News and knowhow for farmers

Limuru farmer hacks vegetable market with Chinese cabbages

A vegetable farmer in Limuru is making up to Sh1.5m per season from growing Chinese vegetables, thanks to a ready market created by the rising Chinese population in the country with huge cravings for their local delicacies.
David Muge, who has been growing vegetables for the past decade, started growing the exotic Chinese cabbage varieties in 2012, two years after seeing a Chinese man purchase a kilogram of Napa cabbage for Sh60 at Nairobi’s city park market, twice the amount he used to sell a full 2kg of ordinary cabbage.
For a whole year, Muge consulted various agronomists and farmers who were already growing such cabbages in a bid to prepare adequately for production the following year. He was for instance able to learn about various Chinese cabbage varieties, conditions for growth, market prices and the risk involved. He also conducted a market survey and created contacts with potential buyers especially vegetable vendors in Nairobi to prepare a ready market for his goods.
Conditions for growth
In March 2012, the farmer prepared his one and a half acre land ready to grow Napa, a Chinese cabbage variety that normally grows into a large head of green leaves with a thick, pearly white midrib and a mild cabbage flavor. While some Chinese cook the vegetable for its soup, most of them prepare salad from it as it can be eaten row. Napa cabbage grow best in a well drained soils with low acidity of 6.5-7 PH. Limuru, being a warm and temperate region, it receives at least 1200mm of rainfall per year and has average temperatures of up to 15.3 degrees census making it an ideal region for this type of cabbage.
Because no seed company in his locality stocked the variety, Muge was forced to travel to Nairobi, where he bought a 150g packet of Napa seeds from Amiran Kenya Limited at Sh700.
Today, most seed companies and agrovet outlets stock the seeds at an average price of KSh450. Most cabbage varieties have tiny seeds with a 30g satchet containing close to 3000 seeds.
After buying the seeds and preparing his land, Muge shallowly broadcast the seeds ona quarter-acre piece of land. Two weeks later, he transplanted 15,000 seedlings to a one-acre piece land at an interval 10 to 18 inches between the plants and 18 to 36 inches between the rows. He explained that he used a total of 270kg of nitrogen fertilizer to grow his cabbages.
The first 90kg bag was used while planting and the remaining used for two top dressing session four weeks apart. This kind of cabbage requires regular weeding and watering during dry seasons.
Heart breaks
The production season was not all rosy for Muge. During the tenth week of growth, his farm was attacked by aphids and diamond-backed moth caterpillar which destroyed few cabbage heads before arresting the situation through regular spraying with insecticides. Although he managed to harvest close to 10,000 heads resulting into 25tonnes, most of them weighed less than 2kg, a kilo less the average weight of Napa cabbage. An acre of Napa cabbage produces an average of 14,000 or 40 tonnes.
In addition, besides conducting a market research, Muge struggled to find sell his first produce.
“I had to sell them (heads) at a normal cabbage price of Sh30-40 to avoid making more losses,” he said. 
He says he picked many lessons from the first experience and that he was more cautious the following season which he termed as ‘better’. “I managed to harvest 35 tonnes which I sold at an average price of Sh32 per kilogram to several vegetable vendors in various markets within Nairobi.
Muge has since expanded his acreage to two where he grows the exotic cabbage twice in a year. Last year for instance, he made close to Sh3m for selling up to 90 tonnes of the Chinese cabbage to various vendors and restaurants in Nairobi.
Napa cabbages take 90- 120 days to mature. They are highly susceptible to turnip mosaic and turnip yellow mosaic virus mostly caused by aphids and leads to stunted growth or destruction of leaves the cabbages are harvested by hand when the heads are fully developed, firm and free of discoloration, pests and disease injury. They are normally cut plants at the base to remove the outer leaves.

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