Top 27 Crops You Can Grow in Spring/ Summer in Zimbabwe

Monday, December 5, 2016

Top 27 Crops to Grow in Spring/Summer in Zimbabwe

 One of the challenges you face as an emerging farmer is deciding what to grow on your farm. It’s a topic we get asked about a lot. 

Please don’t copy what other farmers are doing without first understanding why they doing it. Even if you copy something that is working for another farmer, it doesn't necessarily mean it will work for you. They may have farming experience, soil, climate or a market that you don't have. Sometimes you end up copying a farmer who also doesn’t know what they are doing. 

If you are on a large commercial farm, don’t copy someone growing tomatoes in bags on an urban farm, that’s for people with space constraints. Yes, you can and should look and ask around for ideas from other farmers in your area (getting insights) but after that think hard and evaluate if those ideas work for you. Remember, you don't need to just pick one crop, you can also diversify and try out multiple crops until you find the ones that work best for your farm.

How to Decide What to Grow: Here is what to consider

Here are some factors to consider when deciding which crops will give you the best return on your investment (ROI):

1. Your Space/ Land

If you have a very small space, don't grow crops that take a long time to mature and harvest or take up a lot of space. Focus instead on quick growing crops (60 days or less), that do not require a lot of space. Crops like beans, lettuce, tomatoes (indeterminate type) and herbs are great for small spaces. If you have plenty of space and there is demand in your market then you should consider growing crops that require a lot of space like pumpkins or butternuts.

2.  Total Yields of the Crop

Consider how much yield the crop you plan to grow produces at one time or after multiple cuttings. Does the crop consistently produce high yields? Some examples of crops that produce how yields are spinach, butternuts, and tomatoes. Crops like beans that can be planted in succession (plant now and plant again later) so you can harvest them at different times in the season. If you have a large farm you can grow more long season crops that have a high demand e.g potatoes and then make your money on the volume.

3. Time to Harvest

It's important to understand how long it takes to grow a specific crop type. If you plant late e.g maize, pick a variety of the crop with short days to maturity to avoid problems later in the season. Certain crops e.g. potatoes, onions, and garlic take a long time to grow. If you have a large land area they are good storage crops to grow. If you don't have a lot of land or space, grow rape and lettuce instead because you can harvest them multiple times (long harvest) in the same space of time you are growing a long season crop e.g onion.

4.  Market Price and Crop Price Trends

What is the price of the crop? Pay attention to price trends for the crop to see if you can grow and supply it when demand is high, but supply is low. Check the ZFU site for updates on market prices. Certain times of the year you will find a market glut in crops like tomatoes and maize and it becomes a race to the bottom. If your crops can be stored such as maize or butternut and you can afford to do it, store them well and then sell them later when prices are better.

5. Crop's Shelf Life and Storage 

If the crop has a short shelf life e.g. tomatoes and rape, make sure you can sell it quickly. Are you close enough to market or have reliable transportation or storage? Can you sell to a volume buyer who can move a lot of your product for you? If not then you should focus on crops with a good shelf life that you can take your time to market.

6. Popularity of the Crop 

Consider focusing on crops that people already like and eat on a regular basis. While you may sell some exotics at a high price ask yourself if you can sell enough of them to be profitable. They are just not that many people locally you are going to convince to buy and eat certain vegetables such as radishes. Let's be honest. They are just not popular. Food is emotional and people tend to stay pretty close to what they are used to eating. As an emerging farmer focus on growing crops that people actually eat, want and use e.g. sugar beans, cabbage, maize and butternuts. Also, understand what size and varieties people prefer. If the crop has multiple uses that is always an added bonus. (e.g soy can be used for food and feed). If you do decide to grow exotics make sure you can sell them.

7. Warm or Cool Season Crop

Given how quickly it gets hot during the Spring/Summer in southern Africa it's important that you grow crops early. You can grow certain crops like rape/kale year round but be prepared for high pest pressure during the hot season.  You may also need to use shade nets when it gets too hot for certain crops or they may bolt. Timing is everything in farming.

8.  Your Budget

 You need to make sure you can afford the production costs of the crop you are growing. Certain crops have high production costs (seed, fertiliser, labour, irrigation etc) and are very expensive to produce without external funding. If you can grow them under a good contract then look into that. If you can't afford the production costs then consider instead growing crops with lower production costs such as sweet potatoes or beans.You will avoid getting into debt,and with beans, you have the added bonus of replenishing your soil!

9. Access to Water

Does your area get a lot of rain? How much rain? If you don't have a lot of water on your farm, focus on growing drought tolerant crops such as small grains e.g sorghum and millet or drought tolerant vegetables such as beans, okra or hot peppers. These crops can thrive even with restricted water.

10. Soil Type & Fertility

Assess your soil to see what you can grows best in your soil. If you clay soils you will need to amend with compost it if you want to grow carrots. Carrots prefer loose, sandy soils. Test your soil for your soil pH. Most vegetables require a soil pH of about 7.

Here are warm season crops you can grow in Zimbabwe:
  1. Tomatoes 
  2. Beans (sugar beans, cowpeas, fine beans)
  3. Soybeans
  4. Maize
  5. Cucumbers
  6. Sweet Potatoes
  7. Pumpkins
  8. Butternuts
  9. Capsicum (Green, Red and Yellow, Peppers)
  10. Carrots
  11. Lettuce***
  12. Rape/Kale*
  13. Potatoes**
  14. Paprika
  15. Watermelon
  16. Spinach
  17. Cabbage*
  18. Sweet Corn
  19. Gem Squash
  20. Broccoli
  21. Cauliflower
  22. Herbs (e.g. Rosemary, Thyme, Parsley, Basil)
  23. Eggplant
  24. Okra
  25. Small Grains (e.g. Sorghum, Millet )
  26. Groundnuts/Peanuts
  27. Strawberries
*  High pest pressure in the Spring/Summer which can increase costs and labour.
** Lower yields compared to winter crop
*** Pick a seed variety that is good for warm weather to avoid problems

Keep a notebook or spreadsheet with good records throughout the growing season and evaluate how this went. Note down: what grew well, what sold well, what didn't work so well and use it to make decisions for next year.

Let us know in the comments or by email what you are growing this season or need more information on. Happy farming!

This post has been updated. 

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