Growing Desmodium And sukuma wiki (kales) in Kenya

 Growing Desmodium And sukuma wiki (kales) in Kenya


Desmodium is a legume that is commonly used as a protein supplement in dairy cattle, with many farmers growing it to cut production costs.

The crop has numerous varieties but the most common are greenleaf and silverleaf. The legume can be intercropped with napier grass and maize to help control stemborer and weeds such as striga under the ‘push and pull’ technology.

Moreover, it helps control soil erosion, fix nitrogen in the soil improving fertility and increase yields of intercrops while reducing use of nitrogen fertilisers.

Greenleaf can be grown with companion grasses such as napier, Kikuyu and Boma Rhodes. However, the legume can become invasive, therefore, it is better grown and managed as a pure stand.

Morphologically, the stems of greenleaf are green or sometimes red, with many trifoliate leaves.

The variety is leafier than silverleaf with ovate and reddish-brown to purple coloured leaflets.

The flowers are deep lilac to deep pink in colour while the pods are narrow, containing kidney-shaped seeds that stick strongly to hair or clothing.

Silverleaf, on the other hand, has cylindrical or angular densely hairy stems, with ovate and broad, dark green leaflets but silvery midrib at the upper side and whitish hairs on the lower side.

Its flowers are pink to bluish as they mature, while the seeds are triangle or oval shaped and olive-green in colour.

Greenleaf grows well in cool seasons with adequate moisture but is more susceptible to drought but has better tolerance to flooding and waterlogging whereas silverleaf is a warm season legume.

The legumes are adapted to a wide range of soils from sands to clay loams and tolerate slight acidity but not salinity.

Desmodium commonly takes longer to establish than most tropical legumes. In fact, there are cases where farmers have planted seeds, but they fail to grow or attain poor rate of germination.

The seeds, which are very small and relatively expensive, can be acquired from any well-stocked agrovet near you.

They are best sown in a weed-free, well-prepared nursery seedbed with fine-textured soil. A 3m by 3m seedbed requires about 100g of seeds or simply about 2kg of seed per acre.

Apply phosphate fertilisers

The legume establishes best with beneficial rhizobia bacteria, which live in their roots and fix nitrogen from the air and avail it freely to the growing plants.

If the bacteria is not available, mix the seeds with a handful of soil from another desmodium plot.

The best time to plant is at the onset of rains, by sowing the seeds either by drilling or broadcasting immediately after adding the inoculant.

Drill the seeds into shallow furrows spaced a foot apart then cover with little soil and press lightly. For broadcasting, spread the seed evenly over the seedbed. In both cases, water carefully and regularly.

The legume can also be established cheaply from cuttings. Though bulky, cuttings should be freshly cut mature vines 2 feet long with soil still attached to the new root hairs. Make furrows a foot apart and 10cm deep and plant a foot apart.

Apply phosphate fertilisers such as TSP or DAP before sowing and mix thoroughly with soil. Farmyard manure may also be used as an alternative.

Once fully established, desmodium forms a complete ground cover that smothers weeds. Spray against harmful pests such as aphids and diseases like anthracnose.

For yields, a 12-19 t/ha/year has been reported for greenleaf and 7-9 t/ha/year for silverleaf. Harvesting starts at four months, and is done by cutting 10cm or higher above soil.

Spread in the sun for a few hours to wilt before feeding. Three to six kilos of green harvested desmodium should be fed to a cow in the place of 1 to 2kg of commercial concentrate. Excess desmodium can be dried and baled into hay.

Nutritionally, desmodium has high crude protein levels and is rich in minerals and vitamins.

Silverleaf has 25.7 per cent dry matter (DM) as fed, crude protein of 15.1 per cent DM, calcium 8.5 g/kg DM, phosphorus 2.2 g/kg DM and metabolisable energy of 7.4 MJ/kg DM in ruminants.

On the other hand, greenleaf has 24.2 per cent DM as fed, CP 15.5 per cent DM, Calcium 10.2 g/kg DM, phosphorus 3.1 g/kg DM and ME of 8.4 MJ/kg DM in ruminants.


High quality, protein rich forage; can be grown between or under other crops – as it fxes nitrogen it increases yields and reduces the need for nitrogen fertilizer.


Seed is expensive and very small;

Needs rhizobium inoculant;

In very high rainfall areas (more than 1500 mm per year) it suļ¬€ers from pests and diseases;

Does not tolerate drought;

May need irrigation in lower rainfall areas;

Does not tolerate alkaline soils.

sukuma wiki (kales)

Kales are one of Kenya’s most demanded green vegetables especially due to their nutritional value. The Kales business is extremely vibrant both in urban areas and rural areas. Selling Kales is very easy and offers you an opportunity to make a decent living. I will provide tips on how to succeed in the Kales business.

Kale belongs to the brassicas family – a group of leafy vegetables that generally favor cooler climates. Kale is very easy to grow in a variety of climates but it tastes sweetest when it has just been kissed by frost.


Sukuma Siku Hybrid – Curled leaves, soft texture. Has good tolerance to Diamond Back Moth. Leaves have a good cooking flavor. Longer harvesting period (6-9 months).\ Sukuma siku hybrid kales

Marrow stem – Dark green leaves. Prefers coolclimate with moderate to fairly heavy and well-distributed rainfall.

Thousand headed – Smaller leaves than Collard. It is slow growing compared to other varieties. Very branching and frequently produces many heads hence requires frequent pruning. Has long harvesting period.

