Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Millions of peaches, peaches for free...

If there were any doubts in my wife's mind that I was completely insane, I believe I have now managed to relieve her of them.

Let me start at the beginning. When I got home yesterday, I saw what looked like a peach sitting in the gutter in front of our house. When I got out of my car, I discovered that it was, in fact, a peach. Just sitting there by the curb. I looked around and saw what I was now expecting, yet had never bothered to see before: peach tree leaves. There was a peach tree on the property. I looked closer and discovered that it was full of peaches.

I picked a peach and went a knocking on the landlord's door. "I thought we were friends," I demanded when he opened the door. His confused look turned to understanding as I showed him the peach that I had just picked. "Yeah," he replied. "I'm too lazy to pick them. Have at 'em if you want. And while you're at it, feel free to take as many apples and plums as you want. No cherries this year, though."

Now, I had seen the apples prior to this, and had wondered about them. The house we live in has two driveways, one for the carport that we park in, and one for the garage where the landlord parks his car. His driveway had what appeared from a distance to be apples strewn across it, but I had never bothered to investigate. This was about to change. But first, the peaches.

The peaches were easy to get to. Despite there being only one tree, and a small tree at that, my harvest was bountiful. I had picked a good two or three dozen before I decided that there were no more to pick. I brought them inside, grabbed another bag, and went to investigate the rest of the fruit trees. The apples were many. The plums were tiny. The cherries were non-existant. I decided to focus my energies on the apples. Unfortunately, they seemed a bit high. In fact, I could see dozens of apples several feel beyond my reach. Glancing in my landlord's garage, I saw a ladder. Unfortunately, it looked like the kind that needed to lean against something, so I decided not to ask to borrow it. I decided another solution was needed. What I needed was a claw.

Fortunately, I haven't spent my whole life in the kitchen. In fact, I haven't spent most of my life in the kitchen. As it turns out, I'm a hardware hacker. I went inside and considered my resources. Before long I had collected a few feet of PVC pipe left over from another project, a pair of small serving tongs, some rubber bands and a spool of butchers twine. I assembled them into something that looked like this:

The idea is simple. I tied one end of the twine to the hinge of the tongs, and threaded the rest of it through. I made a slipknot at the other end to tied it to a finger and keep it from falling out. I put rubber bands on the ends of the tongs to keep the metal from cutting into the apples. The idea is simple: I set the hinged end on the top of the tube, holding it in place by pulling the twine tight. I would reach the tongs into the tree, grab an apple, and pull the twine. This would pull the tongs into the pipe, which would close the tongs, and they would clamp onto the apple, which I would gently pick and lower down to my greedy hands.

And this was what I was doing when my wife got home from work. She approached me with a look of confusion and amusement, and wanted to know what the heck I was doing. I explained my quest for free fruit to her, and the workings of my claw. She informed me that it would never work, and asked me how many apples I had managed to get already. I showed her the one apple that I had managed to retrieve so far. She helped me find another good apple and then went inside. I managed to pull down one more good apple before stopping.

This was a nice theory, but with only three good apples and countless wormy/birdpecked apples, I knew I needed a better plan. As it turns out, apples don't release from their branches nearly as easily as peaches. In fact, they have quite a grip. I went back inside and reconsidered my options. Grabbing the apples with the claw was tough, but I would occassionally shake the tree enough that apples that I wasn't even looking at would fall. What I needed was a way to shake apples off, and then gently catch them before they hit the ground.

I removed the tongs from my pipe and used duct tape to attach the ring from a small springform pan. Heck, I never use that size anyway. I then used masking tape to attach a plastic shopping bag to the ring, and I was ready. It looked something like this:

I showed my wife, who again informed me that it wasn't going to work. She still had that look of amusement in her eyes. I went back outside and reconsidered my new nemesis, the apple tree. The idea was simple: I would guide the bag under an apple, then try to knock it free with either the end of the pipe or the ring. As it turns out, this was much faster. In less time than it took for me to grag three good apples with the claw, I had managed to grab seven good apples with my bag, and at least as many bad apples. I already didn't know what I was going to do with ten apples of indeterminate variety, so I decided to give it a rest for now. My bag was already starting to get hashed up anyway.

There are still dozens of apples in the tree. Most of them are obviously worm-ridden, but I know there's still a few more good apples. As soon as I know what I'm going to do with them, I plan to pick more. One day, and apple farmer is going to read this post and laugh his butt off. In fact, I doubt he'll be the only one. Maybe it's time for me to track down an apple farmer and find out how he goes about picking apples. But for now, my methods will have to suffice. But next time I think I'll try and get it done before my wife gets home. I don't want her to have me committed before I finish.


  1. Either A) get a ladder or B) get one of these:

    OK, technically that one is for picking olives, but they have the same sort of thing for apples. I just couldn't find a picture.

  2. When we pick apples here in VA it looks like they put a little basket - longer on one side then the other - on the end of a broomstick. It looks a little like a lacrosse stick but with a larger well at the bottom. You sort of scoop the apples into the well and use the edges of the netted part to break it away from the branch. You could probably take a hard plastic bottle, cut away part of it so it looks like a scoop and attach it to a handle.


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