How to Grow Maize in Zimbabwe

Monday, October 3, 2016

Emerging Farmer: How to Grow Maize in Zimbabwe

Maize (Zea mays) is the most important crop in Zimbabwe for economic and food reasons. It's the main staple crop and the basis of most meals. While vegetables are important maize is king. Maize by-products are a key ingredient in animal feed such chicken and cattle feed.

However despite its importance maize yields are currently low and declining relative to other regions of the world primarily due to declining soils, low rainfall and poor agronomic practices.

If you are planning on growing maize and maximising your yields you will need to use good seed, plant on time, set up your watering and adopt good agronomic practices. 

Let's get started.


Maize originated in Mexico as a wild tropical grass as
 far back as 7,000 years ago. It has been grown in Zimbabwe since it was introduced by the Portuguese beginning in the 16th Century. It has since displaced more traditional grains such as millet and sorghum in most of the country. 

What you will learn in this post:

  • Selecting Your Seed
  • Site selection and Timing
  • Land Preparation and Planting
  • Weeding and disease prevention
  • Watering your Plants
  • Harvesting and storing your maize
  • Marketing your maize
Site Selection and Ideal Timing

Maize loves warm weather and is very susceptible to frost. 
You need to wait for soil temperatures to warm up before you start planting your maize. 
The optimal temperature for germination of maize seed is 18 degrees C and above. The temperature for growth is between 16 and 24 degrees. In winter maize grows very slowly. 

Select a sunny site away from trees to cultivate your maize. Maize likes a site that gets at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight without heavy winds. Provide wind protection for your maize using a windbreak.  A windbreak can be made from living plants such as a hedge or artificial materials such as netting or a fence.

Crop rotation. If you grow maize after maize after maize (maize monoculture) you will get problems such as depleted soil nutrients and pest and disease build up. Crop rotation is important for avoiding problems that happen when you grow the same crop in the same field year after year. Rotate your maize with legumes (such as cowpeas, groundnuts, soya beans), these crops help with nitrogen-fixing in your soil. Nitrogen is a key nutrient in good maize growing.

Cover crops. Do not leave your soil uncovered. Either leave your previous crop residue or plant a cover crop. Growing cover crops proceeding planting maize helps build organic matter and starve off weeds.

Timing Your Planting

Be prepared logistically (e.g seed, tools) to plant on time and correctly. Maize needs to be planted on time so it can use the entire growing season and maximise yields. Use a basic crop calendar to help stay organised. Write down your planting dates, fertiliser dates and also your estimated harvest date.

Maize planting dates range is usually from October to November 25th. The optimal time to plant is based on optimal soil temperature and access to water. If you are growing with the rain (dryland), plan to plant by early to mid-November just before the rains begin (the rainy season typically runs from October/November to March/April). 

It is important to plant on time for your seeds to germinate quickly and evenly. Research has shown that delayed seeding of maize results in lower crop yields. You can check with your local Agritex office for the best planting date for your area.  

If you are unable to plant on time due to financial reasons or poor planning, consider planting shorter maturity maize varieties to compensate for your shorter growing window.

Plan to harvest between March and June to prevent grain loss to birds.

Preparing the Soil for Growing Maize

The key to a good maize harvest is good soil.  Maize can grow in a variety of soil textures but it needs fertile, warm, well-drained, neutral soil (ideally 6.5 -7 pH). The s
oil pH affects the availability of nutrients for plants. 

Most soils in most parts of the country are acidic. You can improve your soil acidity and structure by applying lime and gypsum. Good soil structure is key to root development and good growth. Once you have improved the soil pH, regular compost applications can help keep it in balance.

Testing your soil: you need to do a soil test in early Spring before planting your maize. 
To get a soil test take soil samples from your field. Prepare good soil samples that are representative of your whole growing area by digging dirt with a trowel to a depth of 6-8". Label and note that you want to grow maize. Send your soil sample to a testing lab such as the Kutsaga Research Station 

Your soil test results can help you assess the soil fertility of your fields and provide you with fertiliser recommendations. You will also get to know how much nitrogen is already in your soil. Nitrogen is essential for maize growing. If it is already high it can help you reduce your fertiliser costs. It can also alert you of some mineral deficiencies in your crops.

