Strawberries are an exotic fruit that is gradually taking Ugandans by heart. However, although there are some farmers growing it, most of it is still imported. These berries can be grown by urbanites, using small spaces at their homes. For example, to invest in 500 plants, one does not require too much capital. Each seedling costs sh5,000, which comes to sh2.5m.
Selecting the soils
The soil should be mixed with well-decomposed animal manure before being packed into the polythene bags used for transplanting. The splits must be consistently watered until new leaves sprout.
Strawberries require well-drained, sandy-loam to loamy soils with a pH level between 5.0 and 5.5. However, strawberries can be grown in more clayey soils if a sufficient quantity of compost is added to the soil during soil preparation.
It takes at least 75 days for the splits to mature and start bearing fruit, and the mother plant can continue producing fruits for the next five years.
By 30 days, the plant will start flowering but of you are doing business, the plant is still young and unable to fully feed its self and the berries. Therefore, the flowers that come before 60-75 days should be aborted.
Strawberries are mainly propagated from split or runner plants, which are potted and selected from vigorous, high-yielding and disease-free plants. The crowns may be divided to get new plants but this is somewhat more difficult. Ensure that you get disease-free plants from a reputable nursery.
There are several ways of planting strawberries. This can be directly on the ground, raised beds and containers or vertical and raised beds. Vertical farming or planting on raised beds does not only increase the plant population in the same space, but it promotes good water drainage and larger berries are also encouraged to develop. Beds should be 60-75cm wide, 100-120cm apart with plants 15-30cm apart over the beds. The strawberry plant is shallow-rooted and requires fertilisation during the growing season to keep it vigorous.
Irrigation is critical immediately after planting for crop survival. As the plants are shallow-rooted, they require 2.5cm of water per week for 12 weeks per growing season. Irrigation increases yields by 2.5 times (250%), boosts runner rooting, growth rate, flower bud formation, useful in pesticide application, frost control, prolongs harvest and cools the crop to prevent sunscald.
You need to have sufficient water at the farm to water the plants regularly. During the dry season, you can water in the morning and evening.
Establishing a vegetable nursery
- Get well-drained loam soils and mix them with compost manure. Manure can be directly decomposing kitchen waste or livestock droppings for example from a chicken house.
- If you are picking soil for the nursery, avoid picking it from spots that have previously been used for similar crops because these may be infected.
- Set the nursery in an area that is not prone to flooding because this will affect the tender crops
- Make sure that the seedlings have enough light but not too much. This means that you have to cover the nursery with leaves or if you have resources, put it in a translucent polythene roofing.
- To plant the seeds in the nursery, drill lines of 2cm deep across the nursery bed and sparsely drop the seeds in lines.
- Water the bed until it is well soaked. Thereafter, watering depends on the weather conditions. If there are rains,
- The seedlings will be ready for transplanting between 15-20 days.
However, if you cannot propagate your own seed, then you can buy mature seedlings. Each seedling costs sh300 which means that if you are planting an acre with 10,000 seedlings, that is about sh3m on seedlings alone.
Common vegetable diseases
Common diseases are early and late blight (ekibabuko), powderly and downy mildew, bacterial specks, yellow leaf curl etc.
- Avoid an environment that favours fungal diseases; avoiding stagnant water on the leaves, avoiding weeds in the garden they can become alternate hosts, remove diseased leaves that have fallen the ground.
- Conduct regular scouting in the garden to check for signs of disease.
- Do preventive sprays of preventive fungicides using mancozeb and copper-based fungicides.
- Preventive sprays should be done at least twice a week in a dry season and thrice in a wet season.
- Incase of manifestation of disease curative fungicides should be used, for example ridomil, tatamaster or emexyl, as well as mancozeb and metalaxyl. These should be got from certified dealers around the country.
- Curative fungicides can prevent, cure eradicate diseases.
- 70grams of preventive fungicides in 20 litres of water is the ideal dosage for control of the disease, whereas for curative fungicides 50g in 20 litres of water is ideal.
Mites, thrips, aphids, whiteflies. They are commonly sucking insects
They suck sap out of the leaves, causing leaves to lose the photosynthetic potential because of loss of the green colour.
Some like thrips feed on the flowers, causing flower abortions. They also feed on the fruits hence affecting the market quality of the fruits
- Regular scouting for pests is a must. Destroying alternative hosts like weeds from the field.
- Conducting insecticidal sprays. Recommended pesticides include durban, larva,tarfgor, cypermethrin, rocket, fenenvalate and malataf. Costs start from sh15,000, depending on the quantity.