Over the years, I have developed a number of strategies to improve a top fruit harvest and to make the process easier, and I thought I would share those with you today.
We are very lucky where I live to have a number of apple and plum trees in a walled orchard, which I have turned into a forest garden. With so much fruit to harvest, I need to think carefully about how to make the most of the trees and keep them healthy, and how to maximise my yields without increasing the effort I have to expend.
Table of Contents
1. To Successfully Grow Organically, Biodiversity is Key
Fruit trees grown in monocultures are prone to a great many pests and diseases. To get the most from top fruit trees, it is important to think not only about the trees themselves but also about what you grow around them.
Creating polycultures of beneficial plants around the base of your top fruit trees really can make a big difference to the yields that you can achieve.
Biodiverse planting boost wildlife biodiversity too, and boosting biodiversity increases stability within the system through increasing the number of beneficial interactions. What is more, biodiversity is crucial for successful pollination, and will help to keep pest populations in balance and under control.
Creating guilds of companion plants around fruit trees can make sure that fruits form, ripen and remain healthy until it is time to harvest them. And it can really increase the number of fruits that you are able to harvest from the trees growing in your garden.
2. Pay Attention to the Weather Forecast to Determine Care
One of the things that has really struck me since we moved into this property with its fruit trees back in 2014 is that the timings and sizes of fruit tree top fruit harvests can vary considerably from one year to the next due to the weather conditions in a given year.
Sometimes, this is something over which we have little control. But sometimes, we can influence the size of our top fruit harvests by providing appropriate care at key times of the year.
For example, we can pay close attention to the weather forecast in spring while the fruit trees are in flower. And we can take steps to protect the blossom and to make sure that it is not damaged by a sudden late frost.
Protecting vulnerable blossom at the right time can mean the difference between having a harvest of fruits, and not having one at all.
Another important time is while fruits are beginning to form. At this time, if the weather is very dry and you do not water enough, harvests of top fruits can be significantly reduced and many maturing fruits can drop off the trees before they can grow much larger.
Watering at the crucial time can make a big difference to your top fruit harvest yields.
3. Be Careful With Pruning for Best Results
Pruning fruit trees well is more of an art than a science. It does not pay to be too strict or regimented. I have found that when it comes to pruning, less is often more.
How precisely you will prune will depend on which type of fruit tree and even variety you are growing, and on the specific circumstances in your garden. But with top fruit trees, careful pruning can make a big difference to the yields that you are able to achieve during top fruit harvest.
So, make sure that you research pruning guidelines for the specific fruit trees that you are growing, so that you do not reduce yields by making any mistakes. And prune carefully and with consideration to let sunlight in and improve the structural framework of tree canopies.
4. Make Sure You Have the Right Top Fruit Varieties for Where You Live
Of course, no elements of care will make up for choosing fruit tree varieties that are wrong in the first place. Where yields are disappointing, it can often simply be because you have not selected a type and variety of fruit tree ideally suited to where you live and your specific garden.
To obtain an optimal top fruit harvest, you need to have the right varieties for the environmental conditions and space that you can provide in your garden. You should revisit this if you have been disappointed with the top fruit harvests over a number of years.
Getting new fruit trees may sometimes be the right solution. Though of course you will need to work through and try to troubleshoot any issues to make sure you have correctly pinpointed the issue.
5. Know When to Harvest the Fruits You Grow
This might sound very obvious, but it is important to get your timings right. If you are a little hazy on the facts and not entirely sure when exactly to harvest the fruit that you grow, then this is something to remedy right away.
It is important to note that the timing of the harvest can vary greatly depending on the weather from one year to the next.
But you need to know roughly when to expect the fruits to be ready to harvest, and also what the fruits should look like when they are ready to be picked. Missing the harvest window even by a short while can lead to heavy losses.
Be sure to follow up on fruit tree guild ideas.
6. Make Sure Wildlife Don’t Get All the Fruit Before You Do
I always like to share some of my top fruit with the birds and other wildlife. I consider the share lost to wildlife as a kind of ‘taxes’ to the natural world of which we are all just a part.
But while I am happy to share, there are times when wildlife can take all the top fruit before you get the chance to harvest – and that is something that we all wish to avoid.
