The thought of leaving formal employment to venture into private business, trading a stable monthly income for irregular income, often rattles many, but for the determined and iron-willed, the move almost always pays off. In 2016, John Kimani left his job as a project officer and ventured into farming.
According to Farmbiz Africa, Kimani, a former Project Officer at Mkulima Young, decided to quit his job and went into strawberry farming, a venture that earns him about Ksh640,000 per season.
“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.
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Having graduated from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) with a degree in horticulture in 2013, he proceeded to work at Mkulima Young. While at the company, he farmed tomatoes and capsicums on the side.
He, however, notes that the two crops did not yield as much revenue compared to strawberries, yet they occupied more space in the greenhouse he had set up in Ruiru for Ksh80,000.
“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 Ksh60 to Ksh70 per kilo while capsicums on the other hand retailed at between Ksh120 to Ksh150 per kilo,” he added.
In 2016, Kimani abandoned tomatoes and capsicum farming and bought 800 strawberry splits from Nyeri for Ksh800. He planted the crops in polythene bags measuring 8 by 14 by 14 inches purchased at Ksh20 in Nairobi.
“Planting in bags makes it easier to manage the plants as practices such as weeding is done manually,” he said.
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Kimani mixes soil and manure at the ratio of 1:1 in each of the bags and then adds one liter of water and one teaspoonful of DAP before he plants the strawberries. He uses rainwater which collects at a nearby quarry which he pumps to a 2,300 litre tank in his compound.
“Strawberries in a greenhouse need watering daily, this ensures faster growth and healthy stress free plants, the crop does not tolerate drought,” he said.
The entrepreneur weeds his plants by hand, physically eliminating weeds as soon as they appear or three weeks after harvesting.
Kimani states that it is important to top dress the splits after one month with a teaspoon of CAN fertiliser per plant. After two months, he applies NPK fertiliser at a rate of one teaspoonfull per plant.
“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.
Kimani rotates strawberries with non-related plants such as kales and spinach to reduce the build up of pests and diseases..
“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.
Kimani harvests 25 kilos of kales and 25 kilos of spinach daily which he sells for Ksh30 and Ksh40 per kilo respectively.
The entrepreneur also has strawberry seedlings which he sells to farmers at Ksh20 each.
According to Farmbiz Africa, Kimani harvests 1600kg of strawberries from his farm in Gatundu in a season. He sells them at Nairobi city market at Ksh400 per kilo.
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.