A common misconception of marijuana cultivation, especially among first-time growers, is that harvest time is like gym class in grade school—it’s still a class you have to go to but it requires less thought and more fun than an actual science class. Unfortunately, underestimating the final phases of a grow operation can be a very costly mistake when it comes down to grading the outcome of your buds.
Fatal errors in areas such as flushing, cutting and curing buds can lead to big disappointment after long months of hard work and care. To be sure this doesn’t happen to you, and to ensure the highest quality of your cannabis—no matter what strain it is—it’s important to take note of a few Key Points of Harvest Time.
- Numero Uno
- The Catch
- The Two-Step Flush
- Dry Air = More Resin
- Harvest & Manicure
- Drying for Taste and Burnability
- What’s the Cure?
- What Time of Day to Harvest?
- Facts on Drying & Curing
- Autumn is the berries – go pick
- Picking Tips: What to know in selecting or harvesting many fruits and vegetables from a plant, farm or market
- What to bring
- Farm Rules
- When you get home
- Specific Tips for Each Type of Fruit or Vegetable:
- General tips for each fruit:
- Our Best Berry Picking Tips and 12 Ways to Use Your Haul
- 1. Call ahead
- 2. Go early in the day
- 3. Consider BYOB
- 4. Pack supplies
- 5. Stay put
- 6. Dress appropriately
- 7. Recognize that kids change the focus
- 8. Ask about seconds
- 9. Wash your berries when you get home
The first, and perhaps most important, aspect of harvesting cannabis is knowing exactly when to start chopping down the ladies. A precision harvest is essential for potent cultivation. Growers must be very careful not to cut down plants that are not yet at the pinnacle of resin production, but they must also be wary of cutting plants too late—at a time when THC production has curtailed and resin glands begin to degrade.
There are various methods by which even the most amateur grower can tell when buds are truly ripe for the picking. The simplest and quickest way to know is by examining the pistils, or long hairs, that cover the plant’s buds. At the onset of flowering, these pistils are white and stringy. But as the flowering period comes to an end, they begin to turn color, first from white to orange and then again to a dark red or brown. These color changes signify the maturation of the buds; however, the color and time frame may vary significantly across different varieties of cannabis.
Therefore, a better, yet slightly more complicated, method for determining ripeness is through trichome examination. Trichomes are the actual resin glands that contain THC and other psychoactive cannabinoids, and they are very delicate and easily ruptured. These trichomes are visible on the outside of buds and small leaves and look like little white sugar crystals to the naked eye. However, with the power of a magnifying glass or simple microscope, you can see that trichomes are comprised of a stalk and resin head and are clear or white in color.
As with pistils, trichomes also begin to change color as the buds mature. But in this scenario, a grower wants to harvest buds before they get too dark in color. Even a subtle amber hue in these glands could mean that cannabinoids have begun breaking down and decomposing, which means less potent pot. Using a magnifier between 50x-100x, advanced growers look for a creamy or milky white color in trichomes that tells them it’s time to harvest.
As with most tricks of the trade, there is always a catch. And in this case it can be taken quite literally as well, because when checking your buds for ripeness you’ll want to “catch” any and all clues that can signal maturation—a few weeks before harvest time. Having a “harvest heads-up” can be extremely beneficial for growers, not only to prep equipment and rooms for drying and curing, but also to prep the plants for taste and smooth smoking.
If a grower can consistently examine trichomes and keep accurate time records from the start of the flowering photoperiod (12/12 light cycle), then it should be no problem for the grower to begin flushing out the grow medium in preparation for the harvest.
The Two-Step Flush
The last two weeks of flowering should be spent getting rid of any built-up nutrients in the growing medium, a process called leaching, or flushing. By removing all access to nutrients, the plant begins to consume its stored food reserves. These reserves are nasty compounds that we don’t want in our smoke, such as sugars, starches and various other elements. Harvesting plants that still have these undesirable elements present will only result in a harsh smoke and terrible burnability.
Flushing should begin about 14 days before harvest by stopping all nutrients and using only pure water to feed the plants. By providing no nutrients, you force the plant to rely only on what is left in the growing medium to feed on. The actual act of flushing is achieved by over-irrigating the medium until the nutrients inside are dissolved and washed out the bottom of the container. The best way to do this is with a two-step flush technique. (The process is an easy one.)
First, flood the grow medium with a heavy dose of water and wait a few minutes to allow all of the salts (nutrient buildup) to break down. Then add more water to chase out the first dose. By waiting a few minutes after adding the first dose of water, you’re allowing enough time for the water to dissolve the salts. As salts decompose, they can be effectively flushed out by the second dose. Traditional leaching usually employs only the first flush of water, which isn’t always adequate for complete dissolution.
A few days after flushing, you should notice signs of nitrogen deficiency. The leaves will go from dark to light green, eventually turning completely yellow. Another sign is a reddening of the leaf stems, starting at the center of the leaf where the blades come together.
Test your flush by snapping off a leaf and tasting the juice that flows from the stem. If the taste is bitter, there’s still plenty of food in the plant’s system. When the juices are clean and taste like pure water, the plant is clean enough for harvest. The bitterness is from nutrients and other chemicals that you definitely do not want in your smoke.
Dry Air = More Resin
One final flush should occur a day or two before harvesting, with the final 24 hours of the garden’s life being spent in relative dryness. This last deluge should be done with fresh water and can be a single or a two-step flush, depending on how much fertilizer was applied previous to the final two weeks of flowering. This will be the final watering your plants ever get. In doing this, you help ensure that the plants will begin to slowly dehydrate as you approach harvest, which in turn will aid the plants in their final hours of resin production.
Some gardeners even like to allow their medium to go bone-dry before harvesting. The idea is that resin production seems to skyrocket if the medium is allowed to dry before harvesting, but this isn’t due to dry medium – it’s due to dry air.
When the relative humidity in the garden is low, your resin production will increase. This is a natural response cannabis has to dry air, an attempt to protect itself from hot, dry conditions. Marijuana resin actually has one of the highest UV-resistance ratings in the plant kingdom. The resin reflects light, preventing the buds from getting sunburn. (This is also why it’s so easy for helicopters to spot marijuana from the sky; it glows when seen through UV-sensitive equipment.)
