I will give you a very brief description of the lessons we learnt on planting weeding and pest control because. Take them very seriously. This phase of crop cultivation is what really determines whether you will reap bountifully or not.
- By all means, select your seeds well. Seek help from available agricultural institutions/practitioners if you aren’t sure. If you cannot get certified seeds, get the ones that you can but take you time to sort them well, selecting the healthy, undamaged ones for planting. Good quality seed means high quality produce.
- If possible, pre-spray a broad spectrum herbicide two days before planting. This will go a long way into saving you the trouble of dealing with the weed menace when your crops germinate. Even if weeds grow later, you will have more time concentrating on improving yield rather than controlling weeds. Remember that more weeds means more pests, so if you are going to wait to deal with weeds later, you sure will have to deal with very destructive pests harbored in there at the same time. If you destroy weeds and leave pests, they will have only crops to feed on.
- Do a good research on modes of planting. I will tell you for sure that so far, in Narok, there is no planter for beans. They lie to you that they have but truth is that they are using the maize planter. The gauge (spacing and number of seeds) will not be right. Available planters are for wheat and maize. Last year (2014) I cultivated 10acres of beans and used people (manual laborers). I did not regret.
- When planning to spray, whether herbicide, fertilizer or pesticide, consult agricultural experts if you aren’t sure what chemical to use. It is also wise to decide early whether you want to use a tractor or knapsack sprayer. Whatever you choose to use, consult the operator on the amount of water they normally use on an acre of land or per drum used. It will help you make closer approximations on the amount of chemical(s) to buy for your job.
- Do not do things in a hurry. Plan well your timing and finances. It will cost you much if you delay in carrying out any particular measure, be it weeding or any other. Close monitoring of crop is critical and so is quick decision making. Delays will cost you.
- If you come across a situation, be it weeds, pests or disease invasion that you do not comprehend well, a photograph can help when you are seeking help from an expert. Make use of your smart phone.
We kept in contact with our landlord, checking on the beans’ progress for two weeks before we traveled back to Narok. The rains had disappeared ever since we put seeds in the ground, and we were getting worried. Last year had been bad news, the rains had started well but after a week and a half they disappeared for good. Farmers in Narok did not harvest anything, literally. The cultivated wheat became livestock food. The beans withered and fed soils with their humus.
So there we were, worried that we were going to face same catastrophic fate. Our beans had germinated, but not very well. There were gaps, areas that had not germinated at all. We went digging randomly along the planting strips and our only relief was seeing the bean seeds still lying in the soil desolate but hopeful. We prayed for rains. It was the best we could do.
Then there was this other disappointment concerning the spacing; the strips were almost a foot and a half apart, maybe even two. You could see a whole lot of space inhabited by very healthy weeds, wasted. Weeds occupied greater space than crop, a sore sight. We reminisced how we had asked those planter guys whether they had used right ratio and spacing, and how they swore that it was the correct bean planter setting.
We left, and it wasn’t until after another week that it rained for the first time. The rains were so heavy that the entire farm was flooded. From that day on it continued pounding like it was paying up for disappointing farmers the previous year, and early this season. There were reports of flooding in Narok town, and the big damages caused by waters trying to find their way into the Enkare-Narok river. The heavy rains and resulting floods lasted for weeks and it was wise to stay away from that town until they subsided. The next time we visited was weeks later, and alas! The farm was all green and pretty. Most of the beans had germinated well, but you couldn’t miss to notice how choked they were by weeds.
Common weeds in Narok
It was only given then that we had to weed the farm to save our crop. After consulting the, and with consideration on costs and time, we chose to use herbicides instead of doing the manual weeding. 32 acres of land with that amount of weeds would take a whole month to dig out, and at Kes. 3,000 per acre would cost a whooping Kes.96,000. However, having chosen to use a herbicide, we were advised to get “Beans Clean”, a broad spectrum herbicide that is selective on beans only. An agricultural officer advised us to use 1.5litres of the chemical in every 200litres of water. Ideally the entire farm was to be sprayed using 2600litres of water. The summary of cost for spraying was as below:-
- 20litres of Bean Clean@1200= 24000 – (11litres@1200)= 10800
- Labour (spraying using the engine pump) at Kes.300 per acre = 9600
- Water supply at Kes.15 per 20litre can= 675 (we used 900litres of water)
You notice that we only use 900litres of water against the predicted 2600litres. That is one ambiguity that puzzles me till today. This is my fourth year in farming but not once have we ever used the predicted amount of water while spraying. That should also tell you that we only used a few bottles of herbicides, nine to be precise. We had to sell the remaining 11 bottles with the help of the agro-vet shop we’d bought them from; and you guessed right, that took quite a number of weeks. Sad truth is that this herbicide did not work very well and as usual there were a myriad of excuses from all corners. The agro-vet guy told us the weeds had grown too strong and we sprayed quite late. The fact however was that spraying against herbicide in so much rain would have been useless. Other people said the guys who sprayed did a shoddy job. When things go wrong there are many local doctors around with all sorts of ‘solutions’.
