When 50-year-old Michael Karanja started an organic farm he was not fully aware of what to expect or how to go about it. He had come to this decision after reading an article on a local newspaper, on how most produce sold in Kenyan market contains impurities as a result of the pesticides and fertilizers used.
At first he practiced subsistence farming. Mr. Karanja set aside a small portion on his farm where he planted vegetables for his family’s consumption. He planted cabbages, collard greens (Sukuma wiki), spinach and tomatoes. He used manure on the plants; from his cows and chicken that he rears on a different part of his farm.
The high school teacher admits that his biggest challenge was knowing how to keep pests at bay without the aid of conventional agrochemicals. He learned a few tricks on YouTube on how to intercrop to control pests. It is also on this platform that he learnt how to make his own compost manure at home using crop residues and organic household wastes.
Upon harvesting, Mr. Karanja notes that his produce looked healthier. “The tomatoes looked more vibrant, the spinach and sukuma wiki were soft and green and the cabbages, bigger in size.”
This motivated him to venture into commercial organic farming. It is at this point that he started attending trainings and seminars that equipped him with the necessary skills. Currently, he practices organic farming on a 2-acre land in Githunguri, Kiambu County.
On this land, he plants carrots, beetroots, maize, pumpkins, beans and herbs such as cilantro (dania), rosemary, mint among others; in addition to the vegetables he started with. He supplies his produce to individual clients and supermarkets. Nevertheless, he aims to open his own organic grocery store in the future.
I am interested to know what lessons he would wish to share with other aspiring organic farmers. He says transitioning to organic farming can be challenging at first, especially during the first year due to suppressed yields and sometimes frequent occurrence of pests and diseases. However, the benefits outweigh the demerits.
While most farmers desire to go organic, many lack the know-how. Below is a list of 3 important things to consider when venturing into organic farming:
- Soil fertility improvement
Organic farming entails use of natural sources of nutrients such as crop residues, manure and compost.
Soils are considered the heart of organic farming. It is crucial for organic farmers to ensure proper soil management.
It is imperative for organic farmers to learn how to make their own manure, natural pest, insect and weed control etc. Before you commit to organic farming, there is need to conduct plenty of research, attend trainings, consult organizations that offer information on organic farming such as Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN) or other farmers practicing organic farming.
Farmers should also incorporate mulching in their farms. Mulching serves to reduce evaporation of water from the soil and also as a way of enriching the soil with organic matter.
2. Weed and pest control
There is need to research on the best ways to control weeds and pests; and find out which ones work for your farm. Here are some of the methods used by organic farmers:
- Crop rotation: It is the practice of alternating different species of crops with every new planting season on a piece of land. Mostly, crop rotation is done to stabilize soil fertility and structure. However, this mode of farming also reduces chances of recurrence of soil-borne diseases and pests.
- Push-Pull technology: It involves intercropping crops with a repellent plant; which repels or deters pests from the target food crop and use of an attractive trap plant as a boarder crop. For instance, planting of an attractive trap plant, such as Napier grass, as a border crop with the purpose of attracting and trapping the pests which repelled or deterred away from the target crop.
- Planting under greenhouse: Greenhouses act as a barrier against insect pests and microbes.
- Bio pesticides: These are bug-fighting insecticides derived from natural materials as animals, plants, bacteria, and certain minerals. Farmers should get bio pesticides from certified companies that manufacture products used in organic farming.
Record-keeping is very significant in organic farming. Keep detailed records of production, processing and marketing information. This documentation is important in monitoring and evaluation of what practices are working and what areas need improvement. To read more about financial recordkeeping, refer to our previous article; Record-keeping-what every farmer must know