Lowering the humidity in the room on that last night before harvest morning will ensure increased resin production, without having to let the medium go bone-dry first. Additionally, some growers like to subject their gardens to prolonged dark periods of up to 24 hours just before cutting, claiming they notice spikes in resin production. This is all right as the low humidity will cut down on light uptake anyway, plus it helps to make sure liquid foods within the plants drain down to the root zone.
Harvest & Manicure
When the big day arrives it is best to start early, before the light period begins in the growroom. If the grow lamps turn on, it’s okay to cut them completely and work by standard room lighting. Begin by cutting the entire plant away from the root ball. If the plants are too large to harvest with one cut at the bottom, start by cutting the larger, heavier branches first. Remember to leave one or two larger stems connected to the branches you are cutting off. These stems will form nice “Vs” on the branches for easy hang drying.
Most indoor growers begin taking off the large fan leaves about a week before actual harvest. This is a good idea, especially once these leaves begin paling from green to yellow in color. Continue your harvest by taking off all leaves not associated with the buds and then move on to trimming off the smaller sugar leaves. Look for leaves with little resin coverage first and then move into the interior of the nuggets. It’s easier to remove leaves within the buds once they have dried out a bit, but that adds extra time and a second round of manicuring. By turning buds over and getting to the underside of smaller sugar leaves, it becomes easier to snip away at the stem and remove the entire leaf. Many growers like to only trim off leaf edges that come out of buds, leaving an aesthetic shape to the bud with the heavily resinated portion of the sugar leaves still intact within the buds.
Once the plants are cut, trimmed and manicured to perfection, it is best to hang branches upside down on strings strung across open spaces to get maximum air flow over your buds. Keeping buds on the branches does slow the drying, as the branches do retain some water however, this is the easiest way to completely surround buds with dry air without using drying chambers or machines.
Drying for Taste and Burnability
Now that you’ve harvested and are ready to dry and cure, you will want to preserve as much of the vibrant color and taste of your herb as possible. Buds should hang dry for five to seven days at the ideal temperature of about 70ºF with 50 percent humidity. You want to get most of the water out of the buds in those first days and then slow the process down for another week or so during the curing process.
Remember that a plant is not dead upon cutting—it is still very much alive. A plant is effectively dead when the water pressure inside is too low to continue vascular movement. In other words, when the waterworks stop, the plant is dead. The goal here is to dry the plant as evenly as possible and at a nice slow pace. When buds are rapidly dried, the plant tissue can trap in unwanted starches and nitrates which cause buds to burn unevenly and with an awful taste.
At four to five days into the dry, the tips of some buds might be dry enough to pluck off and sample. After the buds have gone through their full cycle of drying, we want to slow the whole thing down and draw the rest of the moisture out very gradually. This is the curing process.
What’s the Cure?
If your herb is harvested correctly, there is very little need for long cures. Long cures are needed to make harsh herb smoke smoother. If you start out with smooth, clean herb, there’s less need for long cures. Most buds should be cured and ready to smoke in less than two weeks after the drying period. Expert growers who harvest properly can complete curing in five or six days, but a good average can easily range from 10 to 14 days.
Inexperienced growers often tend to get impatient and only cure for a few days, but this can be a costly mistake when it comes to potency. Allowing the buds to cure evenly, which means drying at a slower rate, removes moisture within the buds so that all the THC can be converted in its psychoactive form.
The curing process evens out the moisture levels in the herb. You want the same amount of moisture in the center of the buds as you do on the outside of the buds until they are almost totally devoid of fluids. Completely drying the herb too fast can trap moisture in the middle and not allow for a proper cure.
For the curing process, you want to put the half-dried buds into air-tight containers. Inside the container, the buds will become evenly moist, inside and out, as they begin to “sweat.” You can check to see if your buds are sweating and releasing moisture by gently squeezing them between your fingers to see if they feel damper than they did a few hours before sealing them up. Glass jars with rubber seals and lockdown lids are the best option for curing, but for large amounts of harvested buds, you’ll need something much bigger. Tight-sealing rubber or plastic bins are the best option for large quantities of buds but many growers feel these containers impart a plastic-type taste onto the buds. This can be offset by adding a small slice of lemon or orange peel to the bins toward the end of your cure.
Once the buds are again evenly moist, open the containers to let the moist air exchange with fresh air. Air exchanges are essential to the curing process. Not only do they prevent condensation from forming in your curing bins, but the fresh air is drier than the air you just allowed to escape from the container. The moisture still trapped in the herb will again slowly escape and moisten the new, fresh air. Open the container several times a day to exchange the moistened air with fresh air to slowly draw out the moisture in the buds. Eventually (again, one to two weeks) the moisture level in the herb will be at the right level to stash away and, of course, smoke!
What Time of Day to Harvest?
Timing the harvest is Paramount to the final quality. Harvest your precious buds in the dark, just before the lights normally come on. If possible, do not allow the plants to see direct light as long as their roots are attached. Direct light on a plant will draw up stored starches and sugars from the root system.
During the nighttime hours, our ladies are busy storing food down in their root system that they made during the daylight hours. During “lights out,” starches and sugars produced by photosynthesis during the day drain downward to the roots. Knowing this, it is easy to figure out that you want to cut your plants away from the roots before the lights come on, when food moves back upward into the buds.
Outdoor herb is often harvested during the daytime hours and the result is a harsh, difficult burn and an extra long cure. The starches and sugars present in daytime-harvested herb act like fire retardants—not the effect we’re looking for. In addition to tasting and burning bad, these fire retardants also change the chemical make up of the smoke you’re ingesting. This means that the THC, cannabinol, cannabidoil and other active cannabinoids can’t burn at the perfect temperature to get you properly high because they haven’t properly converted to their psychoactive forms.
Facts on Drying & Curing
• During the drying of marijuana buds, THC is converted from an acidic, non-psychoactive chemical into a neutrally based, psychoactive form that gets you high. This is why fresh marijuana is generally weaker than properly dried and cured buds.
