How to Harvest Strawberries

By Julie Sews - 3:10:00 PM

Our strawberries June 2015
Well it's June which in our household means it's strawberry time!  For about 3- 4 weeks in June I'm basically a part time strawberry farmer who gets paid in strawberries. We have strawberries planted all over our property as ground cover. This year it looks like we are having a huge bumper crop, so I've been very busy lately, in fact if it wasn't raining right now I would be harvesting strawberries instead of writing about harvesting strawberries! I've been harvesting about 2 lbs a day and this is just the start of the season! Continuing on with our strawberry theme this month I thought I would share with you tips I've learned about harvesting strawberries over the years, now that you know how to grow strawberries.

 There are two main things you need to learn about harvesting strawberries: how often to harvest and when to pick them.  The first year we grew strawberries I wasn't sure when to pick them.  Are they like tomatoes and you can pick them before they are ripe?  Or would they never ripen?  This was my biggest question. After a few years of picking strawberries I've also learned some other things about harvesting strawberries I thought I would share with you. 

How and When Should You Pick Strawberries?
I picked this strawberry despite the unripe spots at the bottom because the green leaves on top were starting to die, therefore it will not ripen anymore
Once the green leaves on top start to darken and dry out they will no longer ripen and will soon start to go bad. 
You can still eat them, just eat them soon.  I like to bring two strainers when I harvest to sort through the eat soon ones (dying green leaves on top pf the fruit and any bruised or imperfect ones), and the fresh green leaves on top strawberries.  That way I don't need to sort them out and I'm more likely to use the ones that will likely go bad first.  This tip has helped me pick the best strawberries in the grocery store too!
The Strawberry left is under ripe with dying green leaves, the one to the right is perfectly ripe with fresh bright green leaves
Strawberries do not ripen off the vine so don't pick them before they are fully ripe
So pick strawberries when they are fully red, wait if they have any no ripe spots. 
Left: perfectly ripe strawberry Right: overly ripe strawberry with a dark red color
I like to eat a few as you harvest to get a feel for how different stages of ripeness taste 
This helps to judge if a strawberry is too ripe.  An overly ripe strawberry will be dark red with a purple tint, it can easily be the most amazing strawberry you had or just plain bitter and bad.  When in doubt just try one on the spot!
Throw away any rotten strawberries or ones that have holes in the garbage  
Throwing away bad strawberries will help so you don't spread diseases in your patch.  Also note that strawberries with holes in it likely have ants inside of it.  I also love to throughout any strawberries that are bad as I go, because this saves me time when I harvest, because I'm not inspected the bad strawberry every time I harvest. 
Leave the green leaf tops (the hulls) if you want them to last longer 
To pick the strawberries simply by twist the stem above the green leaves.  I like to use my nails to cut the stem too.  Be careful not to bruise them especially if they are very ripe. 
Hull strawberries on the vine as you pick by pinching and twisting the stem while harvesting if you will be immediately using
This is great if you plan to preserve all of them.   See video below to see how to hull (take the green leaves on top) strawberries on the vine as you harvest.
 How to Hull Strawberries on the Vine.

Avoid placing the picked berries in the sun any longer than necessary.

Strawberries are sensitive to the sun, and are more likely to bruise and not last as long.  It is better to put them in the shade of a tree, shed, or indoors as soon as possible.

How Often Should You Harvest?

This depends largely on the type of strawberries you have, how productive your strawberries are, and what time of the season it is. We have June bearing, and starting at the very beginning of June starts the season.  You want to make sure you harvest them as soon as they are ripe, so pest are less likely to get to them and they are less likely to rot on the plant.  

Typically I harvest every 1-3 days. Usually every 2-3 days  in the start and end of the season and every day at it's height.  This year MN is having an amazing strawberry season and although it's just the start of the season here, I've been harvesting every day (with about two pounds a day).  
So how do you know how often you should harvest?  I would try every other day at the start of the season, until you can tell your harvest are getting bigger, then try harvesting every day, unless or until it doesn't seem to be worth while.  If you are harvesting every other day and have a large patch you might want to harvest every day and just do one side or section each day so it doesn't take so long to harvest, and it just becomes habit.  

Harvest in the Mourning if Possible and Wear Protective Clothing

The best time to harvest strawberries is in the mourning because berries picked during the heat of the day become soft, are easily bruised, and will not keep well.  It's also a good ideal because June is when the sun is the strongest (assuming you are harvesting in June of course), and the UV index is lower in the mourning.  Just in case it's a good ideal to wear protective clothes from the sun and mosquitoes, or natural sunscreen (I make mine with zinc oxide and my fav lotion).  I like to check the break down of the UV index in my area on WillyWeather, simply type in your zip code to see yours.  I have found mosquitoes like to hang out in our strawberry patch, and it is not by any standing water at all.  I like to wear a thing loose cotton long sleeve top and loose linen drawstring long pants. 

Check out this video "How to Harvest Strawberries", From Danielle Sherry from the magazine Fine Gardening.

Care After Harvesting

  • Strawberries may be kept fresh in the refrigerator for 3 or more days.  Store in the refrigerator in shallow containers, uncovered or with holes to allow air to pass through.  I like to save strawberry containers and clean it out with vinegar and reuse them for my strawberry harvest.  If I have too many to do that I use strainers in the fridge.  
  • Avoid washing the strawberries until ready to eat since strawberries are like a sponge and tend to absorb moisture leading to mold
Do you grow strawberries?  If so I'd love to hear any tips you have on harvesting strawberries!

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