(Eds. Note: Farming with Love is a semi-regular column by Kona resident Ken Love who is a specialist in tropical fruit horticulture and market development. Love works on local sustainability issues for Hawaii farmers, value added product development and farmer-chef relations.)
Harvest avocados at the right time!
By Ken Love/Special to Hawaii247.com
Each week when I visit farmers markets, grocery stores and wholesalers it becomes more apparent that growers need to rethink how and when we harvest avocados.
It is absolutely essential we learn not to pick fruit too early. Simply put, avocados picked too early, or picked up off the ground can leave a very bad taste in the mouths of consumers.
If we want repeat customers – consumers at farmers markets, chefs, wholesalers and grocery stores – we must give them the highest possible quality and consistency. Until we can do this repeatedly, we have little chance of reclaiming our markets from the 2 million pounds of imported avocados that invade Hawaii’s shores from California, Mexico, Chile and New Zealand.
In the recent CTAHR publication Avocado Industry Analysis Part 2 Buyer Preferences Focus (www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepu…), we can see the consumer’s preference for specific avocado varieties.
This report can help us as growers better understand supply and demand and with CTAHR Extension Economist, Dr. Kent Fleming’s spreadsheet (www2.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freep…), we can figure our own cost of production for avocados.
All of this is very helpful for selling our product, but to have repeat customers, we must still determine the right time to harvest then grade and size the avocados we deliver or sell at farmers markets.
Established successful avocado growers use a variety of methods to determine harvest time.
Size doesn’t matter:
Many growers simply look at the hanging avocados and figure they are about the right size to harvest. Some varieties, however, can vary in size by 1 to 3 inches in length and circumference from year to year depending on weather and soil or plant nutrition and the number of fruits on the tree.
Fruit falling on the ground is, by itself, is not indicative of ripening. There are a number of factors that contribute to fruit drop. Often the tree will naturally abort a certain amount of fruit in order to protect itself and provide enough nutrition to the remaining fruit. In some growing locations, growers thin avocados and strip leaves so there are just enough leaves to support each remaining fruit. This is also done for mangos, loquat and a number of other fruit. We should not be selling avocados picked from the ground or without the stem end still attached. Once the stem is off, the fruit might ripen prematurely and insects tend to find a home. In 1908, our avocados were prevented from being shipped to the mainland because of a fruit fly larva found in the tip of a fruit with no stem.
Some growers rely on lack of gloss on the avocado. This is not always accurate and very much depends on the variety of avocado. Generally it is a good indication of fruit getting ready to harvest on many common varieties but only when used in conjunction with other signs.
Stemming the tide:
Darkening and corkiness of the closest part of the stem attached to the fruit is another sign grower’s use. By itself this is not enough but also an indication the time to harvest is approaching.
Finally, some growers will simply pick a few avocados, let them sit a few days and see what happens. Generally, avocados that take a week or more to ripen are not fully developed. When the fruit is not fully developed neither are the oils and sugars. This is generally why we have a higher percentage of watery fruit than other growing locations. We pick fruit too early!
There is no one correct way to determine when to harvest avocados. Experienced growers rely on a combination of all these signs. It takes time to learn the habits of a particular fruit and tree. These habits vary from year to year.
For years, some wholesalers in the state have complained local growers do not know when to harvest nor do they grade or size the fruit we deliver. Lets prove them wrong!
A program funded by the county Department of Research and Development and implemented by CTAHR’s Dr. Catherine Chan-Halbrendt, Silvia Barber and Jyotsna Krishnakumar, with help from the West Hawaii Chapter of Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers, will survey the effectiveness of branding five varieties of avocados – Sharwil, Kahaluu, Malama, Linda and locally grown Hass.
Small stickers provided to growers with these varieties will say
“Hawaiian Grown Avocado” with the variety name. Locally grown avocados with the stickers should be top quality. We hope this will help to reclaim some of our markets from the imports but only when we learn to harvest at the right time!
— For more information on the branding program, contact Ken Love at [email protected].