Nyeri is one of the counties that are known for producing coffee and tea. Its climate is also favourable for passion fruit, avocado, mango, vegetable and banana growing.
At David Karira Ndiritu’s family land in Thaithi village, about a kilometre from Karatina, the sight of bananas, coffee plants and Pomegranates greets the visitor.
Next to Ndiritu’s coffee plantation is a 50-by-28 greenhouse where he grows capsicum. Ndiritu embarked on the capsicum journey in 2011. “Back then, only a few farmers in Nyeri County grew the crop,” Ndiritu says.
Growing capsicum was lucrative, as a kilogramme could sell for as much as Sh250. He could harvest up to 360 kilogrammes a week.
Most of his customers were from Nyeri and Karatina markets. Ndiritu was also contracted by Zucchini Greengrocers Ltd, a company based in Nairobi.
He chose to grow his capsicum in a greenhouse “because controlling pests and diseases in the open is difficult”.
Ndiritu, who is also a teacher at Kiarithaini Primary School in Mathira, says he began the venture with Sh250,000.
“I saved for two years and used the money to build the greenhouse, buy seeds, manure, pesticides, hire labour and meet other related costs,” Ndiritu explains.
Initially, the greenhouse measured 80 by 40 feet, but he reduced it to its current size due to land shortage. Capsicum takes 75 to 85 days to mature.
“I made a tidy sum from my first harvest seven to eight months after starting the venture,” he says. Ndiritu grows red knight capsicum, which can be productive for a year and a half. He uses Sh15,000 on seeds. Capsicum can either be sown directly or put in a seedbed before being transplanted.
Ndiritu, 50, prefers the direct method because the young plants do not break or die when being transferred to the greenhouse.
INVASION BY PESTS
“Those that have been transferred from the nursery take time to adjust to the new environment,” the teacher says.
After preparing the land, Ndiritu applies organic manure then waters the ground. There is a borehole next to the greenhouse which provides water for irrigation.
He then lets the land remain idle for two weeks as this gives the manure time to decompose and mix with the soil. Ndiritu then prepares bed rows with two lines of holes, each spaced at a foot and a half.
In every bed, the lines are a foot apart while the holes dug by a pointer finger on wet ground are a foot to two feet from each other.
The farmer then sows the seeds, which begin sprouting about seven days later. The father of three says the major challenge at this stage is invasion of the greenhouse by caterpillars, crickets and grasshoppers.
He usually controls the pests by spraying. Thrips also attack the crop during the flowering and fruiting stages.
Meshack Wachira, an agronomist, advises farmers like Karira to keep changing pesticides for effective control of the pests and diseases.
“When one type of pesticide is used continuously, the pests develop resistance,” he says.
The crops should be pruned when they are three to four feet high. Every plant should be left with about three branches. This is important for quality and high production.
Red knight capsicum plants reach six feet so they should be propped up. The teacher harvests about 240 kilogrammes every week.
After harvesting for three months, he cuts the plants to four feet. They begin re-sprouting after two weeks. A month and a half later, the plants start fruiting.
SPREAD OF DISEASES
Bacterial wilt is the farmer’s main fear. Ndiritu says he has not found a pesticide that effectively controls this disease. The affected plants usually dry up.
Other diseases are anthracnose, leaf spot, blight and damping-off. Root rot, downy mildew and fusarium stem also attack capsicum.
The teacher does not believe in crop rotation, saying it encourages the spread of diseases. After uprooting the capsicum plants, he covers the ground with polythene materials for six months “to let the soil rest”.
“Allowing the covered soil to remain that way for such a period eradicates bacterial wilt and pests,” he says. He advises farmers to use clear or black polythene paper.
Ndiritu says the secret of growing capsicum successfully is ensuring the crops are watered adequately and given enough organic manure, preferably from goats’ droppings. The farmer says he has never used inorganic fertiliser.
Before Ndiritu started growing capsicum, he invited an expert to assess the soil acidity. The soil in Thaithi is red volcanic.
What it takes to grow
Capsicum plants take 75 to 85 days to mature. At this time, the fruits can be harvested. After harvesting, cut the plant to three about four feet. They will begin sprouting again two weeks later.
After a month and a half, they start fruiting. The 50-year-old David Karita Ndiritu has never used inorganic fertiliser on his land.
He prefers manure, preferably from the droppings of goats. Let the acidity of your soil be tested before you start growing capsicums.
To fill up his greenhouse, he buys a sachet of seeds. The seeds are about 1,000 and cost Sh15,000. When he began capsicum production in 2011, a kilogramme sold at Sh250. These days it goes for Sh100.