Improving Mechanical Harvest Pickle Production

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  • 1 Univ. of Delaware, Research and Education Center, R.D. 6, Box 48, Georgetown, DE 19947
  • 2 Univ. of Delaware, Dept. of Bio-Resources Engineering, 71 Townsend Hall, Newark, DE 19717

Proper variety selection and production practices are critical to obtaining profitable yields of mechanically harvested pickling cucumbers (Cucumis sativus L.). On the Delmarva peninsula, the tractor-mounted harvester, which utilizes the pinch-roller system for separating the pickles from the vine, was used exclusively for harvest until 1998. The pull-type forced-balance shaker machines have been introduced as an alternative harvest system. Replicated commercial-size variety trials have been conducted for four consecutive years. The trials are planted twice during the growing season, reflecting the climactic differences associated with early-season and late-season plantings. `Vlaspic' and `Lafayette' are standard varieties. Promising new varieties include `EX 1914' and `SQRP 1882'. Investigations to determine optimum plant populations and row spacing have determined that three-row beds with 60,000 plants per acre provide the highest yields and best quality fruit. Optimal operating speeds and picking reel speeds of 1.4 mph and 45 rpm, respectively, have been determined for the tractor-mounted machine. Additional design improvements have been implemented and evaluated to reduce damage. Fifty-nine replicated commercial tests evaluating the tractor-mounted harvester and the forced-balance shaker type indicate much greater harvest and throughput efficiencies are associated with the forced-balance shaker harvester, resulting in improvements between $65 and $100 per acre.

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