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If it’s Elbow-Dripping Ripe, it’s Probably a Peach! ...and Peach-Perfect, at That Image

In 1779, peaches were first-harvested at the mouth of the Niagara River for local consumption. In the mid-1780’s, Peter Secord, the uncle of Laura Secord, was believed to be the first Loyalist farmer, taking a land grant near Niagara, to plant-out fruit trees in orchard-style.

During the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s, Mr. Grant Fox was the largest peach producer in the province, with orchards extending from Kingsville, Port Burwell, Normandale, and Delhi. He was ‘famous’, for his peaches.

Both peaches and nectarines are thought to originate in China, according to record accounts dating back 2,000 years. To be sure, they were indeed thought to be ‘nectar’ of the gods, and thus accounting for the name, nectarine. Nectar is a Latin word, still retained in modern-day parlance, and means ‘anything sweet or pleasant to drink’. China still produces over half the world’s peaches.

The peach (Prunus persica) and nectarine (Prunus persicavar.nectarina) are closely related, and only differ by one gene, giving rise to the smooth skin of the nectarine -a genetic variant of many thousand years, ago. And, therefore, a nectarine is essentially a smooth-skinned peach. However, and at times, a peach pit can give rise to a nectarine, and a nectarine pit can sometimes produce a peach, and therefore are not always true-to-type given genetic recombination. The Latin designation for peach isPrunus persica, and means Persian plum, as it was once thought to originate from Persia (present day Iran).

Peaches are generally classed as either being free-stone or cling-stone. The former are fresh-market varieties as the pit easily separates from the flesh, while the cling-stone are for processing. However, Ontario no longer has a processing peach industry. In earlier years, there were many canning factories of peaches in southern Ontario.

Because peaches are a very tender crop, production in Canada is presently limited to 2,550 ha in Ontario (81% of Canadian production) and primarily in the Niagara Region, and 575 ha (18% of Canadian production) grown in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia (2021 data).

Peaches prefer a hot arid climate, and both the Okanagan and Kootenay valleys are well-suited to this crop is the interior of California, the top-producing region in the U.S.

However, as peaches were first established in Georgia in the late sixteenth century, Georgia is still known as the Peach State. The peach is highly esteemed in the U.S., so-much-so, that

August 22ndis officially recognized as National Eat-A-Peach Day!

Because peaches and nectarines are self-pollinating, they can be planted in solid blocks. Depending upon pruning practices, peaches can be planted at row spacings of 18’, and 10’ within the rows, resulting in about 242 trees/ac. Peaches are considered to be a short-lived tree, with a life span of about 10-15-20 years. When in their peak production years (5-7 years old), and with proper thinning, they can produce 300 peaches per tree. And at 3 peaches per pound, that is 100 lbs per tree, or 10 tons for an orchard of 200 trees/ac.

Because there are no dwarfing root-stocks for peaches, orchards are of a low density. The main root-stock used is Bailey as developed by Dr. L.H. Bailey; the Bailey cultivar was released in about 1900, but does not have any culinary value. And, even after a full century, it is still considered to be the best root-stock available for peach production.

Although some varieties of peaches can begin to bear in the 2ndand 3rdyear, early peach production is not always encouraged if the tree structure is not properly well-developed to handle the fruit load; and, as in apples, there will be too many fruit if not thinned. For the novice grower, hand thinning may take a lot of ‘courage’. Ideally, there should be about one fruit every 6” along the limb. Present-day research at the Simcoe research station is experimenting with the use of Accede as a fruit-thinning agent for apples, and blossom thinning on peaches.

Peach production can be an uncertain enterprise on account of its early bloom time, much like that of apricots and nectarines. Late-spring frosts can potentially wipe-out the years harvest with one exceptionally cold night, if the crop is in full bloom. Therefore, if possible, peaches are best planted on western or northern exposures to delay the onset of spring growth and early bloom. However, destruction from vernal frosts are not as common as supposed. That said, off-season swelling of fruit buds, with some accumulation of water in them, will be more prone to subzero temperatures, often resulting in death.

In addition, peach trees are more prone to low winter temperatures, as are the fruit buds, in comparison to apples, pears and plums. At temperatures of -20oC., most peach fruit buds will be killed. Early in the season, fruit buds can be examined for viability by cutting them in half with a sharp knife. If they have an internal dark brown colour they will be dead, while those with a fresh greenish center will still be alive and sound.

Peaches are not tolerant to heavy soils, and prefer sandy to sandy-loam, well-drained soils. In very rich soil, the trees are at risk of growing late into the autumn, and not allowing the buds to properly harden-off before cold weather comes along, and therefore prone to increased winter-kill. Some of the best orchards occur on poor soils, high ridges with west or northern exposures. Also, peaches planted close to large bodies of water will benefit from the lake-effect, helping to prevent early fall, and late spring frosts. All tree fruit should be planted in a north-south orientation for better sunlight interception.

If you find yourself in the mood for ‘nectar of the gods’, just reach-for-a-peach. Present-day and popular peach varieties, in order of ripening are: Harrow Diamond, Garnet Beauty, Early Redhaven, Vivid, Loring, and Harrow Beauty.

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