Ripe for the Picking

How to Tell When Fruit Is Ready to Eat

There are lots of good reasons to grow your own fruits and
vegetables. Over the life of a tree, you will have saved the cost
of buying a similar amount of produce many times over. The
diversity of varieties available is much greater than you will find
in local stores. Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons to grow
and harvest your own food is that you can control the kind of
materials used to treat pests and provide fertility to the soil.
But one of the most satisfying may be having the ability to pluck
the fruits when they are at their peak of flavor, far surpassing
what store-bought fruits will taste like.

How do you know when a particular fruit is really ripe, though?
Color and firmness are two of the easiest to assess. Even the
greenest apple variety will show a subtle shift from the dense
green of an unripe one to one with a sort of transparency that
indicates sweetness and succulence. Other fruits change from green
to their characteristic color: plums and red grapes begin to blush
until they are deep reddish purple; peaches and nectarines go
through yellow to a ruddy orange; while pears get freckles.

Most ripe fruits will also yield to gentle pressure, not feel
rock hard once they are ready to pick (persimmons may be the most
notable exception). Another indication of what is going on under
the skin of each orb is the fragrance of the fruit. Let your nose
help you identify those whose complement of aromatics is fully
developed. These same chemicals that our noses smell are the ones
our tongues taste.

There is one last way to know when fruit is ripe: Most fruits,
from pears to peaches, will easily slip from the tree with a gentle
twist and tug. If there is resistance, it’s not yet time to
harvest. If you miss the first ones, you will probably find them on
the ground below the tree. If you pick them up immediately, they
should be just as edible and certainly as flavorful.

September Tips • Plant
spring-flowering bulbs as soon as you buy them: Freesia, Tritonia,
Watsonia, Dutch iris, Sparaxis, and Narcissus. • Clean up any
fallen fruit that can’t be salvaged. Left on the ground, it can
contribute to fungal pathogens. • Plant or transplant woody shrubs
and trees. Their root systems will get established in the warm soil
better and promote fast growth next season. • Put the Santa Barbara
County Horticultural Society Plant Sale on the calendar for Sunday,
September 10. It’s a great place to find unusual plants at a
bargain price.

Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer
your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent,
122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to


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