Country Gardener

Widely regarded as the authority on gardening in the south west

It’s all in the timing!

The coming weeks will be taken up with picking, packing, storing and hopefully eating the fruit harvest from the garden. But there are some rules which will make picking easier and when fruit is at its ripest.

You can waste so much of your fruit harvest is you get the timing wrong when it comes to picking. A lot of it is common sense but you need to pick pears early and let them ripen off the tree. You need to check your apples every day to make sure you are picking at the right time and don’t end up with too many on the ground.

And smell and feeling fruit is an age-old method which always works.

Pears ripen off the tree

Pears should be allowed to ripen off the tree rather than on the stem. This is because pears will over develop on the plant, resulting in soft texture and overly sugared flesh. If you pick your pears when they have sweetly blushed skin but are still firm and slightly under ripe, you can ripen them inside or in a paper bag for a week. The delicious flavour will come out in about a week and the flesh approach its best texture. Each fruit will come into its best maturity at slightly different times so when harvesting a pear tree, each pome will need to be individually considered before picking.

You should have a basket or other container when harvesting a pear tree. Perhaps even line it with dishtowels to help cushion the fruit and prevent bruising. Once you have easily separated the pear fruit that is mature, bring it indoors to ripen. You can keep the pears longer by storing them at 30 degrees Fahrenheit (-1°C.). This cooling period enhances the ripening process. 

Prematurely picked apples will be sour and starchy

Harvesting apples at just the right time is essential, not only to obtaining the highest quality fruit but also to maximise the storage life. There’s a delicate balance between picking the apple at the right time and having to deal with too many windfalls. The best test is still the ‘twist test’. Gently rotate the apple and if there’s any resistance and you find yourself forcing it – the apple just isn’t ready. Each variety has its own maturation time and can depend upon weather conditions during the growing season. For example, apples will ripen earlier if there is a mild, sunny spring which kick starts the tree’s fruiting cycle early. Early maturing apples still known as ‘summer apples’ such as ‘Honeycrisp’, ‘Paula Red’ and ‘Jonagold’ reach their peak in August and early September. 

First of all, mature apples are firm, crisp, and juicy with good colour and a developed flavour characteristic of the variety. In red varieties, the colour is not a good indicator of maturity. Premature apple picking may lead to fruit that is sour, starchy and generally unpalatable while harvesting apples too late results in soft and mushy fruit. 

Plums will be ripe to the touch

Plum trees are a fertile fruit so it is important to know when to harvest plums. The hands down best way to ensure the time is right for picking plum fruit is by its firmness and flavour. The plums will be becoming soft to the touch and the taste will be sweet and juicy. Hopefully, you have actually eaten a ripe plum at some point and can use this memory as a barometer. Colour of the ripening plums can also be an indicator as to harvesting plums at their peak. As plums approach maturity, the fruit develops its characteristic colour. However, there are many cultivars, so you need to be aware of the variety in your garden and how it should look prior to harvesting. For instance, plums such as ‘Stanley’, ‘Damson’, and ‘Mount Royal’ change from green to greenish-blue then segueing to dark blue or purple when they are ripe. Also, as the fruit ripens, the plum develops an almost powdered colour in some varieties.

Early maturing varieties of plum will need to be harvested over a period of weeks, as the fruit is not ripe on the tree at the same time. 

Damsons tend to fall off

The best indication of damsons being ready is when you notice some on the ground. There will be that natural fall off. When that starts to get regular, then gently feel the fruit if when you are feeling; they fall off in your hand then its time for picking.

If you are jam making then make sure there are a few unripe ones along with the ripe ones to assist setting. 

You don’t have to strip the tree in one go - get off what is ripe, leaving the rest to ripen later. 

Old fashioned taste and smell tells you when grapes are ready

The best time to pick grapes can be surrounded by lots of science and technology.

There used to be a traditional view that the grapes would be ready for harvest 100 days after the onset of flowering, but these days things are more little more scientific. Remember that just because grapes seem ripe to the sangliers, doesn’t mean the are necessarily ripe certainly from an oenological (winemaking) perspective. But of course, the best way to get an overall impression of the grape’s ripeness is by using our good, old-fashioned senses, taste and smell. Grapes from the same plot or even the same vine will ripen at different rates, depending on several factors, including whether they are exposed to the sun or covered by foliage.

Making fruit picking safer - and more efficient

niwaki tripod ladderA ladder will do the job but which one?

Safety is the biggest issue when it comes to using a ladder for fruit picking. Every garden, every gardener and every job is slightly different and what works for one might be useless for another.

Growing in popularity amongst gardeners because of their safety is the Niwaki Tripod ladder with its distinctive look and high safety record.

Tripod adders are essential for large topiary and hedges. Depending on the slope, you can either work face-on, with the third leg leg poked into the hedge, or sideways, with the ladder parallel to the hedge. Their adaptability, stability with a wide base and comfort with double rungs allow you to spend all the time necessary to do jobs properly, without rushing.

As such they are Ideal for orchard work, both for picking and pruning, where thanks to the single back leg, you can get right into the crown of the tree. Unlike traditional orchard designs, for example a pointed A-Frame, you can lean over the top, or rest picking baskets on top. They’re also considerably wider at the base than A-Frames, have the telescopic back leg, vital on slopes, and are welded not riveted, so are much, much stronger - and exceptionally light and easy to use.

The welded, extruded aluminium construction is weatherproof, strong, and very light. Double rungs are easy on the feet, and don’t get muddy or slippery.

Niwaki have a showroom in Semley, Shaftesbury in Dorset. www.niwaki.com

apple picking toolFruit pickers will increase your harvest

Investing in an extendable fruit picker will almost certainly increase your fruit harvest and reduce damage of the amount of windfalls you have to deal with. Climbing ladders can be something which worries a number of gardeners so this is a ‘feet on the ground’ option which will pick fruit from up to six metres off the ground. Most of the varieties on the market are adjustable. Some come with multi-change telescopic handles. You can choose from cloth,wicker or wire with a foam liner bags which will collect the fruit. A gentle pull and the fruit if it is ready will drop into the strong collection bag. The downside is that it can be a long process if you have a lot of out of reach fruit.

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