• Marijuana will lose approximately 75 percent of its weight during drying due to water evaporating from plant matter.
•Buds dried too fast will be frail and may start to crumble. Keep humidity between 45 and 55 percent in your drying room to prevent this and to help keep aroma and flavor locked in.
•Buds are done drying and ready for curing when stems snap when bent rather than just folding over.
•Air exchanges during curing should occur every four or five hours with curing bins left open for 10 minutes at a time.
If a morning harvest is impossible to fit into your schedule or lifestyle, pick in the evening after the heat of the late afternoon sun has begun to wane. Other fruiting vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers and zucchini are less sensitive to wilting, so they can be picked later in the day. So can root vegetables like carrots, but make sure to get them out of the sun and into the refrigerator quickly, particularly if the weather is warm.
Testing for ripeness involves all the senses: from tapping and smelling melons to puncturing corn kernels and recognizing the perfect plumpness of a pea! After enough practice and plenty of tasting, you’ll find that your hands learn to find beans of the perfect thickness on their own.
Beets: Pick baby beets at 1 1/2” in diameter and let some grow larger. For best flavor in hot weather, keep beets well watered and don’t leave them in the ground so long that they become pithy or woody.
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Broccoli: Harvest broccoli in the morning, when the heads are large and fully developed. The buds should be tightly closed; they eventually start to expand and open into yellow flowers, but if you wait until that point, your broccoli will be tough and woody. Cut the plant about halfway down the stalk to encourage the continual production of side shoots. Keep plants well watered to prevent them from developing a bitter or sulphuric taste. The best tasting broccoli is produced in cool weather.
Carrots: Pull carrots after they’ve developed a rich orange or yellow color, depending on the variety. If your Carrot tops break off when you pull them, try loosening the soil first with a digging fork. Baby carrots can be picked when they are 1/2” thick. Pick round carrots when they are 1 1 1/2” in diameter.
Chard: Harvest the outer leaves of chard when the plants are sturdy and well established. Be sure to leave four to six leaves so that the plant can continue to grow and produce more leaves throughout the summer. Chard will also overwinter in mild areas where the ground does not freeze hard.
Corn: Corn is ready when the ears become rounded at the base and the silks at the top turn dark brown but haven’t yet dried out. Peel back the ear to expose the cob and puncture a kernel with your fingernail. If the kernels are fat and juice is milky-white, the ear is ready for eating. For best results, pick and shuck corn ears close to the time you want to eat it, Sugar enhanced varieties keep their sweetness longer – convenient if you can’t eat all your ripe corn at once!
Cucumbers: Harvest English and Middle Eastern cucumbers when they’ve grown to size, the skin is smooth and glossy and the seeds are small. Don’t wait too long – bigger is not better in cukes — and pick at least every other day, since over-mature cucumbers become bitter and unpleasantly seedy. Frequent picking also increases production of new fruits. Harvest lemon cucumbers when they are light green with just a blush of lemon color — they taste less crisp and much too seedy if you wait until they turn bright yellow.
Eggplant: Pick eggplants when they have grown to size and are smooth and shiny. They taste most delicate and least bitter when they are still young, before the skins toughen and the seeds mature and darken inside. To avoid damaging the easily breakable plants, be sure to cut the fruits from the branches, rather than trying to pull off the eggplants.
Fennel: Cut bulbing fennel at soil level when the bulbing base becomes knobby and rounded and about 3/4 the size of a tennis ball or larger. After harvesting each bulb, cut the ferny leaves down to the stalk, then slice up the juicy bulb to use fresh or cooked.
Salad and Stir-Fry Greens: Mixed greens such as mesclun salads, stir-fry greens or lettuce mixes can be picked as tiny 2” baby thinnings. Otherwise, use the “Cut and Come Again” method: wait until the young plants are just 4-7” tall: then cut across the whole bed with a scissors to harvest, leaving the bottom 1 to 2 in. of plants in the soil. Water well, and fertilize lightly. The cut crowns of the plants will regrow for successive harvests. These mixed greens can sometimes taste bitter after several cuttings, particularly in very hot weather, so make successive sowings every few weeks for a constant supply of tender young leaves. Spicier leaves like arugula, taste mildest in cool spring or fall weather.
Endive and Escarole: Plant these greens in mid to late summer for a fall harvest. Cut whole heads of endive and escarole when they begin to fill with lighter leaves in the center. Some gardeners tie or rubber band the outer leaves around the center and leave them closed for about a week to blanch and sweeten leaves inside. Cold-weather makes these leafy greens even more crispy-sweet and succulent.
Radicchio: Cut the inner heads of radicchio in late fall before a hard frost when they are firm, round and colored deep red and white. If you pick them too early when leaves are still red and green, they will taste quite bitter.
Kale: You can start picking the outer leaves of kale when the plants are sturdy and well established. Be sure to leave seven or eight leaf crowns to regrow after harvest.
Leeks: Harvest tender baby leeks when they are about 1/2-1” thick or continue to let them thicken. Make sure to pick them before they begin to send up a flowering stalk, or else they’ll be much too tough to eat. Keep leeks well weeded, watered and fertilized, and hill up the soil around the base for a longer, blanched white shaft, which is more delicate than the tougher green upper leaves.
Lettuce: Pick lettuce in the cool early morning while they leaves are still crisp. Lettuce can be harvested as delicate baby greens, or as crisp, full-bodied heads. To harvest by the “Cut and Come Again,” method, cut with a scissors when lettuces reach about 4-5 inches tall to about 2” above the soil line. Water well and fertilize lightly to enjoy several additional cuttings. Harvest whole heads of lettuce when they start to fill in at the center but before they begin to elongate at the center and “bolt” (send up a flower stem), at which point they’ll taste bitter.
Melons: The perfection of a melon is so fleeting, that finding a perfectly ripe melon every time is a fine art. Pay close attention when picking so you learn what factors indicate the tastiest fruits. If you consistently have trouble growing tasty melons in your area, it may be that your climate is too cool. Grow them on black plastic or over a rock wall, and experiment with different varieties to find the best for your region.
