Capsicum, also known as sweet pepper, bell pepper or pilipili hoho are consumed in nearly every household in Kenya. They are used to spice up cooked food and raw salads.
With proper planning and quality control, growing capsicums can be profitable, with the target market being the local Kenya market and also the export market.
The local market includes direct to consumer, open-air markets, wholesalers, food processing companies, and supermarkets.
Varieties of Capsicum in Kenya
The mature color primarily differentiates capsicum varieties in Kenya. It may be red, yellow, or green. Other types include black, cream, brown, orange, and lime. By default, all capsicums are green in colour at the initial stages of growth, then with time, they change the colour according to the variety. The longer the stay on, to maturity, the sweeter they become.
The commercial seed varieties available in Kenya include:-
- Commandant F1 by Syngenta. It is an indeterminate medium late variety that produces block fruits with hard thick walls. According to Syngenta, Commandant F1:
- - Eventually turns red on full maturity.
- - is suitable for both greenhouse and open field production.
- - Capsicum fruits can weight an average of 220 grams
- - Yields 20-30 tonnes on an open field and 50-60 tonnes in greenhouses.
- - Has a shelf life of 21 days
- - Has targeted resistance to Tobacco Mosaic Virus, Potato Mosaic Virus (Y), Bacterial Leaf Spot Race 1-3 and Pepper Mottle Virus
- - Plants yield 2kgs per plant for green capsicums and 4 kgs for red capsicums.
- - It is harvested 75 to 90 days for green fruits and 90 to 120 days for red fruits.
- - Has a harvest period of 10 weeks in an open field and 4 to 6 months in the greenhouse.
- Admiral F1 by Syngenta
- Buffalo F1
- California wonder
- Pasarella f1
- Ilanga F1
- Yolo wonder
- Green Bell F1
Capsicum farmers usually go for a variety that is disease resistant, known to produce high yield, or if it is recommended for the Kenyan market.
Health Benefits of capsicums
Adding capsicum to your diet has several health benefits. The fruits have been used as a food additive in traditional medicine for the treatment of sore throat, cough, wound healing, and toothache. Some health benefits you can get from capsicum include:
- Boosts immunity- Capsicum is rich in vitamin C, which strengthens your immune system. It also lowers the risk of oxidative stress and repairs damaged tissues.
- Manage diabetes- Capsicum, like other chilies, contain capsaicin. This product is known to affect patients with diabetes positively.
- Active components of capsicum can change the genetic expression of cancer cell metastasis, growth arrest, and survival.
- Flavonoids, a constituent of capsicum, improves cardiovascular health. It may prevent coronary heart disease.
- Bioactive compounds of capsicum have antioxidant effects. Vasodilation gives room for the antioxidant phytochemicals to move around the body. This protects and repairs tissues and DNA damage.
Ecological Requirements for growing capsicums
Capsicum can be grown in greenhouses or outdoors in Kenya, depending on the variety. The optimum temperature of 16-20 degrees Celsius is best for fruits setting. If you want proper fruit development, night temperatures should be between 15-17 degrees Celsius and day temperatures of 24-30 degrees Celsius.
You need to grow your capsicum on well-drained fertile soils. The soil pH should range between 5.0 -7.0. Your capsicum will grow fast in altitudes of up to 2000m above sea level. Ideal rainfall is 800-1200mm per annum. Like any other fruit, capsicum requires regular watering during flowering.
Capsicum Yield Per Acre
If you monitor your crops regularly and ensure proper maintenance, you should expect 5 to 8 tons. Yield per acre depends typically on variety.
In Kenya, farmers prefer germinating their capsicum seeds in a nursery bed. You should mix fertilizers recommended by an expert with the sowing soil.
Make holes on the nursery bed about 3cm deep. Sow the seeds and cover them slightly with loose soil. Adding a layer of mulch on the seedbed prevents water loss. You need to water the bed regularly and monitor the germination process.
Ensure your bed is under shade to protect the seedlings from wind and direct sunlight. Your seeds will germinate after 2-3 weeks if you correctly follow the steps.
Large scale capsicum farmers prepare their land about two months before planting. This helps the crop residue to decompose. It will also allow you to remove weeds before planting effectively.
Make sunken or raised beds on the land that you prepared. Then thoroughly mix the soil with DAP and manure for stimulation of root development.
Before transplanting capsicum seedlings, you need to water the seedbeds. Transplant only strong and healthy seedlings. This should be done early in the morning or in the evening.
