Posts Tagged ‘peaches’
This photo appeared in an earlier post where I dubbed my peach tree the year’s overachiever. Blossoms covering every branch resulted in peaches covering the entire tree. The load is simply too much to ask of the slender peachwood branches, so I’ve culled, perhaps, 150 young fruits from the tree.
I’m encouraging people who grow peaches in their small kitchen gardens to kill peaches. It’s already late in the season to be doing this, but if you live in the north, killing peaches now could improve the quality of the coming harvest. Even if you don’t see much benefit this season, you’ll know better when it’s peach-killing time next spring.
Grow Large Peaches
Peach trees can be awesome producers. They are gorgeous in the spring when flowers cover every branch. However, when the petals fall, leaving six-to-ten peaches per branch, it’s a good idea to kill some of those peaches.
Left to mature, a peach-laden tree produces golf-ball-sized fruits. These are as delicious and nutritious as larger peaches, so if you like golf-ball-sized fruits, you can leave them alone.
However, the weight of all these small fruits can stress branches and cause them to break particularly during heavy rain or wind. So, you can protect the health of the tree by removing a whole bunch of peaches while the peaches are very small. Ideally, you do this within a week or so after petals fall.
A terrific bonus of reducing a tree’s peach load is that the peaches you leave behind grow much bigger than they would have had all the peaches remained. Leave only two-to-four peaches per branch, and they’ll likely grow to the size of racquet balls… or even tennis balls. To grow larger peaches, it’s important to do the culling early… the closer it gets to harvest before you cull, the less effect on size you efforts will produce.
Home Peach Growing Mistake
A commercial peach grower once told me: The biggest mistake home growers make is that they leave too many peaches on the tree. You have to be tough and break off all but three or four per branch.
It’s hard to do! When your tree is covered with grape-sized peaches, it’s easy to imagine a bounteous harvest. But I promise when that harvest arrives, you’ll be picking very small peaches. In years that I’ve failed to cull, I’ve used my tiny peaches to make jelly; they were simply too small to bother with in fruit salads and pies.
To provide encouragement for timid peach growers, I’ve made a video to show that I cull aggressively. I wish I’d gotten to it a few weeks ago, but even if I don’t get monster peaches this year, I’m confident the ripening fruits won’t overload and break the tree’s branches.
This spring’s early start has peach blossoms busting out all over with pear and apple blossoms anxious to pop. When a fruit tree gets and early start, it often loses fruit when more typical weather returns.
Every year that fruit trees have graced my small kitchen garden, I’ve faced an uneasy springtime vigil: Will my fruit blossoms survive?
Fruit trees produce blossoms in response to increasing warmth. By late April, the temperature has usually been high enough for enough days that we get a dramatic display of white, pink, and purple.
Early Spring Kills Small Kitchen Garden Fruit
Two phenomena are particularly distressing to any fruit-grower: a late freeze, and an early start.
While the pear blossoms have held off longer than the peach blossoms, this cluster will probably pop within two days. Meteorologists predict a freeze in two days. Will my peaches and pears survive?
Late freeze—In some years, we see the typical gradual warming that brings on the blossoms in late April. However, with all those gorgeous blossoms on the trees, a cold front drops out of the north and temperatures plummet below freezing.
The opened blossoms freeze, killing the fruit. The kitchen gardener loses out.
Early start—In some seasons, the air temperature rises in March, staying relatively steady for several weeks. Fruit trees react by budding up and putting out blossoms weeks earlier than is typical. If the “unseasonable” warmth continues, there isn’t a problem. However, usually an early start leads to an abrupt return of “seasonal” temperatures. This means sub-freezing nights that can kill fruiting blossoms and destroy hope for a fruit harvest.
Edgy Vigil in my Small Kitchen Garden
During an early start, I can’t help but monitor the bud clusters on my fruit trees. As long as the buds remain tightly closed, even a deep freeze isn’t going to hurt them. When the clusters start to loosen up, I become particularly concerned. Will blossoms pop early this year? If they do, will a nighttime freeze exterminate my fruit crop?
