Maize is the most widely grown crop in Uganda, with 86% of the population growing it.
Before planting maize, it is proper to make sure that the seeds are of the best quality. Good quality seeds should have a germination rate of over 95%. To test if the selected seeds are viable, get 100 seeds from the packet and plant them.
Water them regularly for one week. At the end of the week, they should have germinated. Count the seeds that have germinated. If for example, 90 of the seeds have germinated, then the package has got a 90% germination rate.
This should be done weeks before the actual planting, so that you make the right choice.
Preparing the land
Land for planting maize must be prepared months in advance, before the rains start. In Uganda, most farmers use the hand hoe for preparing the farm, while others use the ox-plough, walking and big tractors. Obviously, the hand hoe is slow and less effective and not ideal for commercial maize farming. The ox-plough is good, however, it is not as effective as the tractors because they do not only open up larger parts of land, but also dig deeper into the fertile soils. It is, therefore, important for a commercial farmer to use the tractor.
Weeds in a maize farm
Weeds are unwanted plants which compete with a crop for minerals, light and moisture. Weed infestation will reduce yields, especially if the crop has got to compete with weeds in the early stages of growth. Weeds are more dangerous where the soil fertility is highly depleted and where there is a lot of rain. Weeds can be categorised as annual and perennial. Annual weeds complete their life cycle within one season, for example black jack and striga.
On the other hand, perennial weeds carry on from one season to another, for example, couch grass. Striga weed occupies a special category because it is an annual broad leaf weed, which is also parasitic to crops. The weeds that cause most damage to maize include striga, velvet leaf, pigweed, ragweed, mustard weed, bermuda grass, nutsedge, crabgrass and giant foxtail.
The most common diseases that affect maize are three and these are the grey leaf spot, turscum leaf blight and metric virus. However, all the maize varieties produced by NARO are resistant to some of these diseases. The pests include stem burrower, which is common during dry spells. They burrow and suck out all the water needed by the plant.
These can be eliminated using chemicals, but the best method according to Dr. Godfrey Asea, is using a biological control method. This is where an insect called flavia cotesia, is introduced in the garden. It burrows in the plant and feeds on the stem borer.
Weed control methods
To develop a good weed control strategy, one has to know the weed types involved. Additionally, for better control of weeds, farmers need to identify the main weed types in the field and select the most appropriate method of control.
Hoeing and hand pulling should be carried out at least two weeks after planting. It is easier to weed using a hand hoe if the maize is planted in neat rows. But overall, the number of times one weeds will depend on the type of weeds and the amount of rainfall, plus the overall soil fertility.
It is also worth noting that the density and intensity of planting may also determine the ease with which weeds are controlled on a farm. For example, it may not be so easy fighting weeds in densely populated crops. Crop rotation can also be used as a method of weed control.
This is the planned planting of different crops at different times on the same field. For example, maize can be planted and then a legume like soya bean planted in the next season. The change of crops helps do away with crop specific weeds like striga.
Inter-cropping of maize with a secondary crop is also recommended. This crop, for example, beans, will occupy the space that would otherwise have been occupied by weeds.