Velista Wanjiru Thuo is one proud grandmother. She is training her family into the flower business that she started as a part-time venture back in 1985. She has been doing it informally until 10 years ago when the family registered Phinna Flowers Limited and that’s when business picked up. She also brought in the daughters and sons who have in turn brought in their children. The farm is located in Njambini, Nyandarua County.
Her second proud moment is when the farm won the Gold award for Best Small-scale farm geared towards commercialization at the 2018 National Farmers Awards. She was handed the award by H.E. President Uhuru Kenyatta.
“I wasn’t expecting to win, says Velista “I was only hoping to make it to 3rd place at least” she continues. Inspectors from the Ministry of Agriculture came to her farm and asked her questions whilst seeing the farm, sat down and wrote their recommendations and then left. It wasn’t until 6 months later that they called to inform her that she had won 1st place.
Later on, the farm was exhibiting at the Nyandarua County Agricultural Show at Engineer and the First Lady Margaret Kenyatta was present with area Governor Francis Kimemia. The first lady was impressed and this prompted the Governor to desire to visit the winning farm. He later visited the farm and even promised to repair a community borehole near the farm.
Since winning the award, she has gotten a lot of visitors most notably Bill Magee, a representative from the Australian Government’s Department of Agriculture. Others include lecturers from Egerton University and students from Karatina University. They also train farmers who want to venture into flowers.
It all started in 1985 when a friend introduced Velista to flowers. He was growing and selling flowers and sold a few seedlings to her. When they were ready, he took her to the market to sell alongside his. She has been mixing flowers with cabbages and potatoes. She now wants to fully specialize in flowers.
She has raised her kids and schooled them with flowers, cabbages and potatoes. Her husband is a retired teacher and her biggest supporter. The farm is 12 acres divided into small portions. They plant Craspedia, Ammy, Scabiosa, Mullicella, Erygium and Astromeria.
The flowers are packed into boxes for export and some to local market. Craspedia fits 1200 stems in a box, Scabiosa fits 1200 stems, Agapanthus fits 400 stems, Astromeria fits 300 stems and Erygium fits 300 stems for the Planum variety and 250 for the Anita variety.
Velista used to do a lot and would sometimes come back home past midnight after delivering flowers to the airport. She now has her family in the trade.
The low season runs from August to May and the high season from May to August. Most of their flowers end up in the local market.
The biggest challenge for the farm is black spot disease which affects most of the flowers during the cold season. The other challenge is water shortage. Despite the governor promising to repair the community borehole, the work hasn’t started and Phinna Flowers is forced to undergo losses during the dry season.
The farm is divided into small portions of different flowers. Each portion is the size of a quarter acre. In one portion, Craspedia is planted and fits 11,000 seedlings. In another portion, Erygium fits 8,000 seedlings. Craspedia is usually sold fresh as balls of flowers or it can be dried and sold in Australia which prefers the dried flower balls.
“In terms of production, Craspedia we produce 25,000 stems twice a week during the high season and 6-8,000 stems during the low season. Erygium and Astromeria we produce 10,000 stems during the high season and half that amount during the low season. For Agapanthus, the white variety we produce 15,000 stems during the high season and 3,000 stems during the low season. Mullicella we plant on order and produce up to 2,000 stems as per the customer’s demand, “ Velista said.