“Benihoppe” or “Red Cheeks” strawberries is a cultivar which was successfully developped no later than in 2002 in Shizuoka Prefecture. It has since been voted as the best-balanced strawberry in Japan, and Izu Peninsula being near Tokyo, we do not see too many of our fruit on our own market stands!
Now, by sheer coincidence a university student of mine, Haruka Yamaguchi/山口春香, just happened to come from a family, based in Nirayama located in the newly named Izu No Kuni City/伊豆の国市, who have switched to the growing of Benihoppe Strawberries as soon as their cultivar was made available through their cooperative!
To make things even easier, Mr. Izuzawa/伊豆沢秀慶, belonging to the government-sponsored local JA (Japan Agriculture) office, was there on hand to provide me with piles of welcome information. Mind you, I had done a bit of preparation as I had asked Haruka to distribute some business cards to the local farming community!
Mitsuo/光雄 and Tamako/玉子 Yamaguchi are the second generation of strawberry growers in their family. Strawberry culture is big in that particular area as it counts no less than 187 registered farms!
The Yamaguchis’ plot covers 1,500 tsubo (4,500 square meters), a fairly sizeable land in this country, and I don’t include other pieces of land here and there they use for re-planting and so on!
As I said, they switched from Akihime Strawberries to Benihoppe Strawberries as soon possible, and this was certainly a good move.
They employ 3 people on a permanent basis and a couple more at harvest time.
Strawberry culture is more complicated than it looks at first, and I didn’t realize how much I would have to go through (and more later) through this interview.
Abroad, for purposes of commercial production, plants are propagated from runners and, in general, distributed as either bare root plants or plugs. Cultivation follows one of two general models, annual plasticulture or a perennial system of matted rows or mounds. A small amount of strawberries are also produced in greenhouses during the off season.
Now, the Japanese seem to do all that at the same time.
End of March every year the original strawberry seedlings are first acquired from Cooperative nurseries and planted under into a “parent soil”.
Runners are encouraged to developped and are re-planted in small elongated pots called “Nira” (as of Nirayama) pots, an idea locally developped.
Interestingly enough, the “nira” pots are not filled with soil, but with a mixture of peat moss and shredded palm fronds and some fertilizer.
The fertilizer is “IBSI 1” sold at the Cooperative. The Yamaguchis were kind enough to show me a bag of it and
its contents. If one can manipulate it with bare hands (Mrs. Yamaguchi’s in this case) there is little doubt the fertilizer is easy on the environment!
The runners are encouraged onto new seedlings into at least 3 successive “nira” pots.
The strawberry plants will be cultivated separately in open air until the middle of August.
Then the vynil covers will be drawn over the greenhouses and ventilators will reduce the temperature as low as 15~18 degrees Celsius to “trick” the strawberries into believing thay are back into winter.
This is the easy way…
Until 15 years ago, when giant refrigerating ventilators were not used, all the seedlings had to be carried by truck up on the slopes of Mount Fuji as high as the Second Trek Station!
By the middle of September, one seedling will be completely cut out and examined to decide whether the time is ripe for re-planting in real soil inside greenhouses.
The greenhouses are already being prepared and this does involve more work and costly specialized equipment.
The method will then be more traditional with plasticulture system. In this method, raised beds are formed each year, fumigated, and covered with plastic to prevent weed growth and erosion.
Holes will be opened for individual re-planting.
The greenhouses along the road crossing the rice paddies.
Harvesting will start in November and lasts until May with up to 6 peaks.
But that is for the next report!
Yamaguchi Benihoppe Strawberry Farm
410-2114, Izu no Kuni, Nan-jo, 8
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