COLUMBIA — As summer is quickly approaching, so is peach season, and central Missouri growers are anticipating the popular fruit to hit shelves by mid-July.
“Right now, we have a terrific crop,” said Michele Warmund, who is a professor of horticulture at MU and state fruit extension specialist.
Missouri-grown peaches were practically nonexistent last year because of an Easter frost that killed the early-blooming crop. This year, however, peach lovers are not to worry because the outlook appears to be good, with a heavy crop and no damage thus far, Warmund said.
Judy Marshall, who co-owns Schreiman Orchards, located near Waverly, with her husband Jim Marshall, said the peach trees bloomed about two weeks late this year, which helped cut back on the risk of freezing. She also said that the limbs have twice as much area as usual to form buds because of last year’s misfortune.
Because of this, growers had to do an excessive amount of pruning about a month ago to make sure that light can reach the inside of the trees, which helps ensure good fruit development, Warmund said.
Currently, growers are in the throes of thinning their peach crops, which means removing as much as 90 percent of the marble-sized peaches from the branches to prevent them from breaking and to get large fruit size at the end of the season with a high sugar content, Warmund said.
“There are two fruit buds on each node of a branch, and we really only need one per 8 inches on the branch.”
Larry Bock, who owns Buckridge Peaches in Hermann, also said that the peaches at his orchard look promising.
“All the varieties seem like they’re really loaded,” Bock said.
Bock grows six varieties of peaches and sells them both in Hermann and at the Columbia Farmers Market. He said the peaches are normally ready for sale from about July 14 into early August.
Growers, however, are not out of the woods just yet. Even though it’s likely they have made it safely past the threat of frost, growers still have to worry about other harmful weather, according to Jim Anderson, executive director for the Missouri Wine and Grape Board.
“Knock on wood that we don’t have any major hail or any major storms,” Anderson said.
Warmund said hail is always a fear for growers this time of year because it blemishes the fruit and makes it difficult to sell.
“If we can stay hail-free between now and July, we should be in great shape,” Warmund said.
Missouri produces about 750,000 bushels of peaches every year, according to Warmund, and both she and Bock said that people especially enjoy Missouri peaches because they are locally grown and freshly picked.
“The ones that have to be shipped in are harvested much earlier,” Warmund said. “If you can have a locally grown peach, they can delay picking, so they’re soft, juicy and drip down your chin,” she said.
Bock said his peaches are picked the night before and sold the very next morning.
“You can’t get much fresher than that,” he said.