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Fruit Baskets and Boxes

Fruit Baskets & Boxes

Preparation for Gathering Fruit

excerpted from “Small Fruit Culturist” by Andrew S. Fuller, 1888, Orange Judd Co.

To grow a crop of fruit is but the initial step towards the successful termination of the enterprise.

If the fruit is to be sent to market, then crates, baskets, etc., are necessary for gathering and transporting, all of which should be provided in advance of the ripening of the crop. The number of baskets required per acre cannot be given, inasmuch as the product will not be the same in any two seasons, but it is always best to provide enough, for if the supply should fall short in the busy part of the season, it might cause considerable loss.

We will suppose that a grower expects to send a thousand baskets per day to market, during the season, of any particular kind of small fruit, and if he sends them by railroad or steamboat, to a distance of twenty miles or more, he must not expect to have any baskets or crates returned in less time than six to ten days after the time of the first shipment, unless he has better success than usual with fruit growers in this vicinity; consequently he will have to provide six to ten thousand baskets to enable him to continue gathering.

Sometimes, owing to the negligence of the commission merchant, no baskets will be returned for two or three weeks, and a very large extra supply of baskets will be necessary to prevent a corresponding loss.

Ten thousand baskets, with a corresponding number of crates, should be provided, if a thousand baskets are to be picked per day.

To the inexperienced in these matters, this may seem to be an unnecessary outlay, but fruit growers in the Eastern States, at least, have learned that a little, or considerable, extra capital invested in baskets will quite often insure them against great losses.

Any one who has ever looked through the New York markets, soon after the close of the Strawberry season, must have noticed thousands of baskets and crates lying around loose, or being piled up in the streets, where the boys make bonfires of them at night, and thus the property of the fruit grower is often destroyed through the willful neglect of those to whom the fruit was consigned.

Many remedies have been tried to prevent this waste, but none have been entirely successful, unless it be that of sending very cheap baskets and crates, which it is not expected will be returned. Many fruit growers are adopting this give away system, and under some circumstances it is probably the best, but under others it is doubtful if it is the most profitable in the end.

An attractive exterior is a good passport, even in the fruit line, and I know of many instances where fruit put up in handsome baskters, and enclosed in extra finished crates, has sold for almost double the price of that sent to market in an inferior style of crate and basket.

Many instances might be given in which neat, clean packages and carefully selected fruit, have well paid the grower for all his extra trouble and expense in sending it to market. If a man desires to secure a good reputation for the products of his garden and farm, he will see to it that they leave his premises in the best possible order, and be sure to put his name on each crate or other package. Competition has become so great within the past ten years, that the cultivators of berries are compelled to exercise more care than formerly in selecting both fruit and packages, as buyers are now more critical and particular as they gain experience. The old trays, each holding several quarts of berries, and from which the fruit was measure out to customers, are no longer seen in our markets, except for some hard kinds like the Huckleberry, and even for these this dishing-out system is very objectionable, to say the least. Of late years large quantities of the small fruits come to our northern markets from the South. This is especially the case with Strawberries, for increased facilities in the way of rapid transit by steamboats and railroads, with refrigerators on both, have now made the shipping of perishable fruits possible when it would not have been thought of a score of years ago. The trade in such articles will no doubt increase in years to come, and growers will need new styles of baskets and crates, or those better adapted to the purpose than any now in common use. But whatever kind of package is used, the grower will ever need to exercise great care in gathering and assorting his fruit. If his pickers are not instructed in regard to picking the berries in the best condition to stand the journey, the good may be injured by the poor, for half a dozen over-ripe berries in a basket are very likely to damage the entire lot. Green berries should also be avoided, but a few of these can be better tolerated than those that have become soft and commenced to decay. The topping out of the baskets with a few of the choicest and largest berries is an almost universal practice, and while in the abstract it might be called dishonest, still it is such a universal custom that no one is deceived. It’s merely putting the best side out to attract the buyer.

Crates and baskets are in some cases returned free by the railroad and steamboat companies, unless the distance to market is too great; under such circumstances it is best not to expect it, but rather to ship the fruit in cheap baskets, unless it will bring enough more to pay for packing in a better style.

The tendency of late years is to let the basket or box go with the fruit to the purchaser, and it is really the better plan, because after a box or basket has been once used for berries, it is usually badly stained, and really unfit for further use. There are thousands of men in our cities who will stop at the market or fruit stands, and purchase a few quarts of berries on their way home in the evening, if sold boxes and all, but if required to return the packages, or compelled to furnish some convenient vessel for carrying the fruit, they would pass by without purchasing. For these and other reasons which might be given, the grower will find it for his own interest to use what are termed the gift box or basket whenever possible. The grape growers have, of late years, adopted the free box, and their sales, as a result, have greatly increased, and without lessening their profits.

