Harvesting and Processing Kaimana Lychee

Harvesting and Processing Kaimana Lychee

Robert CassarBeginner, Blog, Dr. Cassar's Personal World, Free Leave a Comment

I am going to take you on a small tour of one of the farms we have, and show you what the Lychee fruit looks like, and how we have to process them to ship to the other Islands during Hawaii lychee season.

A Little Background On The Farm and Kaimana Lychee

“Lychee (Litchi chinensis L.) ‘Kaimana’ was named in 1982 to commemorate the 75th (“diamond”) anniversary of the establishment of the Hawaii Agricultural Experiment Station. ‘Kaimana’ means “diamond” in the Hawaiian language.

The original seedling tree of ‘Kaimana’ grown at the Poamoho experimental farm on Oahu first produced fruit in 1965 at 10 years of age. This is truly a jewel of a lychee, producing excellent quality fruit. In addition, it has a more consistent bearing habit than any of the 14 Chinese lychee cultivars imported and tested in Hawaii during the past 110 years”.

Src: ‘Kaimana’, an improved new lychee cultivar for Hawaii

On the three farms we have approximately 1000 trees of the Kaimana species, which is a lot of trees to take care of. All of our trees have been air layered grafted from other great fruit producing Kaimana lychee trees.

It is a lot of work to grow a grafted, or air layered orchard from scratch. The trees need to be  protected from feral pigs, and the trees need to have water at least every other day – (If you don’t know much about tree grafting, see the videos below).

In Hawaii, many areas do not have enough rain water and you will have to irrigate the trees until they are large enough to not need watering. Where we live, on the Hamakua coast, we get about 175 inches of rain per year which is excellent if you don’t water to irrigate your trees or plants you are growing.

The trees start producing fruit around 6-7 years of age. Each mature tree can produce up to about 2-300 pounds of premium fruit per year if fertilized, pruned and taken care of correctly.

In order for the trees to fruit, lychee requires a few weeks of cold weather in the range of 58-64 degrees to stimulate the trees to flower. The trees typically get flowers in January, and we usually start to harvest around mid April to early May each year.

We have one of the best and largest producing Kaimana lychee farms on the Big island. We are located on the Hamakua coast at the perfect elevation between 300-800 ft. The trees like a certain climate, low wind, cloudy days and lots of rain when the fruit is growing.

If there is too much sun and not enough cloud cover, then the fruit will ripen much faster and not be able to grow as large rather than if the trees were growing in mostly cloud cover with scattered sun and rain.

I purchased the first 26 acres farm in early 2012 with 700 Kaimana lychee trees and hundreds of other species such as coconut trees, mango, breadfruit, avocado, citrus pineapple, banana and many other varieties of fruit producing plants.

It’s taken many years for me to learn, year by year, how to be a lychee farmer and what it takes to run, maintain, build and organize a farm of this size.

Over the last 12 years I have acquired two other farms that additionally have 3 orchards, 250 lychee, 300 longan and 300 rambutan mature fruit trees on 20 acres.

If you are interested to learn more about grafting and air layering techniques watch the videos below.

Air Layering, Creating Another Tree From The Branch
Air Layering, Creating Another Tree From The Branch

Further Research and Learning about Grafting and Air layering Techniques.

Summer Is Near When You See Lychee On The Tree

If you live in Hawaii, you know when you start seeing lychee on the trees – summer is here.

People that live in Hawaii can’t wait till the harvest starts for the lychee season. Most of all of your fruit is  sold to the islands.

There are many species of lychee. Anyone who has ever tasted the Kaimana species will tell you they are by far the best tasting, largest quantity of meat with a very small seed.

Most lychee are native to Southeast Asia, and the fruit when it is not ripe is sort of spiny with tough rough skin.

As the Kaimana lychee fruit grows and becomes mature, the spiny appearance is lost and has changed from a green color to a  beautiful reddish burgundy color.

The interior of the fruit is a juicy white fleshy texture, and has a beautiful perfume with a floral taste to it. It’s very hard to describe the taste of a lychee fruit, but the taste is definitely one a kind and in my opinion, no other fruit comes close to the floral flavor.

China is one of the top producers of many other species of Lychee.

Hawaii is where the Kaimana species was created and you will find this famous Kaimana species throughout the islands. Our farms located on the big island are a large producer of the Kaimana species for the islands.

The definitive flavor of a lychee is up for debate. Some say the fruit tastes similar to a grape, with subtle to powerful hints of floral flavors, while others liken it to a watermelon or pear flavor.

Fresh Lychee Fruit On The Tree
The Beautiful Color of Ripe Kaimana Lychee

When the fruit is ripe and ready to eat – I like to bite the fruit in the center and break the skin to reveal the lychee to eat.