Cantaloupes: Pick when they heavy and tan-colored with a slight yellowish cast. When ripe, a cantaloupe’s netting becomes harder and raised, and a crack forms around the stem where it touches the fruit. The melons should slip easily off the vines with a quick pull, but should not have already fallen off. The fruits get slightly softer at the bottom end and they smell fragrant.
Honeydews should have a slight yellow blush on their ivory rinds when ready. They also get slightly softer at the blossom end. Unlike muskmelons, honeydews do not slip off at the stem so must be cut from the vines.
Galia melons turn from green to a golden color on the surface of the fruits and smell fragrant.
Watermelons develop a dull green cast and have a light patch at the bottom that changes from green to light yellow when mature. Also, the leaf on the tendril nearest the fruit turns brown and withers. The skin should be hard – difficult to pierce with a fingernail. Some people say they can knock on a melon to detect a perfect hollow tone.
Onions: Pick young scallions when they are 10-12” tall. For large storage onions, wait until about half the topshave started to die back and have fallen over. Knock the remaining tops over and let them stay in the ground for another week. Harvest and store in a cool, dry, airy place. Cut off the tops and shorten the roots when the skin and tops are completely dry.
Pick peas in the morning at least every other day for maximum harvest and crispest texture.
Shelling Peas: Pick them when the pods are rounded and the peas have filled the pod – but before they grow too large and tough.
Snap Peas: Wait until the flat edible pods begin to grow rounded, plump and juicy – but before the peas inside get too big and tough. You’ll notice that the pods will not taste sugary enough if the pods are picked too early and flat.
Snow Peas: Pick them when the pods have grown to size but are still quite flat.
Peppers: Sweet peppers taste much sweeter and are most nutritious when they’ve been allowed to fully color up from green to glowing red, orange or yellow on the vine, depending on variety. If your growing season is too short for peppers to ripen completely, pick your last green peppers as late as possible and keep in a cool place to color up, checking them often for rotting. Chile peppers also develop their full pungency and fruitiness when fully colored, but can be harvested shiny green as soon as they’ve grown to size.
Pumpkins and Squash
Pumpkins: Harvest pumpkins when the fruits are deep orange and the shells are so hard that they can’t be pierced with a fingernail. Cut a 2-3” stem handle, let cure for 10 days in the sun or a warm, dry room (do not expose to frost) and store in a cool, dry place at around 50 degrees.
Summer Squash: Smaller is better when it comes to summer squash. The longer the fruits remain on the vine, the tougher on the outside, seedier and more watery they become on the inside. Even the most ardent zucchini bread bakers will probably not want to grate and freeze too many baseball-bat sized fruits! So pick zucchini no larger than 6 or 7″. Pick patty pan squash at 2-3”, round zucchini at 3-4″, and longer trombetta squash at 12-14″.
Winter Squash: Pick winter squash when rind is deeply colored and the shells have become so hard that you can’t pierce them with your fingernail. Cut a 2-3” stem handle, let cure for 10 days in the sun or a very warm room (do not expose to frost) and store in a cool dry place at around 50 degrees. Some varieties which store less well such as acorn squash should be consumed in the fall; the flavor and texture of many other varieties such as Kubocha and Butternut improves in storage.
Radicchio: Cut the inner heads of radicchio in late fall before a hard frost when they are firm, round and colored deep red and white. If you pick them too early when leaves are still red and green, they will taste quite bitter.
Spinach: Spinach grows best in cool weather. To harvest by the “Cut and Come Again,” method, cut young spinach when it is about 5-6” tall to about 1” above the soil line and plants will regrow for another cutting. Or you can start harvesting outer leaves as soon as the plants have at least 5-6 full-size leaves, always leaving at least four to five leaves on the plant so it can regrow handily. By harvesting frequently with one of these methods, you will extend the period in which the plant produces leaves before it sends up a flower stem and “bolts.”
Tomatoes: For best sun-ripened flavor, pick tomatoes when they are richly colored and have no trace of green on the skin. If, however, you are experiencing alternately wet and dry weather and are concerned about cracking of thin-skinned heirlooms, you can pick them when they are just blushed with color and let them ripen indoors (not in the refrigerator). Tomatoes taste best where days and nights are warm—otherwise delicious varieties can taste bland where nights are cool or in years when the sun refuses to shine! For best flavor and texture, do not store ripe tomatoes in the refrigerator. (I like to pile them in a big colorful bowl or basket and use as a kitchen centerpiece).
Autumn is the berries – go pick
Blackberries are the essence of country life and have many uses, Kitty Scully reports.
SINCE neolithic times we have been eating blackberries. Picking blackberries captures the essence of country life conjuring up romantic images of rustic walks and country lanes. Children love to eat them and a blackberry picking expedition can prove fruitful for all members of the family.
Positive foraging experiences like collecting blackberries can lift the soul. This is especially true with children as it also helps to set a life-long interest in nature and natural un-processed foods.
After all, wild foods are totally organic, requiring no human intervention to thrive and best of all, you don’t need your wallet to cash in on the yields.
We’re blessed that blackberry season is now in full swing and this years’ berries are widespread, if not prolific throughout the countryside.
Now is the time when brambles, which are most often or not seen as a nuisance, earn their place as a valued part of our hedgerows.
Blackberries are among the best of hedgerow fruits for various reasons. They’re easy to recognise, can be munched straight from the hedge and they are tasty, nutritious and bountiful. They are generally to be had in such abundance that it is possible to use them fresh in a host of tasty deserts.
Their flavour can be enjoyed for weeks and months to come by making jams, chutneys, wine and infusing vinegars. They can also be frozen and used as desired throughout the year.
Blackberries grow in large clusters. The lowest berry, right at the tip of the stalk, is the first to ripen and the fattest and sweetest of all. It is best to eat this raw. Berries ripen gradually from August, through September to early-winter.
My advice is to get picking as soon as possible to ensure a quality yield. There are superstitions around picking berries after the end of September.
It is said that they are then to be left for the fairies, (or the Púca) and in English folklore it is said that after then, the devil has spat on them.
This coincides with the fact that the berries tend to be mouldy and quite unappetising by that stage.
