Strawberry Farming: A Lucrative Opportunity for Farmers

Strawberry (Fragaria spp) cultivation is highly valued for its vibrant red color, enticing aroma, sweet taste, and juicy texture. These delicious fruits can be enjoyed fresh or incorporated into various culinary delights such as pies and preserves.

The Potential for Profit

While some farmers have been hesitant to engage in strawberry farming due to concerns about the industry’s level of development, those considering entering the field are strongly encouraged due to its substantial income potential.

Market Demand

Strawberries can be sold both locally and internationally. There is a readily available demand for these fruits in major urban markets, supermarkets, and renowned marketing companies such as Brookside, Trufood, and KCC.

Ease of Maintenance

One of the advantages of cultivating strawberries is their simplicity of upkeep. They are relatively easy to grow and maintain compared to other crops.

Varieties

In Kenya, various strawberry varieties are cultivated, including Chandler, Tribute, Tristar, Tioga Selva, Domail, Rabunda, Pajaro, Douglas, and others.

Ecological Requirements

Strawberries thrive in outdoor environments in Kenya. However, for optimal performance, it is recommended to grow them in greenhouses. Greenhouses provide protection against drought and excessive rainfall.

The ideal soil pH for strawberry farming ranges from 5.5 to 6.5. The soil should be well-drained and free of weeds. These crops thrive in hot climates and cannot tolerate frost or extremely low temperatures. They require 6-10 hours of direct sunlight daily.

Planting and Cultural Practices

Strawberries can be grown from seeds or by using transplants (runners) from existing strawberry plants. Starting with runners is the preferred method as it is easier than starting with seeds.

Planting Procedure

1. Prepare the land by tilling and removing weeds. Use a non-selective herbicide called CLAMPDOWN 480SL 10-15 ml/L to eliminate all types of weeds.
2. Add manure and fertilizer (DAP) to provide adequate nutrients for the crop. Mix the fertilizer and/or manure with HUMIPOWER at a rate of 1 kg Humipower into 50 kg fertilizer or 1 ton of manure. This enhances nutrient uptake and stimulates growth.
3. Construct raised beds.
4. Dig planting holes deep enough to accommodate the entire root system of the crop without bending it.
5. Plant seedlings with a spacing of 20 inches between plants and 4 feet between rows. Cover the roots while keeping the crown at the soil surface.

Cultural Practices

1. Mulching: After planting, mulch the beds with pine needles, shredded leaves, or straw. This helps regulate soil temperature, control weeds, and keeps the fruit clean by preventing contact with the ground. As the mulch breaks down, it enriches the soil with organic matter.
2. Weeding: Manual weeding is recommended as weeds compete with the plants for nutrients, moisture, space, and sunlight. Avoid weeding during critical growth periods, such as flowering and fruiting, to minimize disturbances.
3. Training: Strawberries are sprawling plants that produce runners. Train the runners to follow a specific pattern for optimal performance.
4. Irrigation: Water is crucial for strawberry growth, especially during the development of runners and flowers. Drip irrigation is highly recommended for targeted root watering.
5. Pruning: Prune flowers as soon as they appear to enhance fruit production.
6. Fertilization: Applying fertilizers and manure promotes higher yields. However, excessive nitrogen can result in soft and easily damaged strawberries.

Additionally, foliar feeds such as OPTIMIZER, DIMIPHITE, ZINC GOLD, FERRARI GOLD, etc., should be used to provide essential micro and macro nutrients.

