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DJ turns tables on virus pain with onion farming

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The Covid-19 pandemic has handed many people lemons and the optimists are making lemonades out of them.

Alex Gatheru, who goes by the name DJ Leqs in the entertainment circles in Nairobi, is one of the optimists.

With entertainment spots closed to curb the spread of the virus, Gatheru turned to his second passion – farming – to earn a living.

The DJ, who is signed by Kaka Empire, was growing various crops as a telephone farmer in Gatarakwa, Kieni constituency, before the pandemic, but has since fully transited into farming.

His farm, one acre inherited from his parents and three leased, hosts maize, napier grass and the latest addition comprises three varieties of onions namely garlic, bulb and spring.

“I have always had a passion for farming, but my deejaying job kept me in Nairobi, so I farmed through the telephone but would visit the farm once in a while,” he recounts.

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He started onion farming last year, but little did he know that it would turn out to be his lifeline months later.

“The three onion varieties sit on at least three acres but bulb onions occupy the largest space. I grow the Russet F1 variety,” he says.

He says the beauty of onion growing is that they take three to four months to mature.

“And with bulb onions, you can harvest, cure and store them for up to six months if prices in the market are not good,” says Gatheru, noting that curing of onion is very important.

For a good harvest, the DJ says he goes for hybrid seeds.

“I then prepare a nursery bed, add manure and plant the seeds. Onion seeds are very tiny, therefore, they should be planted shallowly. I later transfer the seedlings after a month to an already tilled farm for planting,” he said.

In the field, he spaces the plants 15cm apart, which is alo the case for the spring and garlic onions.

For garlic, he first separates the bulb into cloves and then chooses the large cloves, which he plants.

He does soil testing before planting in order to know how to apply fertiliser and practices crop rotation to curb diseases and for better yields. DJ Leqs says he also  visits other farmers for lessons.

He produces 20-25 tonnes of bulb onions that are currently going for at least Sh100 per kilo, garlic from Sh200 to Sh400 a kilo and spring onion for up to Sh80 a kilo.

“I harvest about five tonnes of garlic and seven to eight tonnes of spring onion. One garlic bulb is made up of smaller pieces known as cloves that are used for growing the crop,” he crops.

According to Gatheru, too much rain or damp soil is not good for onions. He, therefore, uses drip irrigation system, which also saves him water.

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For bulb onions, during harvesting, he normally uproots the plants and leaves them to dry for two weeks, after which the leaves and stem are chopped off with a sharp knife.

His sojourn in onion farming could not have come at a better time, he says, noting that the market is currently favourable following restricted imports due to measures to control Covid-19.

“Prices are very good currently because a kilo is going for between Sh100 and Sh120 at the farm gate and traders are selling at Sh150 to Sh180,” says Gatheru, 29, who uses social media to market his produce and has six workers.

In addition, he personally ferries the produce for sale in Nyeri and is also contracted as a supplier by some hotels in the county.

So, asked to choose between deejaying and farming, which one would he go for?

“Honestly, I cannot because I love both and I have seen the advantage of not putting eggs in one basket. I have a plan for both since I do deejaying on weekends and at night and visit the farm during weekdays,” he says, adding that he farms the three onion varieties to diversify his earnings.

John Wambugu, an agronomist at Wambugu Agricultural Training Centre in Nyeri, notes that farmers should consider the crop calendar before planting onions, adding the market should dictate when one should plant.

“One should ensure they have a market for their produce as well as proper infrastructure to transport their produce to buyers. Besides onions, leafy vegetables such as collard greens, spinach and spices such as corriander, capsicum and lettuce are fast-maturing and do well in the market, enabling one to get income faster if they do well,” he says.

He adds that the pandemic has proved that farmers are key essential service providers.

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Tips on farming good onions

  1. Onions grow well in well-drained, fertile, sandy loam, non-compacted soils.
  2. The ideal pH is 5.8 to 6.8. Onion farming is a good venture since it’s possible to grow them throughout the year with irrigation.
  3. An acre requires 1-1.5kg of seeds, depending on variety and spacing.
  4. The spacing normally affects the size of the bulb onions.
  5. Just like other vegetables planted on nursery bed, site selection is key to proper planning for production.

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