If you find your soils acidic you will need to apply lime to amend your soil and bring your soil pH within recommended limits. 

Maize Seed Selection

Your choice of maize seed cultivar has a significant impact on your plants. A
void settling on one brand or favourite seed company without doing your research. As you learn about different seeds through newspaper articles, online or through other farmers make a note of the seed numbers. You can try out several promising hybrid seeds on a small scale. Keep notes on the performance of each of the seeds for future seed selection.

Factors to consider when selecting maize seed: 

1. Breeding/ Seed Quality. Open-Pollinated Variety (OPV) or hybrid maize. Open-pollinated varieties can be saved for future planting. Old seed, however, may have variable germination so you should do a germination test of part of it (100 seeds) before full planting begins. 

Hybrid maize usually has higher yields. Use high-quality certified maize seed from a certified seed supplier. Recommended certified seed suppliers are Seed CoPannar,  Pioneer and Mukushi Seeds

2. Yield Potential. Planting good seed will improve your germination rate and yields. Select seed with high yield potential and adaptability.

3. Days to Maturity. Days to maturity is important for planting seeds that will mature in the length of your growing season. If you plant late then you need to consider short-maturity seeds. If you are in an area with a shorter growing season then you need to look for seeds with a shorter and medium growing season. 

If you are in a dry area (Natural Region III-V) use early-maturing variety. In regions (I and II) that long growing days and higher levels of rainfall (or if you are using irrigation), you can use long-season seed varieties. 
Medium-maturing varieties (100 days) are good for Natural Region III and IV. Late maturing varieties (140 days); good for Natural Regions I and II.

4. Disease resistance. Disease resistance is important particularly if a certain disease has been a problem in your field or area. Hybrid maize (F1) is good for avoiding disease. Select seed that disease-resistant to common diseases.

5. Use. Maize comes in three colours white, yellow and bicolour. The preferred colour for human consumption is white maize. You can also consider growing nutrient-rich maize such as Quality Protein Maize (QPM).

6. Drought tolerance: some seed such as Pioneer hybrid are drought resistant. Useful to consider in areas with very low and variable rainfall.

Seed Ordering 

Order your seed based on your target maize yield. Calculate your needs as precisely as possible. you can start with your historical data and aim for about a 20% increase.  You need about 10 kg per acre of maize seed. This yield calculator can further help with calculating your seed requirement.

Store your seeds in airtight container and place in cool place.  They can also vary based on days to maturity. 

You can pre-soak your seeds in warm water for 10 minutes before planting to treat your seed. 


Field preparation for the field should begin before the start of the rainy season (September to early November). 
The purpose of land preparation is to prepare your beds for planting and good germination. To begin seed bed preparation the existing vegetation must be reduced usually through primary and/or secondary tillage or no-tillage.

Tilling helps control weeds, incorporate previous crop residues and makes it easier to incorporate compost and manure. It is important to get rid of any weeds through tillage or hoeing before planting. Your choice of tillage system is dependent on your farm size, budget, soil, farming technique and access to labour or equipment. 

Tillage Systems 

The optimum choice of which tillage system you should use is based on your capital, the amount and timing of rainfall, you soil types, the condition of your land and crops you grow in a rotation. 

Conventional tillage systems:

Mouldboard plough: conventional planting in most places. It lifts and inverts the topsoil. Primarily used to turn under (plough in) the previous crop and remove vigorously growing cover crops, perennial weeds and rocks. Ploughing in the previous crop and vegetation can help improve soil health.

Mouldboard ploughing is useful for preparing virgin land or heavy, well-structured soil. It helps with breaking up the soil and increasing drainage. After mouldboard ploughing, you typically follow with disc harrowing and bed shaping. 

The pros of mouldboard ploughing are that it can save time due to fast seedbed preparation, reduced labour stress, and good weed and insect control. 

However, they are downsides to using conventional tillage systems such as mouldboard ploughing. It can remove soil nutrients, break down the soil structure making your topsoil prone to erosion. 

Areas with sandy, acidic soils ( growing regions III to V) should avoid heavy ploughing or they will lose valuable topsoil. This can reduce yields in the long term and increase pests and disease. It can also be very expensive due to mileage and fuel costs.

