Potato farming is practised by over 800,000 farmers in Kenya, due to its high lucrative value. Irish Potatoes are highland crops that grow well in most parts of Kenya including Molo, Kinangop, Kiambu, Taita Hills, Yatta, Timboroa and parts of Laikipia. This article will take you through the ins and outs of Irish potato farming in Kenya, all the requirements and all the possible mistakes you should avoid to guarantee a bountiful harvest. Whether for subsistence or commercial reasons, you are in the right place.
Let’s dive in;
What you need to start potato farming
#1. Find land in one of the high-production areas
Even as most parts of Kenya are arable for Irish potato farming, it is important to identify land in one of the high-production areas. Leasing land for 1-3 years for this purpose may be a good choice for you especially if you don’t possess your piece of land. Currently, leasing a good chunk of land about 1km from the tarmac road in a place like Molo (Nakuru County) will cost you between Ksh.15,000 to Ksh.50,000.
Note, however, that the prices will vary from place to place and you should plan your finances wisely.
When picking land to farm potatoes, remember to consider accessibility, since you will need to transport your harvest to storage or a marketplace.
When picking land for your potato farming, evaluate the piece using the criteria mentioned below:
- Look for land with reddish soils
- Avoid land with a bad history of potato production
- Avoid land that lies adjacent to a river to minimize chances of frostbite
#2. Good varieties of Irish potatoes to farm in Kenya
The most common varieties in Kenya are:
- Red variety – Have a longer shelf life than the white variety
- White varieties – Are usually sweeter and popularly used to prepare French fries
Unlike many other crops in Kenya, Irish potatoes are not grown from seeds. Instead, pieces cut from the Irish potatoes start new plants. These cut parts are called “seed potatoes”.
When selecting what to plant, the seed potatoes have buds or eyes that sprout and grow into plants. If the buds are too small, the resulting plants become weak and susceptible to pest and disease attacks.
To avoid this, you have to make sure that the seed potatoes have at least one good eye or bud to ensure healthy produce.
Important points to consider as you select a variety
When it comes to varieties of potatoes to farm in Kenya, many farmers are usually tempted to buy seeds from other farmers.
Farmers are advised by agricultural technologists to plant certified seeds. These seeds have been assessed and proven to germinate well, and resist pests and diseases.
#3. How to prepare seed potatoes for planting
Cut the seed potato five or six days before planting and hold the cut seed in a cool and dry place with good ventilation to allow for healing of the cut surface. This is crucial as it will prevent rotting after the seed potatoes have been planted in cold, wet, and very hot weather.
Despite our earlier classification of major varieties of potatoes in Kenya, below is a list of more specific varieties that do well in Kenya;
- Kenya Mavuno
You can source seed potatoes for the above varieties from Agricultural research centres such as the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO).
#4. Rainfall requirements for farming Irish potatoes in Kenya
Potatoes do well in areas that receive regular rainfall of between 850 mm to 1,400 mm per annum.
#5. Soils and land preparation for Irish potato farming in Kenya
Now that we have settled on variety, you will need to look for good soil. Potatoes do well in loamy or sandy-loam soils that are well-drained, properly aerated, rich in organic matter and have a PH of 5 to 6.5.
To test your soil PH, you will need to collect samples from different parts of your piece of land and take them for testing at the nearest agricultural research institution.
Perennial weeds should be controlled through ploughing or using relevant herbicides. Effective pest and weed control are critical to the success of your produce.
The land should be prepared to fine tilth, and farmyard manure should be added to boost the nutrient content.
Once the land is ready, furrows of at least 15cm depth should be prepared and all the fertilizers required placed. The depth should be at least 40cm to allow for deep penetration of the Irish potato roots.
Now that you are ready to plant your potatoes, make sure you use a clean, sharp knife to cut up your seed potatoes into small pieces, approximately the size of a hen’s egg, and make sure that there are at least two eyes in each piece.
Twelve to sixteen days after planting, when sprouts appear, use a how to gently fill in the trench that you should have left when you were planting. Make sure to leave just a few inches of the sprouts exposed, to facilitate photosynthesis.
Repeat in several weeks, leaving the soil mounded up to 4-5 inches above ground level. Add organic mulch to conserve moisture and smother weeds on your farm.
#6. Management of Irish potatoes soon after planting
Serious management of your crops starts soon after germination, two weeks after planting. At this time, your crops are most susceptible to pests, weeds and disease.
Employ the following techniques to avoid catastrophic losses:
- Use herbicides
- Manual weeding
- Do not allow sunlight to fall on the tubers that are forming under the soil.
- Just before flowering, earth up the area surrounding the roots, to ensure that the tubers have enough soil for proper development and enlargement.
- Maintain high soil water content through irrigation if rainfall is not reliable.
#7. Pests and diseases to look out for in Irish potato farming in Kenya
Pests and diseases that are not properly controlled may cause up to 100% loss of your farm produce. It is therefore important to prevent their occurrence through prophylaxis by the use of the necessary herbicides and pesticides.
Your nearest Agro vet will help you with this.
Below is a list of the most common pest and disease infections facing Irish potatoes in Kenya:
|Late Blight||Dark lesions on leaves and stems, white mould on the underside of leaves|
|Potato Cyst Nematode||Stunted growth, yellowing leaves, reduced yields|
|Colorado Potato Beetle||Stripped leaves, defoliation, reduced yields|
|Green Peach Aphids||Sticky residue on leaves, curling leaves, reduced yields|
|Wireworms||Holes in potato tubers reduced yields|
|Fusarium Wilt||Yellowing leaves, wilting plants, reduced yields|
|Leaf Roll||Affected plants show wilting, curling, and yellowing of leaves. Leaves may become stiff, brittle and crinkled.|
|Mosaic PVY||Affected plants show mottling and yellowing of leaves, reduced growth, and smaller tubers.|
|Net Necrosis||Affected plants show net-like patterns on leaves, stunted growth, and necrotic spots on tubers.|
#8. How to harvest Irish potatoes
After a successful planting season, you will be anticipating harvesting. As soon as your potatoes mature, ensure you don’t injure the tubers as you harvest them. Injury introduces pests and diseases to your crops, therefore reducing their shelf life.
Potatoes are usually ready to harvest when the tops begin to die and the skin becomes dry.
The harvesting is done using a fork and the vines are removed one to two weeks after digging out the tubers.
If you are planning to store your tubers, you should then leave them out in the soil for some time, allowing for the thickening of the skin. This will prevent wrinkles from forming when you store your produce.
As you store, make sure the storage site is cool, dry and with proper ventilation
In a nutshell
Planning and growing of Irish potatoes in Kenya can be very profitable if you follow all guidelines mentioned in this post. Keep doing more research and success in your farming.