When ripe, lychee can be peeled easily (like peeling an orange) and then eaten right off the tree. Once peeled, the entire fruit will appear white and circular and features a small, dark-colored pit.

Fresh lychees on white background
Fresh Lychees

Freezing The Fruit and other Ideas to use Lychee

I like to eat the fruit right off the tree but when the lychee season is over I will always freeze about 20-30 lbs of them in gallon size zip-loc type bag’s for use throughout the year.

If you are going to freeze the fruit – make sure you double bag them though so the freezer air will not dry or damage the fruit. You can also add them to airtight glass canning jars if you are going to freeze them.

Once frozen, they will last for years in the freezer and when you are ready to eat them or use them in a recipe, pull a handful out from the freezer then put them under the tap water for a few seconds and bite into the fruit. The fruit meat never really hardens because of the high oil and polysaccharide content.

Once the fruit is frozen it has the consistency of the best all natural frozen sorbet you have ever had.

You can make lychee preserves. Many people will add them to a margarita and even add them to salads or dishes to complement the sweet and floral flavor to a sauce or meal.

Fruit Liqueur Bottle and Glass
Fruit Liqueur Bottle and Glass

Frozen Lychee Liqueur

Lychee makes great margaritas and frozen blended liqueurs. Simply peel the skin off the lychee and remove the seed. I like to use about 10 lychee per serving.

Add to the blender and add 1 tbsp of extra virgin coconut oil, 1 oz of vodka/brandy or other spirit – then blend until smooth. Pour into a glass bowl or glass cup and freeze overnight. This is an excellent Lychee Liqueur.

Some people will add sugar, vanilla, cardamom or cinnamon sprinkles right before you drink some – tastes great either way 🙂

Many people in Hawaii and Asia know that lychee is a symbol of romance and love.

If you have never had a fresh Kaimana fruit off the tree then maybe you will have to come to Hawaii one of these days in the months of May through July and try a few pounds right off the tree.

Lychee Kombucha

Watch our videos on how I create a variety of Kombucha recipes and all you have to do is add 15-20 lychee in the kombucha while it is brewing and maturing.

Picking, Processing, Packing and Shipping the Lychee Fruit

The lychee season is about 45-60 days long, once a year usually starting in late April to early May. We will have on average 12-30 pickers daily harvesting and processing the fruit.

For the past two weeks we have been harvesting anywhere from 3500-6000+ pounds daily.

This season so far, our biggest harvest day was about 7200 pounds picked, processed, graded, packed and shipped.

The lychee fruit will usually be very plentiful for about 4 weeks, then in time when the easy picking fruit is gone you have to pull out the ladders and/or picking poles to get the fruit higher up into the trees. Towards the end of the season the fruit is very difficult to get in quantity since the only fruit left on the tree are 20ft or higher.

Fruit is very easy to pick in the beginning of the season when you can walk around by foot and grab the low hanging fruit. Fruit pickers are usually paid $0.75 cents per pound to harvest in the beginning of the season, and as the fruit gets more difficult to harvest higher up in the tree the price for picking will go up to $1.00 a pound.

A good lychee picker can pick up to 500+ pounds daily. The average newbie picker will pick around 150-250 pounds, but in time will learn how to harvest more efficiently.

Grading the Lychee Fruit one by one
Grading the Lychee Fruit one by one

In time you will have to master climbing into the tree itself, or learn how to carefully use the large ladders to get to the lychee higher up in the trees.

8 ft - 18 ft Specially made Orchard Ladders
We use 8ft – 18ft specially made Orchard Ladders

Once the lychee is harvested daily, everything we pick that day is shipped fresh that day to the other islands.

Boxes of Lychee Fruit holding 25lbs each
Boxes of Lychee Fruit holding 25lbs each

We gather all of the fruit from the 6 orchards, take all of the fruit to the processing area and start the multi layered grading process. We remove any fruit that is damaged, unripe, too small or fruit that has been damaged by fruit flies.

Lychee Fruit picked, graded and boxed
All of the Lychee Fruit is hand picked, graded and boxed

Once we have graded the fruit we use a high power air blower to remove and dust leaves or any debris, even any insects or fire ants from the fruit.

Damage to Lychee by a Fruit Fly
Damage to Lychee by a Fruit Fly

Then we will grade the fruit one more time and put into special lychee boxes we get made for us to protect the fruit for transport. We sell most of our fruit to Oahu and Maui.

Once the fruit is boxed in 25lbs boxes – we load the truck and then drive down to the department of agriculture so they can check us for fire ants.

If they do find a few fire ants, males or females, you will fail inspection and they have the right to turn away your entire shipment and it cannot be shipped on the plane to any of the other islands until the fruit has passed inspection.