Blackberries are bursting full off berry goodness, being mineral rich and high in magnesium and potassium. They are an excellent source of dietary fibre and it is said that some varieties have more dietary fibre, weight for weight, than wholemeal bread.
They are a good source of Vitamin C, so feasting on blackberries is a pleasurable way to build up resistance to winter colds and flus.
They are also rich in antioxidants which help in the prevention of cancer and heart diseases. Blackberries are a significant tonic provided free by our hedgerows and are worth a picking expedition.
BERRY PICKING: On a hedgerow near you, wild blackberries are here for the picking but it is best to avoid polluted areas such as busy roadsides and fields, which have been sprayed with chemicals. Because blackberries are thorny, it’s best to wear long trousers and sleeves.
Look for berries with a bright black colour. They should be clean, plump and fresh in appearance. Overripe berries will have a dull colour.
Under ripe berries will be hard and bitter. Pick only completely ripe berries. Handle blackberries gently as they are fragile. There is no need to wash before either using or freezing as the fruits will keep in the refrigerator for about two days if they are unwashed and stored in an uncovered container.
To freeze berries for use throughout the winter, it’s best to spread thinly on a tray and freeze them in a single layer before moving to freezer bags.
Blackberries are often used in combination with windfalls or early cooking apples and if you collect a decent quantity, you’ll probably want to make some jam.
Being low in pectin, the agent that helps jam to set, it’s a good idea to partner the berries with cooking apples to increase the pectin.
Blackberry and apple crumbles, pies, cobblers, muffins, fools and ice creams are all delicious. One quick, easy and delicious thing to do with blackberries is to make a blackberry coulis.
This is a delightful sauce that you can serve with desserts and it’s wonderful over ice-cream or yoghurt.
250g fresh blackberries 25g organic sugar 25ml lemon juice
1. Combine all of the ingredients in a small saucepan.
2. Cover and cook over low heat for about 20 minutes, checking occasionally to make sure it doesn’t dry out (the moisture from the berries should prevent this).
3. Transfer to a food processor or blender and purée.
4. Pass through a sieve to remove seeds.
5. Use immediately or put in jar and refrigerate.
By James R. McFerson|November 20, 2013
Yes, it is! The winegrape industry has already figured out the answer to the question above. What could be more appropriate than a bottle of Pacific Northwest wine and a plate full of tasty specialty crop products enjoyed under the autumn moonlight?
However, is nighttime the right time for other activities? Again, yes … but maybe not what you are thinking.
In fact, many vineyard activities now occur purposefully at night and directly enhance the production of higher quality grapes. It takes more than moonlight, of course. Fluorescent or LED lights are mounted on mechanical harvesters or specialized movable towers for traditional hand-harvested blocks.
This strategy is not uncommon among table grape, sweet corn, and melon growers, for a variety of considerations related both to the workforce and the crop plant. Perhaps most compelling, field workers can operate under more comfortable conditions than those during hot, sunny days. This is hugely significant, given the danger of heat-related stress on the workforce and the necessary but costly preventative measures growers have in place.
Same as humans, crop plants can be greatly damaged by temperature and light stress. Nighttime harvest can provide fruit that retains significantly better internal and external quality: sugars, acids, flavor compounds, color, firmness, etc. Even the mechanical act of separating fruit from stem or pruning can be easier at night, when the crop plant and its parts are less stressed.
Overall productivity increases based on a longer workday/night. The feasibility of two shifts per day is enhanced by the more comfortable conditions. Individuals working another job have an opportunity to add to their income.
Finally, in vineyard and orchard blocks where a multiple pick process based on fruit physiological maturity is practiced, the brighter and more even illumination provided by high-quality artificial lighting (especially LED sources) can improve the picker’s ability to discriminate mature from immature fruit, resulting in a much higher quality product. This is a clear advantage in crops like winegrapes, apples, and cherries, where the demands of the enologist or produce retailer are high and getting higher.
Proving The Concept
Why, then, have Pacific Northwest tree fruit growers pretty much ignored this approach, while many of the region’s grape producers are using it routinely? Receiving and packing operations at tree fruit warehouses regularly operate throughout the night and picking often starts in the dark of the early morning. Orchardists are no strangers to all-night vigils during frost protection season.
Especially for vineyard blocks in which bunches are picked by hand and destined for premium wines, higher returns can justify the additional expense and management. But even in blocks where the grapes are utilized for wines with lower price points, nighttime operations are common and possibly profitable only because harvest in this case may be a once-over, mechanized process.
Perhaps this is where tree fruit producers can find a sweet spot. Platforms and/or mechanical assist harvest equipment utilizing supplemental lighting might just make nighttime operations attractive enough for producers to make the leap and benefit from the potential human and crop advantages.
I was fortunate enough recently to see exactly that kind of leap. Led by Karen Lewis of Washington State University and Ines Hanrahan of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, a group of us were able to see three mechanical assist machines in nighttime operation at Green Acre Farms in White Swan, WA.
Owner Jim Morford and his manager, Mike Van Pelt, have been running these three machines for this apple harvest. Each has several hundred hours of service, with occasional mechanical issues, but nothing that can’t be fixed using a crescent wrench and off-the-shelf components.
That reliability and ease of repair is precisely what J.J. Dagorret had in mind when his company, Automated Ag Systems of Moses Lake, WA, commercialized his design this crop season. Previously, Dagorret had worked in California and Florida, where his Bin Bandit is a well-regarded unit deployed in tree fruit, tree nuts, citrus, and vegetables.
Dagorret has already sold five units of his latest creation, called the Bandit Xpress, to growers in the Pacific Northwest. The units we saw operating at Green Acres fit nicely into the high-density vertical trellis apple block. Four crew members moved ahead of the machine on the ground, picking into conventional bags and depositing fruit into bins previously laid out in the drive row.
On the platform itself, four crew members handled fruit in the top of the canopy, picking into conventional bags and depositing their fruit into a bin elevated into the platform. The driver ensured quality control and kept the machine moving briskly along. All pickers were kept busy and bin swaps were accomplished with little down time.
