Oblivious of the bitter cold, Mr Stephen Mwanzia, a farmer, tends to a fruit crop whose value to many Kenyans remains unclear. Together with his partners he has leased 16-acres of land in Tigoni, Kiambu County, and recently added another 14 acres in Nakuru. 

As he leads us into his office at the Tigoni farm, we pass through thousands of Golden gooseberry bushes that sway under the weight of luscious, yellow berries. Gooseberries, variously known as mbonik(Kalenjin), Nathi (Kikuyu) or Nyatonglo (Luo) in Kenya, are not only eaten fresh or dried or in salads but are also excellent in pies, puddings, cakes, chutneys or raw with ice cream, Mr Mwanzia tells us. 

The fruits, which often grow wild in Kenya and bring childhood memories to some, make delicious jam, fruit-based sauces and wine and can also be stewed with honey and eaten as a dessert. They are also highly nutritious and have medicinal value

They are a good source of carotene and ascorbic acid, vitamins A, C, B, and iron; proteins, phosphorus, alkaloids, and flavonoids.

Medicinally, the boiled leaf can be used as a diuretic and is said to be anti-asthmatic. It also has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, and the juice is said to regulate cholesterol levels and protect the liver from oxidative stress.

But as we discovered during our visit to the farm, those are not the only great attributes of this fruit that has a sweet tangy taste: The cherry-sized fruit, yellow to orange in color with smooth, waxy skin, also bears golden returns.  

According to Mr Mwanzia, who studied agriculture in Taratahi Agricultural College in New Zealand, yields depend on agro-climatic conditions, locality, and orchard management practices. The average yield per acre is 2-2.5 t/ acre, while under proper management, it can go up to 4t/acre. 

The golden berry Physalis peruviana grows virtually everywhere.

“The golden berry Physalis peruviana grows virtually everywhere, even in poor soils, attaining a height of between 2 to 6 ft (1.6 – 1.8m),” Mr Mwanzia, who started growing gooseberries in Tigoni in 2015, tells us.

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This means that from an acre piece of land that yields 2 tonnes you can earn about kshs 500,000. Mr Mwanzia has farmed in Zimbabwe and Rwanda. He has also had the opportunity of managing a 1,000 acre strawberry farm in Botswana, tells us. Though selling gooseberries was hard at the beginning for Mr Mwanzia he has slowly increased his customers through aggressive marketing and today, he sells a large number of gooseberries. He has also set his sights on exporting the fruit.

Growing the golden fruit

Propagation • 

Use treated seeds or stem cuttings with rooting hormone. Cuttings flower early and yield well but are less vigorous than seedlings. They produce fruits in about one-two years 

• Sow seeds in seedbeds from April to August (in Kenya) 

• Transplant seedlings at 15cm-20cm. Seeds have an 85-90 per cent germination rate and germinate 10- 15 days after sowing 

• The plant requires lots of sunshine and sets fruit successfully provided the minimum temperature is above 5 °C. Relative humidity of 70-80 per cent and a temperature of 7°C to 13°C, at night and 22°C to 28°C during the day is ideal 

• Soil should be well-drained sandy-clayey soil, with organic matter (greater than 4%) and a pH of 5.5 to 7.5 

• Balance nutrition because under highly fertile alluvial soil, vegetative growth is high but fruits may fail to colour properly 

• Weeding is not necessary. 

However, slashing them rather than uprooting once in a while, is recommended 

Field Preparation 

• Do a soil test and add the required nutrients 

• Prepare field to a fine tilth through two to three ploughings 

• Add 20 tonnes of manure per hectare 

• Divide the field into small plots for convenient transplanting and irrigation. Use raised beds for poorly drained soil 

Planting 

• Obtain disease-free seedlings from a recognised nursery; 

• Treat soil before planting to protect from 

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• Dig pits twice the size of the seedling root ball 1m between crops and 2m between rows. Plant on gentle slopes or mound the rows where soil is poorly drained; 

• Mix the dugout soil with compost or manure and put half back into the hole. Add an organic fertiliser if possible; • Remove poly cups and place seedling into the hole. Firm the soil down around the roots;

 • Water the seedling before and after planting. Keep soil moist until well established. Irrigate during fruit formation to avoid plants going into dormancy; • Planting between April and August encourages early fruiting. 

• Susceptible to strong winds so create windbreaks to protect plant; • Have a weeding, spraying, and fertilising routine. 

• Foliar spraying of 1% potassium chloride before and just after blooming enhances fruit quality. Calcium enhances tissues and calyx formation. 

• Cultural Practices: Fertilisation, training, pruning, and sprouting improve the plant canopy, quality, and appearance of the fruit. Pinch out new shoots to encourage bushy growth. Prune crop after the cold season.

 Flowering and fruiting 

The crop self-pollinates as flowers have both male and female organs. Pollination can be enhanced by gently shaking flowering stems or praying lightly with water. When the flower falls, a calyx husk which encloses the fruit forms. This happens in 70 to 80 days. 

Pest and Diseases 

Cutworms: Attack the golden berry in seedbeds. 

Mites: May cause defoliation. Hares: Damage young plants. Birds (francolins) eat fruits. 

Powdery mildew and Leaf spot: A whitish, powdery growth appears on leaves, shoots, and branch tips. Infected berries may crack. Infected leaves may drop prematurely during hot weather. Root rot: Are prone to root rot and viruses in poorly drained soil.

 Overwatering also increases chances of the diseases. 

Harvesting 

Fruiting season lasts from February to May. Harvest when the husks turn beige every two to three weeks. Fruits may be picked when partially green and allowed to ripen, but may not be as sweet as the plant ripened ones. The Cape Golden berry bears fruits in its first year. Optimum yields come in the third year and can last between three and five years, depending on variety

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Storage 

Can last 30–45 days when inside the calyx husks at room temperature and four to five months when in cool storage (less than 2ºC). 

Marketing Can be sold in the local market directly after harvesting or exported. The fruit is favored in breeding and cultivation programs of many countries. 

Nutritional value per 100 g edible portion 

1. Energy 222kJ (53kcal) 2. Carbohydrates 11.2g 3. Fat 0.7g 4. Protein 1.9g 5. Vitamin A 36 μg (5%) 6. Thiamine (Vit) 0.11 mg (10%) 7. Riboflavin (Vit. B2) 0.04 mg (3%) 8. Niacin (Vit. B3) 2.8 mg (19%) 9. Vitamin C 11 mg (13%) 10. Calcium 9 mg (1%) 11. Iron 1 mg (8%) 12. Phosphorus 40 mg (6%)

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