The Master Farmer John Basera and Silas Mutota
Due to changes in eating habits as well as a generally health conscious populace, opportunities for vegetable production become apparent in Zimbabwe. Farmers can tap into these opportunities and upscale their top line and bottom line questions on their farming enterprises. Cabbage is one of those healthy vegetables! Nutritionally, cabbage is an important source of Calcium with moderate amounts of Potassium and Sodium. Cabbages are a good source of vitamin A and C and therefore protect the body against cancer attacks. It is also a very good source of roughage which prevents hypertension and constipation.
Importance to the farmer
The basic farm business principle is that farmers should have at least 2 major crop harvests per year (eg maize in summer and wheat in winter) supported by other complimentary crop harvest/sales after every two months. Cabbage is obviously one of the great and viable options in such cropping diversity mix. It is one of the most popular vegetables grown in Zimbabwe by small, medium and large scale farmers for food and income generation. Cabbage is one of the most ideal type of vegetable for a farmer who wants to make money over a short period of time with generally low production costs.
To the farmer, it is one of the crop ventures with a very lucrative return on investment with a return of $1-$2 per dollar invested, after a period of about 100 days (from seed to head). The average cost structure on a per hectare basis for cabbage at high management levels ranges from $7000-$9000 at full absorption (ie incorporating all variable costs), and a farmer will be expecting a return of up to $22000 and sometimes more depending on market dynamics.
Importance to the nation Nutrition
The general populace is becoming health conscious with notable changes in eating habits and cabbage is an affordable, healthy vegetable option to ensure a health population. Vegetables generally completes the food and nutrition security basket.
Employment-upstream and downstream
Producing cabbage locally create employment directly at farm level, nurseries and indirectly to other value chains. So, the crop generally create employment for the upstream and downstream value chains. Upstream includes industries such as canning, food processors, fruit and vegetable outlets while downstream include the seed, fertilizer and agro-chemical industries among others.
Value addition opportunities
Besides eating as raw, there are a number of value addition-end products from cabbage namely ;mufushwa (dried cabbage)and is also an integral additive in some soups.
Export opportunities and forex earnings
A significant proportion of cabbages produced in Zimbabwe is being exported to other countries in the region such as Mozambique and Botswana and opportunities to supply other countries in and outside the region is always there, even so for cabbage value addition products. This will earn the country the much needed foreign currency.
Good Agronomic Practices (GAPs) Site selection and conditioning
Soils which are medium to heavy with good water holding capacity are most ideal. Sandy soils tend to require more frequent irrigation cycles and require higher levels of fertilization but still are ideal. pH levels should be between 5.5 and 6.5, hence soil samples need to be taken for analysis prior to transplanting. Soil conditioning (e.g. liming) is encouraged if analysis results prescribe so. Lime generally sweetens acidic soils and improves the physical soil structure and should be applied and incorporated well before transplanting. Generally well drained and prepared soils (friable) are ideal for good crop establishment and cabbage production in general.
Cabbages respond very well to compost enriched soils. NB: However the use of disease infested brassic as residues to make compost for cabbages is discouraged as this will cause big disease problems to the crop especially black rot, which normally overwinters on brassic as residues. Levels of 20 to 30 tons per hectare of well-prepared compost will benefit and reduce levels of fertilizer among other benefits such as improving the soil physical structure. Manure and chicken litter can also be used but must be well decomposed or composted, otherwise root burn may occur and affect crop growth and yield. For manure, 10 to 20 tons per hectare is generally recommended and 2 to 5 tons per hectare for chicken litter. It is recommended that you dip seedlings in a solution of Actara to give the crop a 6 week protection against aphids and whitefly. Also apply a foliar spray of Bion to the seedlings to activate the plants’ own defense or immune mechanism against bacterial and viral attacks.
Choosing a variety contributes significantly to the ultimate success story of the farmer and we always encourage the farmer to grow F1 hybrids. In fact choosing a hybrid variety is the first step towards satisfying your market. Varietal choice must always be driven by the market requirements. Cabbage varieties vary in size from 2.2kg up to 9kg per head.
Important questions (considerations) to ask when selecting a cabbage variety: How many days to maturity?
What is the level of resistance to diseases especially black rot? What is the maximum head size and weight? Can the variety be grown in summer and winter? What is the level of field holding capacity?
Seed Co, through its intensive, rigorous screening and testing, has over time released several high quality and high yielding hybrid cabbages seed on the market. Notable common prolific performers include the following sought after F1 hybrids:
Cabbage Fabola F1 (65 Days to maturity)
This hybrid variety is very early maturing, with a medium-large round head of up to 5kg for the fresh market. It has a good head cover against sun burns. This hybrid performs very well even in hot conditions.
Cabbage delight F1 (80 Days to maturity)
Firm and flat, large headed variety weighing 5-6kg are produced and more importantly it is a suitable option for all year round production. Firm flat heads weighing 5-6kg are normally produced. This hybrid variety has a good field holding of up to 20days which gives a farmer the good grace of harvesting window. This variety has shown good resistance to Black Rot.
Cabbage Corton F1 (90 Days to maturity)
This is a typical hybrid cabbage for the tropics. Large, strong blue-green leaves makes this hybrid good for transporting. Flat-round head of up to 5kg is normally produced. This hybrid has a very good field holding, giving the farmer a good harvesting window. The variety has good resistance to Black Rot and Fusarium Yellows.
A farmer must be a Crop Doctor, who takes time to investigate his/her fields in order to prevent problems and improve productivity. He/She walks his/her fields regularly, observing, inspecting, evaluating and interpreting the possible effect of the observations on crop growth. He/She diagnoses problems, seeks and proffers solutions.
Quote of the week by John Basera
“Once you have missed the first buttonhole, you’ll never manage to button up. Once you fail on the fundamentals of crop establishment; right seed variety, optimum soil condition (pH), basal fertiliser dressing, optimum crop stand and a good crop head start, then nothing else will come right for the crop and this can result in a heavy yield penalty and affect the enterprise bottom line”.
About the authors:
John Basera is Seed Co Agronomy and Extension Services Manager. He can be contacted on +263 772 413 184/ [email protected]
Silas Mutota is Seed Co Regional Sales Manager. He can be contacted on +263 773 473 948/[email protected],com