Release | Ayumi Ohmiya
The midwinter treat - delicious strawberries from Yamamasu, Yuni-Cho
Yuni-Cho is located at 50 minutes drive from Sapporo and 30 minutes from Shin-Chitose Airport. The town is an agricultural area and grows rice, asparagus, log cultivated shiitake mushrooms, etc. There is a master who grows delicious strawberries during mid-winter in Yuni-Cho. He is Tadashi Hatake from Hatake Farm in Yamamasu.
▲Mr. Hatake is taking care of his strawberries. He never misses his daily job to observe strawberries.
The kind of strawberry Mr. Hatake grows is called “Sachinoka”, and it was first developed in Fukuoka Prefecture. Now Sachinoka is mainly farmed in the Pacific Ocean area in Tohoku and southward. It is quite a rare kind to see in Hokkaido. Normally, the characteristics of “Sachioka” is having a chewy texture and great balance of sweetness and sourness. However, “Sachinoka” farmed by Mr. Hatake has totally different characteristics. The texture is very soft and gentle. The sugar content is very high, around 16 to 17 degrees (the average sugar content of sweet melons are 14), and almost no sourness. When I put it in my mouth, I feel the great aroma and feel the soft texture and is incredibly juicy. No matter where I bite, strawberries are sweet and have a mild aftertaste.
▲The riped “Sachinoka” has red colors and great aroma.
It was over ten years ago when I first encountered this strawberry. I felt it was “the best strawberry in my life” and until now, other strawberries never went more than that. I have tried “Sachinoka” in other parts of Japan, but they are entirely different strawberries.
After trying these strawberries, I could never find something more delicious than it. What is the secret of the flavor of Mr. Hatake’s “Sachinoka”, which betrayed the characteristics of Sachinoka in an amazing way?
Why can Mr. Hatake grow delicious strawberries?It was over 30 years ago when Mr. Hatake started growing strawberries, and he started growing “Sachinoka” from 1999. Until then, he mainly farmed spring harvest kinds. He came up with the idea to farm “Sachinoka” with semi-greenhouse cultivation when he was searching for strawberry kinds which can gain more profit by using greenhouse during winter.
▲It was below -10 degrees when I visited the farm.
Strawberries are strong to coldness, and it grows in forced cultivation as well if you work on it. There was a friend who grew winter strawberries, and Mr. Hatake started farming strawberries with his advice.
▲He adapts elevated cultivation so that it is easy to harvest.
Mr. Hatake is exceptionally hardworking. As he learned the ecology of strawberries, he implemented his experience and developed his own methodology of growing strawberries.
▲Strawberry flowers. Toruses in the center grow and colors after flowers fall down.
He told me that the most important thing to harvest delicious strawberries is to grow good seedlings. He picks seedlings very carefully and puts his best effort to grow next generation of seedlings. He uses healthy soil and pays great attention to the balance and components of fertilizers. He limits the number of flowers (fruits) so that it is good for seedlings. There are countless things he does to strawberries.
Mr. Hatake takes care of his strawberries every day as if he is talking to them.
Bees are an important partner
I noticed few wooden box inside the greenhouse.
Those are beehives. In Mr. Hatake’s farm, bees pollinate strawberries. Bees become moveless when the environment is bad, and in the worst case, they extinct. Bees are very delicate.
He told me that they sometimes don’t come out from beehives when the temperature is too low or outside is dark because of snow or clouds. The cost of fuel raises but he makes the greenhouse warm and waits for a warm day with nice sun.
▲Bees are collecting nectars.
No one can copy his methodsMany people who dream to be a strawberry farmer visits Mr. Hatake, who became the master of strawberry after his hardworking and experiences, to learn from him. I asked if those students have become great strawberry farmers. He told me: “My way of growing strawberry takes lots of work and costs so I can’t suggest following my way easily. There may be a better way, indeed.”
Which means, his methods are not easy to copy.
If only Mr. Hatake can grow the strawberries, he must keep working! Mr. Hatake is fighting with a disease and his lost most of his sights a few years ago.
“I became very sensitive after I lost my sights. I feel the temperature, humidity, amount of lights inside the greenhouse, and the smell of strawberries. I can tell the best time to harvest by touching strawberries and feeling the smell.” Well, this is these are definitely miracle strawberries.
His wife takes part in harvesting and shipping now. Mr. Hatake’s delicious winter strawberry “Sachinoka” is also a gift of Furusato Nouzei. I recommend as a gift as well. If you are interested in purchasing, call to Hatake Farm. They also ship to other parts of Japan.
Text / Hokkaido Likers writer Ayumi Omiya