Desmodium, a legume crop, has become increasingly popular in Kenya as a fodder crop for dairy cows. It is a highly nutritious crop that can improve milk production and reduce feed costs for farmers. Desmodium is also known for its ability to fix nitrogen in the soil, which can improve soil fertility and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers.
Growing desmodium in Kenya requires specific practices to ensure a successful harvest. One of the most important factors is planting at the onset of rains, which is typically in March or April. Farmers can choose to plant desmodium from seeds or cuttings, with each method having its own advantages and disadvantages.
Establishing desmodium from seeds requires a fine, firm, and weed-free seedbed. The seeds should be sown immediately after adding an inoculant, either by drilling or broadcasting. On the other hand, cuttings can be established cheaply from mature vines, but they are bulky and require careful watering and regular care. In this article, we will discuss the best practices for growing desmodium in Kenya, including planting, care, and harvesting.
Climate and Soil Requirements
Desmodium is a highly adaptable crop that can thrive in a wide range of climatic conditions. However, for optimal growth and yield, it is important to consider the following:
- Desmodium grows well in warm, wet regions with altitudes ranging from 800m to 2500m.
- The crop requires a minimum of 875mm of rainfall per year.
- Desmodium is highly tolerant to moderate drought and can withstand extreme temperatures.
- Desmodium is shade tolerant and can be grown in intercropping systems with other crops such as coffee, maize, and bananas.
Soil requirements for desmodium are also flexible, but the following are recommended for optimal growth:
- Desmodium can grow on a wide range of soils, from sandy loams to medium clays. However, it performs best in well-drained soils with a pH range of 5.5-7.5.
- Soils should be rich in organic matter, and it is recommended to incorporate manure or compost before planting.
- Desmodium is a leguminous crop and can fix nitrogen in the soil, making it an excellent cover crop for improving soil fertility.
- It is important to avoid waterlogging as this can lead to root rot and reduce yields.
In summary, desmodium is a highly adaptable crop that can thrive in a wide range of climatic and soil conditions. However, to achieve optimal growth and yield, it is important to consider the above factors when selecting a site for planting.
Seed Selection and Planting
Desmodium is a legume that can be grown from seed or from vines. When selecting seeds, it is important to choose seeds that are certified and of good quality. Farmers can buy seeds from reputable seed companies or from other farmers who have grown desmodium successfully.
During planting, it is recommended to mix the desmodium seeds with fertilizer or manure to improve the soil fertility. A mixture of 3-5 kg/ha (2 kg/acre) of seeds and 2 bags of TSP or 4 bags of SSP fertilizer is recommended. Farmers can also use 5-10 t/ha of well-decomposed farmyard manure.
Desmodium can be planted using either the direct seeding or transplanting method. When using the direct seeding method, the seeds are drilled into shallow furrows 2.5 cm deep spaced at 30 cm or 50 cm. The seeds should be covered with a little soil and pressed down firmly to ensure good seed-soil contact. When using the transplanting method, seedlings are raised in a nursery and transplanted into the field when they are 4-6 weeks old.
Desmodium is a hardy plant that can tolerate a variety of soil types and conditions. It can grow in full sun or partial shade and prefers soil that is moist to dry, with good drainage. Once established, desmodium can tolerate drought well and requires minimal maintenance.
Fertilization and Weed Control
Desmodium requires proper fertilization and weed control to ensure optimal growth and yield. Here are some tips to help you with fertilization and weed control:
Before sowing desmodium seeds, apply phosphate fertilizers such as TSP or DAP and mix them thoroughly with the soil. Farmyard manure may also be used as an alternative to phosphate fertilizers. A nitrogen fertilizer like CAN is top-dressed two weeks after germination only on poor soils since excessive nitrogen results in weak plants.
It is important to note that over-fertilization can lead to excessive vegetative growth and reduced seed production. Therefore, it is crucial to follow recommended fertilization practices to avoid such problems.
Weed control is important in desmodium farming since weeds compete with the crop for nutrients, water, and sunlight. The following are some weed control practices:
- Hand weeding: This involves manually removing weeds from the field. It is labor-intensive but effective in controlling weeds.
- Herbicides: Herbicides can be used to control weeds in desmodium farming. However, it is important to follow recommended herbicide application rates to avoid crop damage.
- Mulching: Mulching involves covering the soil with organic matter such as straw or leaves to suppress weed growth.
It is important to note that weed control practices should be implemented early in the crop’s growth to avoid competition for resources.
By following proper fertilization and weed control practices, you can ensure optimal growth and yield in your desmodium farm.
Pest and Disease Management
Desmodium is generally a hardy crop, but it can be susceptible to certain pests and diseases. Here are some common problems and how to manage them:
Aphids: These small insects suck the sap of the plant, causing yellowing and stunting. To control aphids, spray the plants with a solution of water and insecticidal soap or neem oil. You can also introduce natural predators like ladybugs or lacewings.
Leaf miners: These pests tunnel through the leaves, leaving telltale trails. To control leaf miners, remove and destroy infested leaves. You can also use insecticidal soap or neem oil.
Cutworms: These caterpillars cut off the seedlings at the base. To prevent cutworms, wrap the base of the plants with a collar made of cardboard or plastic. You can also sprinkle diatomaceous earth around the plants.
Root rot: This fungal disease causes the roots to rot, leading to wilting and death. To prevent root rot, avoid overwatering and ensure good drainage. You can also apply a fungicide to the soil.
Leaf spot: This bacterial disease causes brown spots on the leaves. To control leaf spot, remove and destroy infected leaves. You can also apply a copper-based fungicide.
Powdery mildew: This fungal disease causes a white powdery coating on the leaves. To control powdery mildew, remove and destroy infected leaves. You can also apply a sulfur-based fungicide.
Harvesting and Utilization
Desmodium is a versatile crop that can be used for both grazing and hay production. The best time to harvest desmodium for hay is when it’s in the early flowering stage. This is when the plant has the highest nutrient content and is the most palatable to livestock.
When harvesting desmodium, it’s important to cut it at the right height. Cutting too low can damage the plant and reduce future yields. A good rule of thumb is to cut the plant at a height of 10-15 cm above the ground.
After cutting, desmodium should be wilted in the sun for a few hours to reduce moisture content. This will prevent mold growth during storage. Once wilted, the desmodium can be baled or stacked for storage.
Desmodium can be fed to livestock in several ways. It can be grazed directly in the field, fed as fresh cut forage, or used as hay. When feeding desmodium as hay, it’s important to ensure that it’s properly cured and stored to prevent spoilage.
Desmodium can also be used as a cover crop to improve soil health and fertility. Its deep roots help to break up compacted soil and improve soil structure. Additionally, desmodium fixes nitrogen in the soil, reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers.
Also Read: How To Grow Lucerne In Kenya
Sources: Mwangi, D. M., and C. Wambugu. “Adoption of forage legumes: the case of Desmodium intortum and Calliandra calothyrsus in central Kenya.” Tropical Grasslands 37.4 (2003): 227-238. Link: https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/document?repid=rep1&type=pdf&doi=e960e122f7d702f753ad0bcd0cde7be124ce4f3f
Ndayisaba, Pierre Celestin, et al. “Intercropping desmodium and maize improves nitrogen and phosphorus availability and performance of maize in Kenya.” Field Crops Research 263 (2021): 108067. Link: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378429021000137