Even as the pandemic and heavy rains delayed the sowing season, a record tourist inflow to the region has made the strawberry farmers happy
Wrapped in the misty haze of winter, the tiny village of Lambasingi in the Eastern Ghats of Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh is drawing tourists and locals in numbers never seen before. And, it’s not just the chilly climate and scenic locales that are pulling the crowd; strawberry picking has become a big tourist attraction for the region. Located at 1,000 metres above sea level, Lambasingi in Chintapalli, tasted its first produce of strawberries about four years ago. Buoyed by good yield and profits, the farmers have increased the cultivation of strawberries in the region, since then.
However, this time, the pandemic almost halted the dream produce of the farmers. Back in September, Prasanna Kumar Dasari who would have otherwise been handling the busiest month of the year, found himself caught in a difficult situation. Due to lockdown-induced restrictions, plant exports from countries like Spain, Italy and the US, got delayed. As a result, Prasanna like other farmers of Lambasingi had to delay the sowing by two months. The erratic monsoons didn’t help either. But, Prasanna took a leap of faith and planted 50,000 plants in his three-acre farm. “I was quite skeptical about the produce and whether the tourist farm visits will pick up by December-January which is the peak season,” says Prasanna. But in the past three weeks, he has seen a record number of visitors walking in for strawberry picking. “The numbers have almost doubled. Last weekend, we saw close to 25,000 people visiting our farm on a single day,” he exclaims.
Hima Rao Garimella who along with her family visited the strawberry fields recently describes the experience as “hugely rewarding”. “Picking ruby red strawberries in a farm cradled in the misty valley is definitely bucket-list worthy,” she says. Her six-year-old son who accompanied her for the trip was particularly excited about the exercise.
For many tourists who arrived from neighbouring Odisha and Chhattisgarh, the visit was a learning experience. “You learn so much about farming and how it actually happens on the field. I was particularly fascinated by the simple, ingenious hacks used by farmers to tackle pests. There were garlic chives on the strawberry patches to deter pests; I came across many such interesting finds,” says Sudhir Behara, who drove down from Odisha with his family.
These strawberries are being sold at a premium of ₹400 per kilogram (from the farm- picked lot) or ₹ 500 per kilogram if you wish to pick yourself.
Tips to grow strawberries at home
- Plant baby plants in pots during the winter months. The ideal time is from November to January.
- Strawberries can be grown in a pot or a hanging basket on your balcony, terrace or window box. Ensure that it gets the right amount of morning sunlight and is not in a windy spot that deters pollinating agents.
- They thrive in moist but well-drained soil with temperatures below 20 degrees.
- To encourage flowering, feed homemade fertilizers.
- Tuck some straw around the plants. This helps keep the berries clean, dry and pest-free.
- Wait until the berries are completely red before harvesting. Ensure that the stem is left intact while picking the fruit.
- To encourage strong growth for next season, after harvesting, cut off foliage about five centimetres above ground level and fertilise the soil.
Prasanna says, “Strawberry baby plants need special care to save them from frost during winters. Once the fruit is ripe it needs to be immediately sold because storing them is an issue. Pests are another thing that one needs to be extremely careful about. You have to identify and tackle it at an early stage.”