There has been a lot of buzz about the profitability of tomatoes, however, as any tomato farmer will tell you, the crop is one of the crops most sensitive to diseases; hoho (capsicum) on the other hand, is an alternative with the same potential but much more hardy and easier to grow. Here are simple steps to farm it.
Soil and site selection
To grow hoho, choose an area where you haven’t grown plants in the same family as capsicum for the past five years; they include tomatoes, brinjals (biringanya) and hot chillies. The site should have good exposure to sunlight (hoho thrives in hot areas). The PH should be between 5.8 to 6.5, if acidic, soils can be amended by adding lime 2-3 weeks prior to planting but do a soil test to determine the correct amount to apply.
Seeds and Seedbed
There are many varieties of hoho to choose from; California Wonder (outdoor), Maxibel (can grow both in the outdoors and greenhouse), Tycoon (outdoor) etc. When buying seeds, choose those that have less than six months since the date of packaging to ensure that a majority are not dormant and will easily germinate.
Hoho seeds are first sowed in a nursery before being transplanted to the farm, build a nursery by raising soil about one foot high in a bed one metre wide and up to 10 metres long. Smoothen the soil by breaking down the big chunks and using a stick, make ridges about an inch deep across the width of the bed, space the ridges 15cm from each other and spread your seeds thinly, cover with soil and dry grass.
Seed rate- It is better to have multiple nursery beds with few but healthy seedlings than one large one with many but weak seedlings so spread your seeds thinly.
Irrigate the nursery beds every day but for those in wet/rainy areas look at how dry the soil looks to determine how often you will water. If the nursery is fertilized well with manure it can take between 30 -45 days for the seedlings to be ready for transplanting.
Choose a cloudy day for transplanting or do so in the early mornings (6-10am) and evenings (4-7pm). This is to reduce plant stress from direct sunlight. Before uprooting seedlings from the nursey, water them at least an hour before transplanting. In the meantime, you should have prepared your backyard for planting: ploughed with a jembe and waited for two weeks before ploughing again to smoothen the soil.
Dig planting holes 60 cm apart from each other in a straight line, use a string tied to two sticks as a makeshift ruler to help you keep the holes in a straight line. Space the rows 60cm from each other; mix a handful of dry manure with the soil at the bottom of the hole and water, go uproot your seedlings from the nursery-remember to hold the bottom part of the stem when uprooting, place in hole and cover with soil.
If you are okay with using chemical fertiliser, put 5-10 grams of DAP in the planting hole, cover with about 15 cm of soil then place the plant on top and cover the rest of the hole with soil-this is to prevent the fertiliser from burning the plant.
Fertilisation and Management
A week after transplanting, spray with a pesticide such as Karate to kill pests that may harm the seedling e.g. crickets. Why a week? Any pesticide sprayed earlier will find the seedlings not yet recovered from transplanting shock, often resulting in death.
You can mix the pesticide with a vegetative foliar fertilizer and spray every 7-14 days until flowering begins, then switch to a fruiting and flowering foliar fertilizer. There are brands like Gatit and Super Gro both which have both sell vegetative and flowering fertilisers. Capsicum is also often affected by fungal diseases like early and late blight, mildew etc.
This will require you to maintain a regular spray of fungicides like Ridomil, Milraz, Pyramid etc. which you can do every 7-14 days depending on how prevalent the likelihood of disease is. Rainy seasons will necessitate frequent sprays but you’ll also have to factor in the harvesting interval when you have started harvesting.
Harvest every week if you want green capsicum and every two weeks if it’s a coloured variety though coloured hoho are attacked by birds when planted outside. The coloured variety commands a higher price than the green one, in some areas it can go for sh 200 per kilo while green goes for sh70 per kilo, however, it has to stay longer in the farm so do your math and decide for yourself.
When harvesting, cut off the branch from the main stem but leave a small branch attached to the fruit to make it stay fresh for longer. Store them in a shade, pack them in crates or gunias and transport them to your market. Expect to make you first harvest about 3 months from the date of transplanting.