When Wandai Michuki grabbed a horticulture magazine to read while performing her daily office chores, little did she know what to expect. While perusing page after page sampling fascinating articles offering hands on information that can be used by horticulture farmers to convert farming into a profitable opportunity, she got struck on an inspiration article on onion farming and this later became a game changer in her life.
”After reading the article,I also carried out a lot of research on onions and later paid a visit to an onion farmer in Machakos town. Her story inspired me and I quit my hospitality job to venture into farming as my new career,” she said.
With her savings, she moved to MaiMahiu, Nakuru County, bought a three acre piece of land and subdivided it into several onion blocks.
To grow the crop, she buys seeds from certified seed suppliers, sows them in a seedbed, and after 30 days transplants the seedlings to the main farm. When planting, she adds to the soil compost manure and also DAP fertilizer to boost growth; providing nutrients necessary for roots development. She later add CAN fertilizer two weeks later to boost the development of the crop.
“I have an agronomist who is very useful; he advised me to grow Red Connect variety due to its high yields. Onions require fertile, well-drained soils with a pH of 6 to 7 while rainfall should be about 1,000mm per year. Thereafter, they require a fairly long dry period for drying, “, she pointed out.
The blocks are all lined with drip irrigation pipes. She has dug a borehole which supplies all the water she uses in the farm.“I have two employees on permanent basis but the labor intensive nature of the crop forces me to contract more workers especially during the planting and harvesting seasons. To minimize on expenses, i usually use herbicides to eliminate weeds” She said.
According to her, top dressing with fertilizers containing Calcium and Boron are important during the bulbing stage since they ensures a longer shelf life and prevent rots on the bulbs.
Her crops are watered once per day or after two days, usually in the evenings or early night, depending on the prevailing weather conditions. The deep soil and its water retaining nature conditions are a perfect for the onions to thrive.
Her different onion blocks contain crops planted at varied times ensuring she has constant supply to her customers.
“Good timing and a good study of the market are vital in ensuring good returns from onions,” she noted, adding that when well-timed, she is capable of selling the produce at more than 110 KeS per kilo or down to about 50 KeS. “December is not a good market month for onions in Kenya as there is an influx of onions from Tanzania whose price production cost,” she opined.
She harvests 10-16 tones of onions per acre, and with three acres under the crop, she gets close to 45 tons in a good season.. “Onions mature in about six months from when their seeds are sowed on the seedbeds.
The fact that I plant the crop on different blocks ensures I supply throughout the year.” Upon harvesting, Wandai packs her produce in 100kg bags, 90kg bags or in nets, according to the destined market; with traders buying the onions in bulk for distribution to retailers in markets countrywide.
According to her, pests and diseases such as onion thrips, onion flies, leaf miners, downy mildew, purple blotch, white bulb rot and onion rust are the main threats to onion farming.
‘’Onion farming is economically viable provided conditions for growth of the crops cultivated are met, while also ensuring that one understands the working systems of the drip irrigation concept, as well as ensuring that there is plenty of water available on the farm,” she concluded.