Growing Irish potatoes, mind about seeds
On the rolling hills of Kabale, Charles Byarugaba walks across a section of his potato seed screen house. He has been growing the crop for several years now, with emphasis on getting good seeds for farmers.
“Potatoes bring in good money as long as you have got the right seeds,” he says. He adds that unfortunately, many Ugandan farmers still grow a poor seed which gives out discouraging yields.
“You can harvest as many as 10tons or 150bags from an acre if the seed is good,” he says.
Potatoes are mainly grown in South-western Uganda-in the districts of Kabale and Kapchorwa most especially. In the central region, they are casually grown on the hills around Mubende and Mityana. Comparatively, while the land in Kabale is hilly, it is not rocky, however, the land in Mubende were these potatoes are grown is quite stony, but not entirely rocky.
Some of the areas in Mubende include Kisita hill, near Kisita gold mines and the so called 99 hills that stretch as far as Kabamba. According to researchers, irish potatoes grow better in well-drained soils that are free of flooding.
However, some types can also grow in moderately ‘stony’ conditions like the case is in Mubende. But the main factor is that the soils must be loam and well-drained and there should not be rocks but some stones.
-Choose land with well drained sandy loamy soils.
-Clear the bush and plough the land to soften it. The average cost of preparing an acre is sh350,000-including digging the ridges.
It important for farmers to know the type of soil they have in order to have the right seed for it. For example testing the soil before planting, knowing the seed that growth in that area better are some of the things that farmers should look out for to avoid losses,” he said. Soil testing costs between sh30,000 and sh50,000 per sample. An acre requires at least three to four samples.
-Dig for the second time after 2 weeks and make ridges. Note that adequate tilling and drainage are essential so as to increase the oxygen supply in the soil which is a vital ingredient for Irish Potato growth Irish potatoes grow best on raised beds. This can be done in two ways; during initial land preparation or immediately after planting. Adoption of raised beds leads to improvements in soil moisture, temperature, adequate aeration and drainage.
-Avoid planting in water-logged areas especially since this will lead to the seeds rotting.
Byarugaba checking his potato seed in one of the screen houses
Application of fertilisers
Irish potatoes need adequate fertilizers in the early season, apply most of the fertilizer just before planting. The fertilizer should not touch the seed piece to avoid rotting. To apply the fertilizer, flatten the beds so they are 6 to 8 inches high and 10 to 12 inches wide. Each acre takes 50kgs of NPK at sh130,000 per bag. Alternatively, one can use homemade manure, at a rate of one spade for each potato hole.
Make ridges of 15-30cm (6inches -12inches) high, spaced 2ft (60 cm) apart. Plant sprouted big-size healthy tubers spaced at 30cm in rows, 5-7.5cm deep for big size tubers and small size tubers for smaller size tuber yield. In case of single rows, leave 2ft (60cm) cm to 3 ft (90cm) apart and incase of double rows leave a space of 6ft (180 cm) to the next row.
The biggest challenge with Irish potato farmers is aphids which carry the viral diseases that include: X and Y potato diseases. This disease makes the plants stunted. Then also pests such as the leaf miners which eat up the leaves of the plants, however, we advise them to rotate their crops with other crops to allow soil regain its fertility.
Farmers should thoroughly wash their hands with a disinfectant before getting into the farm and handling the crops. This is to avoid the spread of diseases to other farms that do not have such disease.
Byarugaba checking his Irish potato seed