A Gallery of Great Pears for the Home Orchard

Friday, January 30th, 2015 by Jenny Watts
    • It’s bare root season, which means you can save money on fruit trees by planting them now. A wide selection is still available.
    • Start an asparagus bed so you can enjoy their young, tender shoots straight from the garden.
    • Artichokes can be planted now from dormant roots. By next spring, you’ll be harvesting your own delicious buds.
    • Plant strawberry plants now for delicious strawberry shortcake this summer.
    • Pansies will brighten your flower beds with their happy faces. They will bloom all through the spring.

Great Pears for the Home Orchard

Pear trees produce generous crops of delicious fruit and make handsome landscape trees with their glossy leaves and white blossoms. They are long-lived trees and are one of the easiest fruits to grow in this area.

There are many tasty varieties to choose from that will give you fresh fruit over a long season. Bartlett is the earliest pear in this area. It is the thin-skinned yellow fruit familiar in the market in late summer. Perfect for canning, and excellent for drying, they are sweet and juicy and delicious for fresh eating.

Ripening a week or two after Bartlett is the Magness pear. This soft, sweet, juicy dessert pear is almost free of grit cells. The greenish-yellow fruit develops a red or russeted blush. Magness is very disease resistant, especially to fireblight. It does require a pollinator.

Similar to the Magness is the Warren pear. It is an excellent quality dessert pear that has no grit cells and a superb, buttery flavor. It is self-fruitful and a good keeper.

The smallest of the commonly grown pears, Seckel is also the sweetest. So small that they can be canned whole, they are also delicious fresh. Seckel pears are a sweet and delicious treat!

Midseason pears mature in September and October. D’Anjou is a large, green pear that is firm but not especially juicy. Sweet and mild-flavored, it makes delicious pear pies and is an excellent keeper. Red Anjou pears are nearly identical to the original D’Anjou with the exception of its deep maroon color. Bosc has a long, narrow shape with skin that is heavily russeted. The flesh is crisp and fragrant with a distinct flavor. Baked or poached, it is one of the best.

Late season pears ripen from October into November. Comice pears, green and often with a red blush, are the favorite of many for eating fresh and as a dessert pear. They are too juicy for cooking, but the very best for fresh eating, and are a favorite in holiday gift boxes. They are very soft when ripe and creamy in texture. Winter Nelis is the latest pear. It is quite small with yellow-green skin, but has a juicy, sweet, rich flavor. It is very good eaten fresh and also fine for baking.

Pears need pollination to bear a good crop. Plant two or more different trees within 100 feet of each other and they will all bear more fruit than if planted alone. If you only have room for one tree, plant one grafted with three or four varieties, or do your own grafting. Most varieties will start to bear significant harvests 5 to 6 years after planting.

Choose a site with full sun, moderately fertile soil, and good air circulation. Pears will do well in many different soils. Space trees, on OHx333 rootstock, 15 feet apart.

Pears do best with a small amount of fertilizer early in the year. Heavy doses of nitrogen will make the tree more vulnerable to fire blight.

Pear trees live for many years and with proper pruning and care, will give you an abundance of delicious fruit, year after year.

Harvesting Apples and Pears

Friday, September 26th, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Mums are the beauties of the fall garden. Choose plants now in a wide variety of colors.
    • Pansies and snapdragons can be planted now to replace summer annuals. They will give you color this fall, winter and next spring.
    • Fall vegetables can be planted now for a fall harvest of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, chard and lettuce.
    • Trim foliage on grape vines to allow more sun to reach the fruit and ripen the grapes.
    • If your bearded iris blooms were sparse this year or the plants are more than four years old, now is the time to divide and replant them. Mix some bone meal into the soil, and plant the rhizomes just beneath the soil surface.

Harvesting Apples and Pears

Most of the luscious fruits of summer have been picked and enjoyed by now. But apples and pears are just coming on and will be sharing their bounty in the months to come.

Apples are one of the easiest fruit to pick and use. Once they are picked, apples stop ripening, so it is important to pick them at the peak or ripeness. Apples ripen from the outside of the tree towards the center, so the apples out the outside of the tree will ripen first. Apples on the sunny side, usually the southern side, of the tree ripen first.

You should know approximately when a particular variety is expected to ripen. There are charts that give you this information for a particular area, usually the Central Valley in California. In Willits, fruits ripen approximately a month later than in the Central Valley. So that’s the first thing to consider.

Color can also be an indication of maturity. With yellow apples, when the green has almost completely given way to yellow, a yellow variety is mature. The same is true of the striped apples where the base color underneath the stripes turns yellow at maturity.

