We are currently in the thick of winter in Zimbabwe. Honestly lately it has been extremely cold in many parts of the country. It is also noteworthy that the Zimbabwean climate now usually sways more to the cold side. At least that is the case where I stay but I know this holds for most of Zimbabwe. This means the crops I shall cover in this article can thrive during most of the year given that dynamic. I wish I had done this article much earlier before the setting in winter. Nevertheless, it is still useful that you know the top winter crops you can grow in Zimbabwe.
It turns out there are many vegetables well-suited for cultivation in winter in Zimbabwe. These include cabbages, rape, chomoiller, peas, cowpeas, carrots, beetroot, tomatoes, eggplants, broccoli, garlic, cauliflower, covo, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, pepper, onions, spinach, lettuce, beans, pumpkins, and okra. These vegetables can do well in winter, they come highly recommended. You might have noticed that most of them are root vegetables; it is a guideline in itself. You will also notice that green leafy vegetables are several on that list. There are exclusive articles I have done before on some of these vegetables, be sure to check them out.
Selected Grain Crops
Wheat Or Barley
Wheat is the most common example here. You even know it is referred to as a winter crop, being cultivated between May and October. It prefers cool weather so much that places like Nyanga and Beatrice are considered the best locations to grow it. I must underscore here the lucrative importance of wheat in Zimbabwe. Wheat has high returns on investment (ROIs) – up to 2000 percent.
As it stands, some of the local bakeries are importing wheat or flour. This shows that there are untapped business prospects in producing wheat locally. In years past there was a time when Zimbabwe used to be labelled the bread basket of Africa. Surely we can retrace our steps back to that by increasing our wheat production in Zimbabwe.
Then we have maize which can be grown in winter as a strategy to address droughts. 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. However, winter maize can only be successful in areas that normally experience high temperatures.
That is why most of Mashonaland West and the Lowveld is ideal for winter maize in Zimbabwe. Otherwise, maize can still be grown in winter in any location that typically has high temperatures. That is essential to creating a summer-like atmosphere which is the default ideal climate for maize production. Plus you would also 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.
Winter maize can be strategic in that you will be able to supply fresh mealies at a time when supply is limited. It will be during a time when others would have just planted or still be planning to plant their maize.
Important Considerations For Winter Crop Production
The first important consideration is irrigation. Most of the winter crops require irrigation due to the general absence of rain. The irrigation must be done with precision – not too much or too little. 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 your crops.
Managing Frost Risk
There are numerous ways to protect your winter crops from frost. For starters, 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. Possible covers to use are light cloth, bed sheets, or any light fabric. If using farming approaches such as greenhouses you get an additional layer of protection in a way. Watering before frost protects plants. The thing is 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. Where possible, mulching also helps.
The Right Timing
This is arguably the most important planning consideration for winter cropping. You need to plant them 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. You will also be trying to avoid certain pests or diseases that come with warmer temperatures.
That wraps it up for some of the top winter crops you can grow in Zimbabwe. I cannot overemphasise the importance of paying attention all the time as overlooking one thing can derail everything. Access to and precise irrigation, managing frost risk, and planting and harvesting at the right times is critically important. The bottom line is winter cropping can be profitable but comes along with huge risks.