Fruit varieties can be characterised by the picking season. Each species - apple, pear, plum, cherry - has a picking season and within the season varieties are typically grouped into "early", "mid-season", and "late".
The importance of picking seasons and season of use was well known in the past but in the era of supermarkets and year-round fruit it sometimes gets neglected. Fortunately "seasonality" is now making a come-back as consumers recognise the importance of eating fresh produce when it is in season.
In the context of fruit-growing, if you have space for more than a couple of fruit trees then you will almost certainly want to choose varieties that can be picked at different times of the year, thereby assuring a steady supply rather than a glut at one time.
Picking season in your location
Almost every fruit reference book and website publishes picking seasons for different varieties, and we are no different. However it is important to recognise that seasons are all relative to the local climate, whereas most reference books use data collected from just a handful of fruit research stations. Much of the published data on picking times comes from from Kent in the southern UK, which is often some way ahead of the rest of the UK, but behind many areas of Europe and North America.
Furthermore, picking times can vary from one year to the next, often by several weeks, depending on the general weather conditions that year.
Therefore it is best not to place too much reliance on precise picking dates. However the relative sequence of picking dates nearly always holds true, regardless of the location or the weather in a particular year - a Granny Smith is always going to be picked much later than a Gala.
Picking season vs Season of use
For cherries, plums, damsons and mirabelles, the picking season and the season of use are effectively the same thing. This is because these fruits do not keep for more than a few days, and therefore either need to be eaten, or preserved by cooking or freezing.
The same applies to most early-season and mid-season apples (although mid-season apples can be kept fresh in a fridge for a couple of weeks after picking). Similarly most early and mid-season pears need to be used fairly quickly, although some pears will benefit from being ripened indoors.
It is only when considering late-season apples and pears that there can be a significant difference between the time when the fruit is picked and the time when it is used. Many late season apples and pears keep well, and indeed may need a period of storage before their flavours fully develop. In these cases the season of use is likely to be several weeks or months after picking.
Comparison of picking seasons
We have produced a simple table showing picking times for all the fruit tree varieties we have for sale. This table is based on a relative sequence, and therefore should be applicable to all seasons and all locations. If you want to know the specific picking times for a particular variety in your location the best place to look is the websites of pick-your-own orchards in your area. Even if they don't grow the variety you are interested in, you can use our table to find varieties that are likely to be ready to pick at about the same time.