While strawberries are available throughout the year, supply is heaviest during spring. Crops in the Perth region are heaviest from September to December and southern crops from October to March. Autumn crops may be produced by cutting back plants as described earlier. First year plants yield later than established plants by about a month.
Strawberry beds should be picked over regularly, especially during hot weather when berries mature very quickly. The degree of fruit colour will vary according to the variety, but generally fruit should be picked when half to three-quarters red.
Harvest berries for the fresh fruit market with sepals attached. The stem should be very short or absent. Reject fruit that doesn’t have sepals or is damaged.
Strawberries spoil rapidly, so they must be removed from the field at regular intervals and cooled promptly, preferably using forced air cooling. Fruit should be shaded and protected from winds while it is held in the field. When possible, pick fruit in the cool of the day.
A cool room is essential. Cool berries before packing and store at 0°C. Market as soon as possible after harvest. Only pack fresh, sound fruit of uniform colour. Berries showing even slight damage should be rejected, as these can deteriorate rapidly and spoil the entire pack.
Strawberries are most often packed in clear plastic-lidded punnets. The most popular size holds about 250g of fruit but fruit may also be sold in 500g trays or loose. Two sizes of 250g punnets exist, one designed to be packed firmly, the other to have the fruit placed in without packing, thus saving on labour costs. Mark the punnets with a sticker stating the grower’s name, address and the minimum weight of the pack. The sticker should be approved by the National Measurement Institute before printing.
Two-hundred and fifty gram punnets are marketed in cardboard trays, which normally hold 12 punnets.