ripe persimmons in basket after a successful harvest

The ultimate reward after tending fruit trees is of course a bountiful harvest!  As designers of Outdoor Living, we love the chance to experience such success in our own yards as well as our clients’.  During the growing season, one can ensure a great harvest with a few clever tricks.  With knowledge and care comes plentitude, and the ultimate question of what to do with all that fruit!

Encouraging Fruiting

If your trees are healthy, in the right climate, and being visited by regular pollinators, there is no reason why they won’t begin to fruit like mad!  No matter what you are growing, there is one thing to note about fruiting trees – they are overachievers.  While it is thrilling to see so many fruits developing on your trees, keep in mind that every fruit cannot make it if the tree is overextended.  Apples, pears, and peaches in particular benefit from fruit thinning, or the removal of smaller or competing fruits.  Thinning a surplus of fruit from weak branches will also save those branches from breaking under the weight.  For a heavy-bearing tree, this may mean removing even 2/3rds of the developing fruit.  Though it seems counter-intuitive, this will ensure that the fruit chosen to remain will be both larger and more flavorful.

Heavy apples hang low on a tree that would benefit from fruit thinning

These apples, while they developed well, would have been better off with thinning.  Heavy fruit resulted in the sag and breakage of weak branches, making the tree susceptible to disease.

Harvest Time

When the time does come to harvest, is one method better than another?  The truth is, there are many methods, and all of them work.  The one thing to keep in mind is the health of your trees – picking fruit isn’t damaging, but cutting branches can be.  Autumn isn’t the best time of year to be pruning, so remove fruits with as little impact as possible on the branches.  You also want to take care when picking apples and other pomes not to damage the fruiting spur, or bark-covered nub where they attach to the branch.  These ‘spurs’ will fruit again year after year, and often produce the best fruit with age.

Young peaches may continue to ripen well into the winter

Note the papery fruiting spur above this unripe peach.  You will find that while most fruits have matured, there are those that still have not.  These aren’t necessary to remove, but you can if you prefer.  There’s always the chance that they will mature before winter comes.

When the harvest is done, remove fallen fruit from the around the tree.  Make sure to rake fallen leaves or piled mulch away from the trunk before winter rains begin.  This kind of cleanup discourages rodents and other pests, and also protects against the most dangerous fungi that can infest trees during the wetter months.  If you have a home compost bin, toss undesired fruit in for richer compost next year!

Preserving and Drying
figs are delicious ripe, or can be dried, baked, or made into jam

With such abundance of beautiful home-grown fruit, you have some serious thinking to do!  If you enjoy dried apples, peaches, or figs, you may consider purchasing a dehydrator.  Drying fruit is an easy way to enjoy it for many months, and a great way to manage your sudden influx of fruit!  Making jam is another way to preserve your harvest (and impress all your friends and family!)  A seldom-practiced art in modern times, jam-making is incredibly simple and a jar of home-grown, home-made jam makes a wonderful holiday gift.

Williams-Sonoma peach apricot jam recipe

Follow this link for a simple, amazing apricot jam recipe from Williams-Sonoma

The harvest season is a time for celebration, and we are taking the opportunity to enjoy it for all it has to offer.  Take a moment to enjoy a cool Autumn morning with coffee and a home-grown peach, or learn to bake an apple pie to share with friends and family.  Taking time to enjoy the fruits of your labor is crucial in our fast-paced world.  So be present, celebrate the abundance and beauty of the season, and love every minute of your leisure.