Careful handling makes a difference
Strawberries are very delicate and easily damaged. A good picking procedure is extremely important for the quality later in the chain. After a few days, very careful handling may result in a significantly reduced damage rate. The difference between 'normal' or very careful handling becomes even bigger at a longer shelf-life. Reduction of handling also reduces damages. Therefore, packing directly in the field is a good option. This means that the picker packs the strawberries directly into the final crate or punnet for retail. Picker performance is critical, so the responsibility of the picker in correct grading and packing is high. Quality must be assured by good training and instruction and monitoring of individual pickers. The alternative is to pack later in a packhouse, which enables better and easier sorting and grading options.
Attention points at harvest
Various quality stages of strawberries. Photo by Verse Beeldwaren for WFBR
Harvest maturityThe maturity stage at the moment of harvest is of utmost importance. Strawberry taste improves with ripeness. On the other hand, the more ripe at harvest the shorter their shelf-life. When time to the market is short, strawberries can be harvested just prior to fully ripe. When supplying a distant market, the strawberries should be picked in a slightly less ripe stage.
Strawberries should be harvested in the coolest part of the day. Photo by sripfoto/Shutterstock.com
Harvest frequencyThe harvest frequency for strawberries depends on the season. This can be daily in the summer, or twice a week in cooler periods or when production is just starting. Weather conditions play an important role. Regular harvests are required to avoid too large differences in fruit maturity. Strawberries should be harvested in the coolest possible part of the day. But they should also be dry. Picking wet fruit has a high risk of developing fungal diseases later in the chain.
Trolley with strawberry crates. Photo by WFBR
MaterialsTo facilitate picking, picking carts (trolleys) can be used to place crates on. It is very helpful to also have a separate container available for discarded fruit per picker. The crates should be stackable and intact without sharp edges. For direct field packing, punnets for retail can be used.
Use scissors to cut strawberry stems. Photo by Pressmaster/Shutterstock.com
PickingStrawberries must be harvested with extreme care. When picking a strawberry from a cluster, be sure not to damage the remaining ones. Scissors can be used for cutting (short) stems, while the calyx (crown) always remains attached to the fruit. Don’t hold too many fruits in your hand, they may fall, damage each other, or get bruised. Place fruit into the crates with the utmost care. There should be no dropping distance, best practice is to lower hands with fruits into the crate/punnet.
Strawberries are susceptible to fungal diseases. Photo by RussieseO/Shutterstock.com
Diseased and damaged fruitDiseased, damaged and overripe fruit should not enter the crates or punnets. The same applies for fruits that have accidently fallen to the ground. Strawberry diseases can easily spread from diseased to healthy fruits nearby. Therefore pickers use separate containers for the discarded fruit. The strawberries must be free from visible soil, or at least practically free from soil depending on the quality class.
Shaded site at the field of harvest. Photo by WFBR
ShadeQuickly transfer harvested strawberries to a cool shady place, once the crate or crates on a picking cart are filled. This means that a covered shaded place must be available where fruit can be placed immediately after harvest. In the first instance this can be a temporary field shed. This site must provide adequate protection from sun and rain and be clean at all times. Transport to the packhouse with cooling should follow quickly, indicatively within 30 minutes.
Did you know?
False fruitStrawberry is a so-called "false fruit". True berries, such as blueberries or red currants, have their seeds on the inside. But strawberries have their seeds clearly visible on the outside. These seeds are the "true" fruits.