How to Farm Garlic in Kenya: A Step-by-Step Guide

Carson O.
17 Min Read
Highlights
  • Garlic farming is an important aspect of the agriculture industry and provides a significant source of income for farmers.
  • Garlic is a versatile crop that can be grown in a variety of conditions, has low input costs, and requires minimal maintenance.
  • There are several factors that garlic farmers need to consider before embarking on garlic farming. These include soil type, climate, irrigation, pest and disease management, and more.
  • Garlic farming involves several steps, including preparing the soil, planting the garlic cloves, managing the crop, and harvesting the garlic bulbs.
  • Garlic can be sold directly to consumers through farmers' markets, supermarkets, and online marketplaces, or exported to international markets.
  • Like any agricultural venture, garlic farming comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities. Weather-related risks, pests and diseases, and market fluctuations are just a few

Introduction

Garlic, popularly known as Saumu, is perhaps the most popular spice in the country and the world in general. This widely loved onion-like root vegetable has found its way into almost all dishes served in the country and with this, is a good market opportunity for farmers who wish to dive into this type of crop farming. For this reason, this article seeks to educate you on garlic farming in Kenya, the techniques used to grow and farm this crop, the challenges farmers face, the latest trends and innovations in this dynamic industry and the economic and environmental impact of this industry.

Before delving into the agricultural technicalities of this kind of farming, let’s briefly discuss the benefits of garlic.

Uses and Benefits of Garlic

  1. Garlic as a spice – Garlic has been used as an ingredient and as a foodstuff in very many dishes, both traditional and modern cuisines. This root vegetable spice is usually used as a flavouring ingredient.
  2. Garlic as a preservative – Studies have found that garlic can be an effective food preservative due to its antibacterial properties. One drawback, however, is that foods must be compatible with garlic. Furthermore, garlic preserves for a generally shorter time as compared to commercial preservatives.
  3. Healing uses of garlic – Garlic contains allicin that has a positive effect on the digestive, circulatory, and immunological systems. It is also a good source of vitamin C and B6, manganese, selenium, calcium, and phosphorus. Below are the main health benefits of garlic:
    • Reduction of pain and symptoms caused by rheumatoid arthritis
    • Daily garlic has been found to lower the risk factors for cancer
    • Alleviates toothaches
    • Helps treat skin infections
    • It’s a good remedy for cases of flu
    • Eating garlic helps reduce the possibility of tick bites

With that out of the way, let’s dive into the science and structure of garlic/kitunguu saumu.

Types and structures of garlic

Science

The genus name of garlic is Allium. Garlic is subclassified into two species i.e., Allium Ophiscorodon and Allium sativum.

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Growing Garlic in Kenya guide

Structure and reproduction of garlic

Garlic itself is a bulbous (bulb) plant which can be broken up into sections or cloves. Not only are the bulbs edible, but the blossom and green stems can be used as well.

The garlic plant can grow up to 4 feet in height, and its flower heads (the primary means of reproduction for new plants) are hermaphroditic i.e., possess both male and female reproductive organs.

Garlic has 4 parts i.e., the leaves, bulb, scape and neck. Here is the breakdown:

  • Leaves – These leaves are usually green shoots that appear from the stem of garlic in an alternating fashion. During the harvest season, these leaves turn brown as they dry up, signalling maturation to farmers.
  • Scape – Also known as the flower stalk is situated at the end where the flower head is found. The scape is usually curvy and has small garlic bulbs or bulbils forming at the base.
  • Neck – This is the area directly above the bulb
  • Bulb – This is the most important part of the garlic plant. It is what you think of when saumu is mentioned. It usually grows underground and is attached to the stem, and forms a cluster of several cloves. These cloves are sheathed together to form a bulb.

Also, read 50 Best Businesses To Start in Kenya – Ultimate List

Types of garlic to plant in Kenya

There are over 600 cultivars of garlic that vary in shape, colour, flavour and clove types. Despite the many subgroups, there are around ten major variety groups as listed below. We have included more that are related to these varieties;

  1. Hard neck garlic
    • Siberian
    • Choparsky
    • German Red
    • Melody
    • Spicy Korean Red
  2. Soft neck garlic
    • Polish White
    • Creole Red
    • Chelote
    • Sicilian Gold
    • Western Rose
    • Kettle River Giant
  3. Weakly Bolting Hard Necks
    • Keeper
    • Burgundy
    • Sweet Haven
    • Rose de Lautrec
  4. Elephant garlic – Allium gigantum

How do you start a garlic farm in Kenya?

