Using Small Slow Solutions: Harvesting Fall Fruit and Update on Produce Bags

TL;DR: Produce bags were a huge success. I highly recommend trying them as an alternative to spraying fruit.

September is when the fruit floods in. First come the Bartlett pears, then the Seckel pears and Honeycrisps, followed by the Chojuro Asian pears, and finally the Esopus Spitzenburg apples.

From left to right: Seckel pears, Chojuro asian pear, Bartlett pears

Bartlett pears are best picked when they are still underripe. Left to ripen on the tree, they get a mealy texture and brown around the core. Ripened on the counter, they are perfect.

Chojuros should be left on the tree until they are ripe and have taken on a beautiful rich, carmely color. The left side of the asian pear in the picture above is just starting to get this color. Leave them too long, though, and their skin will darken and the flesh will brown and take on a fermented taste.

Seckel pears and apples all stay on the tree until they are ripe. Spitzenburgs benefit from a few weeks of storage before eating – in my mind they are the absolute best eating apple around if you wait to eat them until 2-3 weeks after picking.

As I mentioned in Permaculture in Practice: Use Small, Slow Solutions, this is the first year I am using produce bags. There are many options, but I went with a synthetic mesh bag I found on ebay. I try to avoid synthetics when possible, but in this case – where the goal is to keep out insects without harmful chemicals – it seemed like the most effective option and a fair trade off. With any luck, I will get multiple years of use out of them, too.

The bags worked well on the peaches, but how did they do on the pears and apples?

First the Bartletts. Here is this weekend’s harvest:

150+ pears from one 12 year old semi-dwarf tree – not bad!

I sort my pears into 4 categories. We can call them “Grade A”, “Grade B”, “Grade C” and compost.

Grade A pears are practically perfect in every way. Even the pickiest pear eater who likes perfect store bough fruit will likely be OK with it.

That’s one beautiful pear! Grade A.

Grade B are almost perfect. They might have a dimple or two that are close to each other and need to be eaten around, but they are still lovely and perfectly edible and most people wouldn’t turn them down.

Those are cute dimples you’ve got there! Grade B

Grade C are the pears with a face only a pear sauce maker can love. They have dimples that are spread out across the surface of the fruit. They might have scars or a spot where the skin has broken. They will need extensive paring to use. Most people won’t be interested in eating them out of hand.

Grade C has a nice personality

Now for the numbers. I picked 102 usable pears without bags (a dozen or so ended up on the compost pile). 30% were grade A, 30% grade B, 60% grade C. Not bad for fully organic pears, but over half would need extensive paring to use and will end up being pear sauce or dried pear chips.

From left to right: 30 Grade A, 30 Grade B, 42 Grade C (not shown – a dozen or so that went straight to the compost pile)

Now for the bagged pears. There were 28 total. 50% were grade A, 46% were grade B, and only 4% were grade C. Wow! What a difference! Definitely worth the 10-15 minutes it took to tie all of the bags on earlier this summer.

From left to right: 14 Grade A, 13 Grade B, 1 Grade C, and the compost pile starved

How about the others? The bags did not make a huge difference with the Seckel pears. They are just starting to come off the tree, but every one I see up there looks good for eating, with or without the bags. I don’t think I will bother to use them on that tree next year. It’s possible I just got lucky this year, but the Seckel pears usually look great and it seems better to save the bags for trees where they actually make a difference.

With the apples, the bags literally made the difference between having apples we will eat and apples we will not. I am still picking them now, but I did not have a single edible apple without a bag, and the apples in the bag were almost all good enough to eat.

Honeycrips – without and with a bag

Spitzenburg – without and with a bag (to be fair, I will use the lower apple for sauce or dried chips, but will need to cut away a lot of the apple)

The bags are not foolproof. There was a limited amount of insect damage to some of the bagged apples. It may be I put the bags on too late, or that the insects found their way inside, like this little wasp.

I also lost a little fruit to chipmunks, who chewed holes in a couple bags to get at the ripening fruit inside. I suspect that it was only so few bags ruined because there were many more unbagged (and easier to get) fruits to choose from.

I don’t mind losing some fruit to the insects and wildlife. It’s important for us to take only what we need – even from our own trees in our own yards – and leave food for the wildlife. And I’m especially heartened to see things like this little ladybug walking safely on the harmless bag, when it would be just as likely to be harmed by sprays on the fruit as the harmful insects.

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