By Darrell Blackwelder
N.C. Cooperative Extension
The unseasonably warm winter has produced many fruit crops almost two weeks ahead of schedule. Kevin Huffman’s peach orchard is at its peak, loaded with golden fruit ready for the public. It’s his best peach crop in 14 years.
Quite often, peaches can be sparse with little or no appreciable crop due to late spring frosts. Ironically, lack of cold weather is a serious problem for commercial peaches in South Carolina and Georgia. Many high quality peach varieties must have close to 1,000-plus hours of temperatures below 40 degrees to have good fruit set. Many locations in these states have not reached proper chilling degree days.
Huffman has experienced many seasons with no crop. Hot, dry conditions over the past few weeks have actually made the fruit super sweet and very tasty.
A good year for peaches doesn’t necessarily mean they are easy to grow. In fact, peaches are one of the most difficult of all fruits to produce. Peach trees must be continuously sprayed from flowering until a few days before harvest to keep them pest free and prevent fruit rot. The cost of maintaining this type of spray schedule is enormous. Commercial producers not only have spray costs, but picking, pruning and labor make this an expensive crop.
Huffman stretches the peach season by staggering plantings of different varieties. They mature at different times during the season, providing season-long availability. Huffman has peach varieties maturing from June until September.
Pre-picked peaches from the grower often seem to be hard. To soften peaches, place the fruit in a paper bag, fold the top over loosely and keep it at room temperature for 1-3 days. Be sure to check the fruit daily. Never use a plastic bag because it may cause decay and can produce off-flavors.
Once the fruit is soft, or ripe, it can be stored in the refrigerator for a week or more. Never place firm, or unripe, fruit in the refrigerator as it may inhibit the ripening process and can cause the fruit to become dry, mealy and flavorless.
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Huffman Peach and Produce Farm is located at 4825 Goodman Lake road, 1[0xbd] miles off Bringle Ferry Road, approximately 6 miles from center of Salisbury. Hours during the season are 9 a.m.-6 p.m. seven days a week as long as they have a crop. Contact Huffman by phone at 704-637-6762 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org . The price of the fruit will vary depending on quality and size of peach. “Winblo,” “Norman” and “Redhaven” are the most prevalent varieties available. Other peach varieties will be available through August.
Darrell Blackwelder is the county extension director with the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County.