Pests and Diseases Management

Strawberries are susceptible to various pests and diseases that can significantly impact crop health and yield. Here are some common issues and recommended treatments:

Pests

1. Strawberry bud weevil (Clipper): Use SINOPHATE 750SP 20 g/20l or EPITOME ELITE 500SP 10 g/20l or KINGCODE ELITE 50EC 10 ml/20l for effective control.
2. Tarnished plant bugs: Spray LEXUS 247SC 8 ml/20l or LOYALTY 700WDG 5 g/20l or PRESENTO 200SP 5 g/20l.
3. Strawberry thrips: Apply ALONZE 3 ml/20l or DEFENDER 25EC 40 ml/20l or KINGCODE ELITE 50EC 10 ml/20l.
4. Nematodes: Drench the soil with ALONZE 50EC 10 ml/20l or mix 2 kg ADVENTURE 0.5GR with 50 kg of fertilizer.
5. Mites: Spray ALONZE 50EC 5 ml/20l or BAZOOKA 18EC 10 ml/20l.
6. Aphids: Control aphids with KINGCODE ELITE 50EC 10 ml/20l or PRESENTO 200SP 5 g/20l or LEXUS 247SC 8 ml/20l. Use JAMBO CLEAN 100 ml/20l to remove sooty mold caused by aphid excretion.

Diseases

1. Leaf blight: Spray GEARLOCK TURBO 250WP 25 g/20l or FORTRESS GOLD 720WP 40 g/20l or RIMETA GOLD 300SC 40 ml/20l.
2. Leaf spot: Use RANSOM 600WP 15 g/20l or JUPITER 125SC 15 ml/20l or DOMAIN 250EC 10 ml/20l.
3. Leak: Apply ABSOLUTE 375SC 10 ml/20l or EXEMPO CURVE 250SC 15 ml/20l.
4. Leaf blotch: Spray TRINITY GOLD 425WP 50 g/20l or ABSOLUTE 375SC 10 ml/20l or COLONIZER 440WP 50 g/20l.
5. Gray mold (Botrytis): Use MEGAPRODE LOCK 525WP 20 g/20l or EXEMPO CURVE 250SC 15 ml/20l or EXPLORER 3SL 10 ml/20l.
6. Leathery rot: Apply EXEMPO CURVE 250SC 15 ml/20l or MILLIONAIRE 690WDG 40 g/20l.
7. Anthracnose fruit rot: Spray RANSOM 600WP 15 g/20l or BRADLEY 500SC 10 ml/20l or PROVIDENCE 400WP 50 g/20l.
8. Powdery mildew: Treat with RANSOM 600WP 15 g/20l or DUCASSE 250EW 20 ml/20l or ABSOLUTE 375SC 10 ml/20l.

Note:

It is advisable to use INTEGRA 3 ml/20l as a sticker, wetter, spreader, and penetrant in foliar sprays to improve the effectiveness of the products.

Ripeness, Harvesting, and Storage of Strawberries

Achieving Ripeness

It takes approximately 70 days for strawberries to mature. The fruits are usually ready for harvesting around 4-6 weeks after blossoming. It’s important to pick only fully ripened (red) berries because they won’t continue to ripen after being harvested.

Harvesting Process

Harvesting can be carried out for up to 3 weeks, yielding a significant amount of berries depending on the variety and farming methods employed. With proper management, even a small portion of land, like 1/8th, can produce 30-50 kg of strawberries per week.

Handling with Care

Strawberries are delicate and easily prone to damage and bruising. It is crucial to handle them with care, especially when plucking them from the strawberry plants. Gentle handling ensures that the fruits remain intact and undamaged.

Ideal Harvesting Time

The best time to harvest strawberries is in the morning when the fruits are cool and dry. It is important to avoid picking them when they are wet because moisture can cause them to mold quickly.

Proper Storage

Immediately after harvesting, it is advisable to store the strawberries unwashed in a cool, dry place, such as a refrigerator. By doing so, they can remain fresh for 5-7 days.

Diverse Utilization

Strawberries offer various options for consumption and preservation. Apart from enjoying them fresh, they can be dried, frozen, or used to make delicious jams and preserves.

Conclusion

Strawberry farming presents an excellent opportunity for farmers to generate substantial income. By following proper planting, maintenance, and pest/disease management practices, farmers can successfully cultivate these delectable fruits and meet the demand in local and international markets.

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