Source the garlic bulbs and planting materials

Before you begin planting garlic, source the required bulbs and materials. Garlic is grown from cloves which have been separated from a whole bulb and can be purchased from a local seed merchant. Buy organic, quality seeds for the best results and make sure all of your planting materials are free of disease, fungi, and pests before use. You may also need fertilisers for soil conditioning and pest control products to protect against pests or diseases during growth.

Choose the most appropriate garlic type

When you start planting, you should take note of the hard-neck and soft-neck garlic varieties. The former usually grows larger bulbs but with few cloves. The latter, on the other hand, grows small bulbs but with many cloves.

Each of the varieties mentioned above has specific climate and soil requirements, so you must consider carefully before picking the right type for you. Consider analyzing your market too, and see what sells and what doesn’t. Soft necks tend to do better in warmer climates as compared to their counterparts, the hard necks. Kenya is generally a warm-climate country, so it is advisable to stick to soft necks. However, some cold areas in the country such as Limuru, Kinangop etc., facilitate the growth of hard necks better.

Start an irrigation system for optimal garlic growth

When it comes to garlic farming, good irrigation is essential for optimal yields. To maximize profit and crop quality, you’ll want to create a well-structured irrigation system before planting your cloves. Water the soil around your garlic regularly, or better yet, use an automated system such as drip irrigation or sprinklers. This will ensure that your garlic plants get enough moisture and nutrients while also conserving water use. An efficient irrigation system will help reduce water wastage, increase yields and ultimately ensure successful garlic farming in Kenya.

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Soils and preparation

Garlic should be planted in loose, well-drained soil of between 6.0 to 7.0 ph. This is usually a neutral zone of acidity or alkalinity.

Growing Garlic in Kenya guide

Remember, pH is not a measure of fertility, but rather the soil’s degree of acidity or alkalinity. To measure your soil pH, you will need to collect a sample and take it to an agricultural analytics lab. You can also use home kits that can be purchased from your local agro vet.

The good thing about pH is that it can be altered to suit your need using various chemicals and fertilizers.

Further, garlic prefers loamy soils but still does well in almost any other type of soil in the country. This should not be a big problem for you. Remember, having loose soil is key. This will allow your garlic bulbs to enlarge well.

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Preparation for planting garlic

To prepare the soil for planting, you will have to turn and till the soil, making sure to remove rocks, small stones and any other obstructions that may hinder bulb growth underground.

Add compost or plant manure, since it’s generally advisable to use organic fertilizer in saumu farming.

A generally accepted rule of planting garlic is starting with the cloves and then using seeds. This does not mean that using seeds is completely contraindicated. Using cloves is recommended because they practically clone themselves underground, thus germinating faster, as compared to seeds.

If you are a patient farmer, you can choose to go for seeds. There is no notable advantage of using seeds over cloves though.

Now that we’ve settled on cloves, you must select cloves based on size instead of shape. In such a case, what you plant is EXACTLY what you harvest. Keep the small cloves for cooking and plant the larger cloves.

Planting garlic from cloves

As you embark on planting, crack the bulbs and separate the cloves. It is these cloves that you will plant in separate single rows or double rows.

Make sure that you place the clove in soil with the root side as the base, so that the shoot sprouts appropriately. As you plant, make sure that you have cooked and tasted the cloves. Sweet saumu yields sweet products.

Cloves should be planted 2 to 4 inches down, with the deeper number being used for climates with colder topsoil temperatures. Rows should be around 18 inches apart with the cloves themselves being 4-6 inches away from each other. This allows for companion planting if this is what you want to go for.

In warm climates, it’s important to utilize mulching, which will prevent the loss of crucial moisture from the soil. Mulch will also discourage the growth of weeds thus reducing your financial investment in herbicides or manual weeding.

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Planting garlic from seeds

If you decide to plant garlic from seeds, however, you will need to invest more time and effort to be successful. Here is the full guide.