Chisel plough: can lift and loosen the soil and can be adjusted to a deep or shallow depth while not inverting the soil profile. It is best for relatively dry soils. It consists of 10 cm wide twisted teeth on shanks spaced 38 cm apart. Shallow cultivation is the best way to keep weeds in check. It also brings oxygen into the soil.
 Spread amendments (organic matter) over the soil and plough it in. Attach rollers to level the soil for good seed-to-soil contact. One pass with a disk harrow should level the seedbed well. Chisel ploughing is generally better than mouldboard ploughing. 

Rippers: Rippers are necessary when deep cultivation is need and turning are undesirable. Rip lines using mechanical-drawn rippers or animal-drawn with attachments. Ripper with the planter in a single pass. Rip soil when dry to avoid compaction. If there is a cover crop slash it. Tractor ripping is faster than animal ripping. The ripping attachment that fit on a normal plough. Rip fields once in rows 75cm apart. Ripper does not turn the soil over.

You can buy your own tractor and attachments (harrows). It may be more profitable to hire out a company to plough, disc and harrow your fields. An example of a company that provide tillage services such Riptill. Usually, you need to cover diesel and hourly fee. 

Leasing equipment can help you avoid buying expensive equipment that can overburden your operation. Make your equipment buying decisions wisely especially when you are starting out. Joel Salatin in "You Can Farm" advises against buying overly expensive single-use equipment. 

Conservation Tillage

The goal of conservation tillage (minimum or no-till) is to prepare your land while minimising soil erosion. This is done using reduced tillage or no-till systems where crops are planted directly into stubble.

No-till: In no-till, you make planting holes/ basins directly in the stubble using planters or by hand. The maize stubble is used as a valuable mulch for protecting the soil. 

The advantage of the no-till system is that it is more cost-effective for emerging farmers. It helps with on-time planting if you do not have the capital to buy or hire tillage services. It also protects the soil from erosion and maintains the soil's organic matter levels and structure. This is good for root growth. 

The downside of no-till cultivation is weed pressure. You can use mechanical, biological or chemical methods to control weeds prior to planting. Also, you may need to control rodents. You should also monitor your germination rates with no-till.

Minimum tillage: Minimum tillage you can use a mower to shred crop residues and lightly turn the top inches of your soil using a compact tractor or cattle-drawn plough. Then you can use a broad fork to aerate your soil and encourage root development. Mix in large amounts of organic amendments (at least 1" thick), and level soil using a rotary tiller and harrow. Rake to remove any stones.

Minimum tillage can be a good middle ground between full tillage and no-tillage in commercial maize farming.


Planting in no-till: You need to make planting holes in straight rows. Straight rows parallel to each other are important for safe hoeing between rows.

Marking out your rows: to make straight planting rows you need to use string and pegs. First place pegs then stretch the string across the field and mark 75cm row spacing and 60cm intra-row spacing. Some varieties may be planted closer, so be sure to refer to your seed packet or supplier.

Maize needs to be planted carefully and precisely for good germination. Your planting holes should be evenly spaced. Planting maize in 75cm row spacing helps with early canopy cover which overshadows weeds. Good spacing is important for weeding and for airflow which helps reduces pests and disease. It also ensures that you have an evenly distributed plant population across your whole field. 

Sowing seed: Add a handful of manure and a level cap of compound fertiliser to each planting basin/hole. Cover with a layer of soil, about 1 cm of soil. Put maize seed directly over the covered layer of basal fertiliser and organic matter (well-rotted compost/manure). This will prevent contact of seed with fertiliser which can scorch your seed. 

Plant (sow) two or three seeds per hole (basin/station) for good germination. It is better to err on the side of seeding to thickly than too thinly. Planting 2 or 3 seeds instead of one seed help avoid seedling damage from insects or birds. 

Plant your seeds at a depth of 5cm for good seed to soil contact. The right planting depth is important for good germination. Planting too deep especially in sandy soil can cause poor germination and poor seedling development. Uniform planting depth and germination improve your plant's evenness in growth. If plants are uneven the bigger plants overshadow the smaller ones stunting them. Overshadowed plants don't produce cobs.

