When is picking fruit stealing?


I have a deep moral and ethical conundrum for you all to ponder but first I have a confession. I have picked fruit from God’s garden. I’m not talking about the garden of Eden and the snake and that whole being thrown out of Paradise thing.  I am talking about going on a walk and picking up fruit that has fallen on the grass verge near the footpath, or picking fruit from branches hanging over the fence.

I’m not talking about stripping a tree or being greedy. I am talking about going on a walk and returning home with my pockets full of fruit. I learned this habit from my mother and my auntie. My auntie’s favourite sayings is, ” Let’s go for a walk in God’s garden.” She and mum often come home with a plastic shopping bag full of goodies that they found on their walk.

My auntie is a superb  cook.  She doesn’t have to buy bottled olives as she makes them herself. She gathers the olives from public parks where there are lots of olive trees.  No one else seems interested in the fruit and she doesn’t see the point of them going to waste.

Clifton Terrace School pupils Emily Cumming, left, Lola King and Keira Tootell, with twins Caitlin McKnight back left and Charlotte McKnight, while picking olives at Miyazu Park olive grove.

Clifton Terrace School pupils Emily Cumming, left, Lola King and Keira Tootell, with twins Caitlin McKnight back left and Charlotte McKnight, while picking olives at Miyazu Park olive grove.

In my mind there is a line that I don’t like to cross but my auntie does not have the same line.  My moral and ethical line respects fences and boundaries of private property. My ethics say that all is fair in love and war if the branch is overhanging the footpath but last year I violated this rule for the first time.

There was a tree that was huge and absolutely loaded with fruit that not many New Zealanders eat.The fruit are called Kumquats and you cannot buy them in the shops.  As the lawn was littered with hundreds of the ripe fruit and the tree was absolutely loaded I concluded that the owners had no interest in eating the fruit. I knocked on the door to ask them if I could pick some but no one was home.  On my way down the drive I gave in to temptation telling myself that what they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. I picked five pieces of fruit and as I started to leave they pulled up the driveway.  I was caught red handed and they wound down the window and looked at me. I told them what I had done, apologised and then fled the scene.


Kumquats are the fruit that led me astray

I swear that I am cured. I will never again ignore my boundary rule.  I walk past their tree every day and watch the fruit rotting on the grass but I will never ever go knock on the door and asked to gather it up. I wonder what they made of me, this 40 something-year-old fleeing the scene red-faced and totally embarrassed.  I know I got what I deserved and really I got off lightly. Am I the only one with this naughty habit? Ethically and morally what do you think the boundaries are?

As a side note when we lived in Mellons Bay we had an enormous grapefruit tree. It had been there for decades and was known to the locals for having really big delicious grapefruit. When we first moved in I had three different people knock on my door and asked to pick the fruit. I said yes to all of them as there was way more than any family could ever eat. I came back a couple of years after we sold up and saw that the new owners had cut the tree down. I doubt that they realised how much that tree meant to the neighbourhood.


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  • Miguel

    I’m not sure about picking fruit off the tree without explicit permission. If fruit is on the ground and outside of a fence (ie. on the footpath), then go for gold.

  • MaryLou

    My boundaries are the same as yours. If it’s overhanging a footpath or fence, fair game. But I apply that same rule to any fruit I would (in theory) have.

    Have to laugh at your description of fleeing the scene – from my back porch I can see fuit trees being woefully ignored in plenty of gardens in our neighbourhood, which I’d dearly love – but not even brave enough to bang on doors, let alone go and get some!

    • Crowgirl

      You should offer to give them some of whatever you make with it. That would be motivation for me!

  • cows4me

    We have a very large hill that a state highway goes past. Around this time of year we have a bit of fun. We cut turnips up in 1cm slices and place them on the side of the hill, on the top third of the hill. We then hide in a plantation of pines and wait for the fun to start. Of course cars come to a screeching halt as the drivers realise it’s mushroom season. As kids are sent up the hill to collect the mushrooms, to much walking for the adults, they first have to get past the electric fence. A few thousand volts and many zaps later those seeking a nice feed of mushrooms make it to the top of the hill. Imagine their joy as they realise they have been had, much joyful hilarity.

  • kiwisnab

    A local mare has an orchard that is not picked, I have asked, and been granted permission to pick fruit. To me, it is borderline criminal to let food go to waste. If someone is not going to eat you may as well take it.

  • Left Right Out

    Had a guy an hour ago knock on my door and ask if he could pick some apples off the tree. I have no issues as I won’t eat them all. My neighbour asked to pick some as well as he makes cider….. was nice that he dropped of said cider as well.

