July 10, 2008

Weekend of lychee labor

It's lychee season, and the wholesale prices are so low that there isn't much profit in harvesting them. The wholesale prices were NT$12 per jin last week, but then dropped to NT$9 per jin on Saturday. If 1 jin is 600 grams, then that comes out to about US 23 cents per pound. At that price, my parents-in-law decided it wasn't worth it to employ day workers to harvest them. The day workers make about NT$1500 per day, which means that they need to pick about 125 pounds of lychees to break even.

It might not be worth it to hire laborers, but family members are free labor. So I spent the whole day picking lychees. To be more precise, someone else cut the fruit-bearing branches from the lychee trees and then I stripped and organized the lychee branches. Unlike other fruit, lychees are sold with the branch (or twig) still attached. To harvest the lychees, you have to strip the leaves from the twigs and cut or break the twigs to a fairly uniform size. You also should pick away the bruised-looking lychees, even though the fruit isn't usually affected by these brown blemishes seen on the outside. Small or unripe fruit should also be removed and twigs that extend beyond fruit should be trimmed or removed. The twigs need to be bundled together, but the bundles are not tied up for wholesale sale. When they are sold retail, they are often tied into small bundles.

Loose or blemished lychees can be sold at a much lower price, about $5 per jin. I've heard that these are used for making juice or canned fruit.

Lychees deteriorate in quality very quickly, so you need to keep the fruit in the shade and soaked with water after it has been cut from the tree.

If this article has got you itching to pick some lychees, there are some orchards in Taiwan where you can do just that. You pay $30-$50 to enter the orchard. While there you can have all the lychees you can eat. If you want to take some home, it costs about $25 per jin.

Picture from here.


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