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STRAWBERRY CULTIVATION GUIDE

Strawberry thrives best in temperate climate. It is a short day plant, which


requires exposure to about 10 days of less than 8 hours sunshine for initiation of
flowering. In winter, the plants do not make any growth and remain dormant. The
exposure to low temperature during this period helps in breaking dormancy of the plant.
In spring when the days become longer and the temperature rises. The plants resume
growth and begin flowering. The varieties grown in milder subtropical climate do not
require chilling and continue to make some growth during winter.
From the standpoint of response to length of the light period, strawberries are placed in
two groups: (1) varieties that develop flower buds during both long and short light
periods, the overbearing varieties and (2) varieties that develop flower buds during the
short light periods only, most commercial varieties. Strawberry requires a well-drained
medium loam soil, rich in organic matter. The soil should be slightly acidic with pH from
5.7 to 6.5. At higher pH root formation is poor. The presence of excessive calcium in the
soil causes yellowing of the leaves. In light soils and in those rich in organic matter,
runner formation is better. Strawberry should not be cultivated in the same land for a
number of years. It is preferable to plant it in green manured field. Alkaline soils and soils
infected with nematodes should be avoided.

Varieties
A large number of varieties are available. For the hilly areas, varieties Royal Sovereign,
Srinagar and Dilpasand are suitable. Some of the introductions from California, such as
Torrey, Toiga and Solana may prove even more successful. The variety found successful
in Bangalore has been named Bangalore and which has performed well at
Mahabaleshwar also. For the north Indian plains, Pusa Early Dwarf which has dwarf
plants, large firm wedge-shaped fruits, has been recommended. Another variety with rich
aroma but softer fruits is Katrain Sweet. Some of the varieties found successful in
warmer parts of the U.S.A. are: Premier Florida-90, Missionary, Blackmore, Klonmore &
Klondike. Some of these may prove successful for cultivation in Indian plains.
Propagation
Propagation is done by means of runners that are formed after the blooming season. The
plants may be allowed to set as many runners as possible but not allowed to set any fruits.
All the plants with good root system should be utilised to set a new plantation. Given the
best attention and care, a single plant usually produces 12 to 18 runners.

Planting
The land for strawberry planting should be thoroughly prepared by deep ploughing
followed by harrowing. Liberal quantities of organic manure should be incorporated in
the soil before plating. Strawberry can be planted on flat beds, in the form of hill rows
or matted rows, or it can be planted on raised beds. In irrigated areas, plantings on ridges
is advised. In Mahabaleshwar, the usual practice is to plant on raised beds 4 x 3 meters or
4 x 4 meters. The planting distance should be 45 cm from plant to plant and 60 to 75 cm.
from row to row. In the hills, Transplanting is done in March-April, September-October,
but in the plains, the months of January-February may be utilised for this purpose. At
Mahabaleshwar normally strawberry is planted during November-December.
The plants should be set in the soil with their roots going straight down. The soil around
the plant should be firmly packed to exclude air. The growing point of the plant should be
just above the soil surface. During planting, the plants should not be allowed to dry out
and should be irrigated immediately after planting.

Care of young Plantation


The roots of strawberry plants spread out close to the surface. Therefore, the soil should
be well supplied with moisture, and hoeing should be done lightly and young plantation
be kept weed free.

Special Horticultural practices


In cold climate the soil is covered with a mulch in winter to protect the roots from cold
injury. The mulch keeps the fruits free from soil, reduces decay of fruits, conserves soil
moisture, lowers soil temperature in hot weather, protects flowers from frost in mild
climates and protects plants from freezing injury in cold climates. Several kinds of
mulches are used, but the commonest one is straw mulch. The name strawberry has been
derived from this fact. Black alkathine mulch is also used to cover the soil. It saves
irrigation water, prevents the growth of weeds and keep the soil temperature high.

Irrigation
Since strawberry is relatively shallow-rooted, it is susceptible to conditions of drought.
Planting early in autumn allows the plants to make good vegetative growth before the
onset of winter. However, in this case it is necessary to ensure that newly planted runners
are irrigated frequently after planting, otherwise the mortality of the plants becomes high.
During September and October, irrigation should be given twice a week if there is no
rain. It may be reduced to weekly intervals during November. In December and January,
irrigation may be given once every fortnight. When fruiting starts, the irrigation
frequency may should again be increased. At this stage frequent irrigation gives larger
fruits.

Application of manures and fertilisers


Strawberry requires moderate amounts of nitrogen. Addition of organic matter to the
soil, in the form of 50 tons of Farm Yard manure per hectare is highly desirable. It
improves the water holding capacity of the soil and also gives better runner formation.
Farm yard manure may be supplemented by chemical fertilizers to make up the total
quantity of nitrogen from 84 to 112 kg per hectare, Phosphorus 56 to 84 kg per hectare,
and Potash 56 to 112 kg per hectare. The Phosphatic fertilizer should be incorporated into
the soil before plantings. The nitrogenous fertilizer be applied in Two doses (Three weeks
after planting and again at the time of flowering) and potash at the time of flowering only.
Application of adequate amounts of nitrogen gives higher yield of early berries.

