To harvest quickly and efficiently, make sure you have the proper picking tools, boxes, pails, and flats. Part of picking quickly and efficiently depends on your equipment. Don't try to get by with just the knife or pocket clipper you'd use in your square foot garden. Cash gardening is a whole different business. Just as you needed proper equipment for seed sprouting and planting, when operating on a large scale you must have efficient harvesting equipment. Since you'll be handling a large volume, think of things that will simplify, consolidate, and eliminate movement. Keep everything handy and close by so you won't have to walk twenty feet to empty a small basket into a large one.

The first handy harvest aid I recommend is a cart or wheelbarrow that will fit in your walking paths. If you have an old-fashioned wheelbarrow with a flat bed you can use it in the paths without too much trouble.

You need several strong pails. Stay away from the $1.49 variety and invest in at least two heavy-duty plastic pails. They'll last a long time and won't crack or break at a critical moment.

Your hose system should extend to all parts of the garden and have shut-off valves at several strategic locations so you don't have to walk back and forth a lot just to fill a pail.

Packing Boxes for Free

Boxes and flats are free for the asking at any grocery store. Wood flats, crates, and even good bushel baskets are thrown out every day. Ask the produce department manager if you can pick up a few each week, and you'll have a good collection in no time. Since they break and wear out, get extras.

You might also consider shallow cardboard boxes, the kind used in beverage stores for soda and beer. These are ideal because you can't pack too much in them and risk crushing your fruit, yet you can dispose of them at the restaurant if you don't want to bring them home.

It's often possible to get boxes and crates free from a grocery store.

Of course, cardboard doesn't have the professional "farm-grown" look of wood flats, so you may want to stick with the latter until you've made your first impression. The other problem with cardboard is its unsuitability during wet weather, and that's the same problem you'll have with paper bags. The nice thing about wood boxes is that you can use them in any weather; in fact, you can hose down your produce right in the boxes.

Picking aids are the next major category to consider. You must have several good clippers that are easy to open and close. Why several? Well, if you're like me, you're always misplacing tools. Although I make New Year's resolutions all the time about being better organized, I've found the easiest solution is to buy three of any hand tool once I find one I like. A good strong pocket knife is also very useful every day. For cutting things such as lettuce and Swiss chard, an old, inexpensive, steak knife with a serrated blade is the handiest tool.

Those are the basics. Other specialized items you could investigate and buy are picking bags, pails, and other harvesting devices. Any commercial orchard catalog will feature them.

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