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Pears, Permaculture and Perry

By David Fried

Perry delivered the mail in our neighborhood for about 40 years. Every once in a while I would give him a grape vine to plant at his place, or a fig tree (for indoors). Now he has retired and we miss him. Besides being the only one to connect the dots between each home, knowing and caring about each of us and touching our lives with his kind and gentle voice, who am I going to share the love of growing fruit with? In his native Greece, the local people always had fruit growing and harvested it and shared it. This is what I would like to see happen around here.

Perry is also the name of what used to be a well-known drink that you would make from pressing pears. The same way you make apple cider, you make perry, but you use pears instead of apples.

We get a lot of pears on our trees. The pears are usually perfect, which means stores will buy them and local Vermonters will be able to have local fresh tree-ripened pears. Our customers can grow them successfully in their yards without spraying. I think this is due to the fact that not too many people are growing pears so the insects and diseases that would bother them are not established around here. This is why they fit so well into a permaculture design –they are easy, and a great harvest is attainable.

The important steps to pear success are: (1) choose a well drained spot to plant them;  (2) only grow varieties that thrive in our climate –find out what your neighbor is growing well or come taste our pears and see what kinds they are and which ones you like the flavor of;  (3) plant them about 20 to 25 feet apart and put some good minerals in the planting hole to help the roots on their mining expedition;  (4) plant three different pear varieties for pollination. (You can get by with two, but since their pollen is not so attractive to bees, compared to dandelions and apples often blossoming at the same time, you really improve your chances of a good crop.)

In a permaculture design, they go on the north side of an orchard or berry planting, as they get taller than other fruit trees. They are the Lombardy poplars of the fruit world-they grow upright no matter what you do. If you plant pears to the north, apples, cherries and then plums to the south, you will have a descending height progression where all will receive enough sunlight. It is like lining up in kindergarten in size order, but instead of having to respect the teacher, this time it is planning your fruit grove honoring the sunlight requirements. Within three to five years, you could be eating pears.

There is an old saying “plant pears for your heirs.” I bring this up when customers tell me their pear tree has not made fruit yet and it has been a while. There are a lot of factors a fruit tree faces on its new Vermont hillside. But what I think this statement really means is that pear trees can live for two hundred years. Imagine if everyone planted pear trees — then everywhere we went, we could be eating pears and drinking perry.

When we get a lot of pears, we freeze them whole and then make sauce or jam in the winter when we have more time. I also love to slice them and dry them in a dehydrator. Kids love the sweetness and they are chewy and tasty all year round. When the pears are ripe, they will fall onto the soft grass below. Gather them up and share with your heirs, your mailman, whomever you like…you will have a lot of pears and a lot of friends!

David Fried is the owner-grower-poet of Elmore Roots Nursery, and it is their 35th year.

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