By JAMES TABABA
It is essential to know when crops are ready for harvest. If harvested too early, the produce may not reach its full potential in terms of taste, color, and market value. On the other hand, if harvested too late, the produce may be overripe, resulting in spoilage and food waste.
The term for the indicative signs of harvesting in crops is called maturity indices. Maturity indices are a set of indicators that tell us when our crops have reached their optimal stage for harvest, based on various factors like size, color, texture, or taste.
The Bureau of Agriculture and Fisheries Standards (BAFS) sets the maturity indices for crops. The BAFS is a government agency under the Department of Agriculture that develops and promotes standards for the country’s agriculture products. It sets the quality and safety standards for crops and other agricultural products, including maturity indices, to ensure that consumers receive high-quality and safe products. The maturity indices set by the BAFS serve as a guide for farmers and traders on when to harvest and sell their crops to meet the quality and safety standards required by the market. However, some local markets may have their own maturity indices, which can differ from the national standards.
Here are some maturity indices for vegetables that are commonly sold in the local markets. These indices can serve as a guide for growers and consumers in determining the ideal time to harvest and purchase these crops for optimal flavor and quality.
For local markets in the Philippines, tomatoes are typically harvested when they have reached the breaker stage, which is when the fruit has just started to change color from green to red. This is because the market demand for tomatoes is usually for ripe, red tomatoes that are ready for immediate consumption.
It is important for growers to keep in mind that tomatoes that are picked too early will not ripen properly and may not have the desired flavor or texture. On the other hand, overripe tomatoes may be too soft and have a shorter shelf life.
Eggplants should be harvested at the right stage of maturity to ensure good quality and yield. Commercial maturity for eggplant is generally reached when the fruit has reached its full size and firmness, and has developed a glossy, smooth skin with a uniform color. The fruit should have a dark purple or black color, be firm to the touch, and have a slight give when gently squeezed. The calyx, or stem, should be green and firmly attached to the fruit. It is important to note that overly matured eggplants may have a bitter taste.
Okra fruit is ready to harvest when the pods reach a length of 5-7 centimeters and a diameter of 0.8-1.2 centimeters, and the ridges or grooves should not yet be pronounced. It should be firm to the touch and snap easily when bent. The pod should be bright green and free from any blemishes or discoloration. Okra should be harvested young because the seeds inside the pod can quickly become tough and woody as the pod matures, making them unpalatable and unappetizing.
Sitao are harvested when the pods are still immature, with small, undeveloped seeds that are still soft and edible. If the seeds inside the pods have become large and hard, the sitao is past its prime. The pods should be firm and crisp, with a slight snap when bent. Over matured sitao pods may become tough and fibrous. The pods should be bright green and free of yellowing or browning. Some varieties may have purple or speckled pods, but the color should be consistent and uniform. Ideally, sitao should be harvested every 2-3 days to ensure that the pods are young and tender.
Pechay can be harvested when the heads are fully formed and have reached a suitable size. The leaves of mature pechay should be a rich, dark green color. Yellowing or browning of the leaves can be an indication that the plant is past maturity. Pechay is a fast-growing vegetable and can reach maturity in as little as 30-45 days after planting. It is important to harvest the crop before it becomes too mature, as this can affect the flavor and texture of the leaves. Young pechay leaves are tender and sweet, while more mature leaves can be tough and bitter.
When the squash is ripe, its color becomes dull or matte, and it loses its sheen. Another indication is the hardness of the skin. When the skin of the squash becomes hard and difficult to puncture, it is a sign that it is mature and ready for harvest.
Additionally, the tendril near the stem of the squash plant starts to dry out and turn brown when the squash is mature. The leaves of the plant may also start to wilt or yellow when the squash is ready to be harvested.
Onions are ready for harvest when their leaves start to turn yellow and fall over. This is an indication that the plant has stopped growing and the bulbs have reached their full size. The outer skin of the onion bulb should also be dry and papery. Once the leaves have fallen over and the skin is dry, the onion bulbs can be pulled from the ground and left to dry for a few days in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated area. After drying, the onions can be cleaned, trimmed, and stored.
The timing of garlic harvest is determined by the maturity of the bulbs, which is indicated by the drying and browning of the leaves. When approximately one-half of the leaves have turned yellow or brown and have begun to dry out, it is time to harvest the garlic bulbs.
Bitter gourds are harvested when they have reached a length of 4-6 inches and a diameter of about one inch. The color should also be dark green, which indicates that it is still young and tender. The seeds inside the bitter gourd should be small and white, which indicates that the vegetable is still young and has not yet matured.
Cucumbers are typically harvested when they are young and tender for best flavor and texture. Cucumbers intended for the local market are usually harvested when they are still green, although some varieties may have a slightly yellow or white coloration. Over-ripe cucumbers will turn yellow or orange and are no longer suitable for the market. Cucumbers intended for fresh consumption should have a crisp texture and a slightly sweet, mild flavor. Overly matured cucumbers may have a bitter or unpleasant taste.
It is important for growers and consumers to know the maturity indices of vegetables because it helps ensure that the vegetables are harvested at the optimal time for consumption or processing. For growers, knowledge of maturity indices can help them plan their planting and harvesting schedule, as well as manage their resources more efficiently. For consumers, knowing the maturity indices can help them choose the freshest and most nutritious vegetables, as well as get the best value for their money.