The Art of Successive Ripening

Choose varieties that ripen at different times for a long fruit season

from Tom Spellman

Tom Spellman

It happens at every Dave Wilson Nursery Fruit Tasting....

I can spot them a mile away.... Sometimes it’s just a husband and wife, sometimes they have the kids with them.... They pick up the Dave Wilson complimentary note pad and pen at the beginning of the line and start to sample fruit. They talk back and forth and make notes about each piece they taste. Then, about half-way through the line, they’re not writing as much. Some even scratch off varieties as they find something they like better.

I wait patiently at the end of the line for my opportunity to quiz them on their intent. Just as it looks like they’re about to finish, they make a u-turn and head back to the beginning to start over. These people are on a mission.

Their second run-through is much more specific. They are not trying everything this time - just re-testing some of their favorites and revising their notes.

In the ideal fruit garden, we would be able to wander through and eat fruit every day of the growing season.

When they finally reach the end of the line for the second time, I make my move: “Hi folks. Do you have any questions?”

With a big smile and a look of accomplishment, they tell me that they are designing a new fruit garden and planning to follow the Dave Wilson Nursery Backyard Orchard Culture methods. They want to be able to fit more trees into their planting. Typically, they'll have found several varieties they like and they'll already know how many trees they can care for in their available space.

From their selection of peaches, plums, apricots and nectarines, I know they obviously appreciate the importance of flavor — I compliment their judgment and knowledge.

"We also know about summer pruning for size control", they tell me.

Because species and varieties available to harvest will vary greatly throughout the growing season, I ask them if they've considered the importance of successive ripening....

At this point, their expressions often change to open-mouthed puzzlement, until I start to explain....

  • Everything you try at the Fruit Tasting ripens this week.

  • If you plant only varieties you tasted today, all of your fruit will ripen in a few days and then there's nothing else for the rest of the year.

  • Don't get discouraged! Just pick two or three of your favorites, and you've filled your ripening times for the two or three weeks centering on today.

Consider the example of plums:

Almost everyone is familiar with that wonderful old Luther Burbank variety called Santa Rosa. It's probably the most popular selection planted over the last 100 years. It looks and tastes good, it's self-fruitful, it's low chill, it produces at an early age and is long-lived. The only problem is that it ripens all at the same time. In the first two weeks of July, one mature tree can produce 500 to 700 plums — how many Santa Rosa plums can you eat in two weeks?

Let's take the same space you were going to use to plant that Santa Rosa and plant four varieties:

  • Beauty — ripe from early June to July

  • Santa Rosa— ripe from early to mid July

  • Burgundy— ripe from late July to late August

  • Emerald Beaut — prolonged harvest from late August to mid October

    • (exact dates vary by climate and year)

In the same amount of space you had planned for two weeks of plums, you can now harvest four months worth!

And, using BYOC multiple-planting and summer pruning techniques, you won’t have 500-plus fruits of each variety, but you will have a manageable 50 to 150 each.

Since the trees are kept small and manageable by summer pruning, all your pruning, thinning and harvest is done from ground level. No ladders to fall from and everything is within easy reach!

You will want to use Dave Wilson Nursery's tools for successful orchard planning, like our Fruit and Nut Harvest Dates chart to plot successive ripening and our annual Fruit Tasting Report, a compilation of all the data from blind tastings held between June and November each year since 1994. (Similar information is published on avocado, citrus and sub-tropical fruits that will allow you to plan a full, 12-month fruit garden.)

Some types of stone fruit are available from late spring through early fall —

Others, like Avocado, can be available on a year-round basis if you choose the right varieties.

Tom's Avocados from Garden Compass magazine.

They seemed intrigued, and I continued…

  • Consider multiple planting to extend ripening as long as possible.

  • Try three or four compatible varieties together in one hole for extended harvest.

  • You do not want to plant standard and semi-dwarf rootstocks together in the same hole! Choose one or the other.

  • You want all trees in a multiple planting to have similar requirements for irrigation, fertilizer and maintenance.

  • You want all trees in a multiple planting to grow at a similar rate so one does not dominate the planting and shade out its neighbors. You prune as often as needed to accomplish this.

— See Tom's Recommendations —

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