Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Tips on Picking Berries

~ loganberries fresh picked ~
 This is going to be a bumper crop year for berries - especially the raspberries (just made my 3rd batch of jam) & loganberries.

Here are a few tips to help you get all you can from the cane to the freezer.

1) All the hard work is done early in the season - for me: February. That's when I prune out the weak canes, prune back the excessive growth on this year's canes, weed, mulch, feed & tie up the plants. This should be all the work you need to do!

2) Continue to mulch - I use grass clippings & used bedding material from either the neighbour's pigs or from my ducks. This reduces the need to water & weed. I actually never water my berry plants - I make sure I plant them in appropriate spots around the yard (the edge of the septic field is ideal - if you live where septic fields are still used).

3) Once the fruit start to ripen - pick DAILY! A key to knowing when your fruit is ready: bird activity. They pick up on ripe fruit long before you remember to keep an eye out!

4) If not able to pick daily, you can CHEAT - which is what I do. I'll pick either every other day or every third day & I will pick heavily.
~ loganberries ripening on the counter ~

Today's example: loganberries
In the picture on the right - the berry I'm holding is perfectly ripe - but it is also very soft & is easily damaged. If I were to wait for all my berries to ripen on the cane, I would have a mushy mess to harvest & stains on my hands that would take a lot of scrubbing to take out.

What I do is pick berries that are about 3/4's ripe & I lay them out on trays to sit on the counter over night - sometimes through the following day (depending on the heat of the day) to ripen fully. This way I can pick heavily, but less frequently & can freeze whole berries without having them turn to mush.

In picking this way, I also harvest more & have less loss to birds - who are actually rather picky & will go for the ripe berries more frequently than you might think. I make a lot of jam & this is also a good way to have an assortment of ripe/slightly unripe berries. Berries have more pectin in them when they are just slightly under ripe. There is also a wide range of flavours & tart/tangy/sweet/sour flavours when some of your berries are slightly under ripe & some are slightly over ripe - as long as there is no mold, slightly over-ripe berries are good for the jam pot too!

5) If you grow your own berries & don't spray with chemicals - DON'T wash them before freezing them! A wet berry sticks to everything around it, usually resulting a block of frozen berries that is difficult to break apart for small amounts of berries.

There is a way around that - freeze your berries overnight on a cookie tray & then package them up. But, if you harvest in quantities like I do, your freezer doesn't have enough space for 6 cookie trays full of berries to freeze. I find that since I grow or pick my own berries & I know there are no chemicals or road dust to worry about, I can gently package them up into zip lock bags as soon as I've harvested them & lay the bags flat for freezing. At any point later in the year, I can break apart single berries for use in desserts or a handful for use in smoothies.

Space saving & time saving during the peak of harvest season is the key to enjoying the fruits of your labour - that day & later in the year.

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