Harvesting small fruits at the correct stage of maturity and proper storage are vital to insure high quality. 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, use the following criteria to harvest small fruit crops at their peak of quality and flavor.
Harvest strawberries when the fruit are uniformly red (fully ripe). Pick the berries with the caps and stems attached to retain firmness and quality. Pinch off the stem about one-fourth inch above the cap. Don't pull the fruit from the plant.
Strawberries should be picked about every other day in warm weather, every three to four days in cool weather. The harvest period for some June-bearing varieties may last three to four weeks. Strawberries can be stored in the refrigerator for up to five to seven days. Optimum storage conditions are a temperature of 32 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity of 90 to 95 percent.
Raspberries are ripe when the fruit are fully colored. Also, ripe berries slip easily from their cores or receptacles, which remain on the plant. If possible, harvest in the early morning hours before heat builds up in the fruit. Raspberries are very perishable. When harvesting, handle the berries carefully. Refrigerate or freeze the fruit immediately after harvest. The maximum storage life of raspberries is two to three days at a temperature of 31 to 32 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity of 90 to 95 percent.
Harvest blackberries when the fruit develop their characteristic black color and flavor and become soft. Harvest every three to five days. Blackberries can be stored for two to three days at a temperature of 31 to 32 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity of 90 to 95 percent.
Harvest blueberries when the fruit are fully ripe. The best indications of ripeness are color, flavor, and picking ease. Fully ripe blueberries are uniformly blue in color, have a good flavor, and separate easily from the plant. (Do not harvest blueberries on color alone, as the berry is often blue for some time before being fully ripe.) After harvesting, immediately store blueberries in the refrigerator. Maximum storage life is seven to ten days.
Grapes should not be harvested until fully ripe. The best indicators of ripeness are color, size, and flavor.
Depending on the variety, berry color changes from green to blue, red or white as the grapes approach maturity. At the fully ripe stage, the natural bloom on the berries becomes more pronounced. However, color should not be the sole basis for harvesting grapes. Many varieties change color long before the grapes are fully ripe.
Size and firmness are other useful indicators of ripeness. The individual berries should be full-sized. They also become slightly less firm to the touch at maturity.
The final and most reliable test for ripeness is flavor. Taste a few grapes when size and color are good. If they are not sweet, leave the clusters on the vines. Grapes do not develop full flavor when harvested before completely mature.
Harvest grape clusters with a scissors or hand shears. Grapes can be stored in the refrigerator for one to two weeks at a temperature of 32 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit and relative humidity of 90 to 95 percent.
Currants typically ripen over a two-to-three-week period. Fully ripe currants possess the characteristic color of the variety (red, white, or black), are slightly soft and juicy. For jellies and jams, harvest currants before the berries are fully ripe. Fruit harvested for jellies and jams should be well-colored, but still firm. Natural levels of fruit pectin are higher in berries that are not fully ripe. Harvest currants by picking the fruit clusters (strigs) rather than the individual berries. After picking, the individual berries can be stripped from the stems. Currants can be stored in the refrigerator at 35 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately two weeks.
For jams, jellies, and pies, most gardeners pick gooseberries when they have reached 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 Fahrenheit for approximately two weeks.
Fully ripe elderberries are plump, slightly soft, and dull purple in color. For jelly, harvest the berries when only half ripe. Elderberries are borne in large, flat clusters. The berries mature in mid-summer. Elderberries can be stored for one to two weeks at a temperature of 31 to 32 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity of 90 to 95 percent.