Though there are also other ways to protect your fruit trees using physical barriers that you might consider – depending on how large they are and how practical such solutions can be.
7. Invest in the Right Tools for the Top Fruit Harvest
If you have a number of fruit trees as I do then you will be well aware that when you have mature trees, harvesting all that fruit can be a lot of work. Having the right tools for the job really does make a big difference.
For example, I find my fruit picker invaluable for the apple harvest. It saves me a lot of time and effort and means that I don’t have to climb a ladder to reach the higher fruits. Having the right bags and baskets to transport the fruits I pick into my home also makes the job a little easier.
Learn how to make your own homemade rooting hormone.
8. Streamline Your Top Fruit Harvest Processes
One thing that I have developed more as time has gone by is my harvesting process, by which I mean the route that fruits take from the tree to my kitchen and pantry, and onwards in a range of recipes and preserves.
It can be helpful to think about where fruit will be washed, and then stored or prepped in various ways prior to its use. Thinking about the route that the fruit takes can help you to streamline the process, saving time and effort.
9. Co-operate and Collaborate to Make the Harvesting Job Easier
As much as it can help to have your processes in place, a top fruit harvest will often be a massive job if you are doing it all alone. Getting friends, family or community members involved can help the whole thing from feeling overwhelming and it can help ensure that no fruit goes to waste.
Why not arrange a fruit-picking day – a get-together for a group of people who can have fun while harvesting fruit? Gleaning groups may come to help you harvest fruit from trees if you yourself are not able to do so. There is a lot of truth in the old adage that many hands make light work.
10. Decide Before the Harvest What to Do With the Fruit
Last but certainly not least, make sure that you decide before you pick your top fruit what you would like to do with your harvest. Researching ideas up front can help you to avoid casting around at the last minute. This too can help you make sure that no fruit goes to waste.
Knowing what you want to do with the top fruit harvest will also mean that you can streamline your processes more effectively, and quickly and efficiently do the prep work required.
Planning ahead of time can also help you to see where you might save time and effort, and make the most of the byproduct of one process in another recipe, perhaps.
What is the best time to harvest top fruits?
The best time to harvest top fruits, such as apples, pears, and cherries, is when they have reached their full color, are firm to the touch, and come off easily when gently twisted. It’s essential to regularly check the fruits as the harvest time can vary depending on the variety and local climate conditions.
How can I ensure consistent fruit size and quality?
To ensure consistent fruit size and quality, it’s crucial to thin out the fruits early in the season. This means removing excess fruits from the tree, allowing the remaining ones to get more nutrients and grow larger. Regular watering, proper fertilization, and pest control also play a significant role in maintaining fruit quality.
How do I store harvested fruits to prolong their freshness?
After harvesting, remove any damaged or bruised fruits. Store fruits in a cool, dark place with good ventilation. Some fruits, like apples, can be stored in a refrigerator to prolong their shelf life. Using controlled atmosphere storage, where oxygen and carbon dioxide levels are regulated, can also help in extending the freshness of the fruits.
What are the common pests and diseases that affect top fruits, and how can I prevent them?
Common pests include aphids, apple maggots, and codling moths. Diseases include apple scab, fire blight, and brown rot. To prevent these issues, ensure proper spacing between trees for good air circulation, prune regularly, and use organic or chemical treatments as needed. It’s also essential to clean up fallen fruits and leaves, as they can harbor pests and diseases.
How often should I water and fertilise my fruit trees?
Watering needs vary depending on the soil type and weather conditions. However, it’s generally recommended to water deeply once a week during dry periods. Over-watering can lead to root rot, so it’s essential to ensure the soil drains well. As for fertilisation, a balanced fertilizer applied in early spring, just before bud break, can provide the necessary nutrients for the growing season.
Waddington, E., (2022) How to Choose Fruit Trees for Your Garden. Treehugger. [online] Available at: https://www.treehugger.com/choosing-fruit-trees-garden-5221315 [accessed 25/08/23]
The Gleaning Network. (n.d.) Welcome to the Gleaning Notebook. Gleaning. [online] Available at: https://gleaning.feedbackglobal.org/ [accessed 25/08/23]
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.