Easy to Grow, Hard to Harvest
Of all commonly grown tree fruits, pears are the easiest, mostly because they succumb to fewer pest and weather problems than do other common tree fruits. Of all commonly grown tree fruits, pears are the most difficult to harvest.
Timing is what makes pears so difficult to harvest, a skill I’m ashamed to admit I have yet to master. You can’t time when to pick by taste because pears are among the few fruits that will not ripen well on the tree. They start ripening from their innards outward so by the time the outside of the fruit looks and feels ripe, the innards are brown mush.
No need to refer me to the guidelines of experts: The skin should undergo an almost imperceptible change in color, lightening or yellowing. The fruit softens ever so slightly, going from the firmness of a basketball to that of a softball. The fruit stalk separates readily from the stem when the fruit is lifted and given a slight twist. And finally, in my opinion the most obtuse indicator, lenticels (small pores on the skin) change from white and raised to brown and shallow. Yadda, yadda, yadda, . . .
I grow about 20 varieties of pear, and each of those very subtle indicators are slightly different for one variety to the next.
Another of my excuses is that most of my varieties are just beginning to bear so I don’t have a lot of fruits from each tree to play around with. I am adept at harvesting those varieties — Magness, Seckel, Harrow Delight — that have borne the most fruit for the most years.
Easy to Grow, Easy to Harvest
Ah, but my horticultural shortcomings don’t extend to all pears. I also grow a few varieties of Asian pears, which differ from the aforementioned and more common European pears in being usually round and of a few different species. Most significantly, Asian pears will ripen to perfection on the tree. In fact, for best flavor, they must remain hanging until dead ripe, at which point they have a “cracking” texture, that is, they are crisp but explode in your mouth with their sweet, ambrosial juice.
The skin of Chojuro, the earliest of my Asian pears, started changing from brown russet to golden yellow russet earlier this month. As a further check to ripeness, I picked a fruit and sunk my teeth into it. Delicious! They’re ripe and hang in good condition to be plucked from the branches, as needed, for a week or two, or they can be harvested in toto and refrigerated. The varieties Yoinashi and Seuri Li will follow shortly here, with Korean Giant following these two varieties next year, when it comes into bearing.
Asian pears are as easy, perhaps even easier, to grow than European pears. They bear at a young age and heavily, often too young and too heavily, which is why it’s necessary to grit your teeth and aggressively thin the fruits. Too heavy a crop stunts young trees or spells small, less flavorful fruits on grown trees. (I devote a whole chapter to Asian pears in my book Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden.)
And Then There are Grapes
Grapes . . . they’re easy to harvest ripe. Except that most people don’t. Color is but one indicator that a bunch wants to be harvested and eaten (that is, after all, fruits’ raison d’être). But like some other fruits — blueberries, for example — grapes turn their ripe color before they are dead ripe.
So I also pull off a berry or two to taste. The difference in flavor between just ripe and dead ripe is dramatic. And especially so with my bagged grapes, which can segue to the dramatic stage within their bags without threat of predation by birds and bees.
The variety Concord presents an exception to that last statement; birds don’t like the flavor and leave the berries alone. This means the berries don’t have puncture holes that attract bees and wasps, so they also are not a problem. The deterrent in Concord grapes is the chemical methyl anthranilate, which has been formulated as a spray to keep birds at bay. My wife also doesn’t like Concord.