cow away from sunlight, that is, in a shade or grazing during darkness.

Apply soothing topical creams on affected areas; corticosteroids in early stages and secondary bacterial infection treated with antibiotics.

Dr Ngetich Wyckliff,
Department of Veterinary Surgery, Theriogenology and Medicine (VSTM), Egerton University.