Other indicators are that mature apples separate easily from the tree by twisting them upward with a rotating motion. Usually, when the seeds become brown, the fruit is ripe. But with early season apple varieties, like Gala, they may be ready to eat before the seeds turn brown. When a few good, healthy apples drop to the ground, the apples on the tree are nearly mature. And remember the taste test: when an apple becomes slightly softer and tastes sweet and juicy, it is mature.

Don’t wash apples until just before using to prevent spoilage. And keep them cool after picking to increase shelf life.

Pears are a little more complicated. Again, check to see the expected ripening dates for the variety. Pears must be picked before they are ripe. They ripen from the inside out, and if left on the tree to ripen, many varieties will become brown at the core and rotten the middle.

Pears are best picked when the fruit separates easily from the twigs. If it is hard to pull off the tree, it isn’t ready! Also feel the fruit. If it feels absolutely rock hard, it’s still not ready. You should be able to detect a slight feeling of give, but not too much. Check the color. Pears are ready to pick when there is a change in the fruit color from green to yellow, and the stem separates easily from the branch.

Pears need to be cooled after picking to ripen properly. Bartlett pears need to be cooled only a day or two in the refrigerator. Then put them in the fruit bowl to ripen. In 4 to 5 days, they should be sweet and ripe.

Anjou, Bosc and Comice require 2 to 6 weeks at near freezing temperatures for optimal effect, followed by ripening at room temperature: Bosc and Comice will ripen in 5 to 7 days; Anjou takes 7-10 days. The longer the time the pears have spent in cold storage, the shorter the time to ripen. Without this chilling process, a mature picked pear will just sit and sit and eventually decompose without ever ripening.

Handle your apples and pears correctly and enjoy your harvest this fall.

Harvesting Pears

Saturday, September 22nd, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Choose chrysanthemums in a variety of colors now. They are hardy perennials which will brighten your garden each fall.
    • Cover newly planted vegetable starts to protect them from birds. Spray cabbage and broccoli plants with BT to control cabbage worms which make holes in the leaves.
    • Plant snapdragons, pansies and violas for color this fall, winter and next spring.
    • Michaelmas daisies have bright flowers in purples and dark reds. These perennials come back every year to brighten the fall garden.
    • Lettuce can be planted from starts for a quick fall crop.

The Secret to Harvesting Pears

One advantage to growing your own fruit trees is that you can get tree-ripened fruit, a real rarity in the grocery store. But, unlike other fruits, pears will reach their best quality when ripened off the tree.

When left to ripen on the tree, most European cultivars of pears leave something to be desired in terms of texture and flavor. Tree-ripened pears often turn soft and brown at the core and have an excessively grainy texture.

Pears should be harvested when they are mature, but still hard, and ripened off the tree for the best eating and canning quality. The early varieties will take a few days to a week to ripen after harvest; later ripening varieties often require several weeks or more to reach best quality.

There are several indicators to know when to begin harvesting pears. The most obvious sign is a color change. Pick pears when their color changes from dark to light or yellowish-green but before they are fully yellow. The fruit should be relatively firm. The small dots on the skin should turn from whitish to corky brown. Fruit on heavily loaded trees usually matures a little slower.

Mature fruit of Bartlett and D’Anjou pears will separate easily from their spurs by lifting and twisting. Bosc pears are always difficult to separate from the tree and stems may have to be clipped with pruners.

Pears then have to be ripened indoors. Some pears such as D’Anjou require cold storage before ripening. Bartlett does not require chilling to ripen but D’Anjou and Bosc should be chilled for 2 weeks in the refrigerator away from other fruits and vegetables. Bring them out to room temperature for a week or so to fully ripen before eating them.

Bartlett pears generally ripen in 5 days, Bosc in 7 days and D’Anjou in 7 to 10 days. The longer pears are chilled, the shorter the ripening time when removed from cold storage. Pears are ready to eat when the flesh just below the stem yields evenly to gentle pressure.

If longer-term storage is desired, pick them when they are full size but still quite hard and chill the pears to 32° to 35° F as soon as possible after harvesting. Perforated plastic bags can be used to keep the relative humidity high. Be careful not to bruise or puncture the fruit as injuries provide an entry for decay organisms.

Although different cultivars of pears vary in their maximum storage time, most can be held from two to four months under ideal conditions.

Asian pears, unlike European pears, should be allowed to ripen on the tree. They need no after-ripening storage period. They are ready for harvest when they come away easily from the spur or branch when they are lifted and twisted slightly. Sample the fruit regularly and harvest them when they taste good. Asian pears should be crisp and crunchy when eaten.

Learn how to harvest home-grown pears and enjoy the sweet, juicy fruit this fall.