You can hand seed or use tractor mounted planter. A planter precisely applies basal fertiliser in a band below the seed reducing waste more common with a broadcast application. An example of a hand planter is the Grownet direct planter. Make sure your planter is accurately adjusted to you seed shape and size and is also well maintained. 

Once the beds are seeded cover the seed with 2-3 cm of clod (stone) free soil using the back of a rake so that the soil doesn't dry out. Properly covering your seed is important. 

Once the seeds are planted water them well. Uniform growth is dependent on adequate soil moisture. Keep soil moist until seeds germinate. 

Your maize should germinate after about 6-10 days. The optimum temperature for germination is 20-30 degrees C. The speed of your seed germination will depend on your seed planting depth, your soil type and temperature.

Thinning: between 2-3 weeks after germination thin out (remove) the weakest seedling leaving two seedlings per station. Don't be tempted to leave three in a basin, they will be too crowded and will reduce yields.

Mulching: a
pply mulch around your seedlings. Mulch is a loose covering of material on the surface of the soil. It can be either biodegradable e.g crop residue, compost, shredded bark, straw, wood waste or inorganic mulch such as black plastic.  

Mulch protects your soil from run-off and is important for soil and water retention. Water the soil well before mulching.  Spread the mulch out by hand around small plants. 

Record keeping: keep records on what cultivar and supplier you used, the seeding date, the amount of seeds plants, harvest date, the number of days in field and yield per acre.

Maize pollination: In order to produce kernels, the wind must deposit pollen from the tassels (plant tops) onto each of the silks on the ear. This is when the plants are well established. For kernels to develop pollen must be transferred to the top of the stalk to the silks on each ear. 


Maize is a heavy feeder. Fertiliser is one of the most significant costs in maize production so use it carefully. Proper fertilisation of your maize crops will help you grow bigger, sturdy plants that are less susceptible to disease. It will also improve your crop yields.

Fertilisation should be based on your soil test. 
If you don't do a soil test you can use fertilisation guidelines, research information, or on-farm trials. Fertilisation guidelines are not perfect but are better than blind fertiliser application. 

Fertilise your plants occasionally to grower bigger and more prolific plants. Healthy plants are less susceptible to disease and are much healthier. If pests do infect vigorous plants they can outgrow bug damage.

The first fertiliser that is needed in your maize plants is a basal compound fertiliser (compound D). You need about 50kg per acre of compound D to apply at planting time.  This fertiliser provides necessary nutrients for early plant growth. 

Topdressing: You should then topdress your maize with about 50kg per acre of nitrogen (N) based fertiliser (UREA or ammonium nitrate (AN) when the plants are about 30-37.5 cm tall/ knee tall at about 3-5 weeks after emergence to encourage leaf growth. Your plants should have about 5-6 leaves at this stage.

Place fertiliser 7 -10 cm away from the plant and cover itApply the fertiliser onto moist soil. Use 5g (1 level beer bottle cap) of CAN/ UREA. Be sure not to put fertiliser on the plants, or it will burn them.

You can split the topdressing into two applications. Split fertiliser applications or fertigation (through drip lines) are the most effective for minimising nitrogen loss through leaching.

You can apply the first application at knee length and the second application before tasseling stage (rapid growth stage). Applying two applications, however, can be overwhelming for beginning farmers. So a single application may be more manageable if you are just starting out.

You can buy the right fertiliser from ZFC distributors or an agrodealer close to your farm.

If you have no fertiliser you can use well-composted poultry manure or compost. Good composts can supply both organic matters for soil building and fertiliser for the crop. Using compost or chicken manure helps with reducing fertiliser costs.

Nitrogen (N): is the most important element in maize production and the one that most often limits growth. Nitrogen helps with strong leaf and plant growth and encourages larger maize cobs. If you plants are nitrogen deficient that will usually have pale yellow leaves especially in the lower leaves, and have stunted growth.  Nitrogen should be provided at planting time and also as topdressing. Your plants can also get nitrogen from well-rotted poultry manure and compost. 

Phosphorus (P): maize needs phosphorus at planting time. Phosphorus encourages healthy roots and shoots. If you plants lack phosphorus they will have purple streaks. Phosphorus should be provided at planting time.

