Welcome to the world of Green Harvest. It is late March, 2014, as this is being written and it is cold, very cold outside. Snow is still piled up from the last snowfall. Yet walking through the produce section of our local supermarkets, we see heaps of beautiful red tomatoes; inviting apples, pears, plums and grapes; great looking vegetables of every variety imaginable.
Looking closely at the fruit and vegetables, there are small paper stickers that generally read, "Produce of Mexico", "Produce of Chile", or Guatemala, Nicaragua or Bolivia. Sometimes we might even spot a label from Thailand, China or some other exotic locale.
If one is inquisitive enough, one might wonder how those nice looking fruits and vegetables were able to travel 2500 miles or 5000 miles or more and still look as red or purple or orange or yellow as the day they were picked. Well in almost all cases they weren't picked ripe. They were picked off the vine, bush or tree long before they were ripe; they were the fruits of the green harvest.
What happens to a vegetable or fruit if it is plucked from its host plant before its time; that is, before it is ripe?
As it turns out, the ripening of a fruit or vegetable is an incredibly complex process involving hormones, genes, time and proximity to other fruit.
What may be surprising to some is that green harvesting tends to affect the taste and aroma of the particular item of produce more than its nutritional content.
A very detailed article on the ripening process of fruit and vegetables was published in the October 29, 2007 issue of Chemical and Engineering News.
And while we are considering "ripening", here's a book from our friends in Australia detailing how organic gardening is done there year round. Click the book cover to look it over.
Another factor is whether the fruit is climateric or not. Climacteric means that the fruit matures on the tree but ripens off the tree. It is a stage of fruit ripening associated with ethylene production and an increase in cell respiration.
All climateric produce that came from a green harvest was treated with ethylene gas at some point to ripen it before putting it out on the store shelf or bin.
Apples, bananas, melons, apricots, tomatoes (among others) are climacteric fruit. Citrus, grapes, strawberries are non-climacteric (they ripen without ethylene and respiration bursts).
Considering tomatoes and apples, the significance is that the fruit can be picked before it is ripe but still be at its full maturity.
Certain plant sugars, monosaccharides and polysaccharides, are extremely dependant on the maturity and ripeness of the plants fruit.
Research conducted on the presence of such sugars on one fruit variety showed the suitable stage for producing polysaccharides is the fruit's mature stage which would include such vital sugars as mannose, galactose, xylose, fucose and others.
The conclusion could be drawn that nutritionally it may be acceptable to harvest fruit and vegetable crops before being fully ripe and using ethylene gas to achieve the desired "ripeness" for the supermarket.
Nutrition may not be affected too much but taste and aroma will suffer. Instead of relying so heavily on nutritionists, scientists and chefs, maybe it's time to get the farmers involved.
Deeply Rooted shows what some unconventional farmers are doing to correct the problems of big agribusiness. It would be nice to just avoid green harvesting the crops but the public still wants their tomatoes in January.
If we don't like the taste of ethylene ripened tomatoes, let's not buy them; think how good they will taste from the farmers market in July and August.
Bioactive sugars such as mannose, galactose, fucose, xylose, n-acetyl-glucosamine, n-acetyl-galactosamine or n-acetyl-neuraminic acid are vital to the bodies intercellular signaling and thus operation of the immune system.
Commercially these sugars have been tagged as "glyconutrients" by supplement manufacturers and, given the variability in both maturity and ripeness of produce in our supermarkets, it seems to be cheap insurance to supplement with the highest quality product of this type available.
For scientific information on the essential polysaccharides, search on keywords glycobiology, glycomics or the specific name of the sugar; i.e., mannose, galactose, fucose, etc.
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