A punnet of strawberry costs up to Ksh.300 per punnet in local supermarkets but did you know you could easily grow it in your backyard or balcony, with minimal supervision, zero chemicals and keep on harvesting for up to three years (under the best care of course). Furthermore, nothing is more pleasing to the eye than the sight of plump, ruby red strawberries resting within a bushel of dark green leaves wet with morning dew; a sure way to give your garden/balcony a facelift. Here is how to grow them.
There are several varieties of strawberry available in Kenya, namely Chandler, Douglas, Tioga Selva, Tristar, Domanil, Pajaro Tribute etc. The popular and most easily available variety is the Chandler strawberry which unlike other plants like sukuma wiki and dhania, are not grown from seed. Instead, you will use parts cut from mature strawberry plants; either splits/cuttings or runners. Look for farmers doing strawberry farming in groups like the Digital Farmers Kenya or on OLX and purchase healthy splits/runners, they go for about Ksh.10 each.
Strawberries can be grown on the farm or in greenhouses but for this article, we are going to cover container/paper bag propagation. If you have ever bought flower/tree seedlings for fencing you’ve seen the tough black polythene used, this is what you will need to grow your strawberry. Alternatively, use old containers, either tin or plastic and if you are the type that likes tinkering with things, take an old car tyre, lay it down in an appropriate place and add a mixture of soil and dry manure (ratio of 1:2) to the gap in the middle. Puncture several drainage holes at the bottom and you are good to go; bury about an inch of your split/runner in the soil and water.
For the first month, water daily, if it’s a dry time of the year water in the evenings so that moisture remains in the soil overnight, alternatively, if the weather is cool, water in the mornings before starting your day. After the first month onwards, water between 2-3 times a week depending on how dry the soil gets. The type of soil used and rate of exposure to sunlight will determine how fast your soil dries. Your plants should mature in 3 months but often times, they will start flowering earlier than that. Pinch off any flowers/buds that sprout within the first two months, this is to ensure that the plant concentrates its energy on growing rather than reproduction.
During this phase of vegetative growth, your plant needs lots of nitrogen and this will be provided by adding dried cow manure, or nitrogen-rich plant tea that is made by soaking leaves from the Tithonia plant in water for two weeks while stirring every three days. To fertilise your strawberry, mix the plant tea with water in the ratio of 1:3 and pour on the root area. At about 2.5 months old, your plant will be ready to handle fruits, so stop the flower pinching and adjust your fertilisation. Instead of using Tithonia leaves to make your plant tea, switch to using pawpaw or/and comfrey leaves which are rich in potassium that is essential for fruiting and flowering (use the same process as above).
PS: If your strawberry plant is in an area where sunlight only comes from one direction, turn your container every three days to ensure uniform sunlight exposure. Additionally, to scare away pests include a spring onion plant or dhania in the container, their strong aroma will deter away pests including pesky snails.
Like a relay race, the fruits will mature at different times and this is okay, harvest the big and ripe fruits every three days (the colour changes from green to red on ripening). Harvest using a sharp knife, leaving a section of the stem still attached to the plant; never pull off a strawberry from the plant. After harvest, strawberries can stay fresh for 4-5 days without refrigeration. You can use them to make jam, as part of salads, to make juices or eat them whole as healthy snacks. When taken good care of, strawberries can produce fruits for up to 3 years-with productivity reducing as it ages.
For more ideas on what you can plant in your backyard/balcony check out How To Grow Dhania (Coriander) In Your Backyard/Balcony And Harvest Everyday