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    How to get max yield from your capsicum crop

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    By George Munene

    Cap­sicum or bell pep­per, col­lo­qui­ally known as pili­pili hoho, is a high-value crop that has in­creas­ingly be­come a pop­u­lar ve­get­able in Kenyan house­holds.

    Cap­sic­ums are classed as de­term­in­ate, mean­ing those that grow in the open field, such as Cali­for­nia Won­der, and in­de­term­in­ate, being those grown in green­houses, such as Com­mand­ant from Syn­genta.

    Most cap­sic­ums have green as their primary ma­ture col­our and may turn yel­low, red or or­ange when they fully ma­ture (sec­ond­ary ma­tur­ity). Green cap­sicum is the most pop­u­lar in the local Kenyan mar­ket. It also keeps longer. The col­oured vari­et­ies are more of a niche product mainly used to fla­vour and add col­our in salad mak­ing. They are also sweeter. It is, there­fore, im­port­ant to study your mar­ket be­fore de­cid­ing on which vari­et­ies to grow.

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    Cap­sic­ums take on av­er­age three months to ma­ture and har­vest for four to six months.

    Hy­brid cap­sic­ums offer higher yields and a longer har­vest win­dow of up to 6 months. They are also bred to be more tol­er­ant of pre­val­ent cap­sicum dis­eases.

    Some of the cap­sicum vari­et­ies avail­able in Kenya are Il­anga F1, Cali­for­nia won­der, Com­mand­ant F1, Yolo won­der, Buf­falo F1, Green Bell F1,             Ad­miral F1 and Pas­carella F1.

    Dif­fer­ent cap­sicum vari­et­ies are suited to dif­fer­ent re­gions in Kenya. Con­sult your agro dealer whilst buy­ing seeds on what vari­ety does best in your par­tic­u­lar loc­al­ity. The bulb size of cap­sic­ums also var­ies de­pend­ing on the vari­ety.

    Pre­par­a­tion

    Cap­sic­ums are best suited to thrive in hot or warm areas, es­pe­cially in East­ern Kenya and the Coast re­gion. They re­quire well-drained and aer­ated soils that are slightly acidic with high or­ganic mat­ter. For open field plant­ing, cap­sicum does best in re­gions that are 2,000 meters above sea level and have rain­fall levels of between 800-1,200 mil­li­metres per year.

    It is ad­vis­able that you test your soil to de­term­ine soil PH, its nu­tri­ent status and the avail­ab­il­ity of soil-borne pests and dis­eases such as fusarium and bac­terial wilt. Cap­sicum prefers soils with a PH of between 5.5 and 6.5. Soil PH can be raised by lim­ing or adding dolo­mite. Pre plant­ing, you can fu­mig­ate your soils to kill off soil-borne pests and dis­eases.

    To en­cour­age seed ger­min­a­tion once they are planted, you can soak the seeds in luke­warm water overnight and dress them to kill off any seed-borne patho­gens be­fore plant­ing.

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    Nurs­ery

    • Beds used for sow­ing cap­sicum seeds should be of fine soil and ap­prox­im­ately one by two meters with 1.5 inches between each seed row
    • Slightly ma­nure the soil; ma­nure is rich in phos­phor­ous which en­cour­ages root form­a­tion
    • Water the nurs­ery be­fore sow­ing and cover it with grass af­ter­ward
    • Once the seeds have begun to ger­min­ate, re­move the cover grass and place it at about one meter above cov­er­ing the seed­ling bed
    • Seeds take two to three weeks de­pend­ing on the pep­per vari­ety to ger­min­ate. Trans­plant­ing should be done after 32-46 days.
    • You can ‘toughen’ the cap­sicum seed­ling by gradu­ally re­du­cing their water in­take one week be­fore trans­plant­ing.
    • Seed­lings should be trans­ferred early in the morn­ing or late in the even­ing when the sun is less bit­ing to allow the seed­lings to ab­sorb the shock of trans­plant­ing. Water gen­er­ously be­fore trans­plant­ing to avoid dam­aging the seed­lings while up­root­ing. Carry the seed­ling in bits, en­sur­ing you scoop them out in lumps, do not pluck them out
    • Only re­move the seed­ling num­ber you'll be able to en­tirely trans­plant for the day and have the nurs­ery near as is pos­sible to the land you'll be trans­plant­ing them to
    • Trans­planted cap­sicum seed­lings will lose their first two to three leaves, do not be alarmed
    • It is prefer­able to sow cap­sic­ums in wet warm soils. In colder re­gions, open field sow­ing should be car­ried out over the warmer sea­sons