The quality of the pick was impressive. The supplemental LED illumination actually helped discriminate immature or damaged fruit, and the platform workers, tethered to an overhead bar for safety, moved easily along the canopy. Crews using the platforms for either day or night shifts were able to work for 11 hours and indicated less fatigue than an eight-hour day doing ladder work. The noise level was low, permitting the blasting of the crews’ preferred motivational music.
Workers on the harvest crews at Green Acres arrived with no experience whatsoever picking apples. Interestingly, despite their lack of experience and the fact they were in a color pick block, Morford estimated their bin per day production easily matched his expectations while meeting his quality standards.
This particular platform, like the half-dozen others currently being tried in the Pacific Northwest, are best suited for high-density blocks, ideally with a narrow canopy fruiting wall. Not all are equipped for nighttime operations, although that is a relatively easy modification.
Clearly, this is not the magic solution to the labor challenges tree fruit growers confront across the country. Still, there is a chance we might learn something from progressive winegrape growers, who have widely adopted intensively managed, high-density systems and so often lead the way horticulturally.
Maybe this nighttime activity and mechanical assist is something we should adopt more widely. And perhaps we could substitute a bottle of Pacific Northwest cider for that bottle of wine to celebrate!
Jim has been American Fruit Grower® and Western Fruit Grower® magazines’ tree fruit expert for more than a decade, and is one of our industry’s leading voices on research and issues important to fruit growers. See all author stories here.
Picking Tips: What to know in selecting or harvesting many fruits and vegetables from a plant, farm or market
Each month brings the availability of a different fruit or vegetable . Remember, it varies on location, varieties planted, and weather conditions, so always call the farm before the earliest date below so you don’t miss the season! And always call the morning you plan to go, to confirm the crops and farm are available.
I’ve tried to put a state or area-specific harvest calendar on each web page but here are some typical U.S. dates for a few common crops, the South will be the earlier end, and the North, the latter:
ALWAYS call or email the farm to confirm they have the fruit or vegetable you want and are open, BEFORE you drive out there. I update the website every day, but conditions change rapidly, and I don’t hear from some farms for a year or longer!
What to bring
- Pack for a day trip – I always bring snacks, hand towels or disposable wipes and plenty of liquids to drink.
- Include containers for picking and for carrying the fruit home (smaller containers are better for children’s smaller hands), Some farms provide picking containers for free, but there’s usually a fee if you wantg to take them with you.
- Dress in old clothes and worn athletic shoes; you want to be comfortable and not worried about staining or tearing your clothes! If the ground is wet, it will really ruin any nice shoe, so wear your beat up old ones!
- Wide-brimmed hats help protect you from the summer sun; and in the Fall, extra layers keep you warm. Don’t forget sunscreen for the back of your neck and exposed skin (unless you WANT to go into work on Monday looking like a “redneck” 🙂
The weather could change without notice. If you get hit by a downpour, be ready to switch to Plan B and if you can’t wait it out, go to the backup plan; such as a visit to a museum, tourist or historic site nearby. Your kids will remember it as “the time we went to pick fruit and instead had fun doing” something else.
Pack a picnic lunch and snacks. You’ll be gone all day and all that picking and being outdoors will work up a big appetite (assuming the kids haven’t already gorged on the fruit they’re picking). Bring a cooler and back it with your favorite lunch and snacks. Eating outdoors is part of the experience!
Don’t forget the camera. You may want to capture those memories you’re making. But remember you’ll be out on the farm and bring a cheap or disposable camera, rather than the expensive one.
When you arrive at the farm, take some time at the beginning to explain to your kids on how to identify and pick ripe fruit. If you don’t know see our tips (below) or ask the farm hands – they can also tell you where the field has been picked out, so you don’t waste time finding the fruit! And since fields and orchards can be large, make sure everyone knows where to meet up!
The fun doesn’t have to end with just picking the fruit. Some farms also offer hay rides, petting zoos, corn mazes, gift shops, even restaurants. And if your children tire before you’ve gotten your fill of fruit, most places also sell pre-picked produce; you’ll still get better quality and a better price than the grocery store.
For a checklist for your visit to a farm, see this page.
Every farm is a bit different. Some have more relaxed rules, others more strict. You need top find a farm that matches your needs – a grumpy farmer with strict rules would not make for a happy experience with young children. But you also need to teach your children that the plants are living things to be cared for and respected, not abused, and the farmer feeds his family and pays his bills from the well-being of these plants! So here are some general farm rules:
- Note and follow all rules and regulations posted by owners at their picking locations.
- Look for the check-in and check-out areas. Before picking, note whether you will be charged according to weight, volume or count. Also, inquire if there is a minimum quantity requirement.
- Place trash in proper receptacles or take it with you;
- Stay clear of parked or moving tractors and equipment;
- Health codes usually require no pets in the fields
- Always call in advance to find out if the fruit/vegetables you want are available, to get directions, check their opening and closing hours and to ask if children are welcome (some farms prohibit young children who might damage plants).
- Walk in the rows, don’t step on plants!
- Some farmers frown on stepping across rows, even if you do it carefully (honestly, this one seems a bit control freakish to me!)
When you get home
Keep the fruit cool, see farther down this page for storage tips. Plan ahead to freeze, can, or make jam from the excess. I make room in the freezer before I leave for the farm.
See this page for a complete list of easy to follow, fully illustrated, lab-tested, time-tested instructions about how to can, freeze, dry, make jams, jelly, pickle or sauces from anything you pick!
Specific Tips for Each Type of Fruit or Vegetable:
These pages have much more detailed information that is specific to each fruit, including, freezing directions, canning, drying, preserving, recipes, etc.!
- How much do I need to pick?
- Apple picking tips and facts, and Apple varieties – pick the right one for your purposes!
- Blueberries picking tips (also see below)
- Cherry picking tips
- Citrus (oranges, grapefruit, lemons, mandarines, tangerines, etc.)
- Fig picking tips
- Green beans
- Peach and nectarine picking tips
- Pear picking tips
- Raspberry picking tips
- Strawberry picking tips (also see below)
- Winter squash tips, variety guide and nutritional information
- Picking tips for vegetables
- All about fruit varieties – which to pick and why!