Fruit Baskets and Boxes

The most common basket used for the New York market is what is called the Jersey Strawberry basket, figure 108; it requires from five to seven to hold a quart. Of late years this basket is less used than formerly, except for the smaller varieties of Strawberry. They are usually made by the fruit growers themselves in winter, but sometimes they are made for sale, and the price varies from ten dollars to fifteen dollars per thousand. A half dozen of the larger varieties of Strawberries will fill one of these Jersey baskets.

The Raspberry baskets formerly used in New York State, were mainly of this style, but a little larger; other kinds of baskets are now rapidly coming into use, and it is to be hoped that our small fruits will soon all be sold by measure, and not by the basket, regardless of its size, whether it be the size of a thimble, or will hold a half pint or pint, as formerly.

Baskets or boxes holding a pint or quart, full measure, are most in vogue at the present time, and new patterns are constantly being brought forward, each claiming to be an improvement upon its immediate predecessor.

With most of the small fruits ventilation is requisite to preservation for even a very short time, and this very essential point has not been lost sight of by the manufacturers of most of the new boxes or baskets now before the public.

When fruit is only to be transported a short distance, and will reach the consumer within twelve or fifteen hours after being gathered, ventilation, farther than that which it will receive through an open crate, it not very important, or scarcely necessary.

The idea of ventilation applied to baskets or boxes is a good one, particularly for some kinds of fruit, but there is no necessity of carrying it to extremes, so that the vessels made for holding fruit are scarcely more than fragile wooden nets.

The following are some of the most popular baskets now in use at the East:

Fruit Baskets and Boxes

American Basket.

This basket is made of two sizes, quarts and pints, and of the form shown in figure 109. They are very strong, of neat appearance, and one of the best baskets with which I am acquainted. Their peculiar form admits of their being very compactly nested for transportation, as shown in figure 110.

Fruit Baskets and Boxes
Fruit Baskets and Boxes

The manufacturers also furnish crates to those who desire them. A thirty-two quart crate is shown in figure 111, each one being furnished with lock attached with a small chain. The fruit grower keeps a key to lock the crate, and the one to whom the fruit is consigned, has a duplicate, with which to open it when received.

Fruit Baskets and Boxes

Hallock Fruit Box.

A square box, figure 112, made of thin, light wood, with holes bored in the sides for ventilation, as shown. The bottom is set within the sides, and about three-fourths of an inch above the lower edge, so that when one box is set in the crate above the other, there will be a small space between the fruit of the lower one and the bottom of the one above. This also admits of each box being filled a little more than even full, and still the fruit will not be crushed by the one above it.

These boxes are used in large quantities at the West, also considerably in some portons of the East. Some fruit growers object to any box or basket with perpendicular sides, because the fruit will settle more in carrying than when the sides slope, as in the American basket. There are advantages in both forms, also disadvantages. A square box, with perpendicular sides, packs and remains more firmly in its place than any other, but ventilation through the sides cannot be obtained, and the fruit will crush more readily than in boxes with sloping sides.

Fruit Baskets and Boxes

Free Fruit Box.

Figure 113. As its name implies, this box is intended to be given away with the fruit. This will be quite convenient for those who forget to take a basket with them in the morning when going to business, and thereby have a very plausible excuse for not bringing home some fruit for tea. This box was invented for the purpose of relieving fruit growers of one of the most annoying incidents of sending their fruit a long distance to market – the necessity of having their crates and boxes returned to them. It supplies a want which has always existed in the berry trade, and will be sold so cheap that it can be given away with the fruit. In appearance, it is remarkably neat, light, but substantial, while the fruit will always go to market in a perfectly clean box. Though given away, it will save the grower money, enable him to get a better price for his fruit, and put an end to the annual loss of boxes, besides saving him the necessity of keeping a vast quantity of the boxes and crates on hand to provide for the delay of returning them.

Fruit Baskets and Boxes

The box is composed of two pieces of veneer. Figure 114 represents a piece which is folded up into four sides of the box. It is scored or cut at the dotted lines, so that it can be folded up into a shell as readily as a piece of pasteboard. The tongue, at the left-hand end, buckles into the two slots at the righthand end, just like closing a pocket book. A notch on the end of the tongue catches so effectually, after being buckled in, as to hold the shell firmly together.

