When picking fruit from a tree, most homeowners use whatever ladder they happen to own. The ladder may be a small to medium-size stepladder, or it may be an extension ladder. While these may get the job done, they are not as safe or as easy to use as the harvest or orchard ladder.
The harvest ladder is 8 to 16 feet tall and designed for use among tree limbs. The top is narrow so that it will fit through the tangle of branches, and the base is wide to give solid support. Because the narrower top uses less wood in the upper rungs, it is somewhat lighter than a comparable-size untapered ladder. It usually is of a light but strong hardwood, such as ash or basswood.
The orchard ladder (three-legged ladder) differs from the harvest ladder in that it has a center leg that swings out from the top, which makes it free-standing. The leg can be folded back against the rungs when the ladder is carried or leaned against the tree limbs.
The top is narrow to fit past the branches. The base is extra wide to provide support when the ladder is placed in the tripod position.
Keeping safe on a ladder basically means making sure that it is sturdily braced before you climb it. Extend the ladder fully, and make sure the legs are well planted on the ground, with all the feet firmly touching the surface. If one foot is off the ground, the ladder may rock when you are near the top, causing you to slip or fall.
If the feet are on a hard surface such as a driveway or sidewalk, make sure they won’t slip out when the ladder is leaned against a limb. One way is to glue or nail strips of rubber on the bottom of the feet. If you are planning to use your ladder in the garden where the soil is soft, first nail a board to each set of legs. This will prevent one or all of them from sinking down into the soil while you are on the ladder, which would put the ladder off balance and possibly throw you off.
When you are working at the top, never stand on the top step (even if you can brace yourself with your hands). Stay several rungs below and rest your thighs against the top step for added support. Do not lean out further than you can reach comfortably or you may lose your balance and fall. And always face the ladder when climbing up or down.
When your ladder is not in use, keep it indoors or protected from the weather. Do not paint it; paint could hide any cracks in the wood, which would keep you from remedying them. Instead, rub linseed oil into the wood to keep it from drying out and splitting.
If the steps have bolts, check them occasionally to be sure they are tightened securely. If your ladder is broken, get rid of it and buy a new one.