Red Wicket Market Farm is a small farm 25 minutes from downtown Columbus, Ohio, near Slate Run Metropark. Breeding Black Copper and Blue Copper Marans to the Standard of Perfection.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Pear Harvest

When we bought this house, we inherited one scraggly pear tree that produced perhaps three pears a year, and a single apple tree that dropped hundreds of nasty, bitter apples. Neither had ever been pruned, and both were in pretty bad shape. Well, we cut down that apple tree since it was dying and the apples tasted bad, and thought about cutting down the pear tree. It was overgrown, the trunk was splitting, it didn't make many pears...but the pears it did produce were delicious. So instead of cutting it down, in 2011 I cut it back severely to keep it from splitting farther, and I bought it some friends.

For almost all pear and apple trees, just one tree won't do. They must have a pollinator tree that is a different variety, but blooms at the same time. Then when all the busy little bees carry pollen from one to another, the flowers are fertilized and develop into fruit. The trees must also be reasonably close to each other, so the bees will go from one tree to another. Even varieties labeled "self fertile" will bear more higher-quality fruits with a pollinator tree planted nearby. I didn't know what variety of pear we had, so I planted two others to hedge my bets.

We didn't get a single pear in 2012. Not one. With the drought, we're lucky that the trees lived at all, so I wasn't too upset. Last year however, left me completely unprepared for this year. Check this out:

Those pollinator trees made a world of difference! We are also going to get a few pears from the 2011 baby trees as well.

Bosc pear
Ambrosia pear
Now, I just have to find a way to chill all those pears. If you have a pear tree or two, you may have noticed that tree-ripened pears are lacking a little something-something. They tend to go from unripe to overnight overnight, and they ripen from the inside out. This means that they get mushy on the inside and eaten by yellowjackets and other insects before they're ready to eat on the outside. Believe it or not, the very best pears are not tree-ripened. The way to properly ripen a pear is to pick it unripe, chill it, and then ripen it at room temperature. That way the pear ripens all over at the same rate and doesn't get mushy inside. 

It's a pain, to be sure, but pears are one of my favorite fruits, and they are worth it. Look at these beauties!

How long to chill pears before they can be ripened at room temperature depends on the pear variety. I think the pears above are Bartletts, which means they only need a few days in the fridge. My Bosc pears will need six weeks in the deep freeze before I can enjoy them properly. Here's a great article by the extension professionals at Oregon State University that explains the hows and whys of proper pear ripening. 

I also planted two Asian Pears in 2011, and one tree has a few small fruit this year. Asian pears won't do as well in our area as European pears, and I might not get a harvest every year. That's OK with me, though--Asian pears are my very favorite fruit, and can cost upwards of $1.50 a piece in the store. If you can keep the blossoms from freezing off, Asian pears are easier in one respect than European pears, because the fruit will ripen nicely on the tree. So if your pears are round and look like this, let them be until they start to soften: 

What fruit trees do you have in your yard? If you've been thinking about adding an apple or a pear or a  peach, fall is the best time to plant them--and they might be on sale, too. Just remember, fruit trees do require some time invested, and for sweet cherries, apples, plums and pears, you'll need two trees of different varieties. Peaches and sour cherries are self-fertile, but peaches will need to be sprayed with chemicals here in Ohio to stop peach leaf curl, which will kill the tree if left unchecked. Fruit trees need to be pruned every winter, and the best way to prune the tree for health and fruit makes a very ugly, misshapen looking tree. Finally, you'll have to wait several years for the first fruit, but once it gets going a mature tree will produce bushels and bushels of fruit, and you'll need to figure out what to do with it all.

If, after reading all of the above, you're still determined to plant some fruit trees, know that they are very rewarding. If you have kids, they'll be amazed and delighted to pick their very own fruit every year. My daughter giggles like a maniac whenever she talks about the fruit trees, and checks the state of the apples and pears all summer. The trees make her ridiculously happy, but I keep reminding myself that the trees will still be here long after she's left home and I'll still have to prune, spray, and harvest.

I will give you one bit of advice that I learned in my gardening classes this spring and I wish someone had told me earlier--only buy dwarf or semi-dwarf trees. Standard trees get too large for the home gardener to deal with, and the dwarf and semi-dwarf trees produce a lot of fruit in a smaller, easier to deal with package. Yes, standard trees are often cheaper, but spend the extra few dollars for the smaller trees. I really, really wish someone had given me this advice before I planted my standard size apple and peach trees...