Collards southern Georgia (sukuma wild) – Drought tolerant variety that withstands high temperatures. It is a shorter variety with large, tender, bluish green leaves that spread widely. Tolerant to Soft and Black Rot. Collard kales

Collard Mfalme Fl – A hybrid with short internodes and many leaves per internode hence more yield per unit area. It is tolerant to a wide range of diseases. Have tender Leaves.



The kale (Sukuma wiki) is a member of the cabbage family with a wide ecological adaptability.

Kale is very high in beta carotene , vitamin K , vitamin C , lutein , zeaxanthin , roughage and reasonably rich in iron and calcium . The leaves are widely utilized mainly alone or in mixture with other vegetables, meat and pulses.

Overall kales have the potential to transform African economies and contribute to poverty reduction.

In Kenya it is grown by 90% of small holder farmers thus providing employment mostly for women and youth who are involved in their production.

They also provide a positive spill over effect upon a range of other industries like transport and trade.

Prefers well-drained, fertile soil high in organic matter, pH 6.0 to 7.5. Can tolerate slightly alkaline soil.

Prefers plentiful, consistent moisture. Can tolerate drought, but quality and flavor of leaves suffer.

As plants mature and lower leaves are harvested, plants begin to look less like a clump and start to resemble small palm trees with a cluster of leaves at the top of a long stem.


Initial cultivation should be deep to allow better and faster root development. Aggressive perennial weeds should be removed before planting.

Early land preparation is recommended to expose pests to sunlight and birds. Land should be dry to avoid soil crumbling and creation of a hard pan.

Incorporating of crop residue can significantly increase the soil organic content.



Kale seeds are sown into nursery structures like open land, wooden, plastic or seeding trays.

 Open field nursery establishment Procedure 

Site nursery where vegetables in the same family as kale have not been grown for 2 years.

The nursery beds should be about 1 meter wide (so as to undertake cultural practices without injuring the plants) and of the required length. In wet areas and sites with heavy soils, raised beds are recommended to prevent water logging.

Manure and phosphate fertilizers like DAP should be applied and worked well into the soil. Manure improves the soil structure and moisture holding while phosphorus helps in root development. A nitrogen fertilizer like CAN is top dressed two weeks after germination only on poor soils since excessive nitrogen results to weak plants.

The drills are made across the beds at a spacing of 10-15cm apart and 2cm deep.

The seeds should be sown thinly and covered lightly with soil. Cover the nursery bed with a thin layer of dry grass (mulch) to avoid unearthing the seeds. This is removed after germination.

In hot areas, a shade (about 1m high) is necessary. However, excessive watering and shade favors the development of powdery mildews.

The seedlings should be thinned out to 2-3cm apart. Crowded seedlings compete for nutrients and space resulting into weak seedlings. Crowding also creates conducive environment for damping off disease.

Water once or twice daily. Irregular watering also promotes dumping off disease. Pests and diseases in the nursery should be controlled to ensure healthy seedlings.

The seedlings are transplanted when four to five true leaves are formed. This takes a period of about four weeks.


The field should be ploughed 2-3 weeks in advance at least 8 inches deeper

Harrow the field 2-3 weeks later after ploughing

Prepare soil to a fine tilth

Raised beds recommended for root development and proper drainage

Bed width of 1 meter and a convenient length not exceeding 100 meters and a height of 15 centimeters

Incorporate well rotten farm yard manure.



Seedlings ready for transplanting after 4-6 weeks in the nursery, depending on temperatures

Best time for planting is late in the evening when sun is cool or on a cloudy day

Wet the seedlings an hour before transplanting.

Plant to the same depth as in the nursery



Varies with varieties: 60cm x 60cm for large-headed varieties, 60cm x 45cm for medium sized and 30cm x 30cm for small heads


Apply DAP or TSP fertilizer during transplanting (1 teaspoonful/hole)

Top dress crop two weeks after transplanting with 1 teaspoonful of CAN per plant

Apply a second topdressing at same rate when leaves begin to fold

Too much CAN results in loose heads or no head formation

NB: Soil analysis recommended


Necessary to improve soil structure and to slowly provide extra nutrients

Done at planting

Use 10 to 30 tonnes per hectare



Keep fields free of weeds to reduce competition for nutrients, light and space

Also to reduce pests and disease infestation


Increases organic matter in the soil

Conserves soil moisture

Prevents soil erosion

Suppresses splashing of rain or irrigation water and spread of diseases

Good during dry periods



Black rot (Leaf spot)

Alternaria leaf spot (Black spot, Gray spot)


Downy mildew

Root-knot nematode

Cabbage looper

Beet armyworm


Flea beetles

Thrips (Western flower thrips, Onion thrips )

Cabbage aphid

Large cabbage white (Cabbageworm)

Diamondback moth


Kale is a hearty vegetable that prefers the cold weather and if cared for correctly can produce a surplus of leaves throughout every season.

The time frame for harvesting kale is a personal decision, loosely based on flavor preferences. For those that require a lighter side to kale’s taste, younger leaves will suffice.

But for those that like the more pungent and bold flavor of kale, the matured leaves of fall are preferable.

Pick what you need throughout the season. Kale can be harvested soon after the plants begin to grow leaves.

Younger leaves can be a tasty addition to some salads, and the more mature leaves become more flavorful as they grow.

Remove the outer leaves of the Kale plant as it matures, for a continuous cycle of growth. The center of the kale plant containing the bud will continue to produce fresh leaves when the outer ones are removed.

By following this rule of thumb, you can expect a vast amount of kale production to suit your needs.

Choose leaves that are bright green and fresh, as opposed to yellowed leaves, when harvesting kale for eating.

The yellowish leaves can produce an undesirable taste, and their limp appearance may be unappetizing.

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