Indigenous crop production: How to grow African eggplant seedlings

It is common knowledge that farming is an unforgiving business and that it is common sense to test seed before you plant a crop. The earlier you find problems, the more easily you can solve them.

GERMINATION TEST

  • Randomly select 100 seeds from the top, the middle and bottom of the bag, and soak them in water for 24 hours.
  • Put the seeds on a piece of damp cloth – cotton or muslin works well – and tie the cloth into a bag that can be hung from a beam or other suitable structure.
  • Keep the cloth damp.
  • You may also put the seed between two layers of absorbent paper – cheap paper towels work well – wet the paper and then roll up the paper and seed sandwiches’.
  • As with the cloth, keep the paper damp.
  • African eggplant seed likes a warm environment for germination and moisture checks are compulsory. Never let the cloth, or the paper, get too dry or too wet.
  • At between 10 and 14 days you can check for germination, which means you should be able to see root and shoot coming from the seed.
  • Quality seed will have germination of 85% and more. A little less than this is acceptable, but you will have to up the planting rate, while 50% and below is throw-away.
The seedlings are best raised in a nursery before being transplanted into the field which must be diligently weeded until canopy closure. Plants can reach a height of 2m (6.6ft) Photo: Plant village

SEEDLING NURSERY

  • Choose a nursery site that faces away from the sun and steer clear of waterlogged places or anywhere the drainage is bad.
  • The nursery needs shade about 1m (3.5ft) above the seedlings.
  • If you don’t have shade cloth, put up some poles and rig a network of light branches on top of which you can use straw or even dried branches.
  • You want the seedlings to get light without getting burnt.
  • The nursery beds should be raised about 20 cm (6 inches) and distance between rows can be the same.
  • Mix the soil and properly decomposed manure for the beds and plant the seed 15 cm (6 inches) apart into small hollows 2 cm (3/4 of an inch) deep.
  • Put a thin layer of soil on top before you cover the bed with mulch and water it.
  • Regular watering is vital during germination and is best done in the early morning or evening to cut water loss due to evaporation.
  • When the seedlings emerge through the mulch, take it off the young plants and put it between the rows. Keep watching for pests and any sign of disease.
  • Around 4 to 6 weeks, when the plants have 4 to 7 true leaves and are about 15cm (6 inches) high, they are ready to transplant.
  • Give then a little less water before you transplant to harden them off.
  • Water well before you lift to transplant and again straight afterwards.
  • Setting the inter-plant and the inter-row spacing at 1 m (3 ft 2 inches) makes things simple. A meter is fairly easy to pace out. If you’re 1.8 m (6 ft) tall your slightly lengthened step should be 1 m; at 1.6 m (5 ft 4 inches) you must stretch out your stride. Once your legs are ‘calibrated’ for the distance, you should be pretty accurate.
  • Some advisors recommend spacing of 75 cm X 75 cm, others advise distances of 50 cm X 75 cm. I’d stick with the 1 m.
  • Canopy closure takes about 6 to 8 weeks from the time of transplanting.
  • Until the leaf canopy closes, you must weed diligently to eliminate the competition from weeds in your crop.

Also read: Indigenous crop production: The versatile African eggplant

References:
EU-sponsored IndigenoVeg project. Crop information compiled from research https://www.nap.edu/read/11763/chapter/2done by AVRDC-RCA (Tanzania), ARC (South Africa) and NARO (Uganda).
https://www.nap.edu/read/11763/chapter/2 – Lost Crops of Africa
http://www.runetwork.org/html/en/articles/6139.html
www.fao.org/traditional-crops/africangardenegg
http://203.64.245.61/fulltext_pdf/ebook1/10-51%20african%20eggplant.pdf
http://africasoilhealth.cabi.org

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