There's money to be made from broccoli
Kenyans are embracing broccoli as they become more conscious of what they eat, fuelling the cultivation of the crop locally.
Broccoli is a green plant belonging to the cabbage family, whose flowering head, stalk and small associated leaves are eaten as vegetables.
Broccoli grows well in cool weather and is a good source of vitamin A, potassium, folic acid, iron and fibre.
James Waweru, a farmer from Kiambu County, says Broccoli takes a long time to mature.
“So be patient! Once you harvest the main head of a broccoli plant, it will often keep producing smaller side shoots that can be enjoyed for months to come,” says Waweru.
He explains how to get the best out of the crop even in your kitchen garden.
Farmers are advised to grow broccoli in soils that have a pH of between 6.0 and 7.0. This helps to keep clubroot disease at bay.
“Grow broccoli in well-drained, well-watered fertile soils,” advises Waweru.
Farmers can also mix compost manure and nitrogen-rich organic fertilisers in their soils to promote good growth of the crop.
Varieties include marathon, diplomat, fiesta, gipsy, calabrese, flash and green goliath.
Broccoli grows best in sunny conditions. It can be directly seeded or first planted in a nursery bed, then transplanted after four to six weeks. When planting, spacing of 45cm to 90cm between rows and 30cm to 60cm within rows should be maintained,
“Before transplanting, fertilisers high in phosphorous and potassium should be applied. Since broccoli is a heavy feeder, it should be top-dressed with potassium and nitrogenous fertilisers four weeks after transplanting,” says Waweru.
Have a steady supply of water
Broccoli needs to be irrigated more often since it has a shallow root system and therefore requires constant availability of moisture to promote the production of large heads.
“Little moisture results in tough, fibrous stalks and tip-burn of the plant,” he says.
Pest and disease control
Being a shallow-rooted plant, broccoli requires a lot of care to prevent damaging the roots and also to avoid the entry of fungi and bacteria. It should be weed-free to avoid competition for water and nutrients.
Look out for pests and diseases such as nitrogen deficiency (leaves turning yellow), aphids, cabbage loopers, cabbage root maggots, cabbage worms, clubroot, downy mildew, white rust and whiteflies.
Broccoli takes 50 to 100 days to reach maturity, depending on the variety. When the florets at the outer edges of the broccoli head begin to loosen, then it is time to harvest the crop.
Farmer should cut the broccoli stems at an angle to prevent water from settling in the stem, occasioning rot.
“It is important for broccoli farmers to understand that the vegetable has a relatively short shelf-life. It is, therefore, important to get it to the market as soon as possible,” advises Waweru.
He says there is a readily available market for broccoli, with many Kenyans embracing the crop. Waweru sells his produce online and to restaurants.