How to sweeten pears (or other fruits)

I have five sixty-years old pear trees in sandy soil, SE Michigan. This year I winterfed them with substantial amounts of wood ash and some manure and wood chips and I got an overwhelming harvest (I am guessing 1000 pounds). Yes, I should have thinned the fruits (I did some thinning as time allowed), but I was busy this spring. I am also aware that fruit quality decreases with tree age. But I have those trees, I salvaged them from decades of neglect, and now they are properly pruned (it took three years of progressive pruning) and certainly vigorous enough to provide years of good crops.
The pears are good, certainly much better than those in years past, smooth texture except the core, and mostly unblemished (no spray was applied), but not yet as sweet as I would like them to be. They cook or bake very well, and they are also good out of hand (I am eating about five a day). My questions:
1) will thinning improve the flavor? On the two trees I thinned, I had noticeably bigger pears, so no doubt I will keep doing it. Also, I harvested those pears two weeks after the other two, so time of harvest may have had something to do with it.
2) which nutrients are known to improve sugar content? The soil under them is poor in everything, and acid.
3) this year was somewhat cool for our location. Should I have held up my harvest until pears would start to drop? As it is, the pears took two weeks in my garage to ripen properly.
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1. Thinning will probably improve the flavor. I don't have a lot of experience with pears. The only pear I have, that produces fruit, (so far) is one I grafted about 5 feet high on a mountain ash tree. The original tree (on its own trunk) winter killed before it got big enough to flower. I grow plums and I have noticed a huge difference in sweetness if I thin properly. They can be quite tasteless if too much fruit sets and I don't thin them. 2. I have heard of some fruit ripening sweeter if the pH of the soil is brought up to neutral. I'm not sure how pears respond. I'll be watching to see if others reply to this one. Some pear varieties are just sweeter than others. If yours are naturally not real sweet, there may be nothing you can do. 3. You may have picked them too early. Don't worry about them freezing just because there is frost. They can take temperatures into the low 20s without damage. I still have half the crop on my tree. Most pears should be picked a little green for best quality (as, I assume, you know). Some dare to get completely ripe on the tree but many varieties get gritty and may not keep as long if you let them hang too long. Next year, pick some on different dates to find out what works best.
I keep in touch with a woman I know in Grand Rapids, MI. She recently mentioned that her cold summer caused her pears to be of such poor quality that they were barely worth picking. Yours may just be better next year no matter what you do. :-)
Steve in the Adirondacks of northern NY
simy1 wrote:

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very complete response, thank you. Yes, I am aware they need to be picked green, but just how green as you say will have to be determined by trial and error. My tomatoes are definitely sweeter when I give them wood ash (I suppose they qualify as fruits). Definitely I will thin next year. I don't think we can eat more than 150 lbs of pears, and give away more than 100. I still have jam I made in 1997 with the year's crop, no one ate it apparently. Cooked and eaten as dessert, with a little lemon and ginger, they are special, though. Very different from apples, a lot firmer and drier, quite sweet, and the spices provide most of the flavor.

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Here it was slightly cooler than normal, but the big weather factor was the almost constant rain and scarcity of sunshine. The heavy rain made the fruit juicier but diluted the flavor, and the lack of sun definitely contributed to a lack of sweetness. This was true for my tree fruits, especially the asian pears, and also a lot of the vegetables, like tomatoes and melons.
The drought we had last year was horrendous, but the few pears I harvested were unbelievably sweet (although the skins were tough) and the cantaloupes were also fabulous.
I waiting for a year without weather extremes.....I remember twenty years ago when we had a "Camelot" summer.
Cheers, Sue
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On Tue, 21 Oct 2003 23:42:11 GMT, "SugarChile"

Same with my garlic and tomatoes. Everyone who burnt their mouths on tomatoes of years past were very happy with this years crop, and at $2 per pound at the store we got over 100 lbs of tomatoes (most canned, some eaten fresh :) mmmm). A banner year for tomatoes.
The stiffneck garlic last year in the drought was smaller but RED HOT, like a hot pepper, and it lingered on your breath for 8-10 HOURS. This years were larger and a bit more mild...only 4-6 hours on the breath heheh (we have lots of sulfur in the ground)....I just got the garlic planted today :) 200 sq ft, finished 5 minutes before 1/2 inch of rain came in a thunderstorm
Dan nw NJ
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