In 2016, John Kimani quit his job as a Project Officer at Mkulima Young to start strawberry farming, a venture that earns him an average of Sh640,000 a season.
From his farm in Gatundu, Kimani harvests 1600kg of strawberries in a season. In this, he sells the produce at Nairobi city market at Sh400 per kilo.
“After working for three years in the horticulture sector from 2013 to 2016, I found out that the demand for strawberries was high and the supply was low yet the crop fetched a higher price, and that’s why I quit my job to focus on the crop’s cultivation,” said Kimani.
Kimani graduated with a degree in horticulture from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in 2013.
While working at Mkulima Young, he did farming as a side hustle planting tomatoes and capsicums in 2014 and 2015 respectively. However, he believed earnings from the two crops were low as compared to strawberries yet they took more space in a greenhouse he had constructed at a cost of Sh80,000 in Ruiru.
“I spaced my tomatoes 60cm by 40cm for instance, but planting strawberries needs a spacing of 30cm by 30cm that means planting double the amount,” he said.
“Tomatoes used to earn me between Sh60 to Sh70 per kilo while capsicums on the other hand retailed at between Sh120 to Sh150 per kilo,”
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Strawberry plants at Kimani’s greenhouse farm in Gatundu
In 2016, Kimani planted 800 splits of strawberries in his greenhouse measuring 80m by 15m after leaving tomato farming. He had bought the splits from Nyeri at Sh800.
He planted the crops in polythene bags measuring 8 by 14 by 14 inches purchased at Sh20 in Nairobi.
“Planting in bags makes it easier to manage the plants as practices such as weeding is done manually,” said Kimani.
For one bag, Kimani mixes soil and manure at the ratio of 1:1. He then adds one liter of water and one teaspoonful of DAP at planting before planting the splits. DAP costs him Sh80 per kilo. He uses rain water harvested from a used quarry near his home and pumps it to his 2,300 liter capacity water tank he bought at Sh15,000 from his savings.
“Strawberries in a greenhouse need watering daily, this ensures faster growth and healthy stress free plants, the crop does not tolerate drought,” he said.
Weeding of the plants is done manually using hand to physically remove unwanted plants three weeks after harvesting or as soon as they appear.
After one month, Kimani says it is recommended to top dress the crops with CAN fertilizer at the rate of one teaspoonful per plant. CAN cost him Sh60 per kilo while NPK fertilizer which is applied two months after planting at the same rate also costs the same amount.
“After two months, the plants normally start flowering, but we always deflower and spray with with foliar sprays to encourage more vegetative growth and more fruits in the third and fourth month,” said Kimani.
Foliar spray is the process of feeding plants with liquid fertilizer to enable leaves absorb essential minerals and nutrients necessary for growth and production of more flowers.
To reduce build up diseases and pests, Kimani rotates strawberries with non-related plants such as kales and spinach.
“At the moment after harvesting my strawberries last season, I planted kales and spinach in five greenhouses and I am harvesting them at the moment before planting strawberries again next season,” said Kimani.
In this, Kimani harvests 25 kilos of kales and 25 kilos of spinach daily. He sells kales at Sh30 per kilo and spinach at Sh40 per kilo.
He has 500 strawberry seedlings which he sells to farmers at Sh20 each.
According to the National Farmers Service (NAFIS), strawberries do well in well drained soils with a Ph range of 5.5 to 6.5. Suitable growing include Kiambu, Kitale, Kericho, Naivasha, Nyeri, Kitengela, Molo, Embu, Nairobi, Athi River and Sagana.
The fruits are eaten fresh, canned or processed into juices and jams. Commercially, they are also used as flavors in the cosmetic industry.
Kimani can be reached on +254 728 687 401.