Blueberry Harvesting Methods: Hand, Shake & Catch and Machine Pick

1.) Pick by hand

Picking blueberries is an enjoyable way to harvest blueberries. Look for good ripe blueberries. A good blueberry skin should not be cracked and should be solid blue and round, blue. They don’t get sweeter after picking. To pick blueberries, hold your hand under the blueberries and simply try to roll them from the branch into your hand with your thumb. Then put the blueberries in your bucket. If it doesn’t come off easily, it’s probably not ripe yet, so just move on. Several blueberries at once use this procedure, and most of the berries that are not ready will remain on the stem. About 40 to 50 percent of blueberries grown commercially are picked by hand.

Blueberry Picking Tool:

Using a blueberry rake makes picking much faster. A blueberry rake is a flat-toothed tool used to pull the berries out of the plant without damaging the plant. Using a Hubbard rake is much faster than doing the same by hand. These are manufactured by the Hubbard Rake Co. at Jonesport, Maine 04649.

Harvesting blueberries manually is estimated to take up to 550 labor hours per acre and cost about $1.00 per pound in 2011. Labor costs are expected to rise, while blueberry prices are expected to fall. As the blueberry industry expands nationally, it can become a problem to find enough manual pickers during the harvest season.

2.) U-choice

U-pick is done by hand by customers who come to the farm for it. They carry their blueberries in a bucket or other container. Some time a rope is put on the bucket so that it can hang over their shoulder or around someone’s neck. An excellent container can be easily made by using a 1 gallon plastic milk bottle and cutting off the top part of the front and top, making sure to keep the handle part on. From a farmer’s perspective, u-picking is perhaps the most profitable alternative. However, you must have substantial liability insurance in the event of an unforeseen accident.

3.) Shake and Catch (Blueberry Fruit Frame)

There are blueberry catch frames that are made to roll under the blueberry bushes to collect the blueberries when the branches are shaken. The branches or stems can be tapped gently with a rubber hand hose to shake off the ripe blueberries. You can also use an electric or air powered mechanical vibrator to shake the branches. If you’re shaking off too many green blueberries, it means you’re tapping too hard! With such a simple, hand-operated, mobile catching frame you can harvest a heavily loaded large bearing plant in a short time. When you want to empty the frame, the frame that is now full of blueberries on its wheels is tilted backwards so that ripe fruit rolls to a tailgate that opens so that the berries fall right into the container. The blueberries can then gently run over an angled blower and belt to remove all the debris.

With this method, you can solve the warm-weather picking blues of long hours in the field by picking blueberries. You can then offer your U-Pick customers freshly picked blueberries at retail prices! These blueberry capture frames were the forerunners of today’s mechanical harvesting systems. They were widely used in the 1950s and often used handheld vibrators powered by batteries or compressed air to remove fruit. As discussed above, the fruit was caught in a canvas-covered trapping structure placed under the plant. Such a simple system is incredibly efficient, reducing harvesting costs by 55% and cutting harvest time by more than 200%. Blueberry capture frames are now hard to find as manufacturers are now making mechanical harvesting systems and have stopped making the capture frames.

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If you cannot find a commercially available catch frame, you can make your own by using a photo of such a catch frame, as shown on the blueberry croft’s blueberry blog.

4.) Machine harvesting of blueberries

Harvesting blueberries with a machine is not a panacea. If the slope of the ground is more than 10 percent, it will be difficult to harvest with a machine. The damage to the blueberries is greater than picking by hand. In general, the cost of a self-propelled harvester cannot be justified unless the blueberry growing area is greater than 10 hectares.

Several factors have led to increased interest in using a blueberry harvesting machine in recent years as mechanical harvesting technology has improved, new labor regulations have emerged and costs have risen. Not all fields are suitable for the use of mechanical harvesters. In general, at least 10 or wide rows are required and 25-foot turnaround sites at the end of rows are required for moving motorized harvesters. Blueberries for the fresh market have a short shelf life if they are harvested mechanically. Therefore, machine-harvested blueberries must be sold quickly. The shelf life is typically shorter than that of hand-picked blueberries.

Perhaps the biggest drawback to using mechanical harvesters is that this process can damage the blueberries. Blueberries can easily be bruised by an impact from a vertical fall during any step in the mechanical harvesting process. If the height of a fall on a hard surface exceeds 15 cm, ripe blueberries can develop large bruises. The amount of damage is related to the distance the blueberries fall. Crushed blueberries are also subject to more spoilage during post-harvest storage.

Today, machine harvesting is about 10 times faster than a typical person using a hand rake sweeping the bushes all day long. About 10 years ago, 20 percent blueberries were harvested using mechanical equipment. Today, about 80 percent of growers with large fields of blueberry use machines to replace hand pickers because it is cheaper.