Strawberry Propagation Success with Jiffy Pellets at Torikai-san PYO Farm

Aiko and Junichi Torikai own a popular pick-your-own (PYO) farm in Japan. After running the farm for ten years, they decided to make a change in 2021, switching 100% of their strawberry propagation from plastic pots to Jiffy-7C Pellets. Find out why they made this radical change in their strawberry propagation methods and how it has affected yields.

Mr. Torikai first learned about the pellets at his local strawberry producers association in 2020. His curiosity piqued, he reached out to our local Jiffy distributor Sakata Seeds for more information. “We explained that Jiffy-7C Pellets offer a completely different way of growing strawberries,” recalls Mr. Wataru Sakata of Sakata Seeds. “The runners are propagated without the need for plastic pots or soil.”

J-7C advantages for strawberry propagation
Mr. Sakata recommended Jiffy-7Cs (J-7Cs) because they offer multiple benefits over plastic pots:

  • Clean, soilless growing media
  • Compatible with bottom watering systems
  • Free from fossil-based plastics
  • Reduced need for plant protection products
  • Light and easy to work with and to store
  • Fast takeoff thanks to excellent rooting

“We told Mr. and Mrs. Torikai that rooting is so much better with Jiffy Pellets that growth cycles are faster and yields higher,” says Mr. Sakata. “We could also reassure them that we offer advice about how to get the best results on our website and are always here to help troubleshoot any issues.”

Nevertheless, switching to a new strawberry cultivation method was a bold move. But then Mr. Torikai is a born innovator. After getting his Agriculture degree, he specialized in strawberry cultivation at Saitama agricultural college, and knew all along he wanted to offer customers something special. “Not only are we the first PYO farm in the area,” he says proudly, “we are an indoor operation. So our customers can gather their strawberries from plants on raised tables. We also have ready-picked berries to take home if they prefer.”

A record harvest for the strawberry growers
Changing to J-7Cs is already paying off: The strawberry farm achieved yields of approximately 12 tons in their first year of using J-7Cs, a record high. That’s a very good thing, because people just can’t get enough of Torikai-san’s strawberries. “It’s true,” laughs Mr. Torikai. “We often have customers queuing up when we open our doors at 10 am and we sell out within a few hours.”

Located less than an hour from Tokyo in Wako City, Saitama Prefecture, the farm grows varieties including Akihime and Benihoppe, which are really popular with PYO customers. Meanwhile, Amarin and Kaorin are unique to the Saitama region and have been cultivated since the trial.

The harvesting season for all Torikai-san’s varieties runs from mid-December to May, which means the seedlings are raised during the hot, humid summer. Heat stress can be a big problem for strawberry runners propagated in plastic pots. “In contrast, J-7C are made from purified cocopeat and wrapped in PLA, a special netting that is fossil plastic-free,” explains Mr. Sakata. “This ensures excellent air circulation around the roots, while evaporation lowers the temperature of the soil, making it easier for the roots to breathe.”

How J7-Cs encourage rapid takeoff
“But the pellets’ most important feature is that they encourage plants to grow straight roots,” he says. “When the roots reach the edge of the pellet, they stop growing, and the plant automatically starts developing additional roots. This phenomenon is known as air pruning. It leads to a dense mass of roots inside the pellet that are ready to take up lots of air, water, and nutrients once the seedling is transplanted, so they take off rapidly.”

“Above all, I was looking for a way to prevent root rot, which was often an issue when we used plastic pots with our bottom watering system,” says Mr. Torikai. “We didn’t have any root rot when we trialed the J-7Cs on our parent plant production in 2020 – which is why we made that decision to switch all of our 20,000 seedlings to the pellets the following year.”

Labor-saving pellets save the day!
“The pellets are also very easy and convenient to work with,” adds Mrs. Torikai, who met her husband at agricultural college. “This is a big help as strawberry growers always seem to be short of staff! We simply expand the trays of pellets in water, put in the runners and wait for them to take root. They’re lighter than pots, too, even when they’ve been expanded, so we don’t need to rely so much on heavy machinery to move them around the greenhouse.”

The Torikais have noticed another labor-saving quality slightly later in the cycle: The netting surrounding the J-7Cs is translucent, so they can check the rooting status of the seedlings very quickly. In the past, they had to remove the pot to see the condition of the roots and select the plants. And the success rate is higher, reducing waste and boosting yields.

Not just for strawberry cultivation
Transplantation can be another huge cause of stress for plants. But if you plant them in the same material that they were propagated in, they’ll be less stressed and take root faster. That’s why the Torikais now transplant their strawberries to Jiffy Growbags. The growbags contain exactly the same cocopeat growing media as the Jiffy Pellets.

Mr. Sakata: “Jiffy end-to-end solutions like these are used around the world for excellent results with seedlings, cuttings, and TC propagation. They’re not just for strawberry growers, but for the cultivation of all sorts of plants and trees like premium vegetables, herbs, bedding plants, forestry, and fruits. So we were delighted to become the exclusive distributor of Jiffy Pellets, Growbags, and other products for Japan in 2021.”

Committed to making a difference
The family business opened nearly a century ago and is one of the country’s biggest and best-known horticulture suppliers. In the last three years, Sakata has introduced Jiffy-7C Pellets and Jiffy Growbags to growers all over Japan. The business has a great ambassador in Mr. Torikai. He recently served as president of his growers association because he is committed to improving the quality of the strawberries throughout Saitama.

“I want to promote better growing methods like J-7Cs because they can make a real difference to strawberry propagation,” Mr. Torikai says. “They encourage strong root development even on the hottest days, help prevent root rot, and enable high yields and labor savings.”

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