Potassium (K):  maize needs potassium for plant flowers. Potassium affects how your plants use water. It makes plants more vigorous and resistant to diseases, parasites, and adverse weather. Lack of potassium results in poor root growth and stalk breakages, as well as yellowing and drying along tips and edges of lower leaves. If potassium is deficient it must be applied at planting time.

Liming: lime recommendations are based on a program of maintaining the soil in a productive condition. A general guideline for liming is about 5 bags (50kg bags) of dolomitic lime per acre. Maize is very responsive to lime for improving soil pH.


Water is essential to all plants and especially to a thirsty crop like maize. Maize is not ideal for areas with very low rainfall because of its high water needs. Any water stress can result in reduced productivity.

Provide your plants with uniform watering every week from rain or watering.  Your plant growth stages determine water needs. The critical stages that require water are the silking, tasseling and ear-development stages. Germination also needs adequate water. Water shortages during these stages can reduce your yield potential and cause poor kernel formation. Once the kernels are formed your plants become more stress resistant.

You need to provide to water your plants deeply at least 2 to 3 times a week. The general rule is that your soil needs about 1 inch of water per week. Your soil structure will determine your soil's water holding capacity and the frequency of watering your plants need. Sandy soils do not retain water well and may need 2 inches of water per week. Use compost on your soil to improve your soil humus, so your soil can retain water better.

Maize does not tolerate drought conditions well. Signs of water stress are dull, lifeless leaves, and shorter plants with thinner stems. Water your plants regularly in dry spells. Best to water early in the morning or late in the afternoon allowing for 2 hours for the sun to dry plants. 

Do not allow your plants to show signs of water stress for more than a day or it will permanently stunt their growth and ultimate limit productivity. Practice effective watering based on using a rain gauge and soil moisture sensors. 

A rain gauge can help you to keep track of rainfall and avoid overwatering or underwatering your maize plants. You can also use soil moisture sensors to monitor your soil's moisture. Overwatering can cause problems reducing oxygen and plant growth. It is generally not a problem in well-draining soils. 

Mulch your maize plants to help with water retention. Mulching helps hold water and help use rainwater more efficiently. 
Exposed soil leads to evaporation. Mulch saves water. Use organic compost such as straw.

Rainwater harvesting: practice rainwater harvesting using rain barrels to capture rain for times when your plants need it. Such as during the hot summer months. 


Irrigation is important for commercial maize farming especially during dry spells to prevent water stress. Unpredictable rainfall and seeding dates make it important to set up irrigation on your farm.

Irrigation frequency varies by soil type and irrigation system. It provides plants with a steady and consistent supply of water for your plants. You can typically get higher yields when you use irrigation over-relying on sporadic rainfall.

Scheduling when to irrigate and how much is important. Some farmers using soil moisture sensors to determine when to irrigate. It better than waiting to see your plants wilt, which is usually too late.

Your plant water needs will increase as the weather gets warmer during the summer season.

Options for irrigation: 

Furrow irrigation: furrow irrigation is usually the cheapest and most common form of irrigation. Furrow irrigation is suitable for row crops like maize. It is however not water efficient.

Drip irrigation: due to decreasing water supplies use drip irrigation. With drip water is delivered steadily and precisely to your maize plants. Drip irrigation is more water efficient than overhead sprinklers. It is also a fast way of watering your garden. If your system has a timer your watering can be fully automated. It is, however, more costly than furrow irrigation and requires more work to set up. 

Overhead irrigation: Another option is overhead irrigation using centre-pivot or wheel-line. Problem with centre pivots is that outer areas don't get water. 

You can use sprinklers that can sprinkle in narrow bands. 

For your irrigation, you will need an electric or solar pump to draw water from your water source.


Maize competes poorly with weeds especially fast-growing annual weeds. Good maize production requires weed control pre-planting and during the first 6-8 weeks after planting. 

Weed prevention techniques

1. Plant cover crops or leave crop residue in the fields to prevent weeds them from emerging. Cover crops such as cowpeas (black-eyed peas) or green manure cover crops can be planted between harvests to help rebuild the soil's organic matters while blocking out weeds.

