Saturday, April 17, 2021

Harvesting blueberries

Harvest begins in the south and moves northward. Florida production starts in early April. The California harvest typically begins in early May and continues for about eight weeks. Michigan’s blueberry harvest usually runs from early July to mid-September.

It is important to harvest fruit when quality is optimum for handling and consumption. Blueberries ripen rapidly on the plant, going from 50% pink to fully blue in 2 to 3 days, but require several days following full color development to develop sweetness and flavor.

Manual harvesting is best for high quality fresh market fruit and it is most important for growers of blueberries to provide good quality fruit. Harvested by hand allows selection of ripe fruit with little bruising. Pickers carry five-quart collection buckets on their belts. When filled, the worker will empty the buckets or exchange it for empty buckets with a harvest supervisor.

In the U.S. about 60% of production is packed for the fresh market, of which the majority is still hand harvested. Fruit firmness was higher in fruit harvested by hand compared to that by pneumatic shakers.

Mechanical harvesting of highbush or rabbiteye fruit is conducted by over row harvesters that use rotary, sway, or slapper mechanisms to remove the fruit from the bush, while lowbush blueberries are harvested with hand or mechanical rakes.

The ripe berries fall into a catch frame and are conveyed into plastic field lugs that carry about 20 pounds of fruit. Fields that are machine harvested are usually harvested multiple times to retrieve all mature fruit.

As an alternative to the vibrating mechanisms of the 'down the row' or 'straddle harvesters' hand held vibrating fingers are available that shake the ripe fruit from the bush on to a portable canvas catching frame.

Handling and physical abuse during and following harvest must be minimized to maximize market life. Drops and impacts experienced by the fruit result in bruising, which is cumulative and reduces fruit firmness and storage life.

Within hours of picking, berries are transported by truck to a packinghouse.
Harvesting blueberries

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