First peach crop since 2015 expected in Rowan

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 12, 2019

By Michael O.Fine

Rowan Cooperative Extension

For the past three years, peach orchardists in Rowan County have suffered devastating losses due to damaging freeze events during the early spring.

This is due to the fact that Rowan County is situated geographically in a region of the state that is prone to warming cycles in the middle of winter, much like the Sandhills, as well as late frost, similar to the mountains.

The warm weather signals the trees to begin flowering during the late winter months when the probability of freezing temperatures is very high. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, Rowan County peach orchards as well as other surrounding Piedmont counties experienced this devastating double-edged sword of weather patterns in which full blooms emerged in February and were completely frozen during either March or April.

A couple weeks back, Kevin Huffman of Huffman’s Peaches, Rowan County’s largest orchard, invited us out to take photos of his beautiful orchards in full bloom. At that time, we began watching the weather patterns for freeze events. Though we had a few cold fronts swoop in to the region since that initial visit, Huffman called the Cooperative Extension office on Monday morning to tell us his peach orchards are healthy and a bumper crop is expected.

For Huffman, the anticipation and excitement of a peach harvest is like light at the end of a tunnel. Between a three-year lag in production and the removal of his 21-year-old peach trees in 2017 (which were highly visible from the road), it appeared to the general public that Huffman’s Peaches was out of the peach business.

For three years, Huffman has fought that rumor, and educated customers that a new, younger orchard, which was planted in 2010, would be fully productive for decades to come if the weather would only cooperate. After a visit to Huffman’s orchards to view the spring bloom, we are convinced that Rowan County peach lovers have something to get excited about.

So, what is so special about our Rowan County peaches?

The red-clay soil that dominates the Piedmont landscape is known for its ability to maintain nutrient levels and requires considerably less additional fertilization. The clover that dominates the understory of Huffman’s peach orchard provides the additional nitrogen needed through a process called nitrogen fixation.

As veteran farmers and gardeners can attest, healthy soil with high organic matter is the foundational key to healthier plants and more nutrient-dense fruit. In fact, Dr. Mike Parker, one of the state’s top peach specialists from N.C. State University, often comments on the health and vigor of Huffman’s peach trees in comparison to similarly aged peach trees grown in the Sandhills.

Peaches harvested from Piedmont orchards are renowned for the diversity of flavors that accompanies the high sugar content. Local orchardists will admit a natural bias toward their own peaches, but through the years, they can’t help but notice customers generally agree that Piedmont peaches have significantly richer taste than those of the Sandhill regions of North and South Carolina and Georgia.

In fact, Huffman recalls the first time he saw a truck with Georgia license plates pull up to his peach stand and request a large wholesale order.  When asked “Why did you leave peach country behind to come to here to buy peaches?” the man responded, “I have found the best peaches I’ve ever tasted.”

Huffman’s Peaches expects to open near the beginning of June with what promises to be a bumper crop. The first variety that will ripen will be the Eight Ball peach, a good sized peach known for intense sweetness. The Contender peach ripens during the middle of the season (typically around July 20). These peaches are the premier peach for fresh eating, canning and freezing.

Huffman also offers three white peach varieties, White Lady (ripens around July 10), China Pearl (around July 20 ) and Georgia Bell (around Aug. 5). Huffman’s peaches are harvested daily and sold through his on-farm peach stand located on 4825 Goodman Lake Road. His hours run from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. for as long as peaches last.

A helpful tip for customers is to be respectful of farmer’s business hours. Farms that graciously open their doors to the public take on the heavy task of overseeing customer satisfaction while simultaneously maintaining a productive farming operation. For these farmers, the end of the day, after business hours, is essential to mentally and physically recharge for the day ahead.

Also, be encouraged to buy in bulk when your favorite peach variety is in. Freezing peaches to enjoy all winter is easy and rewarding. Our family thoroughly appreciates peaches from the freezer during the winter months, which are used as topping on Sunday morning pancakes. Enjoy.