So far, my apple trees are keeping a tight grip on their petals, but the warm weather will almost certainly make them let go in early April. It’s more common for them to wait until late April. That two-to-three week difference could make the difference between a bumper crop of fruit, or a very poor harvest.
This year the vigil started in mid March. It has been crazy warm, and the trees are responding. In fact, my peach trees are in full bloom, pear trees are close on their heels, and my apple trees—the late bloomers of my fruit trees—are threatening to pop. Experience tells me this is very, very bad. Heck, last year we had a killing frost in lat May!
I’m enjoying the gorgeous fruit blossoms, but I’m not happy about them. If Mother Nature blankets us with cold air, there may be nothing to harvest this summer and fall. While I continue my vigil, there’s nothing I can do about the outcome. I don’t need the fruit harvest to survive, so I’ll merely be disappointed if there’s a killing freeze. I can’t imagine the anxiety of a commercial fruit grower when faced with such an early start.
Subscribe to Your Small Kitchen Garden Vlog
Your Small Kitchen Garden blog has introduced a video blog titled Visit with the Gardener, in which I share snippets of what’s going on in my garden and/or kitchen. I try to keep the videos under two minutes and provide either useful tips and techniques – or encouragement – for you to try new things in your kitchen gardens.
Please have a look, and jump over to Youtube to subscribe to my channel. Here’s the link to my channel: Your Small Kitchen Garden Vlog. And here’s an example of a recent post on the vlog. Please enjoy:
Other useful information about fruit blossoms:
How To Save Your Fruit Tree Blossoms From A Spring : : Little Home – How To Save Your Fruit Tree Blossoms From A Spring Freeze. In most parts of the country it’s still dead of Winter. However, in a few spots like here in the Desert Southwest, the warming weather starts to play tricks on …
Fruit Tree Update: Recognizing Cold Damage to Peach Blossoms – Recognizing Cold Damage to Peach Blossoms. Spring can be a very dangerous time for fruit tree blooms. If cold weather hits when the buds start to swell and bloom then some or all of the blossoms can be killed. …
While this completely neglected apple looks scrumptious in the tree, there is a near 100% certainty that it’s home to a grub or a worm or a burrowing insect.
I’ve explained in past posts (about fruit trees) that growing fruit trees as a part of your small kitchen garden strategy adds a boatload of work to an otherwise potentially low-impact activity. Especially with apples, if you don’t follow a regular maintenance schedule, your fruit trees won’t reward you well.
Even as I’ve embarked on the simple mission of planting a new pear tree in my own home kitchen garden this year, I’m ruing the near total neglect I gave my fruit trees through the growing season.
Tree Things I Didn’t Do
Dormant Oil—This is a bigger confession than I care to make: I have never completed all the annual fruit tree maintenance jobs recommended by expert agriculturalists. One that has always eluded me is supposed to happen in mid-to-late winter: spraying the tree with dormant oil. Dormant oil kills several types of bugs that can weaken a fruit tree—and that may attach themselves and hold on through the winter.
As in every year I’ve had fruit trees, I didn’t apply dormant oil this year.
Pruning—In very late winter, it’s important to prune a fruit tree. You remove dead wood, take out branches that cross each other (to reduce rubbing that may damage the bark), open up the tree’s crown so sunlight can make it to the tree’s lower branches, do some shaping to make the fruit-bearing branches more accessible, and cut back limbs to promote new growth.
Traditionally, I’ve pruned my trees properly, and I’ve even done a lot of grafting. I didn’t do any pruning or grafting this year.
Mulch & Fertilizer—It’s helpful to mulch around a tree that grows out of your lawn. Mulching retains moisture, guards the soil from insects and burrowing animals, and keeps your lawnmower away from the tree’s trunk. Mulch helps retain moisture, cuts down on plants that compete for the moisture, and provides shallow roots with some insulation against rapid freezing and sudden extreme swings in temperature. Fertilizer is a quick pick-me up, providing nourishment at crucial developmental points during the year.
