Onion Farming in Kenya: A Beginners Guide in 2021

Onion farming in Kenya takes place in almost every part of this country.

However, onions thrive the best in the following locations: Makueni county, Kieni, Meru, Karatina, Naivasha, Kajiado, Emali, and Oloitoktok lastly Kakamega.

Onions and onion leaves are popular ingredients in everyday cooking. Apart from being used in Kachumbari recipes and broth making, onion provides nutritional benefits and vitamins too.

Planting, Care, and Harvesting

Onions in Kenya are mainly cultivated on a large scale and for commercial purposes and income generation. You, too, can do it on a small scale to cater to its more considerable market demand in your location.

An acre of land can produce between 20-25 tonnes of onions depending on the climatic conditions, type of soil, and onion variety.

Onions thrive in good, well-drained sandy, loamy soils with PH ranges of 6.0 -7.0. The crop prefers a temperate climate between 13 ° and 24 ° C, especially during germination.

The season for Onion Farming in Kenya

Although for seedlings in the nursery, the recommended temperature is 20 to 27 ° C. High temperatures affect onion production, causing them to dry.

So it is best to grow onions during the cold and wet seasons to be harvested during the dry and hot seasons.

Onion Varieties in Kenya

There are two main onion varieties in Kenya, namely; The local variety and the Hybrid Variety.

The varieties are further categorized according to their shape, maturity period, and skin color.

The following are varieties of onions grown in Kenya. The seeds are available from Kenya Seed Company starting at Ksh 70 per kilogram, depending on the variety.

The local variety of onions in Kenya include

  1. Red Creole
  2. Texas Grano
  3. Bombay Red

While the Hybrid onion variety in Kenya are

  1. Red Nice F1
  2. Rasta F1
  3. Red Coach F1
  4. Malbec F1
  5. Red passion F1
  6. Neptune F1
  7. Red Connect F1
  8. Rosa F1
  9. Ruby F1
  10. Red Pinnoy F1
  11. Sivan F1
  12. Jambar F1

The main advantage of the hybrid variety is that it can be grown anywhere. They are also resistant to perennial pests and diseases.

Note: With the advancement of technology, you can apply crop optimizers, chemicals used to kill and control pests and weeds in the soil. Check your local agro vet store for the best type of optimizers.

Onions Nursery bed preparation

Onions seeds are planted first on a raised seedbed for germination and later transplanted to the field.

Also, read; Beetroot Farming In Kenya – A Complete Guide.

It is therefore encouraged to prepare the seedbed two to three weeks before sowing the seed. To make your seedbed, proceed as follows;

  1. Prepare raised seedbeds of 1.2m wide with a length of your choice.
  2. Add two 20liters per meter square of organic fertilizer, mix with the soil and rake it evenly.
  3. Irrigate the raised seedbed one day before sowing seeds.
  4. Make evenly spread rows of 10-15cm from row to row.

Amount of seeds needed

The seed needed to grow in one square meter is five grams, equivalent to a full teaspoon.

This amount will produce enough seedlings for transplanting to an area of 100 square meters. You only need 2-2.5Kgs of seeds for a hectare of land.

Cover the seedbed with mulch, and remember to water the seedbed daily, morning and evening. Onion seeds take approximately 10 -12 days to start germinating.

Field Preparation for Onion Farming

Plough the land one month before transplanting the onion seedlings. Rake the soil to fine particles for two weeks before transplanting the onions.

Next, Incorporate 20 -25 tonnes per hectare of ripe animal manure (Poultry or cow dung) into the field.

This is to make the soil rigid and increase moisture retention for an extended period. Mix the organic fertilizer well with the ground, and then prepare furrows to your liking.

Add the organic manure to every hole during transplanting instead of mixing it with the soil.

Onion Seedlings Transplanting

After six weeks since germination, the seedling should be ready for transplanting. By this time, the seedlings should have attained a height of 12 to 15cm.

  • To avoid damaging the roots, thoroughly water the seedbed a day before transplanting.
  • Use a shovel to uproot the seedlings from the seedbed, and remember to prune the seedling leaves and roots to enhance water retention.
  • Plant the seedlings in rows with a 30cm space between rows and 8 to 12cm from one seedling to the other. Onions are grown in this position take the shortest time possible to mature early, and the number of onions per area is vast.

Remember to select healthy and pests-free seedlings for transplanting.  Very young or very old seedlings are not suitable for transplantation.

You should then transplant the seedlings as deep as they were in the nursery. It would help if you transplanted in the morning or evening to avoid the hot sun and the heat to burn the seedlings.

Immediately after transplanting, water the seedlings and then keep watering in the morning and the evening until the seedlings hold well in the soil.

Plantation Maintenance

Onion farming in Kenya, just like any other crop, needs to be taken care of after transplanting the seed. Apart from regular irrigation, you need also to add fertilizer to the plant.

For weed control, apply any foliar spray mixed with (pesticides, fungicides, insecticides, and herbicides of your choice). This also is as advised by your local agriculture extension officer.

Top Dressing

Apply the growth fertilizer Calcium Ammonium Nitrate (CAN) to the onions during the third and sixth weeks after transplanting.

Remember to use a minimum of three bags per hectare in the third week and four sacks in the sixth week.

It is good to apply the fertilizer when the soil is moist enough. A teaspoonful is enough and should be kept inside the rows or near the crop but not touching it.

Irrigation

It is an excellent practice to continuously irrigate your onions in places where the rainfall amount is less. Otherwise, onion farming in Kenya is done towards the end of the rainy season.

Once the onions start maturing, you need to reduce that amount of water for irrigation. Too much water causes onion rot after maturing. You will know that the onions have mature once their leaves start turning yellowish.

Lastly, keep the onion field wed free from time to time while adding soil to the plant to cover the roots.

Onion Farming in Kenya: Harvesting.

Your onions will be ready for harvesting after three to five months(90-150 days) from the date of sowing the seeds. This also depends on the variety of the onion and climatic conditions.

A bountiful harvest depends on taking good care of the field during growth, the weather, and the type of onion variety. Properly managed crops can produce 30 to 40 tons of onions per hectare.

Therefore, you should start harvesting the onions when you notice that 50 percent of your crops are weak and dry. Early harvesting causes the onions to spoil early.

Remember, when harvesting, prune the entire stem and cut off the excess leaves and roots.

After harvesting, dry the onions in a moisture-free, well-ventilated area. Again, store well-dried onions in a moisture-free, well-ventilated place. Wet onions will rot if you try to keep them.

You can store onions for three to six months if the weather is excellent and moist-free. You can keep small onions longer than wider varieties.

After harvesting onions, remember to incorporate crop rotation to preserve the soil for the next planting season. This also assists in pest control and diseases.

I hope you enjoyed our post on onion farming in Kenya.

Tim Jumah
Tim is a practising farmer based in Trans-Nzoia. His love for technology in agriculture led to the establishment of this website.

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