By Dennis J. Choruma
Customers usually select tomatoes based on a quick visual inspection. To attract customers, it is therefore important that the farmer understands what customers look for. Tomato quality is usually based on
- Size and shape (some customers prefer big and round fruit, others want small and oval, this depends on your market and market preferences should be considered)
- Condition (no damage, no decay)
- Texture (firmness, juiciness)
- Colour (red, green, slightly red etc.
- Price (price and quality go hand in hand, is the price justified for the quality of fruit? what are others selling the fruit for, prices should be competitive)
However, to preserve all these desirable qualities of the fruit, it is important that care should be taken during harvesting and market preparation. Here are a few things you can do to get good quality fruit and attract more customers.
How to harvest
Tomatoes should be removed from the vine by rotating or twisting gently. The stem should be carefully removed from the fruit to prevent the stem puncturing neighboring fruit during in the harvesting container. Also take care not to damage the blossom end, as this can lead to the fruit being infected easily by disease.
The tomato fruit should be carefully placed in the harvesting container. Throwing fruit into the container should be avoided as this can lead to bruising and damage of fruit which in turn, can lead to decay and a shortening of the fruit’s shelf life.
The tomatoes should be harvested when the weather is cool, usually early morning or in the evening. When picked in the morning, harvest should be delayed until the dew has dried off the fruit. Packing wet fruit together promotes and encourages spread of decay, so tomatoes should never be picked during rain or when the fruit is wet.
Preparing for market
The tomatoes should be carefully cleaned with a cloth preferably damp, to remove any dirt or soil on the surface as well as any leaf tissue sticking to the tomatoes. Any spoiled or damaged fruits should be removed to avoid them contaminating the other fruits. For very dirty fruits, they should be cleaned using clean water and air dried in a shade. Drying in direct sunlight should be avoided as this leads to heat build-up and faster ripening.
Waxing involves applying a thin layer of a water-wax spray coating onto the fruit to give it a glossy, shiny appearance. Waxing provides lubrication to the fruit surface that reduces damage from the fruit rubbing against each other during transportation. Waxing can also reduce fruit shriveling and increase the market-life of the fruit. Tomato waxes must be edible and non-toxic and are often made from plant extracts e.g. candelilla or insect extracts e.g. beeswax.
Tomatoes should be sorted and graded before packing for market to give a uniform appearance.