WITH most farmers done harvesting crops for the last summer cropping season, preparations for the coming winter season are on course.
Farmers on large farms with access to irrigation have begun preparations for wheat production, one of the most produced crops in winter.
For those with smaller pieces of land, it turns out there are many vegetables well-suited for cultivation in winter. These include cabbages, rape, chomolia, peas, cowpeas, carrots, beetroot, tomatoes, eggplants, broccoli, garlic, cauliflower, covo, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, pepper, onions, spinach, lettuce, beans, pumpkins and okra.
Horticulture expert Clive Masarakufa (pictured), said another crop farmers can consider as a winter crop is maize.
“We have maize, which can be grown in winter as a strategy to address droughts,” he said.
“Winter maize can be cultivated for long-term food security, which is usually the core focus. Alternatively, you can cultivate them for purposes of selling them as green mealies, sweet corn or baby corn.”
Winter maize, Masarakufa said, can only be successful in areas that normally experience high temperatures.
“That is why most of Mashonaland West Province and the Lowveld are ideal for winter maize in Zimbabwe. Maize can be grown in winter in any location that typically has high temperatures. That is essential to creating summer-like temperatures which is the default ideal climate for maize production.
“However, you would have to use irrigation to make winter maize cultivation successful. If you are to settle for long-season maize varieties, you can plant it in July, with harvests projected for December.”
Masarakufa said winter maize could be strategic and highly lucrative in that it could be supplied as fresh mealies at a time when supply is limited.
He said before farmers embarked on winter farming, there are factors they have to consider first.
“The first important consideration is irrigation as most of the winter crops require irrigation due to the general absence of rain,” he said.
“The irrigation must be done with precision – not too much or too little and this is important, especially when you factor in the threat of frost.”
Winter presents a huge threat of frost that can affect the growth of crops.
“There are numerous ways to protect your winter crops from frost and most important, farmers have to check with weather forecasters when the first and last frost dates are. Having a clear outlook on the weather to expect helps you plan accordingly. Where applicable, you can use plant covers to protect against frost.”
Masarakufa said possible covers to use to protect crops included light cloth, bed sheets, or any light fabric, adding greenhouses also provided an additional layer of protection.
“Watering before frost protects plants because water is better at heat retention than dry soil, so it ends up keeping the air near the soil warm. In the same vein, it will also protect the roots of the plants and where possible, mulching also helps.”
He said knowing the right time to plant winter crops was arguably the most important planning consideration for winter cropping.
“You need to plant in good time so that they reach maturity at just the right time. This is because you ideally would want to completely harvest before certain weather conditions set in.
“For example, you would want to harvest before the early or first rains as they can compromise your harvests. Imagine your wheat (or maize) getting caught up in the early rains before it is harvested; that would be a disaster.”
By planting at the right time, Masarakufa said farmers also avoided certain pests or diseases that come with warmer temperatures.
Apart from crop production, he said farmers could also consider animal husbandry.
“As we come out of the rainy season, animals become more sexually active and farmers need not be reminded that at the core of animal husbandry business is reproduction,” he said.
“This is the time to make sure that the bulls are well fed, de-hoofed and always washed. The best breeds must also be given the first chance to mate with the females so it means separating them and selecting the best for the best; this is the right time to be doing so and by doing so, six to nine months later, you will be having very good results.”
The agriculture sector is critical to accelerating the growth of the economy as it provides essential raw materials for industry in general.