The highs and lows of apples and pears

By Andrew Collyer - Practical Gardening

Published 15/09/2015 | 00:00

Check your topfruit's ripeness

Prunus sargentii, already showing autumn colour

It's not only the corn fields that are buzzing with harvesting at the moment the kitchen garden is also producing a seasonal bounty. It's not the repeat sowings of lettuce, beetroot and carrots I'm interested in at the moment. Nor the multitude of runner and French beans on offer. At this time of year my attention is drawn to the apple and pear trees.

I've always found apple and pear cropping very hit and miss. And from general conversations with other gardener I'm not the only one. Firstly I know you need a pollinating partner for nearly all apples and most pears. This means you need trees that flowers at the same time as each other to cross pollinate. So that is dealt with.

Secondly both apples and pear like a sunny sheltered position. So that is dealt with. Some trees take a few years before they fruit well. 10 years planted so thats dealt with. Correct pruning. Thats been dealt with. But I still can't get any consistent harvest from either my apples or pears.

My 'orchard' in fairness only consists of two of each fruit, mainly from a usage perspective. So I had come to the conclusion that the more trees you have the more likelihood of a good harvest. But the word is this is not strictly true guiding from others experiences. As you may have gathered top fruit, which is how apples and pears are categorized along with all tree grown fruit, are not my top priority in the garden. But if I do something I like to try to do it well.

So where am I at this year? Pears are quite good and I am happy with those. The apples? I have one tree that has always far out performed the other, a variety named 'Katy'. To my eternal shame I have over the years forgotten the name of the other variety I have growing which hasn't really bothered me before because it is so underwelming.

This year 'Katy' is miserable with a handful of apples more reminiscent of crab apples than eaters. The other mystery tree is groaning under the weight of many tennis sized apples. I'm sure there is some logic and science involved somewhere here but I can figure it out myself.

Very few modern apple and pear varieties store well in a domestic setting and with supermarkets supplying us with home grown commercially stored fruit I'm not sure the effort is worth it. Better to grow varieties that are eaten straight from the tree and enjoyed.

If you are considering storing apples you firstly must grow a suitable variety. Secondly the fruit will need storing somewhere cool and dark and the fruit mustn't be touching each other. You can wrap fruit individually in newspaper and pack in a box. This then requires regular checking because as we all know 'one rotten apple spoils the barrel'.

Harvesting time is another tricky task with apples and pears. Not the actual harvesting itself as this is an easy very satisfying job. A ripe apple should, with a gentle lift come away from the tree. Pears are usually picked a little bit before they ripen as they spoil and go wooly very quickly when left on the tree.

The problem with harvesting in a windy country like Ireland is that so many fruits become windfalls before they are near ripe. By hitting the ground they get bruised and slug damaged and only good for cooking.

This can lead to picking too early and your fruit never sweetening up. This is the reason why major apple growing areas are located well inland. Clonmel in Ireland and Worcester in the U.K for example.

Wexford People

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