And finally, what about turning some of that produce into jars of homemade jam or applesauce that you can open on a cold, dark winter day to remind you of the fun you had and how summer will be coming again? Click here to see my incredibly simple, illustrated directions on how to make apple sauce and jams! And much more canning information is on this page.
General tips for each fruit:
The time for harvest of apples is based on the condition and maturity of the fruit. An early indication of the approaching harvest time is when normal, unblemished fruit begins to drop. Check to see if the flesh color at the bottom of the fruit has turned from green to yellow-green. A taste test will also indicate that the starches are turning to sugar.
When all signs of maturity are present, the apple should pick easily with the stem still attached to the fruit.
Picking is done by rolling or twisting the apple away from the fruit spur. Harvested apples should be kept cold (33° to 35°F) for retention of flavor and quality. When stored in this temperature range, apples change very little. At 40°F, they ripen slowly, and at 60° or higher they mature rapidly. The best way to store apples is in perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator.
Also, see our pages on
tips for picking apples at a farm,
easy illustrated directions to make
our list of apple festivals!
Allow the fruit to become firm-ripe on the tree. It should be slightly soft, golden yellow, and easily separated from the stem. Fruit that is to be dried should first ripen fully on the tree. Apricots keep for about three weeks if stored in cool temperatures (40° to 50°F).
Pick the fruit as it becomes soft and sweet and almost drops off at the slightest touch. It is best to pick early in the day, because blackberries picked in the morning do not spoil as quickly as those harvested in the afternoon. Berries that are picked at the proper time, handled carefully, and stored in a cool place will stay in good condition for several days. For more
A fully ripe blueberry will be uniform in color and should easily come loose from the plant. If it takes any appreciable pressure to pick them, the berries aren’t fully ripe. Furthermore, a reddish ring around the “scar” (indentation where the fruit is attached to the stem) also indicates that the berry is not ripe.
It is best to pick blueberries by gently rolling each one from the cluster with the thumb into the palm of the hand. When picking is done this way, the berries that aren’t ripe will not come loose.
After harvesting, cool blueberries as quickly as possible to about 35°F. Harvest at weekly intervals. Also see more detailed tips and instructions here.
Cherries, like peaches, continue to increase in size until they are ripe. They should be picked when they are of maximum size and full-flavored. Cherries picked before they are fully mature will not ripen off the tree.
Sweet cherries become firm when ripe, and sour cherries part easily from the stem. Look for heavy, firm cherries with a shiny skin and fresh stem.
Cherries that are to be shipped will keep longer if the stems are left attached. They will store in the refrigerator for two to three days.
For immediate use, they can be picked with or without the stems.
For eating out of hand, currants should be dead ripe and picked just before eating. For making jam and jelly, however, pick them when they are firm but not fully ripe. Pectin content is high at this stage. Currants have a naturally high pectin content and thus are excellent choices for jelly- and jam-making.
To harvest currants, twist the cluster off of the branch first, then strip the berries from the cluster. Don’t attempt to pick the berries one-by-one.
The fruit should be picked in clusters rather than as individual berries. After picking, the fruit can be stripped from the stems. Use care not to strip off stem pieces with the berries. When picking elderberries for jelly-making, use only those that are about half ripe.
|In the U.S., Figs typically peak from July through Frost in the South, and August and later in the North. Usually the trees produce a crop within a month, and then nothing for several months, so check your local farm to find out when they’ll be in season. In the north, most trees only produce one crop per season. For more|
Gooseberry fruits are often picked in the green or immature stage, but when they have reached full size. They may, however, be left on the bush to ripen more fully to a pinkish color and sweeter flavor. The berries can be picked from the plant individually or stripped off the stem leaves and all (wear leather gloves) and separated later.
Grapes should not be picked until-they are fully ripe because they will not develop full flavor if harvested before they are completely mature. The best indications of ripeness are color and flavor. The natural bloom on the grape will become noticeable at the fully-ripe stage, and the berries will become slightly less firm to the touch.
Cut each cluster from the vine with a knife or pruning shears, handling them as little as possible. Lay the clusters in a basket or other container, using care to avoid crushing. Unlike most small fruits, grapes will keep for several weeks if they are picked carefully and stored in a very cool, well-ventilated place.
Keep grapes away from other kinds of produce because they readily absorb odors.
Ripe nectarines have a creamy-yellow background color and yield slightly to pressure, particularly along the seam. They are usually ready to pick when a slight twist frees the fruit from the stem. They can be stored for three to four weeks at 30°F and high humidity.
Peaches are best picked when the fruit separates easily from the twigs. Pick them when the ground color changes from green to yellow. The skin of yellow-fleshed varieties ripens to an orange tint, while the skin of white-fleshed varieties changes from greenish- to yellow-white. For best flavor, allow the fruit to ripen fully on the tree. Store at 32°F and high humidity. For more
The fruit can be ripened on the tree, but for better quality, they are best picked early and allowed to ripen indoors. A few guidelines to use in determining whether pears are ready to be picked include: healthy fruits begin to drop; there is a change in fruit color from green to yellow; and the stem separates easily from the branch. To pick pears, grasp the fruit firmly and twist or roll it to make the stem separate from the tree.
If pears are picked before they are fully ripe, they should be ripened at a temperature of 60° to 70°F. This will result in optimum quality and smoothness of flesh. If you want to keep pears for a longer period of time, store the freshly picked fruit in the refrigerator.
As plums approach maturity, there is a rapid increase in sugar content and the color changes markedly. With blue or purple varieties, the color changes from green to greenish-blue or reddish-purple, then to dark blue or purple. In other varieties, the color proceeds from a yellowish-green to a more definite yellow or straw yellow, and then to their characteristic yellow or red. As the color increases the flesh becomes slightly soft, especially at the tip end.
Fruit that is going to be cooked or preserved can be picked when slightly underripe. Plums can be stored for two to four weeks at 30° to 32°F, but at 37° to 50° they will not keep as long.