You will notice that the seedlings are ready 6 to 7 weeks after sowing when they attain 4-5 leaves. The spacing of capsicum plants should be 75cm by 45cm.
Management activities for capsicums
The management activities for capsicums include
- Watering (irrigation)
- Top dressing.
- Weed control.
- Disease control.
- Pest control.
Capsicums are pruned every week so as to leave nutrients for bigger capsicum fruit formation and conserve water. Pruning capsicums is done by:-
- Remove the first fruit that the capsicum plant develops. This allows the plant to grow better and bigger fruits
- Remove aging capsicum leaves and leaves affected by diseases
- Remove capsicum fruits that are not well-shaped, and also tiny emaciated ones.
- Remove side shoots, leaving only two shoots per capsicum plant.
Irrigation for capsicum
Capsicum plants require half a litre of water per plant per day. You will need to water regularly so that your capsicum plants get enough water. It is recommended to do this two to three times a week.
Topdressing Capasicum Plants
Topdressing your capsicum plants ensures that your plants get the required nutrients at the different sources of growth. The topdressing program for capsicum is as below:-
- First topdressing for one month after transplanting with NPK 26.0.0 fertilizer at the rate of 10 grams per plant.
- Second topdressing 4 weeks after the first one with NPK 26.0.0 or CAN fertilizer, depending on the one used during the first topdressing. This is at the rate of 100kgs of fertilizer per hectare.
- Third topdressing is done four weeks after the second topdressing, at the rate of 200kgs of fertilizer per hectare using the same nitrogen-rich fertilizer used in the first 2 topdressing activities.
Pests attacking capsicum
Major pests that may attack your capsicum in Kenya include;
- Thrips - This pest mostly attacks the flowers. They are small, slender insects that feed on leaves, flowers, and tender fruits by sucking sap. When they infest, your crop will display stunted growth, distorted leaves, and sunken tissues on the underside appearing silvery. You need to monitor your field daily to spot them early. Spray with insecticides
- Red spider mites- Plants that are under drought, stress, or do not get enough water are susceptible to infestation. Spider mites are tiny sap-sucking insects that spin protective silk webs. You will find them on the underside of leaves. The leaves turn yellow, curl upwards, and may eventually fall off. A heavy infestation can lead to the death of the whole plant.
- Root-knot nematodes- These are microscopic parasites found in soil. Their infestation cause swellings on roots, which reduces plant vigor. Your crop gets stunted and may eventually die.
- Aphids- These insects attack the underside of leaves or on stems. They appear light green with a soft body and feed by sucking sap. Sooty mold or honeydew is an early sign of infection. Severe infestation may lead to wilting or leaf distortion.
Diseases affecting capsicums
- Damping-off- This is a fungal infection. It is caused by too much water in the soil, which prevents your plant from taking up enough nutrients. The stem of your crop grows weak, bends, and may eventually fall off. You should follow a regular pattern when irrigating. Water only when the soils are a bit dry. Avoid places experiencing too much rainfall or excess water.
- Bacterial wilt- This infection is soil-borne. Early symptoms are most noticeable in young leaves. It causes wilting, which may recover during cold weather. As the infection progresses, vascular tissues turn yellow, brown, or black in severe cases.
Capsicum does not grow well among weeds. You, therefore, should weed your crop to avoid competition for water, nutrients, space, and light. Moreover, weeds can harbor pathogens that can attack your crops.
When flowering begins, minimize weeding to prevent disturbances. Only uproot the weeds when necessary.
Harvest and Post-harvest
Your fruits are mature and ready for harvest 2 to 3 months after planting. Under proper management, you should continue harvesting for the next 4-6 months. Pick your fruits by hand. When harvesting:
- Cut the holding stem with a sharp object. You will know it is time when a variety of colour starts to appear.
- Harvest mature fruits that have small twigs holding it. Ripe fruits are filled out and green.
- Direct sunlight will spoil your harvested capsicum fruits. You need to shade your fruits to avoid drying.
- Sort your fruits, grade, and pack them as required by the standards for the Kenyan market or the export market
- Store your harvest in cool temperatures, at a relative humidity of 95%-98%. Transporting should be done under the same conditions.
Grading and Sorting Capsicums
Capsicums are sorted and graded depending on external appearance, size, weight, and colour. For the export market, additional requirements come in. These are texture, shape, defects due to pests and diseases, post-harvest handling, storage conditions, shelf life, and flavour. There might be other requirements such as special requests when it comes to the colour mixes and size.
In Kenya, capsicums are packaged corrugated boxes or crates.