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Important pre-harvest factors (that affect quality)
Varietal selectiona. Scotch Bonnet versus West Indian or Jamaican Red – where scotch bonnet has very high export demand, especially during the winter months, it however suffers heavy viral infestation.
Reaping can take place anytime between 12 – 16 weeks after planting, or when fruits become turgid and dark green in colour. This maturity level is usually 4 – 5 weeks after the onset of flowering.
Reaping should not take place earlier than 7 – 10 days after spraying. This time is necessary to ensure that the minimum levels of pesticide residue remain on the crop. For export requirement, this is known as the “minimum residue levels” (MRL’s), or 5 P.P.M>
Reaping should take place in the cool of the day (early morning or late evening), where possible, so as to avoid the build-up of field heat, which will encourage rapid ripening of the fruits.
Where volumes are large and require a whole day operation, fruits that are already reaped should be removed immediately to a “holding area” so as to avoid build-up of field heat and damage by the sun, which is commonly referred to as “sun scalding” and usually occurs between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. when the sun is at its hottest, or directly overhead.
The high quality of fruits reaped can be maintained if proper field containers are used, for example, the use of plastic buckets, or ventilated field crates instead of polypropylene bags, e.g. Fertilizer/rice bags which are commonly used by farmers, but which are poorly ventilated, thus causing very rapid ripening and decay of fruits.
The fruit should be reaped with the stem and calyx intact, especially for the export and fresh markets. Holding the stem of the fruit between the fingers, very close to the fracture line and gently tilting upward will do this.
There is a distinct fracture line between the stem of the fruit and the plant, and at this point, the fruit is easily detached. This detached stem has a sealed outer end, which minimizes the entry of microorganisms, resulting in a longer shelf life of the fruit.
Where adequate shade is not available in the field, temporary shade can be created by the use of a 10’ x 10’ light coloured tarpaulin, coconut leaves or any other green branches on top of the 4 posts planted 10’ x 10’. This will assist in reducing field heat, thereby minimizing the ripening process and maintaining the quality of the reaped product.
Sorting and Grading
It is very important that all bruises, split, decaying, insect infected, immature, or over-ripe fruits be removed from the lot. A tolerance level of 5 – 8 % is usually allowed for sunburn or scalding, bruised or insect damage. Peppers are usually graded according to markets, for example – Export requires large, green fruits, with stem intact for its fresh market. Local requires a mix of green and ripe – 25% ripe, and 75% green. The processing market requires 100% ripe with stem removed.
Sorting can also be done according to size, e.g. large – 3cm to 4 cm in diameter, or 2 to 3 doz/lb. Medium – 2cm to 3 cm in diameter or 3 – 4 doz/lb. Small - less than 2 cm in diameter or greater than 4 doz/lb.
The grades are then placed into ventilated crates, which can be stacked on top of each other. For this process to be effective, crates should not be over-packed. If over packing should occur, the top layer of the fruits will be crushed and severe loss will occur.
Packaging and Storage
Appropriate ventilated plastic crates can be used to move fruits from the field to the packhouse. At the packinghouse the peppers are placed into smaller containers, e.g. 3.5 – 4 kg cardboard boxes for the export market or perforated plastic bags for the local and retail trades. Over and under filling should be avoided as both cause fruits to bruise and spoil easily.
Peppers are stored for relatively short periods of time, at a temperature of 25 – 27°C. Scotch Bonnet Pepper will store for 2 – 5 days before shriveling and decaying sets in. At colder temperatures of 7 – 10°C, storage life may be 6 – 10 days.
It is highly recommended to avoid storing green hot peppers along with ripening fruits such as pineapples, mangoes, papayas, and tomatoes, as the ethylene gas they produce will enhance ripening of the peppers.
A refrigerated vehicle is the ideal unit to use in the transportation of the peppers. Where this type of unit is not available, an open body vehicle, covered with light coloured tarpaulin may be used. However, it is highly recommended that non-refrigerated vehicles travel in the cool of the day (early morning or late evening) so as to minimize the build up of field heat. Vehicles should be adequate in size, so as to allow proper stacking of crates, since peppers are usually bulky items, and require three (3) crates of 5cubic feet each for every 45 – 55 kg of peppers.
Some dos and don’ts
Some major post harvest diseases.
Causes soft, wet rot on stem ends
Causes circular sunburn spots on fruit.