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Locally grown peaches will be plentiful in coming weeks
Vernon H. Hinshaw stands with peaches from his orchard in Henry. Despite cloudy weather early in the season, as well as recent heavy rain, local growers expect peach crops to flourish. Hinshaw said he should have “excellent peaches the rest of the season.” Due to late blooming on the trees, he said he expected to have peaches through the end of August. (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)
As the peak of peach season arrives, local growers are thankful for the sunshine they say makes their fruits ripe and sweet just in time for harvest.
Though crops were set back by the persistent, heavy rains earlier in the summer, several local growers said the fruit is starting to come around.
Doug Wade of Wade’s Orchard & Roadside Farm Stand in Woolwine said the rain had caused problems early in the season. “It hurt the crop because we didn’t have the sunshine,” he said. “You’ve got to have sunshine to put the size on the peaches.
“But now, with the last couple weeks of sunshine ... everything is starting to look better and taste better,” Wade added.
The size of this year’s crop should be roughly the same as last year, he said.
Vernon Hinshaw of Shirley’s Orchard in Henry said his crop was “pretty slow getting ripe.” Both the size of the fruit and size of the harvest is good, he said.
Now, “they’re beginning to ripen,” he said. “Our peaches have been about the same (size) as they’ve ever been.”
Both Hinshaw and Wade said the sunshine that was lacking early in July has prevented peaches from ripening and acquiring the sweet taste for which most yellow peaches are noted.
Not everyone got the chance to nurture their crops, however.
Janet Ashby of Windy Ridge Farm in Henry County said its peach trees were decimated earlier in the season, a factor she attributed to the local infestation of cicadas during the spring.
“(The trees) had some nice blossoms on,” she said. “They’re not that old, but they were looking really nice and healthy, and one day, we went down to check them out, and they were stripped bare.”
Female cicadas sometimes lay eggs in the bark and outer branches of many different types of trees by slicing into the plant tissue and laying eggs inside, according to the Virginia Department of Forestry website. A number of those cuts can create enough structural damage to render branches unproductive and even kill the trees, according to the site.
“The only thing that we can put it down to is that is was the cicadas,” Ashby said.
She added that the farm has turned to other crops, but the high volume of rain has damaged those, too.
“It’s not been a very good year all around, what with too much rain,” she said.
Though the rainfall totals for Martinsville this month are roughly the same as they were last July, Wade said the rain was spread out more evenly, allowing the fruit gradually to grow and ripen.
“Last year was a lot hotter and drier summer (and) the taste on the peaches was better,” Wade said. “This year, they might be more juicy than normal, but the taste is not there. They’ve got a bit more sourness to them than normal.”
Still, Wade said, people are buying them.
“We try to tell customers that these very first peaches aren’t tasting as good, but we’ve had a lot of repeat customers,” he added.
Wade said that likely is because people simply find alternate ways of using a peach that isn’t overly sweet. “A lot of people are cooking with them, making pies and things like that,” he said.
Depending on the variety, Hinshaw said color and texture are important when picking peaches.
“You need one that got ripe before it was picked to get good flavor. It needs to be yellow all the way through,” he said.
Unlike apples, a soft peach isn’t necessarily a bad thing, nor is a firm one, Hinshaw said.
“I want them to be firm enough that they don’t bruise, but you don’t want too firm of a peach,” he said.
Hinshaw said he should have “excellent peaches the rest of the season.” Due to late blooming on the trees, he said he expected to have peaches through the end of August.
“The season is running about 10 days late,” he said.