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Amaranth(Terere): How to cultivate this healthy delicacy

Crop
 You can start harvesting leaves as soon as they are large enough to use, about three to seven weeks after sowing

Amaranth, also known as terere or mchicha, is a popular delicacy across Kenya. Its status as a staple among indigenous vegetables is well-established. Amaranth can be used as a leafy vegetable or as a high-protein grain. The leaves are rich in calcium, iron, vitamins A, B, and C. It is also a quick source of revenue for farmers largely due to its short maturity period and high market demand, according to farmer William Koikai, from Kiambu. He gives some step-by-step guidelines on how to cultivate amaranth. 

Choose the right variety

There are many species of amaranth, but the ones commonly grown in Kenya for their leaves include Amaranthus cruentus and Amaranthus blitum. For grain, Amaranthus caudatus is popular. According to Kimani, select a variety based on what you aim to harvest – the leaves, the grains, or both. Use high-quality, disease-free seeds from certified suppliers. Although amaranth seeds are tiny, they should not be planted too deep; a sowing depth of about 0.5-1cm is sufficient. 

Land preparation and planting

Prepare the land to a fine tilth. Amaranth does not require deep ploughing, but the soil should be loose and free from weeds. Incorporate well-rotted manure or compost to improve soil fertility. It grows best in loamy soils, with a slightly acidic to neutral pH, typically ranging from 5.5 to 7.5. Sow seeds directly into the prepared field at the onset of the rainy season. If planting for leaves, space rows about 30 to 45 cm apart. For grain production, wider spacing may be necessary. Seeds typically germinate within three to seven days under optimal conditions. 

Watering, weeding and fertiliser use

Amaranth is drought-resistant but performs best with adequate moisture, especially during the early stages of growth and flowering. Water the plants regularly, aiming for at least one inch of water per week, either from rainfall or irrigation. Keep the field free from weeds, especially in the early stages of growth. Shallow cultivation or hand weeding is recommended to avoid damaging the roots.  While amaranth is not highly demanding in terms of fertilisers. Applying a balanced NPK fertiliser can enhance growth. Follow agricultural guidelines for specific dosages. 

Pest and disease management

Monitor for common pests such as aphids and diseases like fungal infections. Use integrated pest management practices, such as crop rotation, using resistant varieties, and applying biological pesticides. 

Harvesting

For leaves: You can start harvesting leaves as soon as they are large enough to use, about three to seven weeks after sowing. For grains, harvesting usually occurs three to four months after planting when the seeds have matured and the plants have begun drying out. Cut the plants and hang them upside down to dry before threshing the seeds. For leaf amaranth, wash the leaves thoroughly and market. They can also be blanched and frozen for long-term storage. For grain, ensure the seeds are thoroughly dried to prevent mould. Store in airtight containers in a cool, dry place. 

Market

Most farmers prefer to offload their grain straight to the market for Sh200 per kilo. For the leaves, they go for Sh30 a bunch.

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