On Six Legs by Tom Turpin
One of the rites of fall in my backyard orchard is the dropping of the fruit from the old pear tree. My Bartlett pear seems to provide a bumper crop of fruit each year. And each year I can’t seem to figure out when it is time to harvest the pears so that they don’t end up on the ground. Through the years, I have come to believe that the pear tree harbors an evil streak. That tree seems to know when I am out of town for a day or two and takes the opportunity to drop its fruit en masse.
Of course, I try to predict when most of the pears will be ripe for the picking. I squeeze the pears. I taste the pears. I look at the color of the ripening fruit. I check the ground for dropped fruit. All to no avail, it seems.
This apparently is not an uncommon problem relative to harvesting pears. I have had people tell me that the only way to have good pears is to pick before they start dropping and let them ripen in paper bags. The logic for this is that when the pears drop from the tree, they are already overripe and not the best quality.
A lot of people don’t like pears and don’t fret much about this harvesting issue. I do like fresh pears and have to admit that there is a narrow window when pears are at their best for eating.
A friend of mine once said that the only way to have a good pear to eat is to be there when it falls from the tree and catch it before it hits the ground. I agree, but catching falling pears is not an easy thing to do.
Because I have had no success at all in catching falling pears, I have resigned myself to picking up ripe pears from the ground and cutting out the bruised spots. But this approach means I have to compete with a number of insect species that seem to enjoy feeding on overripe pears. In fact, the area under my pear tree this time of year is a veritable frenzy of feeding insects.
So what types of insects make use of dropped pears as a food source? Some of the most common are bald-face hornets. These black-and-white, social insects are eating the pears to procure the carbohydrates they need to feed the developing queen larvae in their nests. For the same reason, yellow jackets are also abundant feeders on the ripened pear fruit.
The presence of both of these stinging insect species might seem to make the area a dangerous place. As it turns out, foraging bald-face hornets and yellow jackets are quite gentle and seldom sting unless physically abused. So don’t swat them or step on them, and they won’t bother you.
Other insects I have seen feeding on dropped pears include honey bees. With the lack of nectar sources in the fall, honey bees are willing to collect the sweet juices that ooze from the downed pears.
A number of species of flies are also attracted to the pears. Bottle flies, those green- or blue-colored flies about the size of house flies, can be seen sopping up the sweet pear juice. These are the flies that lay eggs on dead animal carcasses where their maggots feed on rotten and decaying flesh. Could it be that the flies are just enjoying a pear juice break before heading back to the site of a road kill?
Also present at the pear repast are lady beetles. The lady beetles, including that house pest the Asian lady beetle, are just laying in a good reserve of food to sustain them through their winter hibernation.
An occasional butterfly can also be seen taking sips of juice from the rotting pears.
On a sunny fall day, the ground below my pear tree is alive with insects. The multitude of bald-face hornets, yellow jackets, ladybird beetles, bottle flies and butterflies prove that, in nature, nothing goes to waste – even rotten pears.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Readers with questions or comments may write to Tom Turpin in care of this publication.