Images of Mature weeds on some parts of the farm even after spraying
About three weeks later we came back to spray liquid fertilizer and insecticide as we had been reliably informed that worms had invaded the crop. After looking at the farm we decided against using fertilizer. By then the weeds were flourishing, and adding fertilizer would only invigorate their growth. Our beans weren’t doing so bad, but the worms had done quite some damage.
Images; Bean leaves damaged by caterpillars
Pesticide cost 1000 per liter, and we used 5litres in 1200 litres of water. The worms were surely eradicated, thankfully. So far that was the single most successful activity we had undertaken, maybe because this time we did it differently. We split the farm into three portions of about 10 acres each and gave strict instructions for spraying to be done on each strip on three different days unlike the herbicide that was done in about four hours the entire 32 acres.
As I write this, the beans are mature, and have started turning (ripening) for harvest. We can only wait to see how much harvest we shall get. Good thing is that we have a ready market, one thing that most people forget to work on till it is harvesting time. A few lessons were learnt over the period between after planting to date, and those will be my main discussion in the next article “Beans Farming in Narok; Lessons on Weeding and Pests”
I told you how I called a friend of mine asking him to get me a piece of farm land for lease, and how, together with my business partner, we went, saw, liked, agreed and paid. About a week later we went back to plant. I know it sounds easy and painless, but far from it.
Our first mistake was to trust someone to get us ‘the perfect piece of land at the best lease price”. I will only tell you this; window shopping is good, even for a piece of land that you only intend to lease. You might spend a little more time making comparisons but it might save you a lot of money. For our case, as soon as we were done signing agreement and on our way to have a bite, another person approached us. He had a 35 acre piece, good location, tilled (though not with a chisel plough), and in fact not very far from the one we’d just paid for. He wanted Kes.4,000 per acre. Remember we had already paid Kes.4,500 per acre for the 32 acres. A few other people also called us with offers of Kes. 4,000 per acre but had slightly smaller farms. Now let’s do the math:-
- 4,500 by 32 = 144,000
- 4,000 by 35 = 140,000 .. we had lost 16,000 if you do a proper comparison.
So I will tell you to start early search and research if you intend to invest in farming. Research on availability of land and costs well. Location is very important. Get land that the owner stays close so as to have constant updates on progress of your crops. It is a vital security measure.
By all means sign a legal agreement with the leaser. Do not work on “good faith”. Two years ago a friend of mine, and worse a local of Narok leased land only to come during planting season and find someone else planting. This second person was not a local but he had agreement papers. My friend did not. It is also important to talk to people around and seek knowledge. Know your landlord a little, from other people, and ask about the land. There is so much to learn.
Our second visit was about planting, and it didn’t lack blunders. On arrival, we found a planter and harrow waiting. The planter guys wanted Kes.1300 and the harrow wanted Kes. 1500 per acre. My knowledge on costs of planter and harrow were Kes. 1100 and Kes. 1200 respectively. Now here we were, with much lower fuel prices at the time compared to the previous season, and guys wanted a lot more. We tried to bargain but the guys refused. Then I remembered that I used to have a friend who had all these machinery, and after calling him learned that in fact the harrow right in front of me was his. He told me the current price for harrowing was Kes.1250. The guys demanding more were just brokers trying to make a kill from “unknowing Nairobi based farming wannabes”. Well, their plan had failed. We ended up paying Kes.1250 for harrow but since my old friend’s planter was for wheat only, we did not have an alternative. We parted with the Kes. 1300 for planting. Again the lesson here is to know people, many people. Know the owners of the machinery and avoid as much as possible dealing with the brokers operating them. It will save you a fortune.
Remember also to do a good research on the seed type that grows best in the area you are farming. And by all means get the seeds early when prices are still low. You know how this things work; higher demand leads to price inflation. If we had bought seeds a week earlier we’d have saved Kes.600 on every bag. That’d be a cool Kes.6,000 on the 10bags. (So far we’d have saved 6000+16000=22,000)
The delay on the second day of planting was caused by a fault on one of the “arm(for lack of a better word)” of the planter. It needed welding. Our mistake however was that we had paid the planter guys all the money the previous evening, even though they had only done half the work. Well, we only did so because the owner called and requested that we give the driver all the money and promised they’ll be on the farm by 7am to finish up our job. It didn’t happen, as you know. But it is wise to only pay for a job done. At one time I stayed in Narok for 3days planting wheat on just 14acres after paying the guys before hand, only to get an old tractor that kept breaking down every half an hour. That however is a story for another day.
Now we are waiting for crop germination. I will share with you the photos of the crop at different stages when we visited, the joys and disappointments. There is also the interesting story of weeds and pests and what we used to try and control them, all in the next article; “Beans Farming in Narok; Germination, Weeds and Pest Control”.
