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It is a bit ironic that August is “Peach month,” as declared by President Ronald Reagan in 1982. While the best, sweetest peaches are certainly coming off the trees this month, by the third week you may have a hard time finding a fresh-picked peach to enjoy.
It would be a great month to start planning your own harvest for summers to come however, and two of Kaufman County’s top peach professionals have some tips for success.
Dale Ham started Ham Orchards near Terrell in 1979 as a side business while he was a captain at Richardson Fire Department. With 27 acres of land and fewer than 200 trees, Ham acted on a hunch that demand would be there for the fruit.
“I just knew that peaches were sweet and people would buy them,” he said. “We went around to all of the Wolf Nurseries at the time and bought every tree we could get. I didn’t know much about the different varieties at the time, but I planted them all and that is how we started.”
Ham Orchards has grown into a destination for locals and travelers alike, with a devoted clientele who visit for the peaches, as well as barbecue (peach pulled pork), ice cream, fresh baked goods, fresh produce, fudge and a variety of tasty treats.
According to Ham, his now 200-acre operation is barely large enough to keep up with the demand.
At the southern end of Kaufman County, Robert and Cindy Page of Peachy Page Farm in Scurry have been developing their orchard since 2009. With the addition of a country store this summer, the Pages also have begun offering locally grown produce, ice cream and other treats, and the orchard itself is available as a unique space for events including art shows, weddings and group dinners among the trees.
“Everything is homemade, in the store and even for our dinners,” Robert Page said. “It is a unique surrounding and people have really enjoyed the unique experience of being out here.”
With almost 50 years of peach growing experience to call on, it is clear that growing fruit can be a very rewarding experience, but it is also a lot of work. Planting, pruning, spraying, watering and picking are a lot of effort to take into consideration to maximize your enjoyment of the fruits.
There are many varieties of peaches, and each type has its own taste and texture characteristics. Cling peaches, which hold tightly to the pit, ripen earlier in the summer, while freestone varieties ripen in July and August and are considered the sweetest.
Each peach variety will only give ripe fruit for about two or three weeks, so multiple types can lengthen your harvest.
“It really depends on mother nature, but the season basically runs from June 1 to mid-August,” Page said. “We have six varieties and they follow each other, starting with the cling peaches and getting into the freestone peaches by mid-July.”
Peach trees need pruning each year, keeping to a slight bowl shape and only 6-7 feet in height. This allows airflow and light into the middle of the tree and keeps the fruit at a pick-able height.
Many insects and diseases threaten peach trees and fruit. Commercially available insecticides and sprays are available to help keep trees healthy while keeping the fruit in good condition for eating. A regimen of spraying about every two weeks is required during the growing season, and additional spraying for fungus or wood boring insects may be needed at other times in the year.
“You can forget to spray one time and end up with worms,” Ham said. “You don’t want to kill the pollinators in the spring, but after that is a rigid spray schedule as weather permits.”
After the peach blossoms fall and fruit begins to appear, the peaches should be thinned to about one peach every 8-10 inches on the limbs. This allows the remaining fruit to grow larger. Without thinning, the limbs can become overburdened with too many small peaches and break.
Ripe peaches are firm but with a slight “give” when pressed. Peaches continue to ripen after being picked, and over the course of a few days at room temperature can go from just right to too soft. Refrigeration slows the ripening process.
Fresh from the tree may be ideal for enjoying peaches, but your harvest may yield more than you can consume. A quick search online or in your cookbook collection will give you a number of options for peach dishes, from desserts and baked goods to sauces and savory dishes.
Additional resources for growing peaches and other produce is available through your county Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Office including a peach tree pruning clinic and information session held each spring at Ham Orchards. Contact the Kaufman County Extension Office at (972) 932-9069 for more information.