What do you think of pears?

Do you have a pear tree in your garden? Are you interested in growing them?

A beautiful Winter Cole pear
A beautiful Winter Cole pear

We’re on a bit of a mission here at the farm to bring pears back into fashion, because when you get them right, they’re really delicious.

They also really lend themselves to preserving, they’re relatively bomb proof in the garden (as long as you keep the birds off), and they improve your food security by extending the fresh fruit season.

However they tend to be one of the more ignored fruits, and there’s a couple of reasons why.

One is because it’s very hard to pick them at the right time so they will ripen properly, though this is easier with some varieties (including the various types of nashis) than others.

Ripe nashi pears
Ripe nashi pears

Many types of pears go floury if you let them ripen on the tree, so they have to be picked when they are mature (but not ripe) and then stored in a coolroom or fridge for a few weeks before allowing them to ripen at room temperature. That means there’s a few variables you need to get right.

First, knowing when they are mature can be tricky; it’s about making sure that the seeds have gone completely dark brown and plump, and that the fruit has enough starch in it.

Secondly, you need to be patient and let the fruit stay in cold storage for long enough before you try to ripen them, or they just won’t ripen. This is something we’ve got wrong many times ourselves in the past – in our eagerness to get them to market, we’ve often either picked too early or not left them in the coolroom long enough.

Pear blister mite
Pear blister mite

Pears are relatively easy to grow. They can get a few problems, like Pear blister mite (above), Black spot (a common fungal disease) and of course the very common Pear and cherry slug, but none of those problems are too destructive or hard to control.

They’re usually very reliable trees, they thrive in conditions that other trees don’t like (e.g., soggy, or frosty areas) and it’s pretty easy to get them to crop well. 

Gorgeous white pear flowers
Gorgeous white pear flowers

Plus, they’re beautiful trees to have in the garden, with large glossy green leaves, beautiful white blossom, and a stunning autumn display. 

Clearly we’re big fans of pears, which is why we’ve been steadily expanding the number of varieties we grow on the farm. It also means we’re able to offer some unusual heritage varieties at Carr’s Organic Fruit Tree Nursery (like St Michael Archangel, Glou Morceau, and Beurre Clairgeau, as well as the much sought after but hard to find Lemon Bergamot.)

If you’re tempted to plant a pear tree but don’t feel confident in how to grow them, take our short course Plump pears and quirky quinces for information about pests and diseases that affect these fruits, how to prune them, and a bonus bundle of 5 tried-and-true pear and quince recipes.

Pears featured at the National Gallery of Australia
Pears featured at the National Gallery in Canberra


How long is your fruit season?

One of the questions we were asked this week, is “how long can you stretch out your fruit season by planting the right varieties?”

Some very late season Lady Williams apples
Some very late season Lady Williams apples

Great question! A long season is something we’re constantly testing and aiming for, as it’s one of the best tools available to (1) increase food security by harvesting fruit for as long as possible, and (2) decreasing the risk of losing our food supply from environmental conditions, because when bad things (like hail) happen, they rarely affect all fruit crops the same way.

If you’re lucky (or well organised) enough to have some very late fruit varieties (e.g., Lady William or Sundowner apples, or Winter Nelis pears), you might still be picking or have fruit on the trees.

A late season Winter Nelis pear
A late season Winter Nelis pear

These very late varieties are an excellent way to stretch the season, particularly because some varieties (like Lady Williams, for example), will actually store quite well on the tree for weeks or months before they need picking (as long as you can protect them from the birds, of course!)

Right now at the start of May we’ve just finished picking the Pink Lady apples, but lots of growers in our district are still picking, and the Lady Williams aren’t ready yet.  

Extending the season has a couple of management consequences. For one thing, you need to pay attention for longer, and for another, the late varieties have different water needs, so it can be hard to keep them in mind.

It’s been (another) very dry summer here, and in fact we’ve only just had the first bit of rain for ages – which is welcome relief!

Poppy enjoying the novelty of drinking from a puddle!
Poppy enjoying the novelty of drinking from a puddle!

