Maize is a staple food for most families in Kenya and close to 70 percent of the population entirely depends on the crop as their main source of food. As the first season steadily approaches its prudent for smallholder farmers aiming to plant the crop to follow the best practices that will ensure high returns. Farmbizafrica.com spoke to Harry Muiruri of Western Seed Company which mainly specializes in the development of grain crops in the country.
According to Harry, depending on the maize seed variety, the crop can grow in almost all areas but does best on soils that are well drained and Soil that has good levels of organic matter and nutrients. A farmer interested in good yields in the crop should start off by digging or ploughing the land enough times to kill the weeds and soften the soil. It is recommended to clear land, and then do the first and second ploughing.
Land preparation should begin at the end of the last rains so that crop residues will be broken down during the dry season. Early preparations ensure that you will have the best yields through timely planting. “Soft soil will ensure near 100 percent germination rate. Soil lumps sometimes strain the crop while sprouting and therefore impacting negatively on its growth,” noted Harry.
In general in Kenya, there are two rainy seasons: the first season rains are from Mid February or March to June, and second rains from Mid-August to December. However these rainy seasons may differ due to climate change and therefore farmers are advised to plant at the onset of rains, and dry planting can be done, when rains are expected.
The depth of planting the maize depends on how moist the soil is. Harry noted that if the soil is moist, plant 2-3 cm below the ground and if the soil is dry, dig 5-10 cm deep to plant the seed so that it does not dry up and the seed should be planted deep so that it only germinates when there is enough rain. The depth of planting should be uniform to allow uniform plant germination and growth.
Maize should be planted in lines or rows so that the land is better used i.e. there will be more plants per area and therefore a better harvest than if the seed is broadcast i.e. not planted in lines or rows Planting in lines or rows makes it easier to weed, spray and harvest the maize. When planting maize alone (sole cropping) use either of the spacing recommended below. When this spacing is used the amount of seed required is 25 kg per hectare or 10 kg per acre.
At planting Harry advised that DAP (Diammonium Phosphate) which should be applied to the soil at the time of planting. A farmer will need about 50kg per acre. While dry planting, its’ recommended that the fertilizer and the seed are not in direct contact. “The seed is a living organism and if its’ indirect contact with the fertilizer and there is no moisture in the soil, then the fertilizer will release chemicals which eventually kills it.
A farmer doing manual dry planting should apply fertilizer first in the hole then cover it half way with soil and then apply the seeds but those using machines will benefit from the automatic way it separates the fertilizer and seeds. The direct contact can only be done when its wet planting,” explained Harry. Apply starter fertilizer DAP (Diammonium Phosphate) at a rate of one teaspoon or one bottle top of Fanta or Coca cola per hole.
Weed control is vital in maize farming because they compete with the crop for water, nutrients, space and Sun light. Weeds may be controlled by hand weeding or using herbicides. If a hand hoe is used, maize farmers are advised to weed at least twice with the first weeding being done at around 3 weeks after planting and the second weeding at 8 weeks after planting. Alternative way of controlling weeds is through use of selective herbicides like lasso-atrazine, primagram, Alazine among others. Herbicide application is divided into pre-emergency and post-emergency application.
Harry explained that pre-emergency application is best done after 2-3 days of planting. “Spraying should be done when the soil is wet in the morning hours before 10 am and the person conducting the exercise should not disturb the soil in order to acquire best results.” Post- emergency weed spraying is done when the weeds have sprouted and its’ advisable for a farmer to get the best selective weed killer in order to avoid harming the maize. While spraying the weed killer, farmers are advised to wear protective clothing to avoid health implications from the herbicide.
Top dressing is recommended for maize using Urea in order to bolster yields. This is best done when the maize is at knee high which about 3-4 weeks after planting. It is applied around the plant and one should repeat application at later stage when the maize is about 8-10 weeks for best results. Urea may burn the plant if it touches the plant and therefore it should be applied at least 5-6 cm around the plant and not placed too far as it will not benefit the plant.