The majority of the fresh market cabbage in North Carolina is picked by hand, despite sporadic attempts to harvest it mechanically. Despite being significantly faster than hand harvesting, machine harvesting can seriously harm cabbage if extreme caution is not exercised. Because of this, cabbage that has been mechanically picked can be more suitable for processing than for the fresh market. For the fresh market, machine-harvested produce must typically be uniform in size and maturity.
Depending on the cultivar, a mature head of cabbage typically weighs between 3 and 5 pounds. When the heads are mature and firm, cabbage should be collected as soon as possible. Even a few days beyond the point of maturity can cause split heads and an increase in field ᴅɪsᴇᴀsᴇ. Unharvested cabbage is susceptible to major infestations of downy mildew and alternaria leaf spot, especially in wet weather. Normal harvesting and handling practices can spread these ɪʟʟɴᴇsses. Immature heads, however, cannot withstand handling ᴅᴀᴍᴀɢᴇ because they are too soft, which lowers yield. The shelf life of immature heads is also less than that of mature heads.
Quality is significantly influenced by field personnel. They should be instructed on the value of following appropriate hygiene procedures and to handle cabbages gently. A sᴋɪʟʟed picker can be identified by feel and head size. By bending the head to one side and using either a butcher knife or a Russell knife, the head is harvested. Knives used for harvesting should be sharpened frequently to minimize picker fatigue and effort. It is not recommended to move the head by snapping or twisting it because doing so ᴅᴀᴍᴀɢᴇs the head and causes irregular stalk length and trim. Broken stalks are more prone to deterioration.
While keeping two to four wrapper leaves, the stalk should be trimmed flat and as ᴄʟᴏsᴇ to the head as feasible. When handled, extreme leaves function as cushions, which some markets may find desirable. However, wrapper leaves that are yellow, ᴅᴀᴍᴀɢᴇd, or ill should be removed. It is best to eliminate heads with insect ᴅᴀᴍᴀɢᴇ and other flaws. Because fields may be harvested up to three times for maximum yield, it is crucial that heads not harvested be left unᴅᴀᴍᴀɢᴇd. Depending on the harvesting technique used, harvested cabbage can be put in bags, boxes, wagons, or pallet bins.
Harvesting aids can greatly speed up the harvest process and cut labor expenses while also increasing efficiency and cabbage quality. A farm trailer for moving boxes and cabbage counts as an aid, whereas a self-propelled vehicle costing thousands of dollars is more complex. The more sophisticated machines easily combine and automate the majority of the harvesting and packing tasks into a single unit.
A straightforward belt is used with the pickers as a simple yet effective harvesting tool. Harvested heads are placed on a conveyer belt and transported to a bulk bin, wagon, or even a mobile packing station by workers. The conveyer may be a factory-built model specifically developed for harvesting cabbage, or it may be a conveyer that has been converted on-site. A harvesting assistance can be used in rainy conditions if it has a canopy and high-flotation tires.
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