Even in a dry summer, you can usually still drastically cut back (or stop) irrigating your mature trees once you’ve finished picking the fruit from them (which is just one of the water-saving strategies we recommend in our short course How to Grow Fruit in a Drought.)

But it can be easy to forget that as long as your trees have fruit, they still need water. If the soil around your fruit trees is dry, make sure you keep the water up to them until the fruit is properly finished, and harvested.

And remember that young trees are a different case altogether, and should never be allowed to dry out while they still have leaves on them.

Is rain good for fruit?

A lemon covered in raindrops
A lemon covered in raindrops

As a fruit grower, lying in bed listening to rain on the roof can bring up a wide range of emotions, both good and bad. In our typical dry summers most people welcome rain when it comes, so it never seems appropriate for us to express concern about the damage it can do to fruit. However, it hasn’t rained for a while, so this week we reflect on the question – “Is rain good for fruit?”

Like everything in farming, the answer is complicated, and depends on lots of different variables, so let’s break it down a bit.

1. Trees like rain better than irrigation waterup to a point! As a gardener, you’ve probably noticed how “perky” your garden looks just after rain. One of the reasons (apart from the leaves being cleaner) is because the rain carries dissolved nitrogen which is easily absorbed by the plants, giving them a nutritional boost. Too much rain, however, and the soil can become waterlogged, creating anaerobic conditions, which actually stops the plants’ roots being able to take up nitrogen! The other advantages of trees receiving their water from rainfall (rather than irrigation) are that the entire root system gets water (rather than just at the point of water delivery), and if you’ve been keeping your garden on rations due to dry conditions, they just love the opportunity to get their fill of water for a change!

A fungal disease outbreak on an apricot
A fungal disease outbreak on an apricot

2. Rain can trigger fungal disease. One of the biggest pest and disease risks in an organic farm (or garden) is fungal disease, and nearly all fungal diseases are triggered by wet conditions (at the right temperature). In general terms, the more rain, the more fungal disease. This risk is highest at the beginning of the season (i.e., at flowering time in spring), and then gradually decreases as the season progresses. During autumn, if the summer has been generally dry and there is not much fungal disease around, the risk of a new fungal outbreak is relatively low.

Cherries that have cracked in the rain
Cherries that have cracked in the rain

3. Rain can cause physical damage to fruit. This is very specific to the type (and even variety) of fruit. For example cherries are particularly vulnerable to splitting from the rain, and some varieties of apricots also split easily. Hardier fruit like apples and pears, however, rarely experience physical damage from rain.

An apricot with a severe crack caused by rain
An apricot with a severe crack caused by rain

4. “Hard” rain can damage all fruit. Storms that bring rain often also bring hail, and that can be completely devastating to all fruit. Hailstorms are very random and localised, so it”s pretty much the luck of the draw with this one, though if you live in a hail-prone area, netting can definitely be your saviour. All fruit are vulnerable to hail damage, including apples, pears, plums and quinces.

5. Rain is good for the landscape. When you’re trying to grow food in an arid landscape (as we are), the general impact of rain (as long as there’s not too much, or too quickly) is generally FABULOUS! It fills water storages, keeps the bush alive, helps to sustain our farming communities, and helps backyard fruit growers maintain their own food security. We love it….except…. when there’s too much! If rain becomes flooding and the soil becomes saturated for too long, it can lead to ALL sorts of problems! Anaerobic soil conditions, trees dying, waterborne soil disease, nutrient leaching, dams breaking their banks, and the list goes on. We’ve seen it before when the drought broke in 2010/11.

A rainy morning and green grass
A rainy morning and green grass

6. Rain is good for mental health. It’s a generalisation, of course, but very often rain can be a huge relief to farmers and others in the community, especially if it is relieving the pressures of trying to farm in a dry landscape, though as you can probably see from our list, it totally depends on the amount of rain, and the context!

Poppy lapping up a puddle
Poppy lapping up a puddle

Regardless of the timing of rain within the fruit season, it’s important to make sure your soil can act as a big “water storage tank” when it rains. As well as building really healthy soil (which is good for both water storage and drainage in your soil), techniques like swales and keyline (covered in this short course) can make a huge difference to how well your soil will store rainfall.