Plant protection
Red spider mites and cutworms are important pests of strawberry. The mites can be
controlled with 0.05 per cent Monocrotophos + 0.25 per cent wetable sulphur. The cut
worms can be controlled by dusting the soil before planting with 5 per cent chloradane or
Heptachlor dust at the rate of 50 kg per hectare and mixing it thoroughly in the soil by
cultivator.
The two commonest diseases of strawberry are red stele, caused by the fungus
Phytophthora fragariae and black root rot. The remedy for the former lies by growing
resistant varieties like stelemaster and for the latter to maintain the vigour of the plants
and rotate strawberry with other crops like legume vegetables (beans, peas etc).
Strawberry also suffers from virus diseases known as yellow edge, crinkle and dwarf.
Raising of strawberry nursery in the hills helps to check these. Strawberry also throws
some chlorotic plants, which result from genetic segregation. These should not be
confused with virus affected plants and should be rogued out.

Harvesting and yields


The fruit ripens during late February to April in the plains and during May and June at
high elevations like Mahabaleshwar, Nainital and Kashmir. For local market the fruit
should be harvested when fully ripe, but for transport to distant markets, it should be
harvested when still firm and before colour has developed fully all over the fruit.
Harvesting should be done preferably daily. Since fruit is highly perishable, it is packed
in flat shallow containers of various types (cardboard, bamboo, paper trays etc.) with one
or two layers of fruits. Harvesting should be done early in the morning in dry conditions.
Washing the fruit bruises it and spoils its lustre.
The yield varies according to season and locality. A yield of 20 to 25 tons per hectare is
excellent, though yields upto 50 tons per hectare have been reported under ideal
conditions.

Post Harvest handling and Marketing


Strawberries are highly perishable and hence a great deal of care in harvesting and
handling as well as its marketing also requires to be organised carefully. Usually the fruit
is picked in the early morning and sent to the market in the afternoon of the same day or
is picked in the late afternoon, stored overnight in a cool place, and sent to market the
following morning.
Mahabaleshwar, the sweet home of Indian strawberries

A huge curiosity less than 90 years ago, a good looking red fruit has taken
Mahabaleshwar by storm. With more local farmers taking to growing strawberries every
year, this western hill station now contributes almost 85 percent of India’s total
production. Mahabaleshwar was the perfect summer getaway for the Bombay province
during the British Raj. Located 120 km from Pune and 250 km from Mumbai, this resort
town, situated on a plateau, is not just picture perfect, it is also a welcome change from
the sticky Mumbai summer.

In the 1920s it was here that the English first introduced strawberries to India.

Krishna Seth Balhare, now a strawberry farmer here, fondly recalls tales his grandfather
told. “There was a huge curiosity back then about this red fruit which the British used to
grow in their kitchen gardens. The Indians had no clue about this interesting fruit, meant
only for the British Saab.” Balhare recounted: “It was called the Australian Strawberry.
But for farmers here, clueless about its taste, it was just a good-looking red fruit. Only
around 1960, the Mahabaleshwar farmer received his first 100 saplings of the
strawberry plant.”

One strawberry plant can propagate 20 more, so from the 1960’s till 1992, the Australian
variety of strawberry was grown in Mahabaleshwar in about 130 acres of land with an
output afforded only by the affluent. However, in 1992, came a strawberry revolution.
Recollects Mahendra Pangare, another farmer from Mahabaleshwar: “A businessman
brought the Chandler variety of the plant from California. This variety produced a much
bigger and better tasting fruit.”

Around that time, recall these farmers, then Maharashtra chief minister Sharad Pawar
ordered 25,000 saplings of the plant from California and strawberry farming started
gaining ground — from 600 acres then to 2,000 acres now in Mahabaleshwar alone.

The area annually produces some 15,000 tonnes of the fruit. Ramchandra Sanaba Shelke,
agriculture supervisor in the state Department of Agriculture, says: ” Mahabaleshwar
earlier grew lots of potatoes. But strawberry farming has now become very popular
among farmers here.” “I was a sales agent for a local jam-manufacturing company. The
job gave me just about Rs.3,000 to 4,000 a month consuming all my energy. So I decided
to start farming my land in Mahabaleshwar. I started strawberry farming… my whole
family supports me… all of us live and work at the farm,” says Pangare. Strawberry
farmers of Mahbaleshwar have formed support groups to help and educate one another.

“In Mexico, 20 tonnes of strawberries are produced in one acre while in California the
figure goes up to 22 tonnes. We also want to take our production to at least 15 tonnes per
acre,” says Balhare who has this year sent his first export consignment of 600 tonnes of
the fruit to Belgium. More young people are taking up strawberry farming in this region.
As a result one can see farms with latest farming techniques such as drip irrigation and
mulching being used. Organic farming is yet another area where Mahabaleshwar farmers
are taking a lead. Farmers adhere to the Euro Gap Certification where pesticides are
sprayed the least.

Today, with the region offering the perfect weather conditions for growing strawberries,
there are some 1,350 strawberry farmers in Mahabaleshwar producing 87 percent of the
Indian fruit crop. But the increased supply of the fruit in the market has depressed prices.
And this is a cause for concern for the farmers. “These days, we are getting just Rs.35 per
kg while two years ago we used to get Rs.250 per kg. Three years ago, if I invested
Rs.250,000 I would get back Rs.500,000, ” says Pangare. Balhare, however, says: “The
only way to earn more from strawberries is by producing more.”

And that, he says, is possible by spreading more awareness about the fruit. In California,
94 percent of the households consume strawberries but in India only eight percent of the
households are strawberry-eaters. “In India, even if we have a one percent increase in
strawberry consumption, it will be big,” avers Balhare. Because of severe cold, there
was a bumper crop this year. And Balhare says: “Marketing the bumper crop is always a
challenge but the recent trend of malls and big retail chains has been beneficial for the
farmers. Reliance comes to our village and buys directly from us… they give us 25
percent more than the other wholesalers in Mumbai.”