How to grow and market strawberries
What Variety should you choose?
There are 42 varieties in Kenya, but the Chandler has the highest demand. It is high-yielding and produces large and firm fruits with a good flavour within 60–75 days.
Other varieties include Douglas, Aiko, Pajaro, and Fern. Choose a variety that is not susceptible to Verticillium fungus. This fungus causes a strawberry disease, Verticillium wilt (or Verticillium rot), which ends fruit production by killing growing strawberries.
There is no practical way of killing the fungi once infection sets in and it is best prevented by obtaining and planting strawberry plant varieties certified to be resistant to Verticillium wilt.
What planting materials do you need?
- Use offshoots or runners from a reputable nursery and ensure that they are vigorous, high-yielding and disease-free.
- Select disease-free, healthy splits. When sourcing from your farm, select plants that have large crowns with healthy, light-coloured roots. If externally sourced mouldy splits should be rejected.
- Splits sourced from a distance that cannot be planted immediately, must be wrapped in wet paper towels or bags and stored in room temperature, for a maximum of seven days.
- When buying ensure that you get to the selling farm when they are harvesting the splits to ensure they are not mixed, as shoots of different varieties may look similar.
- An eighth of an acre requires 3,000 to 3,500 seedlings. Each costs between Ksh15 and Ksh50. You can buy offshoots from places such as Kalro Njoro/Thika, Horticulture directorate or Department of Crops, Horticulture, and Soils (Egerton University).
What climate works best?
Best temperatures are between 10 and 30 degrees Celsius. Strawberries love sunlight and grow well outside but do not tolerate frost or extremely low temperatures. Production can be lower due to cold. For protection against too much rain or drought grow in a greenhouse.
What soil are you working with?
It is recommended that you test your soils before planting to know the nutrient composition. Grow in well-drained soils with a pH level of 5.5-6.5.
Avoid growing in areas that had tomatoes, potatoes as these can pass on pests and diseases to the crop.
Also avoid sites infested with sedge, nut grass, quack grass and Johnson grass.
Land preparation and planting
- Use of beds boosts water drainage and encourages the growth of bigger and healthier berries also ease the management of the crop. The bed should be raised to 15cm with a width of 1metre by any convenient length It should be elevated, at minimum, six to eight inches.
- Apply manure to the beds from either cattle/goat/sheep at a rate of a 20kg bucket per square meter during land preparation to boost soil composition and structure, increase water retention and provide nutrients.
- Level the beds using a rake, and water the whole bed in preparation for planting. Prepare bed one month before planting.
- Dig holes 30cm between plants and 45cm to 60cm between rows. Holes 7.5cm deep are deep enough to contain the whole root in a straight manner.
- Apply 2gms/hole of a recommended nematicide.
- Water the bed before planting.
- Do not plant with fertilizers to avoid dehydration of the splits, since the plant goes into dormancy for 14 days.
Trim the leaves and any damaged roots from the seedlings;
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