Introduction

Garlic farming can be a lucrative enterprise in Kenya if approached correctly. The cultivation of garlic, scientifically known as Allium sativum and commonly referred to as ‘Kitunguu Saumu’ in Kenya, is a highly profitable horticultural undertaking due to its attractive returns and the high demand it enjoys in the local market. Despite its strong aroma, garlic remains in high demand both locally and internationally due to its extensive use as a key ingredient in the preparation of various culinary delicacies, not only in Kenya but also in a wide range of French, Mediterranean, Spanish, Italian, and Mexican recipes. Consequently, garlic possesses both domestic and international appeal. Beyond its economic significance, garlic also possesses numerous medicinal properties.

Benefits of Garlic

To begin with, the consumption of garlic is known to be effective in preventing colds and flu by boosting the immune system, thereby enhancing the body’s natural defense mechanisms.

Secondly, garlic is recognized as a valuable antioxidant due to its constituents such as disulfide, sallycysteine, and diallyl, which contribute to shrinking tumor size and inhibiting their growth.

Thirdly, garlic aids in combating various bacterial, fungal, and viral infections, including recurrent yeast infections, cholera, acne, typhus, wound treatment, and candida albicans, among others. Additionally, garlic has potential benefits in preventing heart conditions and regulating hypertension. It is also considered to possess aphrodisiac properties that can be utilized in treating impotence.

Unfortunately, due to limited knowledge on garlic cultivation in Kenya, the number of farmers engaged in this venture is relatively low. Furthermore, many garlic farmers struggle to produce crops of satisfactory quality, rendering them unsuitable for the market. Consequently, approximately 80% of the garlic available in the Kenyan market is imported from China and India.

Market

Engaging in garlic farming proves to be a profitable endeavor, especially during the months of May, June, July, August, and September, when the demand for the crop reaches its peak. During this period, the price of garlic ranges between KSh. 300 and KSh. 400 per kilo. However, when the demand stabilizes from December to January, the prices decline to approximately Sh 150 to 200 per kilo.

Nevertheless, it is worth noting that despite these fluctuations, it is unlikely for garlic prices to drop below Sh 150 per kilo in the foreseeable future. By implementing proper agricultural practices, an acre of garlic cultivation can yield a significant harvest ranging between 4000 kg to 5000 kg.

How to grow garlic

To achieve abundant garlic harvests in Kenya, it is crucial to possess adequate knowledge about local seed varieties, suitable soil conditions, and favorable climatic factors that promote successful cultivation. The following outlines the various stages involved in growing garlic in Kenya, emphasizing the essential procedures and information you should be aware of.

Seeds

When engaging in garlic cultivation, it is essential to utilize seed cloves as the planting material. As an aspiring garlic grower, it is crucial to acquire certified garlic seeds that consist of fully matured cloves and are free from any diseases. These high-quality seeds can be obtained from reputable sources such as garden centers or approved Seed Companies. When selecting the best seed cloves, opt for the largest ones, as they are more likely to yield a better crop compared to smaller cloves.

In Kenya, there are three main varieties of garlic that thrive well:

  1. Softneck: This is the most popular variety characterized by a white, paper-like skin. It possesses a relatively strong taste and pungent aroma. Softneck garlic is known for being easy to grow and includes varieties such as Creole, California Early, and California Late.
  2. Hardneck: Hardneck garlic exhibits tan and purple markings. It produces larger cloves, although the number of cloves per head is fewer compared to other varieties. However, hardneck garlic does not have a long storage life compared to softneck varieties. Examples of hardneck garlic varieties include Roja and German Extra Hearty.
  3. Elephant garlic: Elephant garlic is distinguished by its large head and sizable cloves. It offers a milder flavor and has a less pronounced odor compared to the other garlic types mentioned above.

By understanding these garlic varieties and their characteristics, you can make informed choices when selecting the appropriate type for your farming needs.

Climatic conditions

Garlic farming thrives in regions with medium to high altitudes, typically ranging from 500 to 2000 meters above sea level. In order to ensure proper bulb development, garlic requires high temperatures, preferably around 30ºC. However, during the initial stages of growth, cooler temperatures are beneficial as they promote vegetative growth, which is crucial for establishing the plants. Therefore, the ideal temperature range for growing garlic is between 12ºC and 24ºC.

It is important to note that excessive rainfall and high humidity can negatively impact the vegetative growth and bulb formation of garlic. As a result, areas with low rainfall, which can be supplemented with irrigation during the initial growth phase when water requirement is crucial, are more suitable for successful garlic cultivation.

Soils

Garlic planting requires soil with a pH level ranging from 5.5 to 6.8. Therefore, garlic cultivation can be suitable for various soil types found in Kenya, as long as they are well-draining. It is important to note that garlic performs poorly in waterlogged soils, so it is advisable to avoid such conditions. Clay soils, in particular, should be avoided as they hinder bulb enlargement.