I’ve never been good about mulching, though my wife sometimes does the job. I do usually fertilize… but I neither mulched nor fertilized my fruit trees this year.
Culling—Especially with peach trees, and with apple trees to a lesser extent, a tree’s tendency to be prolific can result in production of small fruits. Peach tree branches may be lined with blossoms, and if every one of them grows into a peach, they’ll be small peaches indeed. So, shortly after the petals drop off and you can clearly identify baby peaches, it’s a good idea to pick off and discard a lot of the babies. Usually a two-step process, you first pick off fruits from clusters leaving just a single fruit where there was a cluster. A week or two later, you pick off the smaller fruits, leaving one every eight or nine inches along each branch.
This is typical of an apple that has had no help in fending off insect marauders. I’d have no desire to bite into this one, and paring it for use in pie or apple sauce would be only slightly less appetizing.
Certain insecticides cull fruits when the fruits are small. For example, applying Sevin brand insecticide to an apple tree right after the petals fall will usually cause some fruits to fall… and using a higher concentration of Sevin culls a greater number of fruits.
I didn’t do any culling this season.
Pest-prevention—Pears, peaches, and plums grow surprisingly “clean” in central Pennsylvania even if you do nothing to fight off insects. Apples are another story. If I don’t treat my apple trees with some type of bug spray repeatedly, nearly every apple I harvest will hold hidden biological treasures. Chemical insecticides require application immediately after petals fall, and again every ten to fourteen days until harvest. Admittedly, I’ve not tried organic treatments to protect my apples… if you’ve had success with any, please leave a comment that tells about frequency of application and efficacy of the product.
This season, I applied insecticide right after petal-fall, and, perhaps, two weeks later. After that, my apples became insect incubators.
Woodchucks, skunks, porcupines, raccoons, and, perhaps, smaller rodents, suplement their diets with my rotting apples. There is also a healthy bee and wasp population eating the sweet fruit. The alcohol fumes coming off the apples might draw attention from prohibitionists.
Harvest—Of course, if you grow fruit but never harvest it, you don’t actually have fruit. Peaches provide a window of as long as a month during which you can pick some, let them ripen indoors, pick some more, and so on (picking a peach speeds it to ripen—but it should already look ripe before you pick it). Then, all at once, the ones still on the trees soften, shrivel, and drop off. Pears seem to hold on for several months, but you should harvest pears the moment any full-sized one drops off on its own account. You can start picking apples when they first look ripe, and continue picking right up until leaves are falling. The apples will start to jump out of the trees on their own, so it can become a daily chore to pick up fallen apples before rodents chew on them, and then to pick apples off the trees so you get some that aren’t bruised by the fall.
Yes, I’ve harvested apples this year, but my motivation is very low. Most of my apples are fermenting in my lawn while providing nutrition to insects and rodents. The ones I’ve gotten to before the predators all have been colonized by boring insects—even apples I’ve picked from the trees.
There’s Always Next Year
When the season started, I had been excited about mild weather and a bumper crop of apple blossoms. A few awkwardly-timed rain storms (which interfere with insecticide treatments), and heavy focus on non-gardening-related activities made me miss insecticide application for about six weeks. At that point, it was pointless to jump back in and hope for good results; I could see most fruits were already badly formed.
It sometimes takes a year like this to get me motivated for the next five years: With last year’s bumper crop of well-cared-for apples, I canned some nine gallons of apple sauce. I enjoyed canning two gallons of it, and canning the rest felt like a forced march.
When it comes time to prune and graft in March, I’ll remember the overwhelming smell of fermentation and the sticky gushiness under the apple trees during my autumn lawn mowing. It’ll be enough to get me out to work on my fruit trees.