Editors note: People around the world grow the same crop in different ways. I asked Peter to share about how he grows peppers in his hobby greenhouse in Kenya. I hope you find what he writes as fascinating as I do!
I am from Kenya’s central province near Mt Kenya’s cold regions with temperatures ranging from 10º to 28º (50ºF to 82ºF) in cold and hot weather conditions, respectively. I have indulged in farming activities ever since I was 10. Recently, I started small scale farming greenhouse tomatoes, rabbits, chickens, guinea pigs, mushrooms (oyster), fruit, and sweet pepper. I consider farming to be one of my hobbies. I wish to share with you some of what I’ve learned in indoor sweet pepper farming.
Sweet pepper/bell pepper (also called capsicum) is commonly referred to as “pilipili-hoho” in Kenya. Scientifically, they are Capsicum annuum. This fruit is 10cm (4 inches) to 12.5cm (5 inches) and grows on a hardy bushy plant which is 60 cm (24 inches) to 90 cm (36 inches) tall, 45cm (18 inches) to 60cm (24 inches) wide.
Capsicum fruit can be yellow, orange, red or green in color. Although they may be colored distinctly, they all ripen from a green colour meaning the non-green fruits stay longer on the plant for them to acquire their particular hue. While they may be culturally similar, they are nutritionally different.
Green peppers feature an abundance of chlorophyll. Yellow peppers have more of the lutein and zeaxanthin carotenoids. Orange peppers have more alpha-, beta-, and gamma-carotene. Red peppers have more lycopene and astaxanthin, two other important carotenoids.
Due to the differences in the ripening duration (which also translates into higher nutritional value), the colored capsicums are more expensive than green ones.
The Actual Work
I do small scale farming of capsicum in a polythene (plastic film) green house. I grow the Admiral F1 hybrid from Syngenta. Admiral F1 first produces green fruit, which ripen to yellow and orange when grown in the greenhouse (unlike in open fields, where it typically yields only green fruit). In the greenhouse, these peppers are better in productivity, quality and in pest and disease control. Moreover, green house farming is much more advisable to employ in cold regions as capsicum does well in temperature ranges of 15ºC-25ºC (59ºF-77ºF).
I first germinate capsicum seeds in a nursery bed. You can make sunken or raised nurseries though I prefer sunken nurseries because they retain water more than raised nurseries.
The nursery bed has to be amply applied with manure, where I fetch aged rabbit droppings. When totally dry, I mix them well with the top soil. It is usually good to mix with cow and goat manure. Adding manure to the nursery ensures a strong and healthy seedling hence a healthy capsicum when transplanted.
After sowing the seeds, it will take about 2-3 weeks for them to germinate. In a capsicum nursery, the distance between the rows is about 1.5 inches. This will help leave enough space for watering and spraying. Capsicums will be ready for transplanting within 6 weeks.
I transplant them when they attain at least 4 true leaves. A few days before transplanting, I harden the capsicum seedlings by reducing frequency of watering gradually. On the day of transplanting, I wet the nursery enough to wet the soil and allow easy uprooting of the capsicum seedling from the nursery without damaging the roots.
Usually I transplant on to an irrigated ground in fertile loamy soil with a spacing of 75cm (30 inches) by 45cm (18 inches). In general sweet pepper seeds take three weeks to germinate, 45 days in the nursery and 90 days to mature.
I apply diluted rabbit urine organic fertilizer from time to time to the leaves which serves as foliar feed. This fertilizer is easily made. Rabbit’s urine is put into a 25 liter jerry can mixed with 500 ml drops of sugar fluid, 240 ml of EM4 (bacterial decomposition), and one liter of water of thick rice washing.
This mixture, when well fermented for about three weeks, is not smelly. It actually smells like wine and is black in color. For fertilizer application to crops, the ratio is 1:10, i.e. 1 liter fertilizer mixed with 10 liters of water. The fertilizer is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and calcium.
These components boost the plant growth through improved soil structure, nutrients and organic matter as well as maintaining a good number of microbes in the soil. It also reduces pest and plant diseases. But more importantly than that, it is environmentally friendly fertilizer and in line with the spirit of the present world that is going green. I also apply anti-fungal solution as capsicum is prone to frost attacks which eventually may result to late/early bright.
I well apply pest control chemicals which kill thrips which may attach flowers, spider mites which feed on the leaf matter and white flies. Enrichment is employed after a fort night.
Small vs. Large Scale Production
Large scale and small scale production of capsicum depends on the size of the greenhouse or land cultivated in case of open field farming. The main difference between small scale and large scale in growing capsicum is the production capacities where in large scale production cost is obviously high as there is more investment in terms of capital, labor force, fertilizer and chemicals with one acre in Kenya totaling to Ksh 150,000 ($1725.00).
Also large scale production enjoys a wider and reliable local and export market as compared to small scale. Naturally, this translates to better profit margins for large scale. In Kenya we expect 50-60 tons per acre in a 4-6 months production period on a large scale. Since each acre plot can hold up to about 1000 plants with each plant giving 10 fruits at Ksh. 10 (~11 cents) translating to Ksh 1000000 ($11500) in three months!
Capsicum in my area grows best in loamy and heavy cracking clay soils of pH 6.0-6.5 at altitudes of 2000M (666.67 ft). The vegetable should be grown away from solanaceous (the nightshade family which includes tomatoes, eggplant and tobacco) as they share many diseases.
It does well in cold conditions of 15ºC-25ºC (59ºF-77ºF).
In hot weather conditions the green house becomes too hot and has to be cooled. I cool it by semi-flooding the green house to increase moisture content around the leaves. I can also place some light tree twigs on the green house roof to block direct sunlight.
Weak and bushy plants are propped up using sisal strings. The string has to rise while twisted around the stem of the plant. Pruning is usually done by plucking out the growing tip when the plant is 30cm (12 inches) high to encourage fruit setting, lateral growth and ripening.
Fertility is assured by ample application and mixing of aged animal manure. Fertile soils promise bumper harvests! In my case I apply rabbit and chicken manure. Mulching is also ideal to prevent fruit water splash and moisture loss. Pipes, jerry cans, hoes and sprayers are the basic tools that are frequently used. Plants can be grown in suiting pots or vases where land is a minimal resource.
I wish you well as you plan to farm the lucrative sweet pepper.