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The best time to pick kiwis.

The best time to pick kiwis

When is it time to pick kiwis? Sunset readers often ask this question. The simplest answer would be "mid-October to mid-November.' This is a generally safe rule, but it doesn't give the full story, which would have to include such topics as when to harvest, when fruits taste best, and how to store them, both before and after ripening.

You can obtain ideal flavor and texture only by harvesting fruits with an optimum sugar level and then storing them at a low temperature after ripening; during this time, the sugar increases. The process is similar to that of ripening pears.

Left unpicked past the ideal time, vine-ripened kiwi fruit eventually become sweet enough to eat but lack the perfect sugar and acid balance. Late-harvested kiwis are also soft and characterless; in coldest areas, they can freeze as well, causing further softening and flavor loss.

Picking early produces equally unsatisfactory results. Kiwis reach full size in late summer and look ready for the table, but haven't yet developed enough sugar.

Tracking the elusive sugar balance

How do you determine the ideal sugar level? That is the problem. Professional kiwi growers have no trouble telling when fruit has attained a sugar content that indicates ripeness (7 1/2 to 8 percent), but they have the help of a refractometer, an instrument that measures dissolved solids (principally sugar) in the juice. If you can borrow this instrument, do so (one costs about $80). Or check with a successful grower in the area to find out when he starts to harvest his crop. Otherwise, follow the guidelines below.

One experienced grower says a good rule of thumb is to pick during the first two weeks of November if you live in the northern California coastal valleys, somewhat later on the northern California coast. Harvesting begins earlier where more heat accumulates during a long growing season: Central Valley gardeners usually begin in mid-October. Pick by snapping the fruit from the stems.

Storing and after-ripening care

As good as it looks, properly harvested fruit is not ready to eat right away; first, you'll need to store it in a cool place for sugar to increase. A temperature of 32| to 34| is best, but fruit holds for months at 40| (an old refrigerator in the garage can accommodate a fair-size crop). To prevent moisture loss, store fruit in polyethylene bags open at the top. Do not store with other fruit--ethylene given off by other ripening fruit hastens maturation (and eventual deterioration) of the kiwis.

However, if quick table-readiness is important, you can put the ethylene given off by other fruit to work. Take some kiwis from cold storage and bring them into the house. Although they will become soft and sweet in a week to 10 days through the effect of indoor temperature alone, you can speed flavor development by enclosing them in a bag with a ripe apple, which should make kiwis soft and sweet enough in two to three days.

Photo: The right size for picking, 3- to 4-inch kiwis reach ideal flavor and texture around mid-October in the Sacramento Valley

Photo: Attractive as well as productive, kiwi vine spirals up a 4-by-4 post and along house overhang in Chico, California
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Oct 1, 1986
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