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Pears for the Prairies

Today, I’m writing about pear trees for the very first time, but first please read the following carefully.

Here’s one more reminder. The tomato varieties I wrote about in my January 23, 2012 column are NOT free. They are for sale by Upper Canada Seeds in Toronto. Please do not write to them asking for free tomato seeds. If you wish to purchase some, view their tomato seed selection and price list at www.uppercanadaseeds.ca or write to the address provided on page 29 of said Grainews issue.

WHAT IS A GREEN THUMBER?

Certainly drinking a pint of green beer on St. Patrick’s Day will not help acquire a pair of gardener’s green thumbs. Sometimes however, I’ve dipped my thumbs in a vegetable source of green food colouring to emphasize a point.

Many gardeners and lovers of indoor and outside plants are whipper-snappers when it comes to rooting a young, fresh cutting or slip. Some merely stick the bottom end in a bit of water. Others dip the calloused end in a slight amount of rooting hormone powder and plant it in moist, soilless germinating mix under a clear plastic dome to maintain humidity… and then what? No surprise at all… it grows. Others have told me they buy a plant; take it home and in a few days or weeks it’s long gone. So let me ask… what is the secret to your green thumbs?

Perhaps the secret lies in the way some folks communicate with plants through expectations, experience, feelings, whispering, talking and positive and loving thoughts. I’m not letting the cat out of the bag when I say… I’m confident therein lies part of the secret for a powerful set of green thumbs. Maybe it’s in the genes too. But there are other reasons, so remember to let me know your secrets to acquiring a set of green thumbs. Incidentally, the cat was never in the bag anyway.

WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT PEARS?

There are more than 3,000 pear varieties native to Europe and Asia. Before tobacco was introduced in Europe, pear leaves were smoked. In China, edible Asian pears were cultivated way back in 1134 BC. Ancient Greeks ate pears as a natural remedy to counteract nausea. Pear trees have been grown here in North America since the early 1600s. Later, pears were sometimes referred to as butter fruit because the flesh was soft and buttery.

Digestive health is critical for well-being and there’s a lot of fibre in pears that keeps food moving through the colon. A good percentage of pear fibre in combination with other fruits and vegetables is insoluble and this may help reduce the occurrence of colon polyps. Some doctors recommend pears for babies when they are weaned by their mothers and being introduced to baby food. This is because pears are a low-acid fruit and unlikely to cause digestion problems in little bellies. Allergy to pears is relatively rare.

In both the ancient and modern carpentry world, pear wood is used to build furniture, musical instruments and wooden carvings. Kitchen utensils made from pear wood excel because they impart neither colour nor odour to food and withstand frequent washings both by hand and through the dishwasher without splintering and warping. The same applies to a carpenter’s and architect’s rulers used for measuring.

A POETIC MOMENT

The following few lines just came to mind:

So come along gardeners,

And listen to my tale,

Travel with me won’t you,

On the Prairie Pear Trail.

Read on and get an eyeful

Of varieties to know,

There’s just a handful,

Two or three that you can grow.

They tolerate the wind,

Including snow and cold,

Introduce them to your orchard,

Harvest pears of green and gold.

PEARS FOR THE PRAIRIES

For Prairie orchardists, the selection of pear tree varieties is limited. Early Gold pear, a seedling of Ure pear, is an introduction by Wilbert Ronald of Jeffries Nurseries at Portage la Prairie. It demonstrates improved vigour, chlorosis resistance and has shown to have strong cold hardiness. Philip Ronald of nearby Riverbend Orchards tells me that “Early Gold pear has an attractive golden-yellow colour and is very good processed. Golden-yellow fruits are about three inches long by 1-1/2 inches wide; comparable in size to a small light bulb.”

Ure pear is an introduction from Morden Research Station. Its exterior is a combo of green, yellow and a red blush when ripe, wider and a little shorter than Early Gold and ripens in mid-September.

Both varieties named are rated for Zone 2 hardiness and that covers a vast area of the Prairies. Did I mention that both cultivars must be planted in close proximity to each other for proper cross-pollination and successful pear production? It can take up to five years’ growth down the road after planting pear trees to achieve a harvest.

A trio of pears that are Prairie borderline for hardiness are Golden Spice, Luscious and Summer Crisp (all rated Zone 3b). If you can provide a microclimate growing spot, success with these can be attained, but they have doubtful hardiness in the colder stretches of Zone 3a. Also, they may not be as readily available at Prairie nurseries as are Early Gold and Ure pears.

SPACING PEAR TREES

… and dealing with fire blight. The trend is a density of 6×6 metres. Spacing is quite important. When planted too close together, pear trees age rapidly and excess pruning will be required to maintain growth control. Unless you’re planting dwarf rootstock, allow for a pear tree to be about four metres in diameter at maturity. Ask your nurseryman about rootstock at time of purchase.

At the extreme, make certain each pear tree cultivar is no more than 15 metres apart for pollination, otherwise fruit yield can be disappointing. This may come as a surprise, but bees are not particularly fond of pear blossoms. Commercial orchardists often bring in many hives of bees. The home pear grower will have best fruit set if a hive of bees is moved near pear trees, just at the start of blossom and not before.

Planting instructions for pears are essentially the same as for apples, with one major exception. Pear trees are susceptible to fire blight bacterium which can be transmitted by insects and birds. This can be alleviated by taking extra care to ensure the amount of nitrogen available to pear trees is restricted to prevent rapid and lush growth. Succulent increase of foliage and limbs is to be avoided because too much growth, too quickly, allows blight to settle in more readily. Also, the threat from winterkill is accelerated.

Rigorous sanitation is essential and all suckers should be removed. Any infected branches must be cut out before fire blight bacteria spreads further. Using a pair of sharp pruning shears, cut off infected branches at least 15 cm (six inches) below the point of last visible wilt. After each cut, it’s mandatory that your cutting shears are dipped in a strong bleach solution such as one part bleach to four parts water to avoid transmitting the disease from one branch to the next. Fire blight spreads quickly during warm, humid weather so check trees daily if such conditions prevail. By the way, there are other plants that serve as hosts for fire blight and they include wild apples, hawthorns, saskatoons, mountain ash and cotoneaster hedges. All of these live in natural equilibrium with the fire blight bacteria and can easily pass it along to pear trees.

Since they are less hardy than apples, pear trees require more time to harden off in fall. In spring, a light application of compost is adequate, but never use manure and remember — little or no nitrogen. Also, avoid allowing any surface appearance of clovers and legumes near pear trees. Overall, growth will not be as spectacular, but pear trees will likely live and produce a lot longer. †

About the author

Columnist

Ted Meseyton

This is Ted Meseyton the Singing Gardener and Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. I salute all gardeners and farmers who help make our world a little safer and more ecologically balanced, and who toil to provide health-giving produce to others who cannot produce their own. It takes all sorts to make a world. One half of the world doesn’t know how the other half lives. The best physicians are Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet and Dr. Merryman.

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