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The secret to harvesting high-quality garden crops

In the Garden

The temperatures are dropping, which means your garden produce is coming on. It is time to harvest! There are a few techniques that will help you to get the best of what the garden has to offer.

All produce requires extreme care at harvest. One of the biggest mistakes growers can make on some crops is to harvest too early, when the fruit is underripe and has not developed their full flavor. Another mistake is to harvest certain crops too late so that they become too large, tough or seedy, such as cucumbers and summer squash. This article will cover some harvesting considerations of fruit we prefer to eat when they are fully ripe.

The ripening process of produce in the garden is the process by which the flavor, color, aroma, and texture gain their desired levels. We can categorize plants into two ripening categories, climacteric and non-climacteric fruits.

Climacteric fruits can ripen off the plant once they reach physiological maturity. These include apples, bananas, blueberries, pears, stone fruits (apricots, nectarines, peaches, and plums), and tomatoes. If harvested “mature green,” they can be ripened after harvest and short-term storage.

Non-climacteric fruits must ripen on the plant if you want a fully ripe fruit. Once they are harvested, no further ripening will occur. These include berries, cherries, cucumber, eggplant, grapes, okra, peas, peppers, strawberries, and watermelons. If strawberries are harvested before they turn red, they will never turn red. Watermelons develop most of their sugar content in the week before they reach full maturity, making early harvest very undesirable.

Mechanical injury to produce can be a serious problem, as injury can cause produce to lose water, increase respiration rates, and decay. Common injuries include cutting, bruising, and other mechanical damage. Care should be taken when digging root crops to avoid contact with the shovel. Containers should be clean; smooth and free of rough edges; vented; and not too large. In addition, wear cotton gloves, trim fingernails, and remove jewelry that could damage produce during harvest. Never dump picking bags or baskets of produce out to avoid bruising.

Cool produce as soon as possible after harvest. Always supply shade for harvested produce to prevent heat or sun damage. Harvesting early in the morning or at night helps to keep the internal temperature of the produce low. Let dew dry off if the produce is susceptible to fungal diseases.

The risk of bacterial and fungal diseases can be reduced by disinfecting all tools and equipment that come in contact with the produce. Avoid laying produce on bare soil and clean any soil contamination from the produce to reduce food safety hazards. Occasionally, fruit may fall to the ground prior to harvest or during harvest. It is best to leave the produce to prevent spoilage of the rest of the produce.

Cure root and tuber crops intended for storage by exposing them to moist, warm conditions that heal wounds and thicken peels. Cure bulb crops such as onions and garlic (by dry neck tissue and outer skins) before packing and storing.

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