Onions – that is what we all use to cook meat, mukimo, fish- name any. And that tells you that demand for onion is virtually there every day.

For a farmer, that is a golden opportunity to make money.  This is because virtually every meal of the average Kenyan has to have onions as part of the ingredients.

How to capitalize on this high demand for onions and how to tap into this lucrative market is what we want to challenge you on today.

Do your Maths

We are going to show you how you can make Sh2 million from just an acre of Hybrid bulb onions. It is now known that after transplanting, an acre of hybrid can produce 20,000 kgs bulbs.

Now pick your calculator and let us do some quick maths.

1 Kg of Onions at the retail market price goes @ Ksh100 i.e 20,000 Kgs × 100 Shillings = Ksh2,000,000 minus average cost of production which is Ksh250, 000 per Acre = Ksh 1,750, 000 Net income (Cool stuff right?).

Even if you are selling to wholesalers (forget about brokers), you will be able to make over Sh1 million.

High yielding varieties of Onions in Kenya today include, Jambar F1, Red Pinoy F1, Red Comet F1, Red passion F1.

How to Plant

  1. Start with a small seedbed, which can either be raised if water is not a problem or sunk to capture more water. Prepare it 4ft wide with eight rows 10 to 15cm apart. Make 1cm deep furrows along the rows. Per acre you will need about 1kg of seeds. Mix them with the same amount of sand. Fill the furrows evenly with the sand-seed mix.
  2. Apply well decomposed manure at a rate of 15kg per square metre. Keep watering several times per day until the rows of onions have emerged. The seedlings remain in the seedbed for eight to 10 weeks and daily watering is important.
  3. After four weeks, apply liquid fertiliser made from stinging nettle. As soon as seedlings have emerged, keep applying a layer of compost as a mulch to suppress weeds, and keep the soil moist and protected from heavy rains.
  4. Mix and Apply DAP fertilizer at a rate of 20 grams per metre square
  5. Make shallow furrows 15 cm apart. Mix the seeds with dry ash, sand or soil at a ratio of 1:3 to help spread the small seeds.
  6. Plant the seeds and cover lightly with soil and apply mulches ( Grass or Polythene cover spread over the soil on the nursery bed)
  7. After planting irrigate the nursery bed liberally for the first 10 days and continue watering regularly.

Once you have done that, wait for the germination which will take about 7-10 days after which the mulches are removed and used to make a shade above the tender plants which have not fully developed.

Transplanting

Transplanting of the seedlings takes place 6 weeks after planting seeds in the nursery. Transplant when the seedlings have pencil thick base and a height of approximately 15cm. Prior to transplanting, water the seedbeds heavily until they are saturated to avoid damage to the seedlings. Pull up your seedlings from the wet seedbed carefully. Dip them in the manure-comfrey mix so that the roots are covered in it. Bunch about 50 seedlings together and cut off 50 per cent of the green tops. Transport them to the field and transplant as soon as possible. You will end up with about 200,000 seedlings per acre

To help your seedlings recover quickly after transplanting, prepare a liquid fertiliser from comfrey leaves, which contain Vitamin B12. Mix it with some soil and fresh cow manure until it forms a kind of sludge. Seedlings should have 3 to 5 well formed leaves at transplanting time. Two weeks before transplanting reduce the shade to improve seedling survival rate in the field.

Land preparation

Onions grow well in Narok, Loitokitok, and Southern Rift belt and Laikipia areas among others.  The land should be more or less flat and have access to irrigation water. The soil should be light and well-draining. It must be free of aggressive weeds like couch grass and should also be in full sun.

It is proper to have your soils tested to because onions need a pH of 6 to 6.8. If the pH is below 6, apply calcitic lime at the rate recommended by your soil test results.

Prepare the land about a month before and incorporate about three tonnes of chicken manure. Loosen the soil deeply and prepare the land to a fine tilth. .

Irrigate the field well the day before transplanting and plant in rows one foot apart and leave 8cm space between plants within the row. If you plant onions too closely, bulb size will reduce.

Keep watering

Onions are generally long-day plants, which means, they need days with more than 12 hours of daylight. Therefore, only varieties with lower day-length needs can be grown in Kenya.

Popular varieties are Jambar F1 (for size and high yield) or Red Passion F1, Bombay Red and Red Pinoy (they have a lower yield but are in high demand at the market and fetch a high price than Jambar F1).

Onions need around four months to mature. The last three weeks before harvest, the weather should be absolutely rain-free. So plan to start your nursery according to your dry season and count back four-and-a-half months. To harvest end of December, start your seedbeds mid-August.

Irrigation

Ideally, you should fix a drip irrigation system with 4cm emitter spacing between the rows. Irrigation is needed at a rate of 3 to 5mm per day, but you need to monitor to avoid waterlogging. The field should then be covered with plastic mulching between the rows to avoid moisture losses and to suppress weeds.

If possible, overhead watering should be avoided as it promotes fungal diseases. If no plastic mulch is used, mulching should be done with organic matter and weeds need to be removed regularly by pulling up by hand in the rows and careful hoeing between the rows. Hoeing will also break the soil’s surface and help prevent moisture losses. But care should be taken not to damage the onions.

In case your onions get affected by rust, use this homemade remedy: Soak 1kg of pounded pawpaw leaves in a litre of water for six hours. Strain it through a cloth and add two tablespoons of liquid soap. Add five litres of water and spray every three days in the later afternoon.

Fungal diseases

Onion thrips might be a problem. The leaves will turn silverish and dry. Boil a cup of chopped rhubarb leaves in six cups of water. Leave to cool, add some liquid soap, strain and spray. But be careful, this concoction is poisonous.

If mildew or other fungal diseases become a problem, spray with copper. On soils with boron deficiency, a foliar feed with 20g boric acid per acre is necessary. Sulphur or calcium deficiencies also need to be addressed if shown by a soil test.

Usually, onions are harvested when the tops turn down and start to dry. Short day varieties, however, don’t mature uniformly so they are usually lifted when 50 per cent of the tops are down and have dried.

Bunch the onions together and hang them up in an airy space for about a week until all the outer leaves are nicely dried and the bulbs can be easily be pulled from the bunches.

Cutting tops off will reduce storage qualities and promote rot. Well matured and dried onions have a shelf-life of at least six weeks and sell at Sh100 per kilo.

If you do your maths well, you will walk smiling all the way to the bank.

 

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