    Plant­ing

    • In open field, the planting area chosen should have a direct source of sunlight. Avoid areas with too much wind, this can break the stem of the plant
    • Plough and harrow land the land so it is finely tilled, mix in well-decomposed manure a week to transplanting
    • Water and mulch the seedlings once you have transplanted them
    • Ensure land is clean to avoid common diseases spread by plant debris
    • Add some manure after about a week as the roots start to flourish and easily take up soil nutrients
    • Plant on raised beds of two feet width, with half a foot spacing between each crop. Leave adequate navigating space, at least one foot between each bed for routine management practices. If you are using a drip irrigation system, place your drip lines on top of the bed. Drip irrigation coupled with mulch helps keep weeds at a minimum
    • Use 10 grams, one teaspoon, of DAP fertiliser and 50 grams of starter fertiliser mixed in with soil for each capsicum seedling at planting
    • Three to four weeks after transplanting top dress using with CAN fertiliser
    • On the fourth to the fifth week, apply a compound fertiliser like NPK as the plant begins to flower at the rate of 10 grams per plant
    • After five to nine weeks, apply NPK fertiliser to aid in proper fruit development. Remember to always water adequately after fertiliser application so that the fertiliser is dissolved and easily taken up by the plant
    • Water twice a day depending on soil moisture content. The rate of watering is increased over the flowering and fruiting stages
    • Prune excess branches to avoid having too many fruits. Too many fruits on one plant leads to a reduction in their sizes. Pruning also hastens the maturing of the remaining fruits. Prune old, weathered, or diseased leaves. Do not compost but burry/ burn diseased leaves to prevent the spread of pests and diseases to your other healthy plants. Use pruning shears to avoid wounding the plant. Pruning is also done to improve light penetration and allow for free air movement especially if the capsicums are grown in a greenhouse.
    • In field-grown capsicums horizontal growth is not as inhibited as with capsicums grown in the greenhouse which reach heights of up to two meters and have a single apical stem with very few secondary branches
    • Capsicums need constant scouting to spot and quickly address the emergence of any disease or pest. Weed regularly to keep weeds which ‘steal’ water and nutrients from the plant at a minimum
    • Greenhouse-grown capsicums have to be supported by training and trellising. Tying string attached to plants to handlebars running parallel across the beds to encourage vertical growth. This is done before the capsicum flowers to avoid knocking down potential fruits.
    • Harvesting can begin at three months but the first month’s yield is lower. Harvest volumes continue to increase with time. Over the fourth to sixth months, the harvesting schedule steadies to every three days in a week. As the tree grows taller, the quantities of capsicums it yields also increase. Farmers usually harvest the fruit when it’s green, thick-walled and firm, it can however be left to turn yellow/red depending on what your market is looking for
    • Harvest leaving a small stalk on the fruit so it can still be nourished and avoid it ripening too quickly
    • Have treated footbaths at the entry, if you are practicing greenhouse farming. Place sticky card traps: yellow ones for whiteflies, and blue ones to catch thrips. You can also plant marigolds interspaced within your capsicum population to ward off nematodes
    • Give at least a two-year interval before planting capsicums again
    • 6,000 to 8,000 capsicum seeds are suitable for an acre to allow for adequate spacing as the crop matures, which equates to about 125-150 grams of seeds.

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