Growing up, Deepak Nayak would often visit his family’s ancestral land in Rajasthan which was being managed by farm labourers as no one had no time to work on it.
“Those few days spent on our farm were the most memorable and relaxing moments of my childhood, and I would often crave to spend more time there. But then, the rat race of the city life did not allow me to do so,” says Deepak while talking to The Better India from his farm in Rajasthan.
After finishing his engineering degree, Deepak chose to be a freelance web designer. He did well and had clients around the world.
However, Deepak started missing those peaceful moments at his farm. He would often spend time at his farmhouse built at his farm in Birantiya Kallan village in Pali district of Rajasthan, and realised that farmers were still using the age-old methods and growing same crops year after year even if they were not very profitable.
“I wanted a peaceful life after I retire and that was possible only by staying closer to nature, and so I decided to start farming,” says Deepak.
Although Deepak’s mind was made up, he did not want to become a traditional farmer.
“Once I went for a holiday in Maharashtra and found strawberry farms in places like Satara, Jalgaon etc. which had the same climatic conditions as Rajasthan. That is when I got the idea of growing strawberries on my farm too,” says Deepak.
Deepak was new to this field and began to ask farmers for tips on how to go about it. However, he was disappointed when many of them revealed that they have never even heard about this fruit.
“In our village farmers mostly grow chana, moong, bajra etc. They had never heard of or tasted strawberries. When I said I want to grow them, they all laughed at me,” reminisces Deepak with a smile on his face.
Thus, Deepak decided to learn things on his own. With the help of the internet and YouTube videos, he made notes on step by step procedure of strawberry farming.
He would regularly consult agronomists to learn all aspects of strawberry farming. Once he was sure that he could go ahead with it, he shifted to Birantiya Kallan in October 2017 and decided to grow strawberries in only one acre initially.
And within two months, Deepak is now ready with his fruits of success!
Here’s what Deepak did to start with despite being a first-time farmer:
1) Soil Testing
Deepak was not sure if his land was suitable for growing strawberries and hence he took help of the soil testing department. For a nominal amount of Rs 700, one can get the soil tested and get a detailed report of the soil contents. According to Deepak the PH level of the soil should be up to 7 and the water EC level should be up to 0.7 to grow strawberries.
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A minimum temperature of 10 degree Celsius and a maximum temperature 30-32 degree Celsius is the temperature required to grow strawberries. That is the reason why this fruit should be cultivated only in the winters as this temperature can be easily maintained in this season.
3) Preparing the land
To make the land strawberry ready, first Deepak tilled the entire land. The soft soil is then mixed with organic manure made out of cow dung. Though Deepak does not have his own cattle, he sourced cow dung from the villagers. Once the fertiliser was mixed, the land was tilled again and raised beds of about 2×180 ft. were prepared for plantation.
4) Smart use of fertilisers
Once the beds were ready, a calculative amount of DAP fertiliser was spread over them. Deepak informs that he had taken expert advice to use the amount and combination of fertilisers according to the soil content. After this, naturally made compost manure was put on these beds on an average of 50 kgs per bed.
5) Use of Technology
Drip irrigation system has been installed on Deepak’s farm, and he insists that this technology is a must for all strawberry farmers. After watering the beds with this system, Deepak made use of another latest method of farming that is mulching.
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Deepak got the plants from KF Bioplants Pvt. Ltd, Pune and the cost per plant came up to Rs. 9.50. Initially, he bought 15000 plants and planted them in 1 acre, but says that one can plant up to 24000 plants in 1 acre.
Deepak planted them at a maximum distance from each other and suggested that the distance between two rows made for plantation should be ideally 10-12 inches. He, however had planted his plants at a distance of about 12-14 inches.
Things to remember–
Strawberry plants are prone to fungus, and hence one has to keep spraying fungicide time to time. Deepak suggests using the organic fungicides available in the market or making your own fungicide.
Temperature fluctuations are possible, and one must maintain it by giving regular showers to the plants using spray machines. One also has to keep removing the dead leaves.
The fruiting starts within 40-50 days of the plantation, and in a few days, one can harvest the fruits. Deepak has just harvested 5 kgs and in another few days, 20 to 30 kgs of strawberries can be harvested every alternate day. After 20 more days the plants will be giving 40 to 50 kg from one acre every alternate day.
So each season one can expect 4-5 tonnes of strawberries from 1-acre land.
The nearby areas like Bilawar and Ajmer have a massive demand for Deepak’s strawberries as these have never been grown locally here. Deepak sells his strawberries at the rate of Rs 200 per kg in these markets directly to the consumer.
“Strawberries do not have a good shelf life. Strawberries grown in Maharashtra are brought to Ahmedabad first and then distributed in the nearby markets, so the entire procedure takes about a week. The consumer never gets the freshly plucked strawberries, so I am happy to provide them fresh strawberries from my farm within hours of plucking them,” says Deepak.
Deepak says that the most significant challenge to uplift farmers is to convince them to change the way they are farming and to grow crops other than their traditional ones. However, this is possible only when someone gives them a practical example.
“There are people here who had never tasted strawberries so I make them taste the fruit and then inform them about more unusual crops they can grow to earn maximum profit. This is such a satisfying feeling for me,” says Deepak.
Deepak has planned to set up a poly house next in his farm to grow exotic vegetables and fruits. He has also purchased a second hand galvanized pipe and has not taken any subsidy for any of his investments yet.
Deepak has a message for all the farmers who want to quit farming because of losses. He says, “It’s not that you don’t face issues in business or jobs. There are ups and downs in every field but running away can never be a solution. This is our land, our soil and we must never give up on it. If we wish our future generations to lead a pollution free and healthy life then getting back to farming is the only and best way to ensure this.”
For more information, you can contact Deepak on this number: +91 79760 47123.