Snow peas are a type of legume crop that is enjoyed for its edible pods. Unlike garden peas, snow peas are picked and consumed while still unripe, allowing the entire pod to be eaten. They are known for having thin walls compared to other edible pod variants, making them a distinct variety.
Rich in Vitamins A and C
Snow peas offer valuable nutritional benefits as they are excellent sources of vitamins A and C. These vitamins are essential for maintaining good health and supporting the body’s immune system. Snow peas can be enjoyed in various ways, including raw, lightly boiled, steamed, or in stir-fries.
Unique Relationship with Rhizobia Bacteria
As a legume crop, snow peas form a mutually beneficial relationship with beneficial bacteria called rhizobia. These bacteria reside in the root nodules of snow pea plants and have the ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere into the soil. This nitrogen fixation process enriches the soil with high nitrogen content, which is advantageous for growing green leafy vegetables that thrive in nitrogen-rich environments.
Snow Pea Production
Snow peas are primarily cultivated in Western Australia, several Asian regions, and France. In Africa, the major producers of snow peas include South Africa, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe. Kenya and Uganda are also significant producers in East Africa, with Nyandarua and Transnzoia being the largest producing regions in Kenya. However, snow peas are cultivated in various other parts of Kenya as well.
Soil Requirements for Snow Peas
Air Circulation for Beneficial Bacteria
To promote the growth of beneficial nitrogen-fixing bacteria that reside on snow pea roots, it is crucial to ensure adequate air circulation. This can be achieved by avoiding waterlogged areas and refraining from compacting the soil after planting.
Ideal Soil Characteristics
Snow peas thrive in fertile sandy loam soils that have good drainage capabilities. They can tolerate various soil types, except for impermeable clay. It is preferable to maintain a pH level between 6.0 and 7.5. In cases where the soil pH is lower, a mixture of 1kg HUMIPOWER with 50kg of fertilizer or manure can be applied. This helps raise the soil pH, as low pH levels can have detrimental effects on crops, including:
1. Solubility of Aluminum, which can become toxic
2. Impaired nutrient availability
3. Leaching of magnesium (Mg), potassium (K), and calcium (Ca), as they become soluble
4. Inadequate nodulation of legumes
Incorporating these soil requirements and considerations can contribute to successful snow pea cultivation, ensuring optimal growth and yield.
Ideal Growing Conditions
Snow peas thrive best in cool weather conditions found in upper and lower highlands. They prefer altitudes ranging from 1500 to 2600 meters above sea level. The optimal temperature range for snow peas is between 12°C and 20°C. Adequate rainfall is essential, with a well-distributed amount of 1500mm to 2100mm per year. Moreover, snow peas prefer well-drained soils that are rich in organic matter.
- Aphids (Acyrthosiphon pisum)
Aphids are common insects that suck sap from plants, leading to reduced plant vigor and distorted growth. They also secrete a sticky substance called honeydew, which attracts sooty molds that coat the leaves and block the stomata. This blockage prevents the crucial process of photosynthesis, resulting in stunted growth. Aphids can also transmit diseases to other crops.
Control: Spray with Kingcode Elite at a rate of 10ml per 20 liters of water.
- Thrips (Tabaci spp)
Thrips are small, slender insects with fringed wings. They feed by piercing the epidermal layers of plant tissues, causing silvering on the surface of leaves.
Control: Use insecticide, Alonze, at a rate of 3ml per 20 liters of water.
- Pea weevil (Bruchus pisorum)
Pea weevils are small, black to brownish insects with a white zigzag pattern on their backs. The larvae hatch and burrow into the pods, feeding on the developing peas.
Control: Apply insecticide, Pentagon, at a rate of 10ml per 20 liters of water.
- Cutworms (Agrotis segetum)
Cutworms are larvae that hide under litter or soil during the day and emerge at night to feed on the plants. They attack the crop by cutting the stem at the base, hence the name “cutworm.”
Control: Drench the affected area with Pentagon at a rate of 20ml per 20 liters of water.
