5 Q & A and Challenges On Blueberry Production In Kenya
Blueberry Production In Kenya: Global production of blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) has continuously increased since the early 1990s, with substantial growth occurring after 2000. In the recent past, Kenya has also seen some steady growth on blueberry industry with some farms like Kakuzi taking up the challenge on blueberry production in Kenya.
From our our supplies of blueberry seedlings in Kenya, we can note that interest of the fruit production is taking a steady increase. In a month, from our nurseries we are making hundreds of sale of blueberry plants to Kenyan farmers. With time, we shall be sharing our own data analysis on blueberry cultivation in Kenya.
As the industry continues to grow, it is important to recognize both the opportunities and challenges related to blueberry production and marketing. Another challenge for berry producers is retaining consumer demand and remaining a stable supplier.
This article highlights some questions and answers on challenges affecting blueberry production in Kenya
1. Understanding Ph on Blueberry Cultivation In Kenya
pH is a measure of how acidic or basic your soil might be. And blueberries really do need a soil that is on the acidic side of that range. 4.5 to 5.2 is ideal, up to 5.5 is fine.
And, so, what is happening when the soil pH is in this more acidic range, is that the availability of different nutrients, and the forms in which they exist, based on soil chemistry are somewhat different.
For example, nitrogen (at lower pH levels) is in the ammonium form. Whereas you might look at a bag of fertilizer and see that perhaps it has something called nitrate in it, that’s a nitrate form. That is not the kind of nitrogen that blueberries use. They actually need the ammonium form. And so, when you are under these lower pH conditions the nutrients are in forms that the blueberries are better able to take up.
Under lower pH conditions, micronutrients, such as iron or zinc, are also much more available to the plants. And, so, often if you put a blueberry in a soil that is too high of a pH, you’ll see that it turns yellow because of usually an iron deficiency.
So, some of the first steps we want people to do, is to do a soil test on their soil. And we generally will recommend that they use a lab that is in their region, because normally they will use methods that give them the most accurate picture.
2. Soil Analysis And Ph Amendment
Typically soil testing company will give you that if you’re a commercial grower on a per acre basis, or for a home garden, perhaps on a per thousand square foot basis. They will tell you how many Kg of sulfur or lime you need, or other materials like manure you could use.
3. Techniques For Planting Blueberries In Kenya
Blueberries have this very fine root system so they do need a lot of organic matter in the soil. And so, when you’re planting your plant, we will recommend that you mix in about 50% cocoapeat, to 50% soil when you’re making that planting hole, and putting your plants in the ground.
The bigger an area you can work this organic matter into, the better. And then after you plant your blueberry plants, we will want to mulch the plants, with organic matter. To keep those roots cool, and moist, and get your plants off to a good start.
4. Fertilizer Application On Blueberry Farming In Kenya
Blueberries don’t need as much fertilizer as a lot of our other fruit plants might. It is very easy to burn the roots off of them in the first year. So, normally when you get your soil test results, there will be some recommendations for mixing in nitrogen. So, that’s mixed in throughout the whole bed so it’s dispersed and you’re not getting fertilizer concentrated in one area.
But then about two months after planting, once they’ve become established, you can give them a light dose of a nitrogen fertilizer. If you were using something like ammonium sulfate which is 20% nitrogen, you would only apply about a half of a tablespoon per plant maximum to give that plant a little extra nutrition in that first year.
You can use organic forms of fertilizer as well, that are made for acid loving plants. Those are fine too. They tend to be a little gentler, but yes, they don’t need nearly as much.
And even in a mature planting, we are really still looking at fertilizer rates that are only about half that, that you might put on a tomato plant. We will gradually build up from that half tablespoon of ammonium sulfate. You may increase that to four to six tablespoons per plant in a mature planting, over the span of about five to six years.
But other than that, blueberries really don’t need a whole lot of fertilizer. We do, however, recommend that people do continue to do a soil test every two to three years or so. Once the planting is established you test the soil just to see if any other nutrients are getting out of whack as they’re being extracted from the soil.
