Ed Fackler tell readers about the best tasting and easiest to grow pears.
Visit this story's main page to learn more about the North American Fruit Explorers and growing America's best fruit.
"I desperately wanted to learn the real culture of fruit growing," says Ed Fackler, "because I had planted 2,000 trees over the previous couple of years and realized that I was dumber than a day old pig."
In 1977, on the advice of sustainable-farming writer and advocate Gene Logsdon, Ed joined NAFEX, and from 1996 to 1998, served as NAFEX president.
Today, Ed maintains his organic, commercial orchard, Rocky Meadow Orchard & Nursery, in New Salisbury, Indiana. After 10 years of growing various fruits, he found by observation and experience that pears are the easiest to grow and are less sensitive to fire blight than apples are.
Almost all pears sold in grocery stores today are heirlooms, with their origins in 15th-through 19th-century England, France and Germany. "Bartlett," "Cornice," "Bosc," "Seckel" and "Anjou" are still popular because they have terrific flavor and melting flesh. A buttery feel on the tongue and yielding tissue combine to create this sensation. These varieties also lack grit cells, those grainy bits that ruin the fruit's feel in the mouth.
Ed says "Seckel" is the best-tasting heirloom pear. "It has a rich, spicy taste," he says. "Other varieties seem to pale in comparison to it." Ed's other favorite heirloom pear is 'Magness,' a European hybrid pear he says has a complex, heavenly flavor.
Although pears are easy to grow, Ed says the most perplexing part of raising them is figuring out when to harvest. European pears do not ripen on the tree: They must be picked green. Determining when they're ready to pick takes practice.
Ed harvests pears when the skin near the fruit's stem yields slightly under pressure of his thumb. He says all pears should be picked at this stage and then refrigerated at about 36 degrees for at least one week. After a week in cold storage, he says, let the pears ripen gradually at room temperature for a couple of days for maximum flavor.
For two reasons, autumn is the best time to plant pear trees. Bargains can be found at garden centers and through mail order companies because they are clearing out stock for winter. (For nurseries offering fall shipping, see "Mail Order Sources" on page 29 of this issue.) Ed says you can gain one full season's growth by planting in the fall rather than in spring.
Trees can be planted any time before the ground freezes. Planted in the fall, trees will spend the winter months establishing vigorous root systems, even in cold climates. Feed with compost and don't use chemical fertilizer. Protect the bottom 3 feet of young tree trunks from rabbits and other chewing critters with plastic tubes or fine-wire mesh. He recommends pulling mulch 6 to 8 inches away from trunks to discourage nesting rodents, who will also chew bark.
Go to this story's image gallery to see a chart of the best-tasting and easiest to grow pears.