Ripen pears off the tree

“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy. ~ William Blake, “Proverbs of Hell,” 1790-1793 

Despite the seemingly odd choice of title for the poem (in a book called “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”), English Romance poet and artist William Blake devotes most of his literary attention in the poem to offering advice for how to live life to the fullest, remaining always respectful of Nature and willing to take responsibility for one’s own actions. In the first line of the poem, quoted above, Blake recommends taking action at the right time, and this is certainly sound advice  for gardeners when it comes to harvesting fruits and vegetables.

In Sunday’s column (August 27, 2017), I shared information about harvesting bounty from the garden. Soon I will also be harvesting pears from my dwarf Ayers pear tree -

Ayers pears ready to harvest

the best crop produced so far since I planted the pear tree in my front yard four years ago. Last year, my pear crop was reduced by an infestation of black spot, a fungal disease that is common to home orchard trees in the Rogue Valley. I applied liquid kelp to the root zone of the pear tree when the black spot first appeared,, and it definitely helped. This year, I did not have the same problem, thank goodness!

Unlike apples, most varieties of pears, including my Ayers pears, do not ripen well on the tree. In fact, according to the OSU Extension Service, pears allowed to tree-ripen will ripen from the inside out, so the center becomes mushy by the time the outer flesh is ready to eat.  When the pears have reached their mature size, they will still be hard, but they should be picked to finish ripening off the tree. Mature, ready-to-ripen pears will usually detach easily from the tree when the fruit is tilted to a horizontal position from its usual vertical hanging position (however, Bosc pears are always more difficult to separate from the spur, says experts at the OSU Extension Service).

Once the pears have been picked, they need to go through a chilling process; otherwise, they will decompose without ever ripening. “Chilling” actually means storing them in a cool, dry place with temperatures between 65-75 degrees F.  Allow Bartlett pears to cool down for 4 to 5 days; Bosc and Comice should be cooled 5 to 7 days; and Anjou, 7 to 10 days. Store-bought pears have already completed their post-harvest chilling process.

To jump start the ripening process, place newly harvested pears in a paper bag and place a ripe banana on top, which will give off ethylene gas, a ripening hormone. The pears soak up the gas and soon start producing their own ethylene gas to finish the ripening process.

Pears are ready to eat when the flesh just below the point where the stem joins the fruit yields evenly to gentle pressure from your thumb when the pear is held in the palm of your hand.

William Blake reminds us that sometimes a bit of delayed gratification is in order, and certainly the sweetness of a perfectly ripe pear is well worth the wait!


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  • About the Author

    Rhonda Nowak

    Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, writer and teacher. With more than 25 years of gardening experience and a Ph.D. in literature and language arts education, she combines a love for plants, poetry, and prose in her Literary Gardener blog. ... Full Profile
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