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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Harvesting Early Can Keep Fruit from the Wind and Hungry Birds

The fruit in the grocery store looks good. But frequently when you taste it the taste does not match the look of goodness that you thought was there. This is why.
Ripe fruit is different for the tree than it is to humans. Ripeness to us usually means a color change from green to red, yellow, purple or orange. Taking it a step further, fruit that is ripened fully on the tree will start to be slightly "soft" when squeezed. The bird doesn't have hands or fingers so they "beak" it and go for the jugular. If the fruit does not taste good to a bird, the bird tries a different fruit or fruit from a different tree.

We get really angry when a bird samples several fruits, damaging all of them. Kind of like a child taking a bite out of each fruit you bring home from the store. But a color change can be an indicator to you that harvest time is close. Harvesting a bit early can keep the fruit away from dropping in the wind or from hungry birds.
Flora Gold apricot on the tree, very tasty looking and "ripe" from the tree's point of view.
The tree just wants to reproduce.It doesn't care if you or the bird like the taste of its fruit or not. If the seed is ripe and can germinate, it would just as soon drop the fruit in hopes that the seed will grow. One less mouth to feed. When fruit is very unripe, the seed is not mature enough for good growth, the tree usually will hold on to the fruit unless winds are unbearable. When fruit ripens, the tree holds on to the fruit stronger.
Flora Gold apricot at the orchard with Brix of 14 but still tart.
I was out at the Orchard on Saturday and tasted some of the apricots that had some good color such as Flora Gold. It develops bright orange-yellow skin with a beautiful blush of red if the fruit develops in the sunlight. A volunteer told me it was not ready yet. Ah yes, ready for him, but was the tree or were the birds ready? The fruit had good color so I knew the fruit was close. That's when you can pick the fruit, (peaches, plums, apricots) the fruit will still develop some good flavor off of the tree.

Refractometer for measuring sugar content.
I measured the sugar content with a refractometer. One volunteer guessed 7 Brix and another, with more experience with a refractometer, guessed 14. The latter one was right on. It was 14 Brix. By the way, when apricot hits a Brix of 16 it is considered "Excellent". The less experienced volunteer mixed up his taste buds confusing tartness and sugar content. You see, sugars start developing from carbohydrates in the fruit pretty early, even before color change, but the high acidity masks its sweetness. If you rely on your taste buds, you will say it has low sugar content.

Birds use color to indicate ripeness as well, along with a sense of smell and, of course, the beak test. If you want to stay ahead of the birds and fruit drop from the wind, harvest fruit that can develop off of the tree (apricots, peaches, plums NOT cherries, grapes or figs) when you see a color change in the fruit.

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