Timothy Mwangi bends to uproot a cauliflower vegetable from the soil before chopping off the curd off the plant’s swanky leaves.
“This is the procedure of harvesting cauliflowers,” Mwangi says as he carefully examines the plant.
“Once the curd — the white solid part of the vegetable — is harvested, the leaves are never discarded since they are as good as cabbages or collard greens,” adds Mwangi, the farm manager of Oleleshwa Farm in Narok West sub-county.
The 15-acre farm stands out as a pristine food forest and grows a variety of vegetables and fruits without use of any chemicals.
They include red cabbages, broccolis, carrots, butternut, grafted oranges, pawpaws, apples, lemon and passion fruits, all which are grown organically.
“We use animal manure as our fertiliser while we mix herbs to control pests.”
Mwangi says the followed the route to respond to needs of consumers who are increasingly becoming health conscious.
“People are becoming very selective and specific in what they eat, and as a result, organically produced commodities are now popular.”
To compose organic pesticides, they mix hot chilli with onions then mash together before mixing them with vinegar. The concoction is then boiled.
“To make the concoction, we slice four pieces of onions, then mix with 0.5kg of chilli. We then dilute with three cups of water and boil it. A pinch of vinegar is then added to the solution,” he offers, adding that three cups of the solution is diluted with 10 litres of water during spraying.
With the organic pesticide, the farm is able to keep away stubborn pests such as thrips, caterpillars and aphids, and powdery mildew disease.
“This concoction has been very effective in controlling pests. We have never used chemicals in pest control since we started,” he says.
According to him, chilli pepper has a bio-chemical called capsaicin which repels all other pests and kills insects by causing membrane damage and metabolic disruption.
The farm also grows tomatoes and pepper in 12 greenhouses and vegetables in the open field.
The farming plots are made of raised beds, on which the crops are watered using drip irrigation.
Cauliflower should be planted in a spacing of 45cm by 60cm, adding that the crop needs cold climate.
“The vegetable requires cold areas but in event they are planted in warm areas such as Narok, they need proper irrigation. In this case you will find them growing faster.”
He notes that cauliflower performs better in the field rather than in the greenhouse, but can only be planted inside greenhouses to break pest cycles.
“When you grow vegetables such as tomatoes or capsicum in a greenhouse, you need to rotate them with cauliflower to break cycle of pests like tuta abosluta,” he says.
The crop takes about two months and two weeks to be ready for harvesting after transplanting. Cauliflowers are grown for their white ‘ricey’ head, which Mwangi, says they sell at Sh270 a kilo to a hotel in Maasai Mara Game Reserve and to traders who visit the farm to buy.
The vegetables leafy foliar, which are never taken to the market, are supplied to a neighbouring school, says Mwangi, noting the farm started in 2o13 is run by Save the Children.
Timothy Munywoki, a senior agronomist at Amiran-Kenya, says while it is possible to organically control pests, he advises that farmers should use commercially manufactured organic pesticides instead of herbal concoctions.
“Preparing organic pesticides at home is not only tedious but the concoction might also not be concentrated enough to deal with the pests. Herbal concoction might not contain the right amount of dosage required to control the pests, so it merely scares the them away rather than kill them.”
He notes that farmers need to use pesticides or bio-pesticides that target the pests either at the larval stage or the egg stage.
Cauliflowers are also more susceptible to boron deficiency than cabbages. This deficiency is usually noticed just before the harvesting stage and can be very costly.
Maxwell Kiptanui, an agronomist, explains that boron is a macro-nutrient, which helps plants in flowering and formation of curds in cauliflowers.
He advises farmers to administer two applications of boron as a foliar feed just to make sure there is enough
“Cauliflower curd are sold per kilo, so when you have boron deficiency its leads to tiny curds which is not profitable,” Kipatanui explains, adding that farmers should cover the curds as soon as they begin to form to protect them from direct sunlight.