5. Pruning Blueberry Trees
Coming into spring is when we would normally prune high bush blueberries or half-high blueberries. And the way blueberries grow is that they will normally send up new canes from the root system, and those canes will become more twiggy over time. And as they become more twiggy, they become thinner and they dry out and desiccate more quickly during the wintertime. Each of those tips can produce flower buds.
And so you can end up with those older canes producing a lot of small berries, whereas younger cane might produce bigger, fatter berries. And so, what we want to do with that plant is keep a range of cane ages on it, that are from about, one to five, or six years old.
Gradually, over time, we will prune out the oldest canes and allowed younger, newer canes to come up to replace those. And so that keeps the plant young. We’ll also do some pruning to remove any kind of diseased looking wood, or anything that isn’t growing well or that might be harbouring some problems.
Blueberry Farming In Kenya, How Farmers Are Doing It
Famed for its numerous health benefits, blueberries are flowering plants from the genus Vaccinium. This plant species is native to North America, most of Asia, Western Europe, and Scandinavia. However, thanks to agricultural firm Kakuzi, the succulent fruit is finding a new home in Kenya.
The listed firm has been producing tea, avocados, macadamia, and trees besides keeping livestock and bees.
Kakuzi has heavily invested in the new venture where ten hectares have been planted with the plant and already fruiting and feeding export markets within countries in the European Union.
Blueberries are sold fresh and can also be processed to make a wide variety of other products such as juice, jam, cakes, and wine.
According to, Mr. Laban Koima, the officer managing the blueberry production farm at Kakuzi, a single blueberry plant can produce up to five kilograms per years and one can harvest continually once it starts producing fruits.
“Blueberries have very high value, a single plant in a year can produce five kilograms, a single kilo in the market is more than Sh1600. It’s a very lucrative venture.” Laban says.
“In this pilot plan we have started with 10 hectares, we intend to increase to 20 after the initial success, and in the long term, we plan to do 200 hectares. He adds.
At Kakuzi, the production is controlled to ensure maximum yields, however, Laban advices that anyone can grow the plant locally.
“Our farming is controlled, but this does not mean we cannot grow it locally, the only challenge is that the yields may be low.” He opines.
Blueberries have earned the reputation of super fruit and evidence indicates that the fruit is rich in nutrients like fiber, vitamin K, vitamin C, iron, and large amounts of manganese.
Blueberries also contain resveratrol, which is a phytoalexin that is produced by plants when they are experiencing a bacterial or fungal infection; Phytoalexins are antibacterial and antifungal chemicals that are produced by plants as a means of protection against pathogens. Research has shown that blueberry chemical properties provide protection against chronic diseases.
In addition to resveratrol, blueberries contain anthocyanins and polyphenol antioxidant pigments that have been shown to help reduce the risk of getting some diseases such as certain types of cancers, a fact that Laban shares.
“They have so many roles in the body, protection against aging and cancer, maintain brain function, may lower blood pressure, have anti-diabetic effects, and prevent heart diseases among many,” Laban explains.
Blueberries do well in acidic soil. The soil PH should ideally be between four and five. The more organic matter added the more tolerance to acidity blueberries will have.
The crop is a shallow-rooted plant so it requires a soil that holds moisture, but also drains well and doesn’t stay wet.
Like many of its previous products, Kakuzi hopes to transfer blueberry farming skills to the locals once the trial stage is complete.
“We believe in empowering the community around us and coexist by imparting our expertise with them. Just like we have been doing with avocados, and in the same spirit which we share water and construction of roads. Says Simon Odhiambo, the General Corporate Affairs Manager.
Blueberry shrubs grow in a variety of sizes that vary from a few inches to 10 feet. The plant also makes colored flowers which may be one of many colors like white, pale pink, red, and sometimes light green. The plant bears small blueberry fruits that have a dark purple color.
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