Manage weed and pest control in the growing season

After seedlings have emerged, you’ll need to keep an eye out for weeds and pests. Hand-hoeing around plants can help reduce the competition for light, water, and nutrients from weeds. Spot-treat problem areas with a suitable herbicide or insecticide if needed. Monitor the garlic crop closely during harvesting season for rust fungus, thrips, aphids or any other insects or pests that may harm your crop. Apply suitable treatments when necessary – depending on the type of pest or disease infestation.

Harvesting and curing your garlic

Approximately 90 days after your garlic sprouts, depending on climate, you will have fully matured crops ready for harvest.

Different types of garlic have different maturation rates and therefore, you should understand your crop and when it is supposed to mature.

Since you cannot know what is going on underground, a good way to estimate maturity is by assessing leaves. Generally, a third of the leaves drying up from bottom-upwards is a sign of maturity. At this point, you should embark on harvesting.

If all the leaves are dried up, your bulbs may have overripened and this will reduce your storage time. Similarly, harvesting immature garlic bulbs will also reduce storage time.

Note, however, that green garlic can be used for culinary purposes.  

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As you harvest, you shouldn’t pull the bulbs out. Instead, dig around the crop and make the soil loose. After this, use a small shovel to scoop the bulbs from the ground. Carefully shake away soil and other debris. Do not wash or remove the garlic wrappers. As soon as you harvest, get your garlic out of the sun as it reduces storage time.

Curing your garlic

The process of curing is relatively straightforward. All you need to do is tie 4 to 12 bulbs together and hang them in a cool dry place away from direct sunlight.

The curing process takes place effectively when given a period of 3 to 8 weeks.

As soon as curing is completed, cut the stalks 2 inches away from the bulb and the roots, about ¼ inches away from the bottom. At this point, Congratulations! Your garlic is now ready to store, use and sell.

Storage and preservation techniques

How to store garlic

Storage and lifespan of your garlic wholly depend on whether you did proper curing. If your curing was faulty, you will have moulds in a few days of storage. This will cause you unbelievable loss and unnecessary pain.

Ideal temperatures to store your garlic bulbs are between 130C and 160C. Humidity should range around 60% with a good supply of cool air. If you can achieve specifics, look for a cool dry place with proper air circulation.

Options for storage may include:

  • Brown paper bags
  • Baskets
  • Folding the stalks up into braids, that are attractive to look at
  • Mesh bags
  • Stockings

At all costs, AVOID PLASTIC BAGS, refrigeration or canning, as this will cause your garlic to rot.

Preservation of garlic

With storage out of the way, how do farmers preserve their garlic?

Popular options include:

  • Raw garlic in oil – Here, you should take care of botulism, an infection caused by Clostridium botulinum may occur.
  • Storing cloves inside red or white wine – This method keeps cloves for up to 4 months since harvest.
  • Using vinegar as an alternative to wine – Has the advantage of giving the bulbs a vinegary taste during culinary.
  • Grounding the garlic and processing it to puree
  • Drying/dehydrating garlic  
  • Garlic Butter – Finely or coarsely minced garlic can be mixed with butter, and then rolled into a log shape and frozen.

Pest and disease control in garlic farming

Despite garlic being resistant to many pests and diseases, a few of them manage to attack and cause serious problems. Such pests include:

PestsDiseases
Bulb mitesGarlic rust
Pea leaf minerDowney mildew
Leek mothGarlic Mosaic virus
Black aphidsLeaf blight
MillipedesStemphylium Blight
Onion maggotBotrytis Rot
White curl mitePenicillium decay
ThripsRot
NematodesPurple blotch

Where can you sell your garlic harvest?

  1. Farmers’ markets – Here, farmers have the opportunity to sell directly to consumers in markets set up by the government
  2. Supermarkets and grocers – Choosing to be a lead supplier for supermarkets can be a good solution for you. However, take note of potential competition from other suppliers.
  3. Export markets – Foreign markets, just like any other business, provide an exceptional market for your garlic. Consider talking to foreign brokers or manufacturing companies.
  4. Online stores such as Jumia, Kilimall, Copia etc.
  5. Wholesale markets
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I am a multi-faceted professional with a strong foundation in Business and Finance, honed since 2020. Additionally, I possess a deep passion for automobiles, serving as an avid car enthusiast. In parallel to my diverse interests, I am also a dedicated student pursuing a career in the medical field.
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