Fresh raspberries harvested at their peak of quality surpass by far those purchased at retail outlets. Ripe raspberries will separate easily from the plant. To ensure that none of the fruit gets too ripe, berries should be picked every two or three days. Because hot weather ripens raspberries quickly, it is sometimes necessary to pick every day.
To harvest, use the thumb, index, and middle fingers to pick the berries. They should be placed (not dropped) directly in a basket or other container. Harvested berries should be handled as little as possible and kept in the shade until they can be placed in cool storage. Under ideal conditions (31° to 32°F and 90 to 95 percent humidity) the fruit will keep for a day or two. For more
Strawberries that are picked when three-fourths red will develop full color and flavor in one to two days at 70°F. Berries that are only half-red will seldom have the flavor, texture, or size of berries that are more mature when picked.
The best time to pick the fruit is early in the morning when the berries are still cool. The fruit should be picked with the stem attached. This is accomplished by grasping the stem between the thumb and forefinger and pinching it off. Pulling and snapping, but leaving the cap on, is all right if the fruit is to be used immediately.
It is best to use or process the berries soon after picking, because fruit that is stored for several days will lose some of its fresh, bright color. It will also shrivel and generally deteriorate in quality. For best storage, keep strawberries at a temperature below 40°F and at a relative humidity of 85 to 90 percent.
I have free illustrated directions on making and canning jam, pickles, spaghetti sauce, salsa, ketchup, corn. for you on the website. And if you are looking for Canners, mixes, jars, pectin and other canning supplies at the best prices anywhere! The sale of these products is what enables me to keep the site running and up to date. And I’ve also tried to find the best quality, most reliable vendors and best prices for you, too!
Our Best Berry Picking Tips and 12 Ways to Use Your Haul
One of my mother’s best friends comes from a dairy farming family, who also grew a lot of their own food, so I can always count on her for agricultural advice (I have yet to take advantage of her depth of dairy farming knowledge). She’s come through on everything from troubleshooting issues in my small backyard garden to sharing advice on activities like berry picking.
When she was younger, she and her friends would go blueberry picking with buckets strapped to their belts (see #3 below). They would belly up to the blueberry bushes, grab clusters of blueberries and gently roll ripe blueberries off with their thumbs down into their buckets. This method is faster than plucking off individual blueberries, and unripe berries won’t come loose from gentle rolling, so they’re left on the bush to continue ripening. (Plus it also naturally lent itself to calling themselves members of the Blueberry Rolling Association, complete with giggle-inducing acronym.)
Depending on where you are, strawberry season might be nearly over (or even long-gone), but there is still a full summer of other berries to be had, and likely a u-pick farm not too far from you. So here are 9 more of our best berry-picking tips (ideas for other clever group names are up to you):
1. Call ahead
What’s that? You checked their website/Facebook page/Twitter feed; they’re definitely open, and you hate talking on the phone, so you’re all set? Yeah, me too. Call anyway. Most farmers don’t have time to update social media every day, and the picking conditions can change drastically day-to-day, especially if there’s been rain or a dramatic change in temperatures. Calling ahead could save you the potential for a disappointing trip if they’ve had to close early.
2. Go early in the day
Especially on the weekends, going right when the farm opens (or shortly thereafter) means you’ve got the best shot at the berries, and less-congested fields. Waiting until mid-day means you might be fighting crowds and the berries could be picked over.
3. Consider BYOB
That’s Bringing Your Own Basket, of course. Some farms will have containers ready for you free of charge, but others will charge you for them. If you don’t want to pay an additional fee, find out ahead of time, or just come prepared. Shallower containers are generally better: blueberries can handle being stacked fairly deep in buckets, but other berries, like strawberries and raspberries, are more delicate and shouldn’t be, so a large shallow container will give you more room to work with. Additionally, if you’re picking blueberries, considering bringing not only a bucket but also planning to wear a belt or bring rope so that you can strap the bucket to you—it will get heavy before you know it.
4. Pack supplies
Berry picking is fun, but especially if you are planning on getting a lot of berries, you could be busy for hours, you’ll want to be prepared. Bring a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen (those are self-explanatory, right?) and possibly bug spray if you’ll be near a more wooded area. Pack snacks: Yes, you’ll be eating berries, but you can only eat so many at a time; eventually you might want something with a little more substance. And don’t forget cash, while many farms will take credit cards or other forms of payment, don’t count on it (unless you already asked when you called).
5. Stay put
It can be tempting to stay in constant motion, only taking the biggest berries that catch your eye. If you’re wise, though, you’ll stay in one spot, taking the time to really look under leaves or at the tops and bottoms of bushes before moving on—you’ll conserve energy and be able to pick for longer. This doesn’t mean you have to pick an area entirely clean; for instance, only selecting the biggest and fully ripe blueberries in a cluster provides more space for the smaller unripe berries to ripen for later picking.
6. Dress appropriately
Wear clothing you don’t mind getting stained and consider long-sleeved shirts and pants, especially if you’ll be picking berries on thorny canes. Choose footwear that is comfortable for standing and walking and ones that you don’t mind getting dirty (think old tennis shoes over flip-flops).
7. Recognize that kids change the focus
Berry picking is a great activity for kids, as long as you think of it as just that—a fun activity. This is not the trip for you to plan on picking multiple flats of strawberries or all of the blueberries you want to can this season; save that for another time and keep your expectations in check. Consider your child’s age and temperament, and if you’d think they’ll have fun, go for it! Give them a run-down of what to expect ahead of time, like how to tell the difference between ripe and unripe berries and how to gently pick and place the berries in a container. Oh, and pack wet wipes.
8. Ask about seconds
You already know to ask about seconds at the farmers market—that’s the produce that might not look as good (or that needs to be used more quickly) that farmers might give you at a discounted price. Try asking about them at u-pick farms, too. They might have already picked berries that are a little too ripe, perfect for a batch of jam.
9. Wash your berries when you get home
It goes against everything you always hear, but washing berries right away in a vinegar and water bath will eliminate mold and bacteria and significantly extend their lifespan.
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Once you’ve picked buckets and baskets worth of berries, we’ve got a dozen ideas for putting them to berry good use:
What are your best berry picking tips? Tell us in the comments!