One of the indigenous crops that has been grown in almost all regions for centuries is the pumpkin.
There is a high demand locally and internationally that has made many Kenyans take to commercial pumpkin farming.
Pumpkins are grown for their fruits, usually used for thickening soup or even baking.
Pumpkin seeds are roasted or fried like groundnuts while the leaves can be used as an alternative to sukuma wiki or spinach.
There are different varieties of pumpkins grown in Kenya and which are categorised by their shape, colour and strips.
Nutritionists say pumpkins are rich in potassium and many other minerals essential in boosting a person’s immunity.
A few weeks ago, I visited a large-scale farmer who was harvesting her pumpkins.
The fruits were good in size, each weighing between four and 10 kilogrammes.
It was a successful journey for this farmer, having had a good harvest this season.
However, she faced a number of challenges during the production of her pumpkins.
Labour was inadequate throughout the production period and the crops were attacked by diseases such as powdery and downy mildew.
Some fruits were deformed while others had tunnels, a sign of fruit fly attack when the plants were still young.
The secret to successful pumpkins farming starts with the sourcing of good seeds, depending on your market demand.
Farmers are advised to go for direct seeding when planting since the seeds are large.
Land should be prepared to a fine tilth. Members of the cucurbit family crops should not have been planted on the land.
Well rotted manure from cow dung or chicken droppings can be used as they increases the fertility of the soil.
The ideal spacing should be 2-3m by 3m due to the vegetative nature of the pumpkin. Spacing also depends on the variety.
Proper nutrition is important during the planting and vegetative stage. That means fertiliser application should be in line with soil analysis results.
Watering should be done regularly as it promotes the uptake of nutrients and promotes good fruit formation.
Watering can also be done but water-logging should be avoided as this predisposes the pumpkin plant to a number of pests and diseases.
The crop provides a good ground cover, stopping the growth of weeds and controlling soil erosion.
Weeding should also be done to prevent competition of nutrients or harbouring pests and diseases.
The crop does well in dry and cold weather conditions. This makes the farmer sure of harvesting after the rains.
In dry areas, one can invest in irrigation systems, especially drip, as the overhead aids in spreading diseases.
The crop requires regular modelling and scouting to ensure it is free of pests and diseases.
Preventing the occurrence of pest and disease is important as it is cheaper than controlling and treating.
The use of certified planting materials, observing field hygiene and taking care of the crop while carrying out management practices is also important.
Copper-based and other fungicides can be used to prevent bacterial diseases.
Once the crops are infested with diseases, seek advice from professionals on what chemicals to use to control them and prevent their spread.
Spraying should focus on the scouting of the pests and diseases.
Adult fruit flies sting the fruit and lay eggs inside it. The eggs develop into larva days later.
If the fruits are still young, they rot and eventually die. Those that survive end up deformed.
Fruit flies can be controlled by the use of traps that have pheromones or chemicals such as lambda cyhalothrin as the active ingredient.
High standards of field sanitation should be maintained by removing and properly disposing rotten fruits.
The other pests that attack the crop include aphids, thrips and whiteflies.
The crop is usually ready for harvesting four or five months after planting, depending with variety.
Fruits should not be harvested until their skin have hardened and attained their full colour.
While harvesting, one should leave a stalk of about 2 centimetres to prevent harming the crop and increasing the shelf life. Pumpkin fruits have a shelf of at least three months.