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Harvesting Haskap Berries

One of the many frequent questions that I receive is how are you harvesting your Haskap berries? Or how should I harvest my Haskap berries?

There are a number of good answers to these questions. One of the most important things that you will need to learn is WHEN should you harvest your Haskap berries, and then HOW should you harvest your Haskap berries.

As a Haskap grower, or even a consumer, you need to be very aware as to how these berries develop. The following is what you will observe during berry development:

  1. Green berries will start develop after the flower blossoms drop, and they will start to develop fairly quickly. If the berry remains very small, then the flowers did not get pollinated.
  2. At a certain point, and this is variety dependent, the berries will start to change colour. They will get a bit of purple on the exterior and then change to a nice, fairly brillent, blue colour. Do Not pick them at this point. They are not even close to being ready. (At this point you had better be installing bird netting, or your crop will be gone very shortly.)
  3. The berries will continue to grow in size and the blue colour will darken as the berries continue to ripen.
  4. It takes around 2-3 weeks on our farm before the berries are ready to pick.
  5. Each variety has a different ripening time. Some are fairly close together, and some are vastly different.
  6. What we try and do is to ensure that roughly 90% of the berries on the bush are ripe prior to harvesting.
  7. We check, and test, berries that are not in direct sunlight on a regular basis. Most of the berries on a healthy, more mature plant will be hidden by foliage.
  8. We do not harvest our berries until the inside of the berry is completely purple, with no signs of of bright green. We also go by taste and Brix measurement. A typical Brix reading of Haskap berries, when they are ripe, on our farm will range between 16-20. We have had higher than 20 Brix on one variety, but this can vary depending on the amount of rain that we have had.
  9. Once we are happy with the above, than we harvest.

Now we get to the How…

This is highly dependent on your operation, but one thing for certain hand picking is very inefficient. If you have large orchard(s) than you are highly likely harvesting with a fully mechanized harvester. If you have a smaller orchard, or young plants, than you are likely using a semi-mechanical harvester, or hand picking.

If you are harvesting for fresh, field packed berries, than you wish to minimize berry bruising as much as possible. So hand picking, and field packing, is definitely an option. This way you have sorted, cleaned, and packed your berries in one operation.

A semi-mechanical harvesting method is also possible, but than your berry bruising will be higher. Bruised berries are not ideal for the fresh market. Picture a berry dropping 3′-6′ on to a hard surface.

Advantages and disadvantages for semi-mechanical harvesting:

  1. Cost – Fairly low cost.
  2. Efficiency- Fairly efficient. We can typically harvest 100′ every 30 mins with two people.
  3. Plant debris – High. You have to clean your berries afterwards, and this adds an additional step to the overall process.
  4. Bruising – Fairly high. Berry drop is from plant height to a hard surface.
  5. End result – Just fine if you are freezing the berries for the frozen berry market.
  6. Berry loss – About the same if you were hand picking.
  7. Conclusions – Great for small orchards to increase efficiency, and reduce labour costs.

There are also a number of fully mechanical harvesters that are available. The most typical harvester is an over the row harvester. There are also side row harvesters. The side row harvester likely has the least amount of fruit bruising, as the drop from the branches is lower than an over the row harvester. The advantage of fully mechanical harvester is that they also remove the bulk of debris from the berries during the process.

Advantages and disadvantage for fully mechanical harvesting:

  1. Cost – High to extremely high. Prices range from 50k – 300k USD for new units.
  2. Efficiency – Very efficient.
  3. Plant Debris – Low. These units have blowers to get rid of debris.
  4. Bruising – Low to high. This will depend on the type of harvester. There are some new, over the row, harvesters that are using padded collection plates, but you still have a fairly large drop. Side row harvesters have a lower berry drop.
  5. End result – Excellent if berries are for the frozen market. You might be able to use berries from a side row harvester for the fresh market.
  6. Berry loss – The highest of any method.
  7. Conclusions – If you have a large amount of acreage to harvest than it is almost a must have.

Berry loss in a commercial orchard is going to happen. I have heard a number of growers trying to ensure that they harvest every single berry possible, but one has to consider how high is the cost to harvest every berry possible? Typically the amount of extra time it takes to attempt to get every single berry is higher than if you accept a certain amount of berry loss when you harvest. A handful of berries under a plant looks worse than it is, and the extra efforts to try and prevent that berry loss will be higher than when sacrificing the efficiency of the overall harvest. In other words you will spend more money trying to save a small percentage of your overall harvest than what you will recover when selling it. Of course it does pay to use careful methods, and attempt to find an efficient means to keep berry loss to a minimum.

The below video is me using a semi-mechanical harvester on one of our orchards:

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