Five days after we paid for the land and left Narok with instructions to get us a harrow and planter, it rained heavily. Now, very wet soils are not easy to work on when planting, so, that first rain was good enough to propel us into action. We traveled on a Saturday to Narok, and arrived at around 10.30am. It is a two hour journey, if using private means of speed limits up to 100km/h. Public means take longer. 10.30am was a good time since the sun was out and the ground had dried a little, which is advantageous to the harrow and planter. For those who do not know, a harrow is a form of plough that is used to loosen soil just before planting. It breaks up and redistributes the soil surface in preparation of seedbed and field planting operations. A Planter(sometimes called a seeder), on the other hand is a machine used for placing your seeds inside soil (planting).
A Harrow _image courtesy of Land pride
A Roller and Chisel Plough_Image courtesy of Ndume
A Planter _ Image courtesy of Ndume
The prices we were told for harrowing ware 1500/acre and 1300/acre for a bean planter. However, from experience, these prices were exaggerated by brokers who thought they’d found a kill.
We hadn’t bought the seeds yet, so we went looking for seeds at the market and managed to get 7 bags of the variety we wanted (Wairimo), and 3bags of another variety (Nyayo). A bag of seeds was going at 6700 due to the high demand.
In 2014 I had planted beans on a 10 acre farm and had used 5bags which I bought at much lower prices . I was therefore expecting to use 15bags on this one. Since we couldn’t get the 15 immediately, we decided to start with what we had. We transported the 10bags to the farm.
The job started at around 12.30pm, the harrow having been given about an hour’s start-off advantage before the planter came in. The job went on well with no hitches, and by 7pm, we had finished harrowing and done about 15acres of planting. Darkness having set in, we had to call it a day and resume the next day, a Sunday. Only about four bags of seeds had been used on the 15acres. I was concerned about the ratios used, but was assured that it was the correct ratio for beans and I needed not to worry. I even told them how I’d used 5bags the previous year on a 10 acre piece but they said that manual planting was different from mechanized planting. After a long discussion, I decided to let go and hope for the best. That day we incurred unplanned costs on accommodation for the night.
We woke up early the next day with intentions of finishing the job early but the Planter guys let us down. They arrived at the farm at 12pm, and only after we had gone to look for them. Anyway, we were through with the job by 6pm, having used only seven bags on a 32 acre piece. I wasn’t satisfied with their explanation, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. We sold the remaining 3 bags at same price as we bought and left for Nairobi soon after.
So here is a summary of our costs for the second trip to Narok:
- Fuel cost – 3000
- Harrowing (1250 per acre) – 40,000
- Planting (1300 per acre) – 41,600
- Bean seeds (6700 per bag) – 67,000-20,100(we resold 3bags) – 46,900
- Seed Transportation cost – 1000
- Accommodation and food – 2500
- Miscellaneous – 1000
Our total expenditure during second Visit was therefore 136,000/=
By the end of the second visit, we had learnt a lot of lessons about time, money and people; lessons that are very expensive to a young investors like us. The main reason for my story is for me to share those lessons so that fellow youth do not have to experience the same. That will be the subject of my next article; “Lessons from First and Second Visits”. Afterwards I will move on to tell you about the Third Visit.
In march 2015, I asked a friend to get me and a business partner of mine a piece of land for lease in Narok so that we can do some farming, as usual. Farming is something I do every season, hence the statement ‘as usual’. So we got a good piece, 32 acres in size, at a place called Lamasharian (near Empopong Primary School), about 6km from Narok town. We got good host(land lord), honest and straight forward. Of course this you only get to know after dealing with someone for sometime, as it is naive to have complete trust in someone you are meeting for the first time, especially hen it is on matters involving hundreds of thousands.
So we met, visited the location of land, agreed on a lease price and went to an advocates office with our witnesses to draw an agreement. Below is a breakdown of the costs (in Kenya shillings) we incurred on the first day:-
- Fuel cost (to and fro Nairobi-Narok) – 2,000
- Land leasing cost – (4500/acre) 144,000
- Ploughing cost – (2,000/acre) 64,000
- Advocates fee 1,000
- Miscellaneous 1,000
Our total expenditure on the first day was therefore 212,000/=
Section of the ploughed land 1
Section of ploughed land 2
Section of ploughed land3
The land was ploughed with a chisel tiller, known to break down the soil to a lot finer particles than the normal one. The finer chiseled soils retain water for longer and is a good strategy for areas with low rainfall like Narok. We found land already ploughed so just refunded the landlord the monies for tilling. After the deal was closed, we blessed it the Maa way, with mbuzi choma, and left for Nairobi after giving instructions to find for us a good Harrower and Planter in readiness for the planting day, soon as the first rains fall.
Our second Visit was a planting Visit. I’ll tell you about it in my next article; Beans Farming in Narok 2015; Second Visit.