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Virginia Asian pear grower follows apple’s lead on varietiesAt a time when apple variety experimentation is exploding, one Virginia grower is also quietly offering a handful of another top tree fruit: pears. Specifically, Asian pears.
While Virginia Gold Orchard in Rockbridge County, Va. has 24 varieties of Asian pears planted in its orchard, it consistently has 12 that it picks every year. “Sometimes the other trees don’t always produce every year or maybe there’s one of that kind left in the whole orchard,” says Virginia’s Valery Estabrook. “When my parents first planted the trees, they weren’t sure what would do well in this climate so they just planted 24 kinds and over the years, if there was a variety that didn’t do well, they’d replace it with one that was heartier for the area or more popular.”
Unique top seller
The top seller of Asian pear is one Estabrook’s mom cultivated, the Sweet "N" Sour. “It reminds me of a glass of lemonade—it’s really different than all the other Asian pears which have more of a delicate flavour,” says Estabrook. “We also have the Shinko Asian pear which has that nice quintessential Asian pear flavour—very juice and sweet. It grows easily. And then we have a variety earlier in the season, the Autumn Sweet.”
Autumn Sweet and Sweet "N" Sour are both found growing on one tree in Virginia's orchards.
Estabrook describes this year’s crop as a healthy-sized one. “We have a pretty plentiful crop this year,” she says. “Last year we actually lost our crop because we had a very late frost and it wiped everything out.”
As an established pear orchard—this is its 27th year—Virginia Gold has generally pretty steady demand for its crop, which is now nearing the end of its harvest. “We still have a few pears on the trees—I’d say we’re about 80 per cent done. But we’re hoping to pick this week and finish up,” Estabrook says.
Few other growers
Virginia Gold also enjoys some relative exclusivity in the area. “It’s a specialty crop and in this area they grow wonderfully,” she says. “But the pears aren’t really well known for there to be growers putting Asian pears in on a large scale as a primary crop. There are maybe some with a few trees here and there but that’s about it.”
As an established crop, it’s also the ideal setting to do some work in the area of research and development. “We work with the Institute for Advanced Research and Learning and each year we rent out 12 trees to them,” says Estabrook. This year the institute is looking into alternative methods of spraying pesticides. “So for those trees, they’re trying bagging where each pear when it’s young and small gets a bag placed over it and so they’ve been testing different bags as to what works well, comparing flavour, how it looks, effectiveness against pests,” says Estabrook.
For more information:
Virginia Gold Orchard
Tel: +1- (540) 817-9253
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