By Gabriel Onyango
In all the steps involved in farming, taking care of plants while at the nursery stage is one of the most delicate there is, only the most experienced succeed and even they have no guarantees. That is precisely why growing seedlings for sale, is a viable business opportunity but only if done well.
Trends are impossible to stop and currently a large number of urban-often inexperienced farmers are going into agribusiness. These ‘digital’ farmers are however, very informed, from doing plenty of research only lacking the practical knowledge that comes with experience. They are the drivers of agricultural innovation ripe with the desire to explore the latest technology.
They want to do all they can to increase their chances of success; including using hybrid seeds, latest equipment. This is the target market for seedling growers and they can be found online on farmer groups, forums, OLX and agricultural shows, take note of this when marketing to them.
To do this business profitably, you need to do it in a controlled environment and a greenhouse is the perfect place for this. Other things you will need include:
- Seed trays
- Coco Peat
- Watering Can
- Spray Can
The hardest part of this business I have experienced is getting the seeds to germinate well; we need to monitor this carefully. Wash your Coco peat with water, several times to make it suitable to grow seeds, wash by taking the peat out of the water rather than pouring water off-this ensures that you eliminate the salts that make peat acidic.
Mix your Coco peat with well-dried fertilizer and sand soil to improve drainage, note that some growers, to reduce risk of disease often use Coco peat alone. Spread the peat on the trays evenly; take an empty tray, place it on top of the one you have already filled and press gently-some space will be left at the top. In this space, put a seed per hole and cover well with your peat, sand and manure mixture- if you cover too thinly seeds will come out when watering.
Water at least three times a day-when in a greenhouse, the rule to follow is to never let the peat or soil dry out.
When using trays, fertilization will be through liquid fertilizers, the young plants will need phosphorus for root development and nitrogen for leaf growth, popular brands include Gatit and Easy Gro Foliar /Starter. Use these from day one; as lack of nutrients affects germination rates, once plants have a nutrient deficiency it is very difficult to correct.
If all goes well, tomato and capsicum seedlings often take between 4-6 weeks after germination to be ready for harvest (transplant), cabbages about 3 weeks. A day or two days before harvest, reduce the amount of watering, if possible take the plant out of the greenhouse and into a shade (if you have a shade net use it). This process is called hardening and allows the plant to transition easily into the farm outside after transplant.
To remove the plants from the trays, push it from the bottom and make sure you don’t disturb the roots, pack them in boxes and transport them to your customers. Tomatoes and Capsicum seedlings retail between sh5 to sh15 depending on the variety chosen, do research on OLX to check the market prices as a guide.