Urbanisation is here to stay and as population increases in urban areas, the cost of food shoots, vegetable shortages bite, in addition to rising concern about the health safety of vegetables consumed in cities like Nairobi. In 2017, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) released the Africa Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition Report, which indicated that 22.7 percent of people in sub-Sahara are chronically undernourished. Growing your own food is a great way to take control of your nutrition and since sukuma wiki is a staple in Kenya, here is how you can grow it with limited space in your backyard.
Gunia farm preparation
Take a 50 kg gunia (gunny bag) and fill it with soil, if you have manure mix it in in equal measure. When the gunia is about 30-45 cm filled, take a container (you can use 2kg tin commonly known as gorogoro) cut off the bottom so that its open on both sides and place it in the middle of the gunia. Fill it with small pebbles-you can use the ‘kokoto’ used in construction and continue adding soil around it up to the top; gently remove the tin leaving the stones in the middle. Congratulations you now have your makeshift farm-repeat this for as many gunias as you want.
Since sukuma wiki and spinach are in the same family, they require the same environmental conditions to grow; they take a similar amount of time to mature, in addition to being attacked by the same pests. Sukuma and spinach seeds have to be grown in a nursery for four weeks before being transplanted to the garden.
For a nursery you can use a container (20-litre jerrican cut into two), alternatively, the top of your gunia-which now has a circular patch of stones surrounded by soil, will act as your nursery. With a stick, make shallow trenches 15 cm apart. It will look like you are drawing circles around the stone patch. Thinly spread your seeds, fill the trenches with soil, cover with some grass and water-use a watering can that spreads water in a shower.
If you have a bit more space create a raised bed of soil one metre wide and a length dependant on the number of seedlings you want. Mix dry manure into the soil and run a stick or your finger across the soil, creating ridges half an inch deep and 15 centimetres apart from each other. Spread the seeds thinly and cover lightly with soil, thereafter cover the bed/container with grass and water.
Transplanting to the gunia
After three days, your Sukuma/spinach will have germinated, water daily and after four weeks they will be ready to be taken to the gunia or your backyard. Choose a cloudy day to do this or do so in the early morning (6-10am) or 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, prepare your gunias to receive the young seedlings.
A 50 kg gunia should handle a maximum of 35 plants but feel free to experiment with more. Using a knife, make holes around the gunia 30 cm from each other, when you are done with one row it should look a circle of holes around the gunia. Go thirty 30 cm below this row and do the same thing. Water your gunia from the top, uproot your seedlings from the nursery-remember to hold the bottom part of the stem when uprooting and use your fingers to plant the seedlings into the gunia holes.
PS: You should only bury the plant about to a half an inch from the roots.
Watering and fertilisation
Water the transplanted seedlings twice a day, in the mornings and evenings and don’t miss a day. You will get healthy Sukuma Wiki only when you maintain care from a young age. After two weeks, spray your sukuma wiki with a foliar fertiliser like Easy Gro or Gatit foliar feed fertiliser. At this stage, the plant will be experiencing extensive leaf growth, so fertilisation is key.
If you want to go organic, you can make your own plant tea by soaking leaves of the tithonia plant (nicknamed African sunflower), or/and pawpaw leaves, in a bucket of water for two weeks, keep on stirring the mixture every three days to add oxygen which is needed for decomposition (this mixture will smell like cow urine so put it away from your windows). Sprinkle on the plant roots and leaves, dilute in the ratio of 1 part plant tea to 3 parts water and use a maximum of one cup per plant.
Your sukuma wiki/spinach should be ready for harvesting in 3-4 weeks after transplanting, harvest in the mornings or evening. When harvesting Sukuma wiki, break off the leaf branch but leave a section of the branch still attached to the main stem to avoid rotting. For spinach, break off the whole leaf branch from the main stem to avoid rotting.
To ensure you keep on harvesting for a longer period, add manure or plant tea after every harvest. You will need to keep off pests, especially aphids who cause curling of leaves and stunted growth. For those going organic, sprinkle ash, boil hot pepper or neem leaves and spray the mixture after it cools-it will kill most pests.
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