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Pick sweetest berries, grapes on Georgia farms

By Gerard Krewer
University of Georgia

With berry and grape farming expanding in Georgia, opportunities to harvest fresh strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and muscadine grapes are getting easier to find.

Harvesting your own berries and grapes is one of the real delights of a day in the Georgia countryside. And picking berries is an art you improve the more you harvest.

Here are some tips to help make your farm forages more fruitful with the sweetest Georgia berries and grapes.

Pick strawberries that are red or mostly red. A berry with a green tip will ripen, but the sweetest berries are those that are fully red at picking. Push back the leaves of the plant to reveal the succulent berries tucked into the canopy.

The sweetest blueberries are those that have been on the bush four or five days after they turned blue. To identify those, hold your hands with the palms up and tickle the berry clusters containing a mixture of green and blue berries. The ripest fruit will drop into your hands.

If you plan to keep the berries for a long time, pick all of the blue ones. Some of the fruit won't be as sweet but will keep longer. Hand-picked rabbiteye blueberries, the type most commonly grown in Georgia, may last for three or four weeks in the fridge.

The best blackberries are those that have gone from a shiny black to a dull black. You can pick dull black berries like blueberries: hold your hand under the fruit clusters and tickle them with your fingers to make the ripest ones fall.

The shiny black berries have a longer shelf life. To pick shiny blackberries, gently bend the fruit over until it snaps off.

When you pick thorny blackberries, wearing latex gloves may help reduce the number of thorns sticking in your hands. Look deep inside the canopy to find some of the best berries. You can use a small stick to lift the thorny canes.

Muscadine grape season will start in August. Muscadines are usually picked as individual berries. However, late in the season, clusters can be clipped off of some cultivars.

Look for bronze grapes that have a bronze or greenish-bronze color. Some cultivars such as "Fry" are good when greenish-bronze, while others should be fully bronze before you pick them. Black-fruited cultivars should be fully black.

The fruit of all muscadines should be slightly soft before harvest.

You can usually find the farms selling berries by looking in the local newspaper's classified ads, calling your University of Georgia Extension Service county office, reading the Farmers & Consumers Market Bulletin or contacting your local Farm Bureau office.

(Gerard Krewer is an Extension Service horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

(Gerard Krewer is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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