2. Use the stale seedbed technique. Allow weeds to germinate in topsoil and then cultivate or flame weed ( burn them with a blow torch) them as they emerge.

3. Solarizing your soil: You can reduce weeds through solarization using tarps or clear plastic over the wet soil in the hot sun. Solarization quickly smothers and kills annual weeds. 

4. Pre-emergence herbicides: apply pre-emergence herbicides according to directions. 

Ways to control weeds post-emergence

1. Weed early and often especially in the first four weeks. Weeding in maize takes persistence. Don't allow the weeds to go to seed and increase weed pressure.  Hoe or hand pull weeds every 10 to 15 days using sharpened hoes. Stand between the rows to avoid compacting your beds. 

2. Provide proper spacing for your crops. This will allow them to quickly make a canopy that will shade out weeds. 

3. Pile soil at the base of young maize to bury young weeds. 

4. Mulch your maize field during the growing season. Mulching is a great way of keeping weeds under control. They are a number of mulches you can use including straw mulch, leaves, wood shavings, cardboard or inorganic mulch. 

5. If your fields are overrun with weeds and you are practising (minimal or no-till farming) you may need to use herbicides. Most common herbicide ( pre-and post-emergence) for maize is atrazine. It is available from suppliers such as ZFC, Windmill and Agricura

Be cautious when using herbicides, apply them safely and correctly using a knapsack. Choose safe herbicides with little or no toxicity for both human and soil health. Also, make sure that they are effective for the common weed species on your farm. Agrodealers and your local Agritex officer could be a good resource for recommending a good herbicide.


Several pests affect maize. Weather conditions that are suitable for maize growth are also suitable for pests and disease. It is important to be aware of the insects that are common due to weather and time of the year. 

Good management can reduce plant disease losses. Practice regular (bi-weekly) scouting of your fields for pests. Check the leaves, stems, roots. You can use pheromone traps to observe insects in your fields. 

Most common pests are:

  • Aphids: Tiny, soft and rounded insects that can build large colonies in maize. Aphids suck sap and spread disease. Look for signs of plants curling and turning.  You can introduce beneficial insects such as ladybugs or blast them away with a jet of water.
  • Birds: may be a problem at seeding and harvesting time.
  • Maize stalk borers: are common pests that attack maize. These are round, flat on top, creamy-yellow and 1 mm diameter. Can use recommended pesticides to control.
  • Stem borer: a notorious caterpillar that mows through stalks and kernels and turns into brown mush causing huge losses.
  • Maize Borer: light tan moth with indistinct lines and spots on its wings. They chew the leaves and tassels of maize plants. Plant resistant cultivars to avoid maize borer disease.
  • Cutworms: sever the stems of seedling and transplants at or below the soil surface. 
  • Maize Earworm: pink, green or brown. Damage to buds and young plants is an early sign of corn earworms. Common when maize is grown continuously in the same field. Plant resistant varieties.
  • Maize steak virus:  insect transmitted maize pathogen. Plant resistant maize varieties. 
  • Flea beetle: tiny black beetles that make holes in your plant leaves.
  • Thrip: whitened leaves are a sign that your maize is infected with thrips.
Animal pests can seriously reduce your maize yields. When spraying for pests make sure to use only recommended pesticides.


Maize is vulnerable to a number of diseases that can reduce yields and crop quality. These vary in incidence and severity. Some of the major causes of disease are continuous maize cropping in the same field, weather conditions and poor agronomic practices. A stretch of overcast, rainy weather for several weeks means diseases are likely to proliferate. 

