Pear Trees: Spur and fruit thinning and harvesting
Pears make spurs more readily than apples and as the tree gets older the spurs may become crowded. When this happens, spur pruning is beneficial; prune the oldest and least fruitful ones back to their base. Any spurs which are too long can be shortened by about half. All spur pruning is best done in winter.
Pears tend to produce a great deal of blossom; if all was allowed to produce fruit it would exhaust the tree. Judicious fruit thinning is usually necessary although pears need less thinning than apples. Thin first in late spring, when the young fruitlets are about 2.5 cm (1”) long. Remove and burn all mis-shapen ones first, as they probably contain pear midge larvae. A second thinning, after the natural fruit fall in early summer, should be done in mid-summer. There should be a final spacing of 12.5 cm (5”) between fruit. This varies slightly according to the age, health and variety of the tree; vigorous mature trees can carry heavier crops than very young or weak-growing ones.
Pears, more so than apples, need to be picked and eaten at exactly the right moment, as most varieties are at their best for a short while only. Very early varieties, which are ready mid- to late summer, can be picked straight off the tree and eaten at once. As soon as the base skin colour begins to yellow or pale, is about the right stage. Early varieties, like Williams Bon Chretien, should be picked before they are fully ripe.
This will mean picking them when the skin at the stalk end of the fruit starts to change colour. If left on the tree for longer, they will become too mature, and although the outside may appear just right, the centre will have started to rot.
Mid-season varieties, ie early to mid-autumn kinds, are picked, and then kept in a cool place for about a week or so before eating. To tell if a pear is ripe, lift the fruit and twist it slightly; ripe pears should part quite easily from the tree. If pears are picked too soon for storing, they will become ‘sleepy’, when the outer flesh becomes soft but does not develop its flavour, and the inner remains hard. The best criterion for picking for store is the ground colour of the skin; when this begins to change, the fruit can be picked. When harvesting, handle the pears carefully as they bruise easily, particularly at the stalk end. Try to pick the fruit in dry weather, as pears rapidly deteriorate if left wet for any length of time.
Unfortunately, pears do not keep as well as apples, so if you want a steady supply, it is best to plant several varieties of trees with fruit which ripen in succession. Early and mid-season varieties do not keep for any length of time; it is not worth arranging long-term storage, as you will more than likely be disappointed. Late varieties need to be picked when slightly unripe and stored until they reach their full flavour. If a sharp tug is needed to get the fruit off, they are not ready for storing. Leave them for a couple of days and try again. Be guided also by the change in the ground colour, especially near the stalk end; when this begins to change, the fruit is ready for storing. Pick the fruit when dry, with the stalk intact. Store only sound, unblemished fruit; any damaged pears will quickly rot and the rot will spread.
Do not wrap them, but lay them in a single layer on slatted trays in cool 4-7°C (40-45°F) conditions. An empty room or shed will do, as long as there are no severe fluctuations in temperature. They are better in some humidity, and shrivel quickly in a dry store. Inspect them frequently for approaching maturity, which is indicated by a softening of the flesh close to the stalk. Then bring them into a warm room for a couple of days, to finish off the ripening process.