Adventures in Farming: Onions

This year I took the risk of doing serious farming. I had postponed for a long time to participate in this venture but decided this was the year. Life is short so let’s take hold of every opportunity accorded to us.

To start off, I did a pilot project of onions on quarter an acre. I used Jambar F1 seeds from Seminis (cost around Ksh. 6800) of which were planted on this portion of the land. I planted them in Njoro, Nakuru county since I had access to water for irrigation just in case the rains did not do well. I planted the crop around May and harvested them in November.

Onions in Nets
Onions in Nets

The yield did fairly well given the fact that onions don’t do well in Njoro as my farm caretaker had explained; he’s lived there for several years and mentioned that potatoes do well in the area. The yield was 894 kgs, that’s about 27 bags of onions (an average of 33kg per bag) ; the bags were the normal bags used to pack onions, with a characteristic purple netting. I personally see this as an achievement since it was the first time in planting a crop on a commercial level.

Jambar F1 Seeds

However, there were challenges that I had faced that affected the outcome of the crop. A majority of the onions were of grade two. 11 out of the 27 bags were of grade one. Basically grade two fetches a lower price. I learnt some lessons thanks to these challenges.

Challenges Faced

  • Thrips, a common pest of onions, attacked the crop. These pests affected the quality of my onions in terms of the quality of the skin and colour. Most of the onions that were relegated to grade 2 were white/ yellowish in colour, and had shriveled skin. Next season I will implement intercropping to manage the pest as suggested in this research paper; possibly plant carrots but I will think about it.
  • I harvested the onions one month late so this affected the overall weight in terms of loss of moisture/water. This meant low yields. Furthermore, harvesting late resulted in some onions rotting as they were harvested during rainfall. At least the care taker didn’t twist the leaves before harvesting as he noticed that this may accelerate rotting.
  • Even though this was a pilot project, I should have done more research on when to plant the onions. I planted them in May and sold the onions in the first week of December and the prevailing market prices were Ksh. 30 per kg. The price was low at this time due to influx of the product from our neighbour Tanzania. From February to May the prices go up to Ksh. 80 per kg. So planting from around August is advisable so that by January the onions bulbs can mature with the dry weather conditions right before harvesting.
  • I will also do direct marketing next time and bypass the middle men; deal preferably with supermarkets, hotels etc. This is because you can get a raw deal if you sell to middlemen.
Rotten onion
Rotten onion

In the coming year, I will increase acreage as this project was encouraging and plant other vegetable crops. Farming is not easy and can be costly but teaches you to be resilient and have faith that God will provide the necessary weather conditions for your crops to grow as you do your part of providing proper crop management. The venture is risky but worth it. And don’t do it alone; involve those who have been doing it for long (experts) as I had involved the wisdom of my dad and the farm caretaker. With time, you’ll become a pro and an adviser to others.

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  • Congratulations on taking the plunge and doing farming.
    I have a few questions I hope that you can address

    What made you decide to plant onions and not any other vegetable?

    I presume that you were living in Nairobi at the time of planting and harvesting. How often did you go to Njoro to check on the progress of the onions?

    You mentioned that the next time you will cut out the middle man and do direct marketing to supermarkets etc. I assume that these companies require a steady supply of onions throughout the year. Does this mean that you are going to plant onions at different times of the year to have a steady supply?

    What were your profit margins factoring in all the expenses such as labour?

  • Good stuff Bwana Birir!

    I’ve engaged in mushroom, mango, onion and tomato farming in Machakos with varying degrees of success over the past 6 years or so.
    Having finally (somewhat) solved my water problem with drip kits and two dams I intend to embark on watermelon, cucumber and bullets (pilipili) in the coming year.

    I notice that you didn’t mention any use of agrochemicals in the article. Did you go full organic?

  • Wow…thanks for the advice Brian. Been wanting to try this out back home and same case here, been postponing it like forever. No turning back. Congrats

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December 26, 2014

Posted In: Agriculture

Tags: , ,