Proper Handling of Garden Produce

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I. Conserving and safeguarding quality and freshness of garden produce

After harvest, the quality of fruits and vegetables cannot be improved but can only be maintained for a certain period of time. Therefore, proper care should start with harvesting.

Time of Harvesting

Fruit-bearing vegetables should be harvested as soon as the dew dries in the morning. Leafy vegetables, on the other hand, should be harvested during mid-morning, when leaves are flaccid.
Harvesting Practices

1. Use of picking pole (hook) for fruits – A bag or net should be provided to catch the fruit. This will prevent fruits from falling to the ground, protecting them from bruises.

2. Uprooting the entire plant – Vegetables like pechay and mustard are commonly harvested by uprooting the entire plant. This makes the vegetables dirty because of the soil that clings to moss. A sharp round-tipped knife should be used to cut the stem instead of uprooting. Open ends should be brushed out with chlorine to prevent entry of microorganisms which induce rotting.

3. Digging tubers with spading fork – A marker or a label 30-cm from the center of the row should be put as guide so it will be easier for the harvester to determine where to dig. For ground creepers, vines should be lifted regularly during the growth period so that tuberous roots will be formed in rows.

  • 3.1 Separate vegetables and fruits of different maturities. Ripe fruits placed with unripe ones will induce the latter to ripen faster, shortening their storage life. Baskets with dividers can be used to separate fruits of different maturities.
  • 3.2 Grade the harvested produce according to size/quality. Poor quality produce lowers the quality and price of the higher grade products. A separate package should be used for each grade.
  • 3.3 Do not mix damaged produce with the sound ones. Damaged or injured portions of fruits and vegetables can hasten ripening of the products. Rotten commodities likewise cause the rotting of sound and clean ones. Produce damaged by insects, diseases and mechanical injuries should be put into separate containers. Those that are severely damaged should be composted.
  • 3.4 Cut fruit as close as possible to the stem-end with the use of clippers. Leaving a long peduncle attached to the fruit pricks the skin of other fruits, making them less attractive and providing entrance for microorganisms.
  • 3.5 When trimming, retain 3-4 wrapper leaves to cover the head (in the case of cabbage, Chinese cabbage, head lettuce). Overtrimming (exposing head) just before packaging leaves no protection for the head to withstand further handling and transporting.

Packaging

1. Use containers that are neither too big nor too small to accommodate the harvest. Using very large containers is not advisable because handlers tend to drop heavy containers, resulting in bruised fruits and vegetables.

2. Put liners inside basket containers. Baskets used as containers for harvested fruits and vegetables should always be lined with suitable materials like banana leaves or newspapers. This will prevent the produce from getting in contact with rough surfaces.

Transporting

1. For bulk transport without container:

  • Provide horizontal platform dividers and liners for trailers, jeepneys, etc., (for watermelon, melon, citrus and cabbage).
  •  Arrange fruits crown-to-crown and base-to-base, with a cushion of banana leaves, rice stalks, etc., (for pineapple and bananas).

2. Pack the produce carefully. Pliable packaging material cannot adequately protect the commodity. A 20-25 kg capacity crate lined with newsprint can be used for tomatoes and onions.

3. Provide space between the produce and canvas cover using a 30-cm wooden plank. Too compact stacking and use of snugly fitting canvas cover should be avoided to provide proper ventilation.

4. Use only one type and one size of containers. Group containers according to size and type for easier stacking to minimize losses. Use small (20 kg) containers for mango, tomato, mandarin and citrus and a medium (40 kg) container for papaya and cucurbits. Each basket should have a hard cover.

5. If the baskets need to be protected from the rain or sun, use a light-colored canvas/plastic cover that radiates heat.

6. Avoid “throw and catch system” during loading and unloading. For loading and unloading, at least three persons should be on hand to form a brigade.

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