Vegetable producers can extend their harvest season to reduce crop risk and increase yields and profit, says Rob Spencer, Commercial Horticulture Specialist with Alberta Agriculture. Spencer outlined some strategies to producers during a session at the Berry and Vegetable school here.
One method of extending the season is to have multiple, staggered plantings of different crops. Spencer recommended planting crops with different maturity rates. Planting every 10 days reduces risk and results in an almost continual harvest and a longer supply at the end of the season.
Multi-cropping is another option. This involves growing two complimentary crops in the same area. Another option is to grow a short-season crop, and then grow another crop right after it in the same area.
Spencer said careful post-harvest handling and good storage methods can extend the other end of the season. This approach will not work on all crops, as some do not store very well.
“It’s important to harvest your crop at the right stage. If you harvest stuff that is overripe or immature, it will not store the same or handle the same as a ripe crop,” he said. “You have to get the field heat off right away.”
Plants in the ground are still respiring and growing. If they are harvested when it is cooler, they will respire less, and their ability to break down is inhibited. Spencer recommends cooling them down as much as possible, which may involve harvesting during an overcast day or during a cooler part of the day. If crops are cooled immediately, they will last longer.
Reducing damage can also increase the storage period. Poor-quality crops should be discarded immediately, as they will only degrade. Some crops respond well to being washed before they are stored while others do not, said Spencer.
Each vegetable has different storage requirements. Many crops, such as carrots and beans, do best if they are stored between 0 to 2C. Other crops do best at between 8 to 10C. Seed potatoes are generally stored at 4C, while table potatoes are stored at about 6C. Humidity is another aspect to consider.
Storage types include root cellars, bulk storage, and palletized storage. Palletized storage requires a good airflow, said Spencer.
Certain crops cannot be stored together. Some produce ethylene gas, which could have a detrimental effect on other nearby crops.