Muscadines ripen from early-August to mid-October, depending on the cultivar, location and weather conditions. The manner in which the grapes will be marketed will play a role in determining the best means of harvesting.
Fresh-Fruit Market. Fruit destined for fresh consumption, whether consumed locally or to be shipped, should be hand harvested. Even carefully hand picked fruit may require additional sorting and grading to make the best possible pack. Fruit mechanically harvested or hand-shaken from the vine will bruise during harvest and will spoil quicker. If the fruit is to be shipped a considerable distance or stored for a few days, select only those cultivars that have a dry stem scar or can be clipped as mature clusters. ‘Fry’ is normally picked as individual berries on the first harvests and then clipped in clusters on the later harvests.Cultivars with a wet stem scar will exude their juice onto the fruit surface and provide an ideal environment for the growth of spoilage organisms.
Some growers pick, then grade and pack in a packing house, while other growers pick, grade, and pack in the field.Quality control is more difficult with field packing.
Muscadines have been successfully stored for up to three weeks if they are refrigerated immediately after harvesting. The practical storage life under typical conditions is, however, about a week. To maximize the length of storage, the grapes should be stored at temperatures of 32o to 33oF. with a relative humidity of 70% or higher. The standard muscadine cardboard box holds 20 lbs. of grapes and has a telescoping lid like a peach box.
Processing Market. In growing muscadines to sell for processing, it is important to contact the processor before planting the vines and know the terms of the contract first. Important contract provisions include the cultivar requirements, length of the contract, price, quality standards (juice pH and soluble solids), and a cost-of-living increase clause.Fruit for the processed market can be shaken from the vines onto cloth sheets spread on the ground or into catch frames under the vines. Mechanical harvesters are used by growers with vineyards large enough to justify the cost of the machine. Mechanical harvesters may be used finish the harvest for the processing market after the fresh fruit season is finished.In N.C. blueberry harvesters are often used to harvest muscadines. However, unlike a dedicated grape harvester, which usually has a side delivery into a truck, blueberry harvesters catch the fruit in lugs.
Fruit harvested by machine or by shaking is bruised and spoils quickly. Therefore, the fruit should be processed as soon as possible. If there will be a delay in getting the fruit to the processing plant, it is best to store the fruit at 32o to 33oF.
Pick-Your-Own Market. Modern muscadine cultivars can be effectively marketed on a pick-your-own basis where the customer base is already acquainted with muscadines. Customers prefer a PYO because it allows them to select their own fruit in any quantity at a savings over prices available in local retail stores. Some PYO operations charge a Agrazing fee@ for eating while picking.This allows customers to enjoy themselves to the fullest while picking.In starting a PYO, it is best to start out small and expand as the demand for grapes increases.
In planning a PYO, you must consider traffic flow and parking. Convenience to the field and the highway make for a better business. Customers often become disgruntled if they have to do too much walking to and from the field. Plants may be damaged if sufficient parking and turnaround space are not provided.
Another requirement which contributes to the success of a PYO operation is top quality grapes in clean fields. Weedy, overgrown fields tend to reduce the customers’ interest in returning. Having clean rest room facilities, as well as rain shelters, and water fountains will please customers.
Trade and brand names are used only for information. The Cooperative Extension Service, University of Georgia College of Agriculture does not guarantee nor warrant the standard of any product mentioned; neither does it imply approval of any product to the exclusion of others which may also be suitable.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the contributions of Drs. Ron Lane, M.E. Ferree and G.A. Couvillon.
The Cooperative Extension Service, The University of Georgia College of Agriculture offers educational programs, assistance and materials to all people without regard to race, color, national origin, age, sex or handicap status.
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Revised November 2002
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