I have had this scenario happen to me several times having 4000lbs shipments be returned because of finding a few male fire ants.

Fire Ant Debacle

“Fire ants are several species of ants in the genus Solenopsis, which includes over 200 species. Solenopsis are stinging ants, and most of their common names reflect this, for example, ginger ants and tropical fire ants.” src: Wikipedia

Queen Fire Ant versus the Tiny Worker Male Fire Ant Size
Queen Fire Ant versus the Tiny Worker Male Fire Ant Size
How to identity a Queen Ant
How to identity a Queen Ant

Queen ants usually have large wings and are huge compared to a male worker ant that never get his wings to fly.

The law states that any fire ant that is present will not be able to ship to the other islands unless the load has passed intensive inspection.

We have had many warnings and several shipments returned or failed inspection because of a few male fire ants that were found. When you see a male fire ant they are so small they are very hard to see. When you get bit by a fire ant you will know right away.

The bite immediately feels very itchy and has a lasting mild pain for up to 15 minutes or so. I have been bitten by many fire ants and they are very powerful for as small as they are.

Sting Symptoms and Treatment 

A Human Leg Three Days After Being Bitten From Fire Ants
A Human Leg Three Days After Being Bitten From Fire Ants

“The venom of fire ants is mainly (>95%) composed of oily alkaloids structurally derived from piperidine (also known as solenopsins) mixed with a small amount of toxic proteins.[35][36] Fire ant stings are painful, characterized by a local burning sensation, followed by urticaria.[35]

The sting site typically swells into a bump within hours, which can cause further pain and irritation, especially following several stings at the same place. The bump may develop into a white pustule within 24–36 hours which can become infected if scratched, but will spontaneously flatten within a few days if left alone.

The pustules are obtrusive and uncomfortable while active and, if they become infected, may cause scarring.[37] Some people may become allergic to the venom,[38] and if untreated, may become increasingly sensitive to the point of experiencing anaphylaxis following fire ant stings, which requires emergency treatment.[34] Management of an emergency visit due to anaphylaxis is recommended with the use of adrenaline.[39] · [34]

It has been demonstrated that, whilst pustule formation results from the injected venom alkaloids,[40] allergy to fire ant stings is caused solely by venom allergenic proteins.[38]

First aid for fire ant stings includes external treatments and oral medicines. There are also many home remedies of varying efficacy, including immediate application of a solution of half bleach and half water, or aloe vera gel – the latter of which is also often included in over-the-counter creams that also include medically tested and verified treatments.[7] 

External, topical treatments include the anesthetic benzocaine, the antihistamine diphenhydramine, and the corticosteroid hydrocortisone.[7] Antihistamines or topical corticosteroids may help reduce the itching and will generally benefit local sting reactions.[41] Oral medicine include antihistamines.[42]

 Severe allergic reactions to fire ant stings, including severe chest pain, nausea, severe sweating, loss of breath, serious swelling, and slurred speech,[43] can be fatal if not treated.[44]   

Src: Wikipedia

In all of my years of lychee harvesting we have never seen a queen ant in our processing areas, only tiny males/worker ants.

Male fire ants cannot breed and do not live any longer than 4-8 weeks depending on a lot of variables. In my opinion, the fire ants inspection should only count for female or queen fire ants. Not from finding a few male ants that cannot breed or join another fire ant colony. The ants are specific to their own colonies.

Anyone who ships fruit know that fire ant inspection is of great concern when making sure you pass inspection or not. I have heard of several farms soaking their fruit in a mild, diluted solution of pesticides or soaps to see if they can make sure they pass inspection. We use a high speed air blower to remove ants or other insects or debris.

Further Research and Study:

If you have fire ants inside or outside of the house; watch our video on Natural Pesticides for Ant, cockroaches and Garden Pests to get a few ideas on how to get rid of insects, ants and spiders using a safe non-chemical pesticide I make and use inside and outside of the house.

Natural Pesticides For Ants, Cockroaches and Garden Pests
Natural Pesticides For Ants, Cockroaches and Garden Pests

Just to give you an idea of all of the steps and processing we need to do at the farm when shipping fresh fruit to the other islands: If we send lychee to the mainland, such as California – we must put the lychee in 10lbs boxes and have a full pallet so they can go through the microwave radiation treatment before the fruit can get on any plane for shipment to the mainland. But that’s a whole other story.

Enjoy, experience and try a fresh lychee off the tree when you get the chance, to see why so many people living in Hawaii can’t wait for lychee season.

Hope you enjoy this “Harvesting and Processing Kaimana Lychee” Video 🙂

Dr. Robert

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