Fruit Baskets and Boxes

The bottom is shown in figure 115. The two tongues at the end are also scored or cut at the dotted lines, and being readily turned up, are buckled into the two sets of slots shown of the left-hand edge of figure 114. When thus buckled together, the two pieces form a perfect box, as seen in figure 113, neither nails nor glue being required, and the whole constituting a strong and beautiful box. The bottom cannot fall out, as it is firmly held in its place by the spring of the wood. The prominent advantages secured by the use of this box are as follows:

  1. The great desideratum of a box always nice and cleanly is, for the first time, secured.
  2. The commission agent being relieved from the great annoyance of hunting up and returning crates and boxes, as well as escaping the loss of them, will sell the fruit for much less than the usual commission.
  3. The return freight of empty boxes is saved, and this, added to the saving in commission, will more than pay for the cost of crates and boxes.
  4. Another saving is secured in sending to market, as one hundred of the Free boxes, quart measures, weigh only nine and one-third pounds, while one hundred of the old square quarts weigh fifty pounds. As fruit in crates goes to market by weight, the new box saves eighty percent of the weight. Any one can readily satisfy himself by a calculation of what is thus saved in freight to market, commission, and return of empty crate, that he will really save money by using a box that he can give away. It will be found cheaper to use a box only once than to continue using it many times.
  5. As these boxes are put together without nails or glue, they can be sent to distant growers, in the shape of flats, to be made up by children at odd times during the winter. The flats are scored ready for folding up, and as the wood bends at the joint without breaking, a small child will learn in five minutes how to put them together. Many hundred boxes thus packed as flats can be got into a small compass, and at trifling cost of freight.
Fruit Baskets and Boxes

Square Chip Basket.

Figure 116. Here we have an improvement on the common Jersey basket. The slats are reversed, the wide one passing around the basket, and the small ones forming the uprights, thereby giving a comparatively smooth surface, allowing the baskets to be lifted out or put back into place in the crates, without catching upon those adjoining, and upsetting them, as is often the case with the common one. These baskets are made square, consequently packed very closely together, leaving no vacant spaces between them. An excellent basket for Raspberries.

Fruit Baskets and Boxes

Gothic Free Fruit Box.

This box is intended to be given away with the fruit. They are of an octagon shape, as shown in figure 117, made of veneer, and can be sent in flats and put together by the fruit grower, thus saving much expense in transportation. The material, all ready to be put together, costs ten dollars per thousand.

Fruit Baskets and Boxes

Cook’s Basket.

This is a very neat and pretty basket, very strong and durable. Some of our fruit growers object to it on account of the small strips of which it is made, because, as the berries settle, they are injured, by being cut by the sharp edges. It is, however an excellent basket, but probably on account of its cost is seldom, of late years, seen in our markets.

Fruit Baskets and Boxes

The Paragon Basket.

Figure 119. Another neat, light box; of more recent introduction than the above, and much liked by the commission men. Three strips of thin whitewood form the bottom and sides of the basket; the bottom hoop is dispensed with, as well as the extra bottom piece. There is ample provision for ventilation, and the shape of the top is round, thus enabling the fruit to show at its best.

Fruit Baskets and Boxes

Belgian Strawberry Basket.

This basket, figure 120, would probably not suit our American way of doing things, and is merely introduced to show “how they do it in Belgium.” A correspondent of the “American Agriculturist,” from which the accompanying illustration is taken, writes: “In traveling through Belgium, in June, Strawberries are brought to the car windows at every station – luscious, great berries, some red, some white, often as large as a pullet’s egg, and temptingly displayed in shallow baskets, made of split willow, in the form given in the engraving. The construction is simple, strong, and inexpensive. A single willow withe forms the handle and middle support of the bottom; a second withe, bent to a circle, forms the rim; and four others, i.e., two on either side, between the middle piece and rim, complete the foundation into which the thin strips are braided. The depth is only a quarter inch, diameter three inches. On the bottom are a few fresh grape leaves, on which are placed the berries, nearly all exposed to view.

Fruit Baskets and Boxes

Guernsey Fruit Box.

This is a round box, figure 121, made of thin veneer and reversible, as either end may be used as the cover, there being a thin band within which holds both ends together. This box would answer better for Currants and Gooseberries, than for Raspberries and similar fruit, as it is not ventilated; but ventilation might be given by boring holes through one end.

Fruit Baskets and Boxes

Johnston’s Premium Fruit Case.

