The summer peach crop is ripe for the picking, thanks to an early spring that has some of the fruits ready a week or two earlier than typical — on the heels of an early strawberry crop.
“The quality is real good right now,” said Black’s Peaches owner Arthur Black, who has been growing peaches for about 40 years on his 500-acre family farm on S.C. 5 west of York.
Black — whose family has been in the peach business since 1923 — said he began picking the first peaches in mid-May. But farmers say mid to late June marks the beginning of prime peach season, when the more sought-after freestone varieties are ready to eat.
Freestone peaches, those that separate easily from the peach pit, are available from late June or early July into September. Cling peaches, so named because the fruit clings to the pit, are the first to ripen, while semi-cling peaches, which separate easily from the pit when the fruit is soft, come in second.
Black and several other peach farmers said this year’s crop has been ripening as much as a few days to a couple of weeks earlier than is normal, depending on the variety.
“This year, everything is ripening up so fast, you don’t know how long it’s going to last,” said Patricia Bryant at Bryant Peaches and Produce on Limestone Road near York.
Ben Smith, owner of The Peach Tree on Filbert Highway north of York, said his 44-acre crop of 21 varieties is running about two weeks early. White and yellow peaches are expected to be available this week, he said.
“The crop is real clean,” said Smith, who has been peach farming since 1958, following the tradition of his father, who started the farm in 1928. “We’ve had enough rain and not too much. The peaches are real sweet.”
Peach farming is always a gamble of a business. Peach farmers say their crop needs some cold weather, some hot weather and some rain, but not so much that the fruits become watery.
Even then, all can be lost in a late spring freeze that kills the delicate peach blooms. And local peach farmers say they did lose some peaches in an April freeze, although not enough to cause a shortage.
“We came close to losing the whole crop in April,” said Black, who said he grows about 60 acres of peaches. “We lost four or five acres, about 10 percent.”
The peach crop attracts visitors from across the Carolinas, and even from other parts of the Southeast, to pluck the fruits from Western York County’s family-owned farms each summer. And they leave with a bounty: tomatoes, squash, okra, cucumbers, melons and many other locally grown fruits and vegetables.
But author Dori Sanders, who still works her family’s 10-acre Filbert peach farm with her brother Orestus Sanders, said locally grown produce doesn’t sell like it once did because lifestyles have changed.
“People don’t can anymore,” she said. “And because of dietary concerns, people don’t do jams and jellies and preserves like they used to. And because families are so fragmented, they don’t do pies like they used to. It’s a new day.”
Jimmy Bryant, owner of Bryant’s Peaches, which grows about 18 varieties of peaches on 18 acres, said peach farming has changed, too. The cost of labor, fuel and fertilizer means farmers must charge more for their produce.
“A lot of peach farmers have gone out of business,” he said.
Still, he noted, the family-owned farms in Western York County continue on. His father, Meek Bryant, who died in 2005, started growing peaches in 1960, and Bryant carries on the tradition.
“All our people just keep coming back,” said Bryant. “They know what time of year to come.”