About 20 kilometres from Nyahururu town on the Ol Kalou road is Tabor-Hill Farm, an agriculturally rich zone west of the Abedare ranges.
We meet Philip King’ori, a manager who has been on the farm for more than a decade, alongside four fellow Tabor-Hill employees. He receives the Seeds of Gold team well and takes us round the compound, which is about 10 acres.
Tabor-Hill Farm has chickens, ducks, dairy cattle, sheep, goats, vegetables and many types of fruits, some ready for harvesting.
What surprises us is the netting house technology, a new method of growing fruits – indigenous pears to be precise – with little supervision. It protects the fruits against birds and wild animals.
“The net house is a safe method of fruit production that ensures maximum yields at minimal costs. The creativity applied promotes clean gardening that helps control weeds,” King’ori said.
“It uses organically made pesticides from bitter herbs that grow here, an initiative that has greatly promoted organic farming.” King’ori and the other farm workers use nets to protect the fruits from pigeons, doves and other birds.
“Our net houses enable us to see the fruits that are ready from a distance. This technology has worked miracles,” King’ori told Seeds Of Gold.
About 10 years ago, Tabor-Hill attempted to fight the birds in many ways, all of which proved ineffective.
“We used chemical repellents, set traps and even threw stones at the birds, but they got used to that. Occasionally, they would land on the farm in large numbers early in the morning or late in the evening when there was no one in sight,” he added.
VISIBILITY IS IMPORTANT
King’ori says he came up with the idea of the net house around 2010. He erected a wooden structure and had an ordinary net reinforced from the inside.
King’ori insulated the net with wire mesh from the outside, followed by wooden pillars that stood two metres apart.
“Visibility is important. Light should be allowed to penetrate the net house for at least eight hours a day. This ensures the fruits flourish,” he said.
King’ori adds that spraying chemicals never happens on the farm because most of the fruits and vegetables – except tomatoes – are never attacked by aphids. This saves on what would be used to buy herbicides and pesticides.
“By protecting the fruit trees from birds, Tabor-Hill Farm is assured of bumper harvests every season. The money is used to pay workers and develop the farm. We also receive many visitors,” he said. Some 50 people can fit into one net house at a time.
King’ori says up to 540 kilogrammes of pears can be harvested per season from a net house that measures 16x14 metres. Harvest is three times a year.
“The net house has 35 trees, each growing at an area of six by four centimetres,” he said. The pear fruit trees are at times covered with foliage that protects them against cold during the rainy season, which runs from April to October.
The farm is at times used as a resource centre for learners in Nyandarua and the surrounding counties.
“A class of 50 can be allowed into the net house per learning session. We do not charge the children and their teachers,” King’ori said.
Simple house nets have made the farm a large producer of fleshy fruits. King’ori says it takes only three months for the pears to be ready.
PROTECTING THE PLANTS
Flowering is usually between September and October when the rainfall has generally declined. From January to February, the fruits attain full maturity, waiting to ripen. Ripening takes around a week. The fruits are then harvested and packaged.
King’ori says only 20 kilogrammes of organic manure and a kilo of DAP and NPK are applied on the land during the flowering period.
“This is done four years from the time of planting the trees,” the farm manager added. Bitter weeds are grown around the net house to repel insects and other pests. King’ori says the entire plantation is usually left undisturbed until the flowering period.
Nelly Nekesa, a scientist at Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation,–Lanet says net houses can be used to protect tender plants and fruits in the bed.
She adds that for those involved in agribusiness, it maximises yields by protecting plants from natural and artificial elements such as pests, diseases and the vagaries of weather.
However, Nekesa notes that setting up such a structure is not affordable for many small-scale farmers.
She says the farmer requires expertise and expensive raw materials such as nets, bamboo stems and wire mesh. It is also not easy to set up such houses on a vast piece of land.
“For research purposes, net houses are ideal. They can be used to sample different kinds of plants," she added.