Wednesday, June 30, 2010

J-D loves those summer time peaches!

By KIM PIERCE / Special to the Dallas Morning News reports, Last year, we were crying in our bellinis over the near-total loss of the Hill Country peach crop and damage to orchards around the state.

This year, extension agents and growers predict a record harvest. "This could be the best we've had since 1982," declares Darren Rozell, who grows East Texas peaches with J.T. Lemley (better known for his tomatoes). "It's about time."

What a difference a year makes.

"We've got the makings of a tremendous crop," says Hill Country peach grower Jamey Vogel, owner of Vogel Orchard near Stonewall and vice president of the Hill Country Fruit Council. "People are just itchin' for peaches."

"This will be an awesome year," enthuses Galen Logan, Camp County Texas AgriLife Extension Service agent in East Texas. "For the first time in several years, we've got a beautiful crop." Ditto the famous peach-growing area around Weatherford to the west, says Parker County extension agent Jon Green.

Chalk it up to the vagaries of weather, which ruined last year's crop. In 2009, a late-spring freeze plus hailstorms doomed the peaches. This year, an unusually cold winter provided the perfect setup for a bumper crop. "Peach trees require so many 'chill hours,' " says Rozell, when the temperature must be below 45 F. "We made it this year."

With the freeze threat past and hail less of a problem this year, farmers are rejoicing, and peach lovers should be, too.

A lot of peach fans hold out for their favorite varieties, such as freestones that include Loring, Bounty, Harvester, Dixieland, Red Globe, Redskin, Ouachita Gold and Gala, to name a few. But there are many newer, improved varieties that taste just as sweet, says Rozell, whose orchards are in New Harmony, northwest of Tyler. "Harvester has a little tartness," he adds. "A lot of people who are putting up jams or making cobblers prefer it."

"The peaches do get sweeter, the hotter it gets," says Lafreita Hutton, whose family owns Hutton Farms in Weatherford. Even then, it takes the right combination of sun and showers for peak flavor, she says.

"The best peaches come off between June 15 and July 25," says Rozell. "If you want some high-quality peaches to put up, that's the time to buy them."

Kim Pierce is a Dallas freelance writer.

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