Early Fruit Harvest

I’m continually reminded by the weather that nothing is certain about gardening than uncertainty. Our pear trees served to illustrate the point on Saturday. I had checked them just a few days before and the fruit was still rock hard. Of course, that was before a heat wave hit (it has been in the upper 80s and low 90s here) after a relatively fall-like period. The change in weather caused the fruit to ripen incredibly fast. By yesterday (Sunday) we already had some fruit on the ground because it had fallen off, overripe.

The odd thing is that the weather has only affected four of our pear trees. Normally, the pears ripen pretty much at the same time, but that isn’t the case this year. We’ll have two distinct picking periods, which might actually be beneficial given the size of the harvest this year. You can be certain that I’ll be watching the other four pear trees quite closely.

Even with the drop off, the harvest this year is huge. We didn’t pick up any of the windfalls yesterday because they really were quite bad. The trees have yielded 200 pounds of fruit so far and there is more to pick. We stopped picking because we’ve run out of space to put the pears in the house. So, we’ll process this batch and pick some more.

Of course, I’m wondering what has caused the odd ripening and why it has affected only some of the trees. I think the weather is definitely the cause. The variance in temperatures can be attributed to global warming, but I think there must be something more to it than that. I do know now that I’ll need to check the trees every day during this time of the year from now on (normally I check every three or four days until the fruit starts to ripen, at which point, I start checking every day).

There are consequences to the early ripening. In checking the fruit yesterday, I did note that the pears are larger than normal, which is probably the result of those early spring rains. The water content is also considerably higher than normal, which means that we probably won’t be making much pear butter this year (it would take too long to boil the pears down). Even though the pears taste wonderful and are a bit more flavorful than normal, the sugar content is considerably less than normal. The main reason is that the pears ripened before the sugar content could rise. As a result, we might have a hard time making pear jam and using the pears for wine will be harder too. The pears will make amazingly good juice, chunks, and pear sauce. Rebecca also plans to make some more pear mincemeat. Our larder was starting to get a bit low and we had hoped the pears would be suitable this year (they are).

The lower sugar content has had one positive effect. Normally we have to battle hornets during this time of the year. They like to eat holes into the pear and sometimes a piece of fruit will contain a hornet when you go to pick it (making it necessary to look carefully at the fruit). The hornets are definitely fewer this year. On the other hand, we’ve noticed a few more earwigs than normal. Both hornets and earwigs are beneficial at other times of the year because they do keep other parasites in check. The key to avoiding an infestation is to ensure you pick the fruit just before the peak of ripeness (the fruit has a good taste and the sugar content is high, but it’s still a little hard). If you wait until the fruit is completely ripe, hornets and earwigs will almost certainly attack it.

We have been working with fruit for about 17 years now and no two years have been precisely the same. There are general trends in how our fruit will react in any given year, but nothing precise. Flexibility is key in making an orchard work. So, what are you seeing in your orchard this year? Let me know at [email protected].