Every year has bumper crops and busted dreams, so a gardener learns to go with the flow. Though chilly nights this summer kept some vegetables to a minimum, Mother Nature made up for her stinginess with an overload of tree fruit. Apples and pears are on people’s minds, and if you’ve been staring at the tree trying to figure out when to clear your schedule for harvest, here are some hints for getting perfect fruit.
Apples are easy to tell ripeness on because they hit you on the head when ready. Dropping from the tree by bushels, your yard gets covered in slightly bruised, ready-to-eat fruit. This makes a mess; laying there it begins to spoil, fermenting until you worry that the wasps and squirrels nibbling on it will start throwing drunken toga parties.
Those fallen apples have to be used quickly; they won’t store well after hitting the ground. Jelly, sauce, and frozen pie fillings are best ways to preserve that harvest.
But apples don’t ripen at the same time; some finish early, others late. If you’re lucky enough to have late types, you’re in position to harvest apples for storage through winter. Picked when mature but not fully ripe, they’ll keep for months at 32 F. Leave the stem on when storing, and pack them in plastic lined boxes that hold humidity.
To gauge an apple’s readiness, get to know the skin color before it ripens. This is known as “ground color.” As apples ripen, the area facing the tree usually colors up last; watch this spot closely. Once its ground color changes from bright green to creamy or yellow-green, the apples are ready. Pluck them as soon as possible to prevent them from fully ripening on the tree.
Pears are challenging, cantankerous enough to make gardeners want to take up another hobby. Ripening from the inside out, if left on the tree, they’re mushy by the time you think they’re ready. But picked early, and the fruit just sits there until it rots instead of ripens.
The way to wrest control over pears is to turn the ripening process on its head through chilling. Pick pears when they’re just becoming mature, the point at which the fruit detaches when tilted horizontally from their hanging position (Boscs don’t do this; they cling to the tree).
Once pears are picked, cool them to about 30 F; the sugars keep the fruit from freezing. Hold Bartlett pears at this temperature for a day or two, others such as Anjou or Bosc for two to six weeks. Then bring them back up to 65 to 75 degrees to ripen. Depending on how long they were chilled, Bartletts are ready in four or five days, Boscs in five to seven days, and Anjou in a week to 10 days.
Gauge ripeness by gently pressing the neck of the pear just below where the stem joins the fruit. If it yields evenly to gentle pressure, it’s ready to eat.
This post was previously published in the Longmont Ledger.