    I have the oldest pear tree in the area and it pumps out fruit…. I bag it and leave at the gate for anyone to take. After the 2011 earthquakes we were very popular

  • Gaynor

    We moved a few months ago and our kitchen window looks out onto the neighbours huge peach tree.It was absolutely laden and from my kitchen I could smell them. In my head I planned all sorts of peach tree raids. I arrived home from work last Thursday and my husband presented me with 2 clothes baskets full of beautiful Golden Queen Peaches…. he had gone and asked .The tree belongs to a lovely 87 year old man who had picked all he could use .He had offered them to a lot of people but they were not interested so he was delighted for us to have some.He has other fruit trees and will yell out when they are ready.We spent the weekend processing(and eating) peaches .

    • venator

      you lucky dogs. you can’t eat all that. Have fun with them – make some fruit wine.

  • metalnwood

    Had a guy take every feijoa off my parents property one time, that is everything on the ground and everything on the trees and there were about five trees. He didnt ask and he came on to their section to do it.

    He was caught and said he makes feijoa wine and would give them a bottle. That was just plain theft.

  • Isherman

    As kids we would take apples and walnuts off trees next door that hung well over the fence, and it was common enough. What I distinctly remember though is that the only tree which was not patronised in that way was the Tamarillo tree…like,.. ever, by anyone.

  • Crowgirl

    I don’t think anyone should leave fruit to rot so I wouldn’t have an issue with someone asking to take some, or just helping themselves if the branch was hanging over the fence.

    I do think people should get into the habit of bagging it for others to take, or putting out flyers to your neighbours to come and help strip the tree.

  • Greg M

    Some ratbag has just completely stripped our passionfruit vine. The joys of having a CBD garden I suppose. If they had just taken a few none of us would have minded.

  • hookerphil

    There is a collection point in Waimate for excess fruit which is then made available for people to collect. Personally I feel the waste of fruit left rotting is a great shame. When working in different properties we often gather fruit after asking the owner, usually only to glad to give it away. Today we have come home with grapes, sticking over from a neighbours .
    Foraging is quite common but should only be on overhanging etc or by asking. We certainly gather a lot of apples, al be it usually quite small, from roadside trees on country roads.

  • johnandali

    When I was attached to the British Army in Germany, my job involved a lot of travel through country roads. There were apple trees planted alongside many of those roads, and by standing on our Landrover’s rear bumper, we could reach the fruit. It was delicious. It’s probably something that we could do over here.

    • One of my favorite parts of a return holiday to NZ every March April is to go for a drive through central Otago and Southland looking for decent apples on the side of the road. They tend to be more tart than the store purchased stuff and surely are not loaded with bug spray and growth promoters. Nothing like a good old hard as a bullet red delicious.

  • JustAnotherLurker

    The law is quite clear. Fruit belongs to the person on whose property the trunk is growing, regardless if it is hanging over a boundary fence or even fallen off the tree and landed over the boundary – it still belongs to the person who owns the tree.
    I have investigated this as we are, fortunately, showered with Avocados from our neighbours who generously allow us to keep them. I can, legally chop the branches off at the boundary line and toss them back on to their property but I cannot legally pick the fruit.(Without permission)

  • Dave

    We thoroughly enjoy going for a walk in the open parks and gardens up here, the parks mango and coconut trees are often ripe, and laden with fruit, and more often than not, we help ourselves.

  • Spiker

    As a part time lawn mower guy I run over tons of fruit during the year. There is a huge amount wasted. It seems most people could care less about the fruit on their trees and let it rot on the ground.
    To answer the question, entering someone property to pick up fruit is just as much stealing as taking anything else from their property. It doesn’t hurt to ask & mostly the reply would be favorable I would think.

  • Uncle Bully

    I picked a heap of blackberries off the road side of my neighbour’s overgrown boundary fences. Inside the paddock were heaps more, but I couldn’t bear to just help myself. When I asked, he readily agreed, and now I’ve got enough frozen blackberries for pies all year round.

    Another neighbour has three peach trees that I gorged myself on every morning when I took the dog for her walk on the beach. One evening, I found a couple of other neighbours picking those peaches by torchlight. Apparently they were told they could help themselves, but why do it at night? So as not to be seen maybe?

    Another neighbour spotted a group of maoris or islanders at Easter poaching turkeys from his front paddock. He didn’t want to confront them, even though they only had air rifles, and the local cops didn’t want to know. What’s the difference between poaching turkeys and pinching peaches?

  • Old Chook

    Having grown fruit (avos and kiwifruit) for a living for a quarter of a century, I know all about friends and family seeing it as free for the taking – preferably after we had gone to the trouble of picking it. Our hard working pickers, however, were always surprised that we always kept the last vine or two for them to help themselves from.