It is normally known as Pili Pili Hoho or Sweet pepper. It comes in red, yellow or green varieties and has become a popular fruit because of its mild flavor.
Since it is used in stews, salads, or stuffings with meats and pickles, the market for pili pili hoho.
The plant can tolerate many climatic conditions from warm temperate to tropical, including irrigated dry hot areas.
Since capsicums are sensitive to frost, it does well in optimum temperatures of 15 to 25ºC. The vegetables grow well in altitudes of up to 2,000 metres above sea level.
We now take you through the process of growing this plant.
Soil requirements for capsicums are not strict as they can grow on most well-drained loamy or heavy cracking clay soils with an optimum pH range of 6.0 to 6.5. The low night temperatures in July and August in Kenya are good for this crop.
To make a seedling nursery, prepare a raised bed — a metre wide or any convenient length. Manure (20kg/m2) and phosphatic fertiliser should be used. Seeds take 12 to 21 days to germinate with optimum soil temperatures of between 13 to 21 degrees centigrade. The seedlings will last 45 days in the nursery bed before transplanting. The crop is ready for harvesting after 90 days.
Seeds should be sown in drilled rows spaced 15cm and thinly covered with soil. Thinning or pricking out should be done to a final seedling spacing of 5cm to allow growth of healthy seedlings.
Seedling beds can be lightly shaded in the first two weeks of germination and seedling development and watering done twice a day if in a hot environment.
Capsicum seed rate is 0.5kg/ha in the nursery and 1kg/ha for direct sowing. The field site for establishing capsicums should be well-prepared and manure applied judiciously (10 tons/ha).
Planting starts from the nursery. You can make sunken or raised nurseries although most farmers prefer sunken nurseries because they retain water more than raised nurseries. Add small amounts of animal/compost manure this will ensure strong and healthy seedlings. Ensure the distance between the rows is about 1.5 inches to give room for easy management. After sowing the seeds, it will take about two to three weeks for them to germinate. Capsicums seedlings will be ready for transplanting within six weeks.
Transplanting is done when seedlings are four to six weeks old (at a height of 10 to 15cm). At a spacing of 75cm by 45cm, one acre can easily accommodate 10,000 plants. On the day of transplanting, wet the nursery enough to allow easy uprooting of the seedling from the nursery without damaging the roots. Planting on the farm field is done by pressing the seedling down with your index finger deep enough – roughly one inch. The choice of spacing would depend on irrigation layout and need to access for fertiliser application, boom spraying and harvesting. A good spacing between plants is 75cm (two rows per bed) by 40 cm which gives 30 000 plants per hectare. You may space plants in a double row with plants 40cm apart between the rows and 30cm apart within the rows, with row centres at 1.5m apart. Wide spacing allow picking over a long period, while close spacing will give high yields over a short period and better pollination in hot periods. Note that the just transplanted capsicums will lose the first two to three leaves, just like kid loosing milk teeth. So it should not worry you. Phosphate fertilisers can be applied before planting on certain soils. At planting, 250kg/ha of double super phosphate fertiliser should be applied. The rate of phosphorus should be determined from soil test results. Trace elements and magnesium should also be applied. Urea and potassium fertilisers are commonly applied to the soil or by fertigation through trickle irrigation or sprinklers. Discuss the best options for your situation with your local advisor.
Capsicums need uniform soil moisture conditions for high production. Dry periods may cause shedding of flowers and young fruits, and blossom end rot on the fruit. During hot weather, water crops in sandy soil twice daily.
Trickle irrigation is recommended when combined with black plastic mulch, this results in fewer weeds and a saving in water. It is also useful for capsicums under cloches to increase soil temperatures in cooler weather.
Capsicums need frequent monitoring to produce good yields and fruit quality. Spot spraying may be needed during certain seasons to control major pests such as aphids on the whole plant, grubs on the fruits and powdery mildew and bacterial spot on the leaves
When they reach 15cm, top-dress with 100kg/ha of nitrogen (from CAN or equivalent source) and four weeks later another 200kg/ha should be applied.
As part of horticultural management to maximise production, the growing tips can be pinched out when the plants are 3cm high to encourage branching. Capsicum will perform well under irrigation.
Harvesting starts 2.5 to three months after planting and can continue for four to six months with good management. Only mature fruits should be picked and packaged for market. Sweet peppers should be harvested when filled out and still green. Harvested fruits should be placed under shade for grading, sorting, and packaging to avoid shrivelling. Export produce should conform to the required standards with respect to quality, packaging and labelling.
With 10,000 plants per ha, each yielding about 15 to 25 good sized marketable fruits, a total harvest of 150,000 to 250,000 fruits depending on management is possible. At a market price of Sh5 to Sh10 per fruit, the gross turnover of Sh1 million per ha is not an over-estimation as long as there is good market. Production cost per hectare is about Sh150,000. Marketing opportunities are excellent in the local and export realms.
Capsicums may also be affected by soil-borne diseases such as Fusarium rot, stem canker, and root knot nematode. Crop rotation is therefore recommended, with an interval of three years between capsicum crops. In unshaded areas, exposed fruit, especially at the red stage, may be unmarketable because it is sunburnt. Hot weather, high nitrogen and low watering may increase losses from blossom-end rot which appears as sunken brown spots on the sides or end of the fruit. A deficiency of calcium is also associated with blossom end rot and growers may spray calcium nitrate to help minimise this.
These are the several pests and diseases that you must be aware of as far as capsicum growing is concerned.
Blossom-end rot: The disorder is caused by lack of calcium. It creates dark brown or black spots on immature fruits. To overcome it, plants should be evenly watered to ensure a steady flow of calcium to the fruits, especially at the forming stage.
Damping-off: Here, seedlings suddenly fall over and rot. This is caused by fungus and can be prevented by keeping the soil in which seedlings grow slightly dry to avoid excessive watering.
Cutworms: This nocturnal caterpillar curls around seedling stems and eats through them. They are controlled by using cutworm collars and applying beneficial nematodes to the soil.
Root-knot nematodes: These are microscopic soil-dwelling worms that can invade roots and make them wilt. They can be eradicated by growing a cover crop of marigolds or rye in infested fields for rotation.
In cold weather, the fruit remains small, hard and malformed because of uneven pollination. The fruit may also have numerous growth cracks.
Most commercial varieties are hybrids. These varieties have a primary mature colour that is usually green, but may be yellow. They also have a secondary mature colour that is usually red, but may be orange or yellow or other colours. Fruit picked at this stage is much sweeter than green fruit and has more pro-vitamin A. There are also black, cream, and brown and lime coloured varieties. New varieties are always being introduced, so check with your local seed supplier or nearest agricultural extension officer. These varieties may be more resistant to disease, produce higher yields of fruit, produce more uniform fruit or be more suited to the latest market requirements for quality. Before planting new varieties on a large scale, compare them in small plantings to existing varieties under the same growing conditions.