- Damping off and root rot
This disease is caused by various pathogens, such as Pythium and Rhizoctonia, and is exacerbated by cool and wet soil conditions. Symptoms include soft and rolled seeds, seedling collapse, and browning of foliage and roots. Older seedlings may develop root rot when planted in excessively wet soils.
Management: Besides using certified seeds, treat the affected area with Pyramid 700 WP at a rate of 100g per 20 liters of water.
- Downy mildew
Peronospora viciae causes downy mildew, which can survive in soil and plant debris. It can also be seed-borne. The disease spreads rapidly in cold conditions (5°C to 15°C) with prolonged wetness, particularly during the early vegetative stages. Rainfall plays a significant role in spore dispersal and secondary infection.
Symptoms: Leaves develop a fluffy mouse grey spore mass on the underside, yellowing of foliage, and deformations with yellow and brownish areas on the pods.
Management: Use certified seeds and apply the fungicide Gearlock turbo at a rate of 25g per 20 liters of water.
- Powdery mildew
Erysiphe pisi is the causative agent of powdery mildew, which is prevalent during warm weather conditions.
Symptoms: Infected plants are covered with a white powdery film, severely affected leaves turn blue-white in color, and powdery mildew affects snow pea leaves.
Management: Treat the affected crop with fungicides such as Chariot at a rate of 20ml per 20 liters of water or Ransom at a rate of 10g per 20 liters of water. Additionally, practicing seed treatment and crop rotation can help prevent the disease.
Nutrition and Fertilizer Application
To determine the appropriate nutrition for snow peas, it is essential to conduct a soil analysis. Typically, applying up to 10 tons of farmyard manure is recommended. At the time of sowing, it is advisable to use DAP fertilizer at a rate of 250kg per hectare to promote root growth. After one month, another round of DAP fertilizer application is recommended.
During the flowering stage, dressing the plants with CAN fertilizer at a rate of 200kg per hectare is beneficial. It is important to ensure thorough mixing of all applied fertilizers with the soil.
To prevent excessive nitrogen, which can result in excessive vegetative growth at the expense of pod growth, hand weeding is recommended. Care must be taken during weeding to avoid injuring the shallow roots of the snow pea plants. As an alternative, Goldchance Range can be used for subsequent fertilizer spraying after the initial use of DAP.
Harvesting and Best Practices
Harvesting snow peas is determined based on the horticultural harvesting index rather than maturity index. Pods should be harvested when they begin to fatten but before the peas inside become too large. For optimal flavor, it is advisable to cook or freeze the peas within a few hours of picking.
Marketing and Challenges
Snow pea farming is a relatively new venture in Kenya, and despite its underappreciated success stories in the media, its high returns and growing market make it an appealing investment opportunity.
To start a snow pea farm, approximately 10 kilograms of seeds are required per acre, costing around Kshs 600 per kilo, resulting in a minimum seed investment of Kshs 6,000. In addition to certified seeds, an additional cost of Kshs 4,200 is needed for fertilizers (DAP and CAN), Kshs 15,000 for agrochemicals, and Kshs 5,000 for sticks/stoppers.
An acre of land can yield 400 kilograms of fresh snow peas per week, with harvesting taking place once per week for 13 weeks or longer. With the current market price of Kshs 150 per kilo, assuming a farm produces 400 kilograms per week, over 13 weeks this would amount to 5,200 kilograms, equivalent to Kshs 780,000.
The initial investment can be recovered within just 12 weeks (or 3 months) of starting the farm.
Selling and Exporting
Snow peas are not widely consumed in Kenya, so targeting the export market is recommended. However, there is no need to worry about exporting the produce independently. Local vegetable exporters such as Homegrown Kenya Ltd, Idu Farm, Wamu Enterprises, Everest Enterprises, and Kenya Horticultural Exporters Ltd (K.H.E) can be approached to facilitate the export process.
Success in snow pea farming in Kenya does not require being a “big fish.” It involves finding suitable land, investing in high-quality seeds, and using approved agrochemicals. With an investment of approximately Kshs 100,000 or less, one can embark on snow pea farming and become a notable horticulture exporter within 24 months, creating job opportunities. It is important to avoid investing in pyramid schemes and consider the potential of snow pea farming instead.