Common maize disease includes:

  • Downy mildew: a fungal disease causing discoloured patches on leaf surfaces and fluffy, white or grey growth beneath. 
  • Leafspot: a foliar disease caused by various bacteria.
  • Fusarium stalk rot: rotting at roots and crown caused by fungus. Rotate crops,  use resistant cultivars and fertiliser. 
  • Smut: white or greyish swelling of varying sizes on your maize plants are signs of smut. Plant resistant varieties to avoid smut.
  • Striga weeds: you can avoid Striga weeds by planting resistant cultivar or rotating your maize with beans.
Leaf spot diseases can reduce crop yields. Bacterial diseases severe and require rapid intervention. Show up in rainy weather. Remove sick plants and don't touch other plants.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM):

  • Prevention and early diagnosis are key. Regularly scout crops for leaf and plant damage at least twice a week. Get to know common pests and recognise signs of insect damage. Observe crops daily and take note of the level of pests to see when they reach economic threat level.
  • Pay attention to what the seed supplier says about the cultivar. Hybrid seed is more resistant to disease. 
  • Use sticky traps to monitor pests
  • Plant Napier grass around maize
  • Keep plants well watered but not too wet
  • Use clean seed for planting
  • Use clean tools and sanitize your tools regularly
  • Clean up fields and practice crop rotation 
  • Treat seeds with fungicides or soak in 60 degrees C water for 10 minutes
  • Choose good cultivar choices that are disease-resistant
  • Plant your maize on time
  • Use beneficial (predatory) insects such as ladybugs, lacewings and hoverflies destroy pest insects
  • Use a windbreak such as a hedgerow to reduce wind damage
  • Amend your soil with compost and manure
  • Remove and discard diseased plants
  • Use fungicides and insecticides as a last resort when pests have reached an economic threat level. They are times when they are essential for the protection of crops under certain conditions. Follow the recommended dosage and don't over spray. If you have to use chemical controls wear protective clothing, gloves and goggles.

When to harvest

 It is important to harvest on time. Harvest, when the silks are dry and brown and the cobs, stand at an angle.  The ears should be filled out. Check that white (not clear) sap is oozing from the pierced kernel. 

You can machine harvest (combine maize harvester) or hand harvest your maize. For hand-harvesting, 
twist cobs to detach. For machine harvesting leave plants in the field then bring harvester to harvest when crop moisture is between 12.5 and 14.0. 

Harvesting is labour and time consuming and so you need to plan ahead for harvesting labour. Try to pick as much as possible in a single trip. 
Place harvested corn cobs on a clean surface such as a tarpaulin for drying in the sun for 3 to 5 days. To check if your corn is dry bite a grain. If it makes a racking sound it is dry enough to store. You can also use a grain moisture meter to measure your maize grain moisture. 

Shell, clean and sort when your cobs are completely dry. Remove any damaged grain or foreign material. Use a tool such as a de-husker or a thresher to quickly separate the kernels carefully and completely. Avoid damaging the grain or you will make it susceptible to pests. 

Storing your maize grain

Once you have shelled your maize it is ready to store. Don't store maize that is not very dry or damaged. It is important that your maize is thoroughly dry before you store it. You can also artificially air dry your maize to avoid weather risks. 

Place your dry grain in airtight bags such as the PICS triple storage bags or in airtight silos off the ground. The bags must have no holes. Do not allow your sacks to touch the walls or the floor. Place them on a raised platform in the centre of the room. You can use bricks or shipping crates to raise them above the ground. If you allow them to touch the walls or floor they will get aflatoxin (poison in maize) or pests. Make sure your grain storage room is clean, dry and well-ventilated. Mould and insects need moisture to live and reproduce. 

Proper harvesting and storage of your grains are essential. Much grain is ruined and lost during storage. Good storage is important for avoiding spoilage. Well dried and stored maize can keep for 12 months or more.


Selling at the right time is important. So plan early for your transportation. Don't leave this to harvest time. Prices vary widely depending on where and when you sell your maize. Monitor market prices and review your records on when prices are usually good.

You can also sell your maize to milling companies, poultry farmers and suppliers, and wholesalers. 

Production Costs
  • Labour
  • Tillage and Fuel Costs
  • Seed
  • Fertiliser
  • Compost
  • Manure
  • Transport
  • Storage Bags
Disclaimer: while Emerging Farmer does everything to ensure the accuracy of our guides, it is important to contact an agronomist or your Agritex officer for accurate recommendations for your farm. Emerging farmer takes no responsibility for any losses or damage incurred due to information in this guide.


  1. Thank you for the informative article. It would have been more helpful if it ickedef information like costs and average yield per hectare.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, New Blessed Farmer! Planning on updating this post with more helpful information such as yield and costs.

  2. Thank you for this page very helpful


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