Harvest practices for peppers
Proper harvest of peppers is an essential start for a successful supply chain. The performance of the harvesters is critical to delivering a good quality product. First of all, picking at the right maturity is important to develop a satisfactory final eating quality. Picking and further handling must be done carefully to avoid bruising and other damage to the product. The use of clean and suitable materials such as harvest crates also serves this purpose.
Harvest of peppers
All peppers start as green peppers. Depending on the variety, they will turn to red, yellow, purple, white or orange afterwards. The fruits may be harvested green or colored. Since the fruits continue to colour, they can be harvested before reaching their final marketing colour. They are often picked when 75-90 % of the end colour. Generally, the change of colour of the red peppers is faster than the yellow peppers. The percentage of colouration depends mainly on the length of the chain, the shorter the chain, the more colouration we want at harvest. But they are all picked while crispy and firm. A fruit that is not mature enough yet will feel softer. Determining the right harvest moment is therefore important for the eating quality and marketability of the peppers. The size of the diameter of the fruit and the number of sections will be used to grade the fruit.
Attention points for harvest of peppers
Harvesting yellow bell peppers. Photo by WUR
Harvest frequencyIt takes about 7 to 9 weeks for the fruit to develop until harvest. The harvesters only harvest the peppers which have reached the appropriate maturity. The other peppers are left for the next harvest rounds through the field or greenhouse. Regular harvests are required to limit variability in individual fruit maturity. Peppers are preferably harvested in the coolest part of the day (in the morning). It is at this time of the day that the peppers are the crispiest. Also, the cooler fruit temperatures will facilitate fast cooling to the optimum temperature in the packhouse. Two reasons that will contribute to a better shelf-life of the product.
Bell pepper being harvested with a knife. Photo by Hugo Goudswaard/Shutterstock.com
Harvest methodPeppers are harvested by hand. It is preferable to cut the stem with a knife with a round ending to avoid damage to the surrounding peppers. Make sure the knives are all brought back from the greenhouse or field to stay away from accidents caused by a forgotten knife. Avoid using scissors since it will compress the stem. Do not harvest the peppers by breaking the stem. The fruit should be cut leaving the stem until the knot which is a natural breaking point. This reduces water loss, looks nice and gives extra weight. Only in the case the peppers are to be flow-packed like the popular 3 -color in a pack, the stems are cut short.
Crates properly filled with peppers. Photo by WUR
Placing in binsCarefully place the peppers in the harvest bins or field crates. Field bins range from small portable bins to pallet-sized bins. Crates should not be overfilled: when stacking, the crates should not touch the fruit in the crate beneath. The field crates must stay in a shaded covered place until transport to prevent heating if the peppers are grown in the field. For peppers grown in the greenhouse, avoid leaving the harvested peppers in the central path where it is often sunnier. After harvest, peppers are moved to the packhouse for brushing, grading, packing, and cooling.
Pressure damage from over filled bins. Photo by WUR
Diseased and damaged fruitDiseased or damaged fruit should not end up in the lots intended for high-end market segments. Peppers that are suitable for export are at least firm, free from decay and free from damage such as cracks and bruises. A preliminary sorting in the field/greenhouse could be carried out by placing under-/overripe and damaged fruit in separate crates. Infected and discarded fruits should be removed from the field/greenhouse to reduce further infections. While sorting the peppers, look for pests, diseases or disorders such as sunscald, insect damage, blossom end rot, Botrytis or grey mould decay, Alternaria rot or bacterial soft rot.
Cover the soil under the field crates. Photo by WUR
MaterialsThe availability of good, clean and sufficient materials will facilitate harvest and product quality will benefit. Ensure that harvesting materials are sanitised before use. Knives should be well maintained and sharp. Field crates should be clean, stackable and intact without sharp edges. In soil-grown crops, field crates must be placed on plastic sheets or pallets to avoid contact with soil. The use of bags during harvest will most probably result in damaging the peppers by compression. Instead, use either a large harvesting bin or a mall harvesting trolley on which a few field crates can be placed.
Preventing moisture loss at harvest
Peppers are very sensitive to moisture loss causing them to shrivel. Limiting the time between harvest and cooling to maximum a few hours is important but so is keeping them in shade and covering stacked field crates with a clean plastic sheet to avoid the reduction of relative humidity.