Harvesting

1.1 Green maize

Maize for the green market is ready for harvest when the grain hardens or when the silky flowering at the top of the maize cob turns black.

1.2 Dried Maize  harvesting

Maize should be harvested at physiological maturity. Maize can be left in the field beyond physiological maturity to allow for further drying. This can be done through stooking for about 2 to 4 weeks. Maize is physiologically mature when:

1. Most leaves have dried up
2.  Cob husks are no longer green
3.  Stalks turn yellow or brown
4.  Cobs begin to droop on the stalk (figure 1)
5.  Kernels show a black layer between the seed and point of attachment to the cob (figure 1).
6.  Grains are hard and not milky
7.  Cobs are no longer good for roasting

Fig. 1: Drooping cobs (left) signifying readiness for harvesting; and checking for a black layer in the grain (right) [Source: Kenya Maize Hand Book, 2010]

1.2.1 Preparations for the harvest

Before the new harvest it is important that farmers are prepared for postharvest activities. They must ensure that equipment needed for the harvest and post-harvest activities are available and in good condition; they decide where activities such as drying and threshing will take place; that there will be sufficient storage space for the crop; grain stores and sacks have been thoroughly cleaned before the new harvest so that residues of last season’s crop are removed from all cracks and crevices; the new harvest should never be mixed with grain from the previous season as this will encourage the movement of pests from the old to the new harvest. The old harvest can be stored in a separate place for consumption.

In addition, good hygiene should be ensured to prevent postharvest losses, the new harvest should never be placed on, or with, grain from the previous season as this will encourage the movement of pests from the old to the new.

1.2.2 Methods of harvesting

Harvesting of maize is done by hands for small-scale maize farming in Kenya. Maize stalks are cut using sickle and machete (panga) and stooked on farm (Fig. 2), or carried to the storage area.

Fig. 2:  Sickle (left) and machete (middle) used for manual harvesting of maize; and stooks of maize in the field (right)

Stooking has the following enables the maize to dry in the farm and thus allowing farmers to have enough time to prepare the stores. It is also easier to pick cobs from one spot and dehulling the maize on the farm.

1.2.3 Precautions during harvesting

During harvesting, care should be taken to ensure that produce is not affected in quality or quantity:

  • •    The crop should be harvested at the right maturity stage depending on the intended use.
  • •    Delayed harvesting is not encouraged as the crop may get spoiled, thus  reducing the quality and quantity available for utilisation.
  • •    Harvesting is best done when weather is dry because wet weather    enhances rotting of produce.
  • •    Avoid contact of the harvested produce with soil to reduce contamination.

1.2.4 How to transport harvested maize  

After harvest, maize may be transported from the farm to the homestead by any of the following methods: Head loads, Bicycle and motorbikes (boda boda), Oxen carts, Pick-up trucks and, tractors and lorries. Farmers are encouraged to use methods which do not cause damage (bruising, cracking or breakage) or loss through spillage.

1.2.5 Drying of maize on cobs

After harvesting, the maize must be dried before threshing and storage. Proper drying of maize enables grains to be stored for long and reduces conditions favourable for pest and mould infestation by lowering the moisture content. Drying should be done by spreading the cobs on mats, tarpaulins (figure 3) or in cribs (figure 4). When drying maize at the homestead, it should not be placed in direct contact with the soil and should be kept away from farm animals, or else the grain may be damaged or eaten.  Maize cobs may be dried either with or without the husk cover.

Dryingmaize cobs on mats or tarpaulin

  1. Find a large plastic sheet or several small plastic sheets or plastic sacks that can be laid out so that they overlap to form a large covered area see figure 3(a).
  2. Build a flattened mound of hard-packed earth on which to place the tarpaulin. If instead you use level ground, dig a shallow trench around the area on which the tarpaulin will be placed to direct any rain water away from the drying floor.
  3. Make sure there are no sharp objects on the ground that will tear the tarpaulin.
  4. Place the tarpaulin on the place you have prepared.
  5. To make the process of drying quicker, cobs should be placed in a single layer and turned at intervals of every hour. If they are placed in a deeper layer on the tarpaulin then drying will be slower.
  6. Protect the grain from rain and night dew by covering with a tarpaulin prior to any rainfall, see figure 3 (b). The recommended moisture content for dry maize is 13%.

Fig. 3(a) and (b):  Sun drying of maize cobs on mats or tarpaulin

(Source: APHLIS, 2012)

Dryingmaize cobs in cribs

Cribs are special shelters recommended for drying grain. They are long and narrow, with wooden slats or chicken wire sides that allow free ventilation, and a roof that protects against rain. To protect from rodents, the stands of the crib should be at least 1 m above ground level, beyond the maximum distance that rodents can jump. The stands are supplied with rodent guards that will keep rodents out (figure 4). The cribs are built across the prevailing wind to promote drying.

The maximum width of a crib depends on the prevailing climatic conditions, i.e.:

  1. 0.6 m in humid areas where maize is harvested at high moisture    content (30-35%)
  2. 1.0 m in drier zones with a single rainy season where maize is harvested    at about 25% moisture content 3. 1.5 m in very dry places.

Farmers should clean the cribs adequately prior to each harvest, and ensure none of the timbers are infested by storage insects, especially larger grain borer (LGB). Timbers infested with LGB should be replaced, otherwise the pests will move directly into the freshly harvested grain.