Dealing with an unexpected bounty

Oct 7, 2023

My neighborhood is the kind of place where you can put almost anything out on the sidewalk with a “FREE” label attached, and it will be gone—a cast-iron frying pan, bicycle parts, a sofa, books, a box of Meyer lemons. I was sure someone would want a crop of Pippin apples, too, if I could only get them down from the tree.

This year I neglected to prune my old apple tree. It had a few gangly limbs left from a severe but necessary pruning job the year before. I didn't think it would have that many apples.

I was wrong. The plentiful winter rain encouraged many more limbs to appear, and my neighbor's bees' pollination took care of the rest. Even though I did my part—apple cake, apple pie, applesauce—I had many more apples than I needed or could even reach. Some apples were very high in the branches, and I was afraid to climb a ladder. In addition, they had started to fall off the tree.

I was going to have to track down the gleaners. These are people who go into local yards and harvest produce to give to the food bank.

You might say, “Don't panic, it's organic! What's wrong with letting the apples fall? Isn't it okay to let them rot into the soil?”

No, it's not. Rotting fruit attracts stinging insects like bees and wasps, as well as fruit flies. All are annoying. Also, rotting fruit is slimy, and I already have all the slip and fall opportunities I need. And why let perfectly good food go to waste?

Years ago, one of my UC Master Gardener classmates, Angelina, told me that it would be possible to grow all the produce our community needed if everyone planted a backyard fruit or vegetable garden. Given the local food insecurity, which is a good idea, and I thought I would do my bit by giving my fruit to the Napa Food Bank, if I could only get it down from the tree.

I found our local gleaners through the Napa Valley CanDo website. The site provided me with an email address, I used it and, after submitting an online application, soon had an appointment with some fruit pickers.

I was lucky to get gleaners so soon. Ideally, you should make your arrangements for fruit picking two weeks or so before the fruit is ripe. Debbie Giorsetto manages the volunteers, and sometimes it takes a while to assemble a group.

Debbie appeared one sunny morning last week with her team: Joe, Thai, and Elston. They were organized and worked quickly, using high-reach fruit picking baskets while standing near the top of the ladder. A spotter on the ground called out “twelve o'clock” or “two o'clock” to indicate to the picker where the fruit was, supplementing my unhelpful cries of “It's up there!” 

They brought a cart and their own containers, which were soon full. The entire process took less than an hour. They even stripped a tree across the street of its few remaining apples in that time. Then they took all the fruit—50 pounds—to the Napa Food Bank. This haul was a minor addition to the 9,000 pounds of produce they have already harvested.

A few days later, I received a receipt by email. Now, that's service. I asked Debbie if I could pay her, and she said, no, but consider making a donation to the Napa Food Bank. What a good idea.

Food insecurity in Napa is real. Thousands of children in Napa County experience it. This is a terrible irony in a community that is synonymous with fine dining. Hunger leads to all sorts of future health problems, and it is so unnecessary.

According to Napa Recycling and Waste Services, Californians throw out over 11 billion pounds of food a year. That is a shocking waste of a resource. Yes, we can compost our food scraps, but too much perfectly edible food still goes uneaten. Why not donate it?

Napa Valley CanDo manages a project in which Napa residents fill bags with canned goods and leave them on their porches for pickup and distribution by volunteers. CanDo also sponsors a community garden, run by volunteers. All the produce from the garden goes to the Napa CanDo Food Bank.

In addition to organizing the gleaners, CanDo also oversees a food-rescue team at the Napa Farmers Market, picking up perfectly good produce that didn't sell and needs to be eaten soon. Over the years NV CanDo has collected tons of food for our needy neighbors. This excellent organization welcomes volunteers. You may have friends who are already volunteering with it.

The community has several other resources to help with food donations. You can find them on the Napa Recycling and Waste Services website, which also has a list of food distribution points. I felt good about my contribution and resolved to have my tree pruned this winter so I can harvest apples without resorting to an eight-foot ladder.

Tree Walk: Join UC Master Gardeners of Napa County on Sunday, October 8, from 10 am to noon, for a free guided tree walk at Fuller Park, Oak Street and Jefferson Street, Napa. Space is limited and each person attending must register separately. Register here.

Food Growing Forum: Join UC Master Gardeners of Napa County for a free forum on “What's Eating Your Edibles?” on Sunday, October 8, from 3 pm to 4 pm, via Zoom. Join us for an overview of the pests that want to share the fruits of your labor. Learn to identify them, and how to use integrated pest management to protect your garden bounty. Register to get the Zoom link.

Help Desk: The Master Gardener Help Desk is available to answer your garden questions on Mondays and Fridays from 10 am until 1 pm at the University of California Cooperative Extension Office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa. Or send your questions to Include your name, address, phone number and a brief description.