6 Tips for Harvesting Perfect Market Crops
Harvest is the reward for months of hard work. But all that hard work can be wasted if a farmer doesn't have a customized harvest plan to maximize the quality and marketability of their produce.
Direct-market farmers need to develop a "best practices" harvest plan for each crop and then use that information to develop a plan for the entire farm on harvest day.
When working on your harvest plans, keep in mind these six harvest tips.
Harvest Market Crops at the Right Size to Sell
Some crops, such as radishes or English shelling peas, become over-mature and inedible if they are allowed to get too big and go past their harvest peak. On the other hand, some crops only reach peak flavor when they are mature – such as sugar snap peas. Other crops can capture more market value (and sell much faster) if they are picked when they are small versus big. Think zucchini!
Uniformity of size is also essential if you are selling wholesale to chefs or grocery stores. For example, a chef doesn't want a bunch of salad turnips with one giant turnip and four tiny turnips. Instead, they need the turnips sized uniformly.
Pick Vegetables and Fruits at the Right Time of Day
In the height of the summer, the best time of the day for harvest for crops (and humans) is early, before it's too hot. But, for a busy market farmer with many diverse crops to harvest, knowing which absolutely must be picked while it's cooler outside versus those that can tolerate warmer harvest times is essential for organizing an efficient harvest day.
Anything "green" (salad greens or braising greens like kale) should be picked during the coolest part of the day and immediately removed from the field. Root vegetables, like potatoes and carrots, tolerate a hot picking day as long as they aren't left in the field too long. Some 'fruiting vegetables' like tomatoes or cucumbers (and melons and cantaloupes) are best picked when it is still early and relatively cool, but after the morning dew has burned off.