When fall comes and my arms are not long enough to reach all the peaches, apples and pears on our trees, I turn to some homemade gadget or other to harvest that fruit.
A ladder? No! Ladders are great on flat, level surfaces, but nowhere on our mountain-side property is there a flat surface: Everything is a slope of some kind, and most of our fruit trees are on a steep slope.
In the past I’ve used a mini-rake with a couple of pegs in a cross-bar on the end of a stick to pull fruit down. Unless someone else was there with a catcher’s mitt, the fruit hit the ground, which bruises it. Often it rolled down the hill necessitating pursuit. I’ve fashioned a “claw” by mutilating a wire coat hanger into two fingers above and a “thumb” below. If the thumb is more of a ring, the piece of fruit could sometimes be lowered down from the tree for retrieval. Sometimes. Other times it would fall off, hit the ground and skitter away.
This year I saw an idea on the Internet – the photograph I saw was a Facebook repost from Pinterest. It’s hard saying where it originated. It uses a plastic beverage bottle on a stick as a picker-catcher. I decided to try that this year.
You will want a plastic beverage bottle – the kind with “feet” on the bottom. These add rigidity to the picker part and help for a claw that captured the top of the fruit. The picture I saw used a 2-liter soda bottle. I don’t have a 2-liter bottle today so I used a 1-liter vinegar bottle that I do have.
Use a marker to lay-out your cut-out. You want to cut away one “toe” and a portion of the bottle side large enough to slip the device over the fruit you’re harvesting. The size of the fruit you’re going after will determine the size of bottle and the opening you need. I’m going after fist-sized apples, peaches and pears; if you’re harvesting grapefruit, you’ll need a bigger bottle!
It’s important to make the cut at the bottom of the bottle between the toes so you leave as much rigidity there as possible: Some of your adversaries will not come along willingly.
Making the Cut
Use a sharp knife and/or scissors to cut out the area you’ve marked. If you’re not very good with knives and may end up removing a chunk of yourself along with the plastic, use the knife to make a slit in the side of the bottle and finish up with scissors. If you have a hot-knife, that would probably work too. A Dremel tool would be an option too as long as you have a speed control so it doesn’t just melt the thin plastic and gunk up the cutter.
When you’re done, you should have a roughly circular hole in the side of the bottle and a V-shaped cut to the center of the bottle bottom. The sides of this wedge cut should be in the valley between the toes of the bottle to stiffen and provide grip when you grab onto the fruit.
Next you need some way to get this up into the tree beyond your normal reach. How long it needs to be depends on your height and that of your trees.
The handle will be inserted into the screw-cap mouth of the bottle: something round makes it easy. A long dowel rod or closet rod would work. Even a long, reasonably straight tree branch could be pressed into service.
I happened to have a 6-foot-long oak 1x1 that was a cut-off from some project or other. To make it work, I needed to round off the end so it would fit into the mouth of the bottle. I did that on a sander. I could have used a wood rasp and probably would have gotten it done just as fast, but I like playing with power tools. I rounded it off then worked the end down a little at a time, test fitting frequently, until it was a perfect fit.
I’m not fond of sharp, splintery corners digging into my hands as I work, so I rounded off the corners with a router. It only took a minute because the router was already set up anyway. But I’m not going to sand it, or finish it … OK, I might hit it once with some 100 grit paper, just to spiff it up a little – but I won’t get carried away: no finer than 100 … maybe 120. I suppose one coat of poly will help it keep from splintering with age. But I’ll do all that tonight. Right now I need to use the daylight to harvest fruit.
Drill a pilot hole through the bottle neck and into the wood, then insert a small pan head screw just to hold the bottle onto the handle so you don’t end up with your snazzy new fruit picker hanging in a tree well out of your reach. Talk about embarrassing!
OK, out into the fields, or orchard, or whatever. Reach up into the tree, slip the end of the bottle over the fruit, give it a tug and viola; the fruit drops neatly into the bottom of the container! There is even enough room in the bottle for three fruits so you can reduce the tedium of reaching up, snag one fruit, bring it down, put it in the basket, reach up for another … now you can get three (or more if you use a larger bottle) on each trip up into the tree. Now, that’s efficiency!
I think I like the smaller bottle better than I would a 2-liter because some of the spots I needed to get into were a bit tight as it was. I don’t prune as much as I should, I guess.
I’m happy to report that this fruit picker worked flawlessly. I got a good basket of apples and a basket of peaches (the pears will come later), and I did not drop a single piece of fruit, nor did I have to chase any down the mountain. I did get thumped on the chest or shoulder a few times by peaches that jumped voluntarily when I wiggled a branch, but I didn’t drop any from the picker. I could have used a longer handle for the peach tree – there was one branch I could not reach – but I ought to prune that back this winter anyway.
If you’re looking for a quick and easy-to-make tool for picking fruit this fall, try this. Mine took only about 20 minutes to make (I’ll put in some more time later being fussy about it, but you wouldn’t have to do that). By using a screw to hold the picker on the end of the handle you can easily make and install a new one each season if you’re rough on it and it cracks, and it costs next to nothing to make: 3 cents for the screw, the rest was scrap that was laying around.
I deem this project a winner!