Let’s have a conference about pears…..conference pears that is. Conference is the most widely grown pear in the UK, probably not because it is the finest tasting although it does have good flavour, but because it is easy to grow and easy to store. It is a true heritage pear though, being bred by one of the most famous Victoria fruit tree breeders, the Rivers nursery.
Facing growing competition from the continent, the Royal Horticultural society held an apple conference in 1883 to promote the British apple industry, closely followed by the Pear conference in 1885. The meeting was a washout due to the huge amount of rain but the chairman of the conference, the famous Thomas Rivers exhibited this pear which won first prize and became known as the Conference pear.
In the kitchen
Conference is a dessert pear for eating fresh, rather than cooking or for Perry although it can be used in crumbles, cakes or tarts when a little underripe. Try it in salads with some blue cheese and walnuts.
Concord have a long shelf life. Harvest when a little underripe and store in a cool place like a fridge and they will last until January. Remove 3-4 days before you want to eat. When you press at the top of the neck and it gives a little it is ready to eat.
Yield and Plant Health
Conference is considered to be the most reliable pear to grow in the UK and is well suited to those with less then ideal conditions or new to pear growing. It has the Award of garden merit from the RHS at the time of publishing.
I am growing this as part of a family tree and the three year old tree has given upwards of 10 medium sized fruit, slightly less than the Williams Bon Chretein.
Conference should be ready to harvest in October however I found mine dropping a few which can be a good indication of ripeness in early September this year.
Conference is pollination group A. It is self fertile but can benefit from growing other group A or B partners like Beth, Doyenne du Comice and Williams Bonne cretin.
Widely available although dedicated fruit nurseries will have a wider variety of rootstocks and tree types.
How to Grow
Pears are hardy trees that can live for 50 plus years if well looked after although they are considered to be a bit more fussy than apple trees, Traditionally they are planted when dormant in the winter and you can buy either pots or bare rooted plants.
Trees are often grown on different rootstocks to reduce the size that they will grow to. The smaller the root stock, the faster to fruit but yield is reduced. Smaller rootstocks are good for training pear against walls in the forms of cordons or “stepovers” or for growing in pots.
Quince C – Trees will grow up to three metres and fruit after 3 years. Plant trees 4 meters apart and will need permanent staking.
Quince A – Trees will grow to 4.5 metres and fruit after 4 years. Plant 5 metres apart and stake for the first 5 years.
If your tree is not self fertile you will need to find it a partner tree in the same pollination group. Pollination group A can usually pollenate A and B. Pollination group B can pollinate A, B and C. Pollination group C can pollinate B and C and D. Pollination group D can pollinate C and D. Some trees, like conference are self fertile, others like Beurre Hardy or Merton pride are poor pollinators for other trees. Check if you need a partner before you buy.
Before your plants arrive prepare the ground in a sunny, sheltered spot preferably with good drainage. You will also need stakes and ties and you might want to have mmycorrhizal fungi
Dig a hole the size of the rootball in depth but three times as wide. If your soil is heavy clay you might want to incorporate some extra drainage with some grit and compost. Position your stake in the planting pit and bang firmly in using a mallet. If using mycorrhizal fungi then gently sprinkle over the roots before laying them down in the planting pit, spreading the roots out in the pit. The tree should be no deeper than previously planted and the graft, if it is a grafted tree should not be covered. Cover the roots with soil and gently firm in with your foot around the tree. Tie the tree to the stake and water well.
After this your tree should need little attention. It is advisable to remove any fruit that sets in the first year to allow it focus on setting up healthy roots and growth and to water in dry periods in the first year. The stake should remain for at least the first two years but pears grown on dwarfing rootstocks may need permanent staking and watering if dry.
Remove and dead or crossing branches in winter when dormant. You can also thin in summer to allow more light in to the tree. Spur bearing trees can handle greater pruning than tip bearing, where removal of the tips mean the removal of all fruit. This means only spur bearers should be used for cordons and stepovers.
Pears are ready to harvest when if you bend the fruit by 90 degrees it pulls easily away from the tree. Once they have reached full size, a few dropping can be a good indication. Because many pears store well in cool conditions they can be harvested a little underripe and stored in the fridge.