Valley Bounty: Peaches

Ben Clark reports that the peach harvest is off to a great start. “So far, it’s been amazing flavor,” he told me during a recent conversation. Ben Clark, along with his father Tom, runs Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield. The recent heat wave may be to thank for the delicious peaches coming out of the orchards. “With all this dry weather we’ve had, the sugars are concentrated,” Clark explained. Concentrated sugars make for sweet, flavorful peaches and by the beginning of August, the Clarkdale Fruit Farms team will be in the full swing of harvest.

Clark told me that peaches are a sensitive tree and many risks need to be avoided to ensure a successful harvest here in the Northeast. The work began last March when Clark pruned the trees’ branches, an important process to ensure healthy airflow during the season, which helps prevent diseases. However, peach trees are much more vulnerable than other fruit trees like apples and pears during pruning time. “If you make cuts too early, the tree is not as hearty and is more likely to get cold injury,” Clark explained. In peach trees, an open wound during a cold spell can allow cold air into the tree, which freezes sap and could kill branches.

The cold presents an even greater risk to the peach harvest during blooming time. Peach trees bloom when the region is still at risk of frost – this year, the peach trees on Clarkdale Fruit Farms bloomed during the first two weeks of May. Fortunately, the 2019 blooming season was bolstered by relatively warm, dry weather. However, Clark told me that orchardists in the region plan their plantings around peach trees’ sensitivity. “A common practice in the Northeast is to plant peaches on your best site because the trees are more sensitive to cold than apples are.” When Clark’s father Tom planted the peach trees over 40 years ago, he chose the highest spot in their orchard. “The cold settles down low,” Clark explained. “In any growing area if you have a low spot … that’s where you’ll get your coldest temperature.” Atop a hillside and in full sun is the best placement for a peach stand.

Clark told me that although the peach harvest will last well into September, each peach variety in his orchard is typically only ripe for a window of seven days. To keep a steady supply of peaches flowing into their farm store, Clarkdale Fruit Farms grows over 50 varieties of peaches, each ripening during a different time. “Most of the time when you go to the grocery store you just see ‘peaches.’ It’s just one name for all the varieties,” Clark said. “But really there are hundreds of varieties that are propagated.” On local orchards across the Valley, farmers like Clark are already harvesting a cornucopia of peach varieties fresh each day. There’s only one way to figure out which one is your favorite—find a farm stand near you and get to tasting! After all, as Clark says, the best way to eat a peach is “sun-kissed and fresh off the tree.”

Noah Baustin is the Communications Coordinator at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)