Growing fruit trees - tales of pilfered pears and frozen apples

When you grow Asian pear and apple trees, sometimes there are tales to tell.

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    The 20th Century Asian pear tree was precious, bearing a year after I planted it.
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Despite hard freezes and snow in mid-October, I just finished picking the last of the apples and Asian pears in my orchard of miniature fruit trees.

And, I caught the creature that pilfered every Hosui Asian pear last year, the first season the tree fruited. I had tagged the offender ‘Slimus erectus,' figuring the thief was a neighborhood gourmet.

In 2005, I planted a 20th Century Asian pear tree that had two grafts of Hosui, a later-maturing variety that is touted to be the best-tasting Asian pear. The main tree bore a light crop of 20th Century pears the next year, and in subsequent years bore larger and larger crops. The grafts grew into substantial limbs, but never flowered.

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Finally, in late April 2008, the Hosui branches flowered and set fruit.

I anxiously waited for ripe Hosui, given everything I’d read about the variety. 20th Century is crunchy and tasty, but Hosui was supposed to be crunchier, keep longer, and have a more pronounced flavor.

Fruits put on good size by August and started to develop russet on their skins. They weren’t ripe when I harvested the yellow, juicy 20th Century pears in late August.

Labor Day came and went, and the pears were hard with a greenish cast. I had to go to Portland, Ore., on a business trip the third week of September, and the pears were still not ripe.

I got home late in the afternoon of Sept. 23 and immediately ran out to the pear tree to check for ripeness. Every pear was gone!

Their stems were freshly snapped, as fluid oozed from where they were broken off branches. No trace remained of any pear. They were all gone!

After waiting more than four years to taste Hosui, I cried with frustration and disappointment.

Two weeks ago, as I climbed the hill to pick this year’s crop of Hosui, I watched as a flock of four-foot-high wild turkeys trotted out of the nearby woods. They surrounded the tree, pecking at pear stems. One pear was already on the ground, and a young turkey was munching it.

I screamed, jumped up and down, and ranted like a wild woman, running the turkeys off into a stand of maples down the road.

Quickly, I harvested 74 Hosui, and they were worth the wait. Exquisite!

When I stripped the apple and Asian pear trees in early October, some of the fruits weren’t ripe, and I left them. Two hard freezes and that pesky snow kept me out of the orchard, so I figured the fruit was ruined.

To my surprise, the finally ripe apples and six remaining Hosui Asian pears are not only edible, but they are more flavorful than those I picked earlier.

After a bit of research, I learned that if the brix or sugar content in an apple or pear is high, the sugars will keep the fruit from freezing.

The basement bins are full of apples and Asian pears to enjoy all winter, and the orchard is finally quiet. Bare trees and no turkeys!

If it’s edible and unusual, Doreen Howard figures out a way to grow it in her USDA Zone 4b garden. She’ll try anything once, even smelly Durian. A former garden editor at Woman’s Day, she writes regularly for The American Gardener and The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s Garden Guide.

Editor’s note: Look for more blog posts by The Edible Explorer, Doreen Howard, at our blog archive. For more Monitor gardening, see our main gardening page and our RSS feed.

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