How to harvest and store kiwifruits

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Last Updated: 
November 1, 2007

Kiwifruit photo by USDA ARS CORVALLIS - It can be a little baffling for home gardeners to determine when to harvest their kiwifruits in the fall.

Commercial kiwifruit orchardists use a tool that measures the amount of sugar in a fruit, called a refractometer. When the sugar in the fruit reaches a certain level, they harvest the fruit for market. Since these tools cost about $150 each, most of us who grow kiwifruits at home don’t have that luxury.

Here are some simple guidelines for harvesting and storing both the smaller, hardy kiwifruits and larger, fuzzy kiwifruits from Bernadine Strik, professor of berry crops at Oregon State University.

Handle either type of kiwifruit with care, as they bruise easily. Damaged fruit does not store well. Chill fruit as quickly as possible after picking. The colder the storage temperature, the longer kiwis keep. Kiwifruits store better at high humidity. Keep stored kiwifruit far from other ripening fruit. Ripe fruit gives off ethylene gas, a plant hormone that hastens ripening of surrounding fruit.

The grape-sized, smooth-skinned and hardy kiwifruits develop the best flavor if they are vine-ripened. However, they don’t store well if ripe, said Strik. So, if you want to store them for up to two months, pick the fruit while they are still hard, and keep them in the refrigerator. Then, as you need them, bring them into room temperature to ripen.

To determine when to pick the smaller, hardy kiwifruits, cut open a fruit. If all the seeds are black, the fruit is ready to harvest. In the Willamette Valley, they are usually ready to be harvested in mid-to-late September. At this stage, they will still be hard and green.

Hardy kiwifruits will tolerate light frost. Since they do not all ripen at the same time, check for ripe fruit periodically, starting in early September.

Store firm, hardy kiwifruit in vented plastic bags in the refrigerator. To ripen them, take them out of the fridge and place them in a vented plastic bag with a banana or apple. Keep them at room temperature until they are soft and ripe.

You may also leave hardy kiwifruit on the vine to ripen. Most varieties will develop a red blush on the skin surface when they vine ripen if they are exposed to direct sunlight. Once they are soft, however, they will not store well, even in the fridge.

The larger, fuzzier cousin of the hardy kiwifruit, the kind sold in grocery stores, is usually called fuzzy kiwifruit. These do not ripen on the vine in Oregon, according to Strik. She recommends leaving this larger variety on the vine as long as possible, for the fruit to be physiologically ready to ripen off the vine. As with hardy kiwis, black seeds in large, fuzzy kiwifruit indicate ripeness, usually occurring around early November. But the time of ripening of these kiwis varies from year to year.

Fuzzy kiwifruit vines will tolerate light frost, but Strik recommends harvesting these fruits before a hard freeze occurs. Store and ripen fuzzy kiwis the same way as with the hardy—in the refrigerator or cold garage. Fuzzy kiwifruits will keep in a cold environment much longer than the smaller hardy kiwis – for about four to six months, depending on the temperature of the fridge.

Author: Carol Savonen
Source: Bernadine Strik