Two years ago, I wrote a somewhat light-hearted piece about the “depluminator,” a device that enabled me to pick plums from limbs high on the two plum trees in my yard. It was really simple, consisting of a rake, a box, and a bungee cord. But it didn’t work very well.
I soon learned that there were much better fruit-picking tools available at the hardware store. These tools typically consist of a basket made from coated metal that has an open top. Several ‘fingers’ reach into the inside of the basket to allow you to grab onto the fruit and pull it into the basket (Forage Oakland has a photo of a picker). So this year I went shopping for one, but blanched at the $25 cost. I also decided that I didn’t want yet another highly specialized piece of equipment that would sit around doing nothing 51 weeks each year.
A DIY Fruit Picker
So I brainstormed on how I could build my own picker and had an inspiration: a one-gallon plastic bottle could be the body, bent wire hangers could form a frame and the ‘fingers’ that grab the fruit (Joan Crawford*, as portrayed in Mommie Dearest, would not approve), and some thin wire could hold everything together. In the end, I needed just a few items:
- 1 one-gallon water bottle, preferably with a screw-top lid
- 2 washers with a diameter slightly smaller than the interior of the cap
- 1 wood screw
- 4 wire hangers
- 1 broom stick (or dowel or other rod-type item)
- 1 foot of thin wire (twist-ties might work too)
And just a few tools:
- A drill
- A wire cutter that can cut through hanger wire
- Pliers to bend the hanger wire
- A screwdriver
The next photo is the finished device. At the bottom is a broomstick. Above that is the bottle, which is attached by driving a screw through the cap. The bottle itself has a frame of hanger wire (3 pieces) and the fingers on the top right (more photos are below).
First, I needed the right bottle. I found a clear one-gallon bottle from Crystal Geyser that had the perfect shape and was also transparent, something that would be helpful during harvest. It was filled with 2-year old tap water, part of my neglected earthquake supply kit, so I could repurpose it easily.
Next, I used some heavy-duty wire cutters to remove the hooks from the hangers (and cut them into smaller pieces as needed). With a pair of pliers, I bent three pieces of wire around the bottle to act as structural support and a place for the ‘fingers.’ To hold the two ends together, I bent the each end into a loop, and then hooked them together, as the photo below shows.
After making the frame, I needed to make some fingers.My first attempt with the fingers was a poor one that resulted in too much finger rotation as I tried to hook onto the plums in the tree. A day later I had a better idea: use a single piece of hanger wire to form all of the fingers, thus removing the possibility of ringer rotation.
The fingers were formed by bending the wire into a series of U-shapes, with a much tighter bend radius at the top, somewhat like one-half of a potato masher. Then I bent the fingers 90 degrees so they would reach into the bottle after being attached to the frame.
The next step was to carefully remove the bottom of the bottle (which will become the top of the picker), taking off more material on the side opposite the eventual location of the fingers to provide more grasping area for the fingers.
I used thin wire to connect the fingers to the frame in several places, as the photos below indicate. I used this wire because I happened to have it in my tool box, but I imagine that twist ties could also be used to secure the frame and fingers together.
The last step was to attach the bottle cap to a broomstick. I drilled a hole in the center of the cap and a pilot hole in the broomstick (to prevent the wood from splitting as the screw went in). Then, with a washer on each side of the cap for strength, I drove a screw into the end of the broomstick so that the threads of the cap were facing out. The bottle can easily be affixed to the cap for fruit picking and then removed for storage.
The picker was a decent success, enabling me to pick a few more pounds of plums for the annual plum jam extravaganza. This year, like last year, I made some of the jam using sugar as the sweetener, and some with honey to make an all-local jam.
* Speaking of Joan Crawford, I’ve never seen the Mommie Dearest biopic, but think she was remarkable in the noir classic Mildred Pierce.