There is no doubt about it – we like a shiny apple. It just looks so much more appealing than the odd, misshapen apple that has already been sampled by the local fauna. After all, we humans are visual creatures and the appearance of our food is what peaks our initial interest. Besides looking great, we want the apple to taste good and provide us with wholesome nutrition. After all, looks aren’t everything. Sellers also want a product that looks good, but their version of attractiveness comes from uniformity and bright colors that attract customers to their shelves. Just in case the product isn’t purchased right away, the product should also have a long shelf life. Producers, on the other hand, have completely different demands. They need a product that can travel from point A to point B [often thousands of miles] and not be bruised and mushy upon arrival. They want the apple to be dense so that they are paid the most for their wares.
In the end, beauty, i.e. quality, is in the eye of the beholder. In the case of crops, this generally means a favorable mix of appearance, texture, flavor, safety, and nutrition [see the table below]. To produce a crop more likely to please all parties involved, it must be of high quality. To grow a crop of high quality, it must have been produced with care, which means that a number of factors need to be considered during each phase of the production cycle.
It is first important to understand your growing space. How much sunlight will it get? How much precipitation does your area receive? What are the average temperatures? What is the soil type? How big of an area will you be planting? Will you practice intercropping? How many seasons of the year are suitable for growing? Are you planning to grow annuals or perennials? Once these questions have been answered, a plan for the growing season can be made.
Referencing your plan and a guide for plant spacing, select seed varieties suited to the local climate and growing conditions. If possible, opt for local seed banks or nurseries, cooperatives, or reputable seed catalogs that can provide this information or are already adapted to local conditions. If a particular seed variety is particularly successful, consider saving your own seed for future growing seasons.
Planting and Growth Phase
When planting the crops, make sure to follow the recommended spacing suggestions. By doing so, the plants are sure to get the appropriate amount of light and there is enough space for air to circulate which reduces the likelihood of disease and pest problems.
As the plants are growing, opt for manual methods of weed management and monitor pest populations to help prevent any major infestations. Having healthy soil helps to reduce the likelihood of pest infestations and provide the plants with the nutrients it needs to remain healthy and bear nutritious fruits.
If possible, protect the plants from extreme temperatures to avoid premature flowering, damage from frost or snow, and leaf scorch.
Harvesting & Post-Harvest Phase
The moment a product picked, it begins to deteriorate in quality. Accordingly, it is important to have a plan and system in place for processing the harvest. The essential parts of this process involve cooling, cleaning, sorting, and packaging. How far a product will travel impacts the approach to packaging. Having a system in place for post-harvest handling also contributes to overall food safety.
- Pay attention to the details and to be consistent.
- Keep track of the growing process to learn from successes and mistakes
At present, the quality of fresh fruits and vegetables is based on the following factors:
For more information about the horticultural production system, click here.