North Carolina peach season gearing up, despite some spring frost damage

sgilman@newsobserver.comJune 18, 2014 

William Hatampa, 3, selects a basket of peaches at the Raleigh downtown farmers market on Wednesday, June 18, 2014, at City Plaza. The peaches are grown on Ken Chappell’s fruit farm in Eagle Springs.

JILL KNIGHT — jhknight@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

  • Blueberries and peaches at the State Farmers Market

    Blueberry Day: From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday Free blueberry dessert samples, free recipes, and locally grown blueberries will be available.

    Peach Day: From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.Thursday, July 10. It will include a peach dessert contest.

    For more information, call 919-733-7417.

— Fresh, juicy, sweet North Carolina peaches are coming into season, and despite a hard winter, they’ll be available all summer at farmers markets and roadside stands.

“The crop might look a little thin in some areas because of the frost and freeze this year,” said Mike Parker, a horticulture specialist at N.C. State University. But, Parker assured, “There will be peaches this summer from North Carolina.”

It’s a good thing, since imported peaches just aren’t the same, said Dexter Hill, marketing specialist with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Peaches bought out-of-state likely have been picked unripe, stored and shipped, Hill said.

“When you get it home and put it on your table, they will continue to ripen but they won’t be as sweet as a North Carolina peach,” he said. “Once you pick a peach, the sugar content stops there and it doesn’t get any higher.”

Local peaches coming into season now are called clingstone because the pit doesn’t separate easily from the fruit. They arrive early in the season, and were hurt worst by spring frosts. Semi-clingstone varieties come out a bit later, and freestone peaches are usually ready in some parts of the state by July 1.

The best place for North Carolina peaches is the Sandhills region, a strip of old beach dunes centered in Moore County. The well-drained soil and lack of rain is ideal for growing peaches, which can split or develop mold in wet conditions.

“They like dry weather,” said Ken Chappell, who owns a peach and apple farm and roadside stand in the area. “We haven’t had the hard rains like you all have had. It’s been missing us.”

The Sandhills did get some late frost in March and April that were hard on the blossoms, which are vulnerable to freezing temperatures.

“If they get damaged somehow during the freeze, it kills them,” Chappell said. “Most farmers down here are at 70 percent full crop. That isn’t bad.”

The worst freezes came in the west. Betty and Alan Davis own a peach and apple farm in Lincoln County, northwest of Charlotte, and lost their entire crop to a freeze.

“We don’t have any peaches at all,” Betty Davis said, adding that they’re having to buy from South Carolina to have some to sell. They had a good crop last year, but coping still takes trust.

“You go to bed, you sleep and you forget about it, because the Lord is in control,” she said. “We are caretakers, and he takes care of putting the fruit on the tree.”

Even in the Sandhills, where the peaches are doing all right, the season is more than a week later than usual, Hill said.

“We had a really rough winter, and it set everybody back,” he said. “Just about every crop – blueberries, strawberries, peaches and row crops – it just set everybody back.”

Despite the difficulties, Hill is optimistic about this year’s harvest.

“In all, it’s going to be a really good year,” he said.

Peaches come after blueberries, which are just showing the first blushes of ripeness in the Triangle. They have been bursting since mid-May in the southern part of the state.

Harvest came about a week later than usual, according to Laura Lockney, who works at Ivanhoe Farms, with roughly 600 acres in Sampson County. The delay was weather-related.

“Once the flowers are pollinated, the berries like some warmth, and we had a little bit of a cool spell,” Lockney said, but added, “We’re doing very well.”

The blueberry season will run through July, and the peach season runs through August.

Gilman 919-829-8955

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