Peaches are my favorite fruit. Possibly my favorite food. But they’re only good when they are ripe from the tree. If you’ve never had a homegrown peach, soft to the touch, so juicy that you have to eat it over the sink, it will be a revelation to you. About ten years ago I planted one peach tree, a Red Haven, which I chose because it is a free-stone (meaning the flesh comes away from the pit, making it easy to cut the fruit up for pies.) I also like that it is yellow on the inside, not white, which I like best.
Fruit trees are notoriously difficult to maintain. They require yearly pruning. Mice girdle the trunks. Pests eat the sap and worms destroy the fruit. Some years, due to a ill-timed frost, there is no fruit. My lone tree has had all of these issues. Most orchards rely heavily on chemicals. I use none. Three years ago, the peaches were so wormy that I gave all of them to the chickens. The next year the tree was bare. Last year, the peaches were small and hard, and most soft bits were claimed by worms.
I read up on the life-cycle of the plum curculio, the insect that causes the most damage to the fruit. The adults are beetles that overwinter in the soil under the tree. In the summer, eggs are laid in the fruit and then the developing larvae return to the ground via dropped peaches.
I have chickens that eat both beetles and larvae, and they love digging around in dirt. I put the girls to work. Last fall, I enticed the Gems over to the peach tree with some cracked corn. They soon found the other good things (the bugs!) under the soil.
This summer, the blossoms on the tree held, the sun shone, the rain was just right, and the peach tree filled with fruit, so much so that the weighed-down branches touch the ground.
Not only are the peaches large and juicy – they are worm-free!
I’ve been harvesting buckets. There are imperfections. I don’t mind. These peaches are astoundingly delicious.
They’re ripening at different rates, so each day I go out and collect some more.
I’m looking forward to pies this winter! I’ve been quartering the fruit, putting it on sheet pans, and freezing it solid. Then, the fruit is bagged using a vacuum sealer. It’s such an easy way to put aside the harvest for later.
I haven’t seen them yet, but I’m sure that the plum curculios are trying to return. Who could resist such peaches? And so I have brought back my orchard staff.
Amber is on the job.
(The sticky tape on the peach tree trunk prevents crawling insects from reaching the fruit. It’s surprisingly effective.)
Note: I planted this tree before I got goats. It was a test to see if the property was well-situated for fruit trees. It is, but, I haven’t gotten more trees because stone fruit trees (including cherries and plums) are a danger to Pip and Caper. During that brief few weeks in the fall when the leaves wilt, the greenery is toxic to goats. Fresh leaves are fine. Dried leaves are fine. They can eat the fruit. The toxicity happens in the fall as the leaves die. Every year I give the tree a pruning so that the goats, from their pen, can’t reach any of the leaves. This year it’s getting cut back by a third. In the fall, we rake and rake. I can keep the goat boys safe from this one tree, and the fruit is worth it, but I’m not going to put more stone fruit trees on the property.