Is made up of four trays seventeen inches wide, twenty-three inches long, and three inches deep, holding a little over one half bushel; side pieces, 1 in figure 122, half inch thick, three inches wide, twenty-three inches long; ends, 2, three-eighths of an inch thick, three inches wide, and nineteen and a half inches long; bottoms of three upper trays half inch thick; standards, 5, two inches by three-quarters by fifteen; cover cleats, 6, two inches by three-quarters by eighteen; tops, 4, twenty-four inches by six by three-eighths; handles, 2, twenty-three inches by two by five-eighths; bottoms of case twenty-four inches by six by half; the bottom tray is made of heavier stuff, sides, 4, in figure 123, five-eighths of an inch thick, end one and a half inch thick and sides are let into the ends, as seen in 1; this tends to strengthen the standard; 2, which is firmly nailed to both side and end pieces. The trays are separated by slats three-eighths of an inch by two inches, with the ends projecting about half an inch, as seen in figure 122. The cover has also a narrow slat at each end. The cover is fastened by bending a piece of hoop iron around the standard, and fastening it to both sides of the cover cleats with screws, and a spring made of the same is attached to the inside edge of the standard, runs up through, and hooks over the band of hoop iron, the standard being sawed out to admit of working the spring, as seen in figure 122.

Fruit Baskets and Boxes

Care should be taken to make the trays all square, and the covers all alike, so that each will fit in any case. In order to have the standards all alike, the handles should not be put on until after the covers are. In getting out a bill of material, have it sawed in planks at the saw mill, as thick as you want the pieces wide, and have it worked up by circular saw.

I am not aware that this style of case is in use at the East, but it is a western invention, and used by growers in that section.

Fruit Baskets and Boxes

Smith’s Grape Box.

Though made with reference to packing grapes, this box will answer for Currants, Gooseberries, and those fruits that do not especially need ventilation. The sides are made of veneer, cut partly through at the edges where it bends over the end pieces, which are thick enough to allow the sides to be nailed to them. The cover fastens down by tacking the flap to the ends. They are made with the sides, top, and bottom, all in one piece, as shown in figure 124, or with these in two pieces, so that it is reversible and may be opened at either top or bottom.

New styles of baskets are being brought out every season, but they can scarcely be called improvements upon the old ones.


In sections where the small fruits are grown extensively, women and children are chiefly employed to gather them, being paid so much per basket.

The small Jersey Strawberries are generally pulled, as it is called, or separated from the calyx, or hull, when picked; with the larger kinds it is left on. The price paid for picking varies from seventy-five cents to one dollar twenty-five cents per hundred for the small baskets, and three to five cents per quart for the larger Strawberries, Raspberries, and Blackberries. At these prices, an expert hand will make two to three dollars per day where the fruit is abundant.

The fruit should always be gathered in dry weather, and none should be picked in the morning while the dew is on.

The usual method practiced in the larger plantations is something like the following:

A tent or temporary shed is erected in or near the field in which the fruit is grown, and the superintendent remains in this and takes charge of the fruit as it is brought in, giving each picker a ticket, stating the number of baskets brought in. When one or two hundred baskets are gathered, then the small tickets are taken up and a large one given, on which it is printed good for one, two, or more dollars, as the case may be. These tickets are redeemed at the end of the week, provided the holder retains them until that time; but with some a week is a very long time to keep a promise to pay, and they sell them. In some portions of New Jersey, and perhaps elsewhere, these tickets pass current at the stores in the vicinity, and the merchants take them in exchange for goods, and when the season is over, present them to the proper persons for redemption.

Fruit Baskets and Boxes

At the time of gathering, each picker is furnished with a stand (figure 125), holding ten to twenty-five baskets. When all are filled, they are carried to the tent and put into the crates, ready for sending to market. The small Jersey baskets are put into crates holding from one hundred and fifty to two hundred each, but when pint and quart baskets are used, from thirty to sixty go in a crate.

The pickers have to conform to certain rules promulgated by the nabob of the tent, for there must be discipline and system observed in fruit gathering, as in every other business, to produce the best result. No picker must be allowed to encroach upon his neighbor, and when a row or bed is selected at the start, it must be retained until all the fruit for that time is gathered. The next bed or row must be taken by lot – and no dodging because it happens to be a poor one.

The time of the vintage is one of rejoicing in the vine countries of Europe, and equally so is the time of gathering the small fruits in America. Good feelings prevail on all sides, and particularly if the crop is abundant, for both employer and the employed are abundantly rewarded for their labor.