Additionally, proper soil preparation is crucial for successful garlic cultivation. The soil should be well-prepared, with loose and airy depths of 6 to 8 inches. It should be free of rocks and plant debris and should ideally be dry. To enhance bulb formation and achieve optimum yield, it is recommended to mix the soil with organic manure before plowing. This practice facilitates improved bulb development and overall plant growth.

Actual planting and spacing

The process of growing garlic is not overly complicated. It involves selecting the best cloves and providing adequate spacing between them. To begin, create rows with a spacing of 30 cm between them, and within each row, ensure a separation of 15 cm or 6 inches between each plant. Using a hoe or similar tool, dig trenches that are approximately 25 cm deep. Place a single garlic clove in each trench with its root facing downward and the pointed end facing upward. Once the clove is positioned correctly, cover it with loose and well-aerated soil.

Continue this process until all the cloves are planted, maintaining a spacing of 6 inches between each one. Ensure that the next row of seeds is placed 2 feet or 60 cm apart from the preceding row. When watering the rows, do so lightly, being cautious not to overwater. Stop watering when the soil surface is slightly damp to avoid excessive moisture. Overwatering can lead to the cloves rotting before they have a chance to grow.

Mulch and manure application

Once you have planted your garlic seeds, it is important to protect them from harsh conditions by applying a thick layer of mulch. This can be achieved by placing a layer of straw, chopped leaves, or grass that is approximately 4 to 6 inches thick above the rows. The purpose of the mulch is to insulate the seeds and shield them from severe winter weather. However, it is necessary to remove the mulch on the first day of spring when temperatures reach around 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. This is typically when the garlic seeds will begin to sprout.

After removing the mulch and with moderate spring temperatures, it is recommended to apply a light all-purpose fertilizer every 30 to 40 days. The ideal fertilizer to use is one with a ratio such as 5-5-5 or 10-10-10, which indicates the proportions of Nitrogen, Phosphate, and Potassium present in the fertilizer. When applying the fertilizer, sprinkle the granules lightly on the sprouting garlic, taking care to ensure they do not come into direct contact with the plants. Direct contact may cause harm or burn the plants. Most manufacturers recommend applying the fertilizer at a rate of ¾ per 100 square feet of planted area.

Watering

As mentioned before, successful garlic farming relies on well-drained soils that prevent waterlogging. Garlic plants have relatively low water requirements, and when the seeds are covered with mulch, additional watering is not necessary. However, if the season experiences limited rainfall, it may be necessary to provide water to the garlic crop after a few weeks. Light watering that penetrates the soil to a depth of approximately one inch is sufficient. However, if there are regular rainfall events every 10 to 14 days, then additional watering is generally not required.

Disease control

Among the various field management practices involved in garlic farming in Kenya, weed management is of utmost importance to prevent competition for nutrients, light, and water.

One effective method to suppress weed growth during garlic cultivation is practicing crop rotation, wherein new garlic seeds are planted in areas that have not had garlic or onion plantings for a significant period.

Additionally, weeds can be manually removed through hand hoeing, or by implementing techniques such as mulching or cultivation. Alternatively, herbicides can be utilized for weed control. It is essential to initiate weed management early in the garlic growth stages to prevent significant yield losses.

To prevent and control pests, the use of copper oxychloride and other soil fumigants can be effective in minimizing and eliminating nematodes in the field. Implementing appropriate pest prevention measures is vital for ensuring healthy garlic plants and maximizing yield.

Harvesting and storing

Harvesting garlic at the right time is crucial to ensure optimal produce quality. To determine the appropriate harvesting time, it is necessary to monitor the growth period, which typically lasts around 4 to 6 months.

Identifying the exact harvesting time can be challenging since the garlic heads are buried in the soil, and different varieties have varying maturity periods. As a general guide, observe the foliage and check if it has turned brown and died back, indicating that it is time to harvest.

Once the crops are dug out, bundle them in groups of ten or fifteen and allow them to dry in a well-ventilated room. Leave them for a period of three to four weeks until the shoots and roots have dried down. Trim the tops, cutting them approximately one inch above the main bulb, and remove the roots. Then, gently remove the outer skin without exposing the cloves. Clean off any remaining soil, and your bulbs will be ready for sale.

While awaiting the sale of your garlic, proper storage conditions must be maintained based on whether you intend to use them as table stock or planting stock. If you plan to use them as table stock, store them at temperatures between 0 to 4 degrees Celsius (32 to 39 degrees Fahrenheit) with a humidity level of 60-70%. This helps prevent sprouting, as temperatures above 4 degrees Celsius can induce sprouting, and moisture levels above 70% can stimulate rooting. For planting stock, store garlic at room temperature with a relative humidity of 60-70%.

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