Harvesting Small Fruits: raspberries, currants, elderberries, gooseberries, grapes, strawberries
by Don Janssen, Extension Educator
Small fruits are highly perishable. Harvesting the fruit at the right stage of maturity and proper storage are vital to insure highest quality. If possible, harvest in the early morning hours before heat builds up in the fruit. Small quantities of fresh fruit can be stored in the refrigerator for a short time. Surplus fruit should be canned or frozen. While personal preferences vary somewhat, the following criteria should help you decide when to harvest the small fruit crops at their peak of quality and flavor.
Color, size, sweetness, and flavor are the most useful indicators of table grape maturity. Berry color will change from green to blue, red, or white as the different grape varieties approach maturity. Color alone should not be the sole basis for harvesting grapes. The berries of many varieties change color long before they are fully ripe. At maturity, individual berries are full size and slightly less firm to the touch. As a final test, taste a few grapes for sweetness when berry size and color indicate the fruit is approaching maturity and harvest when the berries are sweet. Remove grape clusters with a knife or hand shears. Grapes free of injury can be stored in perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator for up to two months.
Raspberries are ripe when the fruit is fully colored. Ripe raspberries slip easily from the receptacles, which remain on the plant. Raspberries are very perishable. They should be harvested every two or three days, handled carefully, and refrigerated or frozen immediately. Raspberries can be stored for only three to five days in the refrigerator.
Strawberries are fully ripe when uniformly red. Pick the berries with the cap and stem attached to retain firmness and quality. When harvesting, pinch the stem off about 1/4 inch above the cap. Strawberries can be stored in the refrigerator at 32 to 40 degrees F. Pick strawberries often and use within 2 to 5 days. The harvest period for some June-bearing varieties may last three to four weeks.
Fully ripe currants are slightly soft, juicy, and develop the characteristic color of the variety. Most currant varieties are red at maturity, a few are white. For jellies and jams, pick the currants when they are still firm and not completely ripe. Harvest currants by picking the fruit clusters from the plant then stripping individual berries from the stem. Currants can be stored in the refrigerator at 35 to 40 degrees F for approximately two weeks.
Most gardeners pick gooseberries when they reach full size, but are not fully ripe. At this stage, the fruit are green, tart, and still quite hard. Others prefer to allow the fruit to ripen to a pinkish color and sweeter flavor. Gooseberries can be refrigerated at 35 to 40 degrees F for approximately two weeks.
When harvesting small fruits, pick and the handle the fruit carefully. Rough treatment during harvest will damage the fruit and reduce its storage life and lead to greater spoilage.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office