Of all the U.S. crops that are subject to the vagaries of weather, none may be more vulnerable to wide swings in temperature than peaches. That was the case earlier this year when temperatures dipped to 17 degrees F just as the south Texas peach crop was nearing bloom.
"We certainly lost a large number of buds as they were swelling and preparing to open, but we generally need to thin the trees in the spring anyway, and the freeze took care of that for us," said Fredericksburg peach grower Gary Marburger. "We're not going to get the full crop we had hoped we would, but if the weather holds, and we can avoid any more major problems, it looks like it will be a fair year for orchards across the region."
Gillespie County's 18 plus peach orchards produce about 40 percent of the state's commercial peach crop, spread out across the county on 1,800 acres of mostly well-drained sandy soil. Heralded as some of the sweetest peaches to be found anywhere, peach lovers across the state anxiously await the opening of peach season in the Hill Country.
"We are just now picking the first ripe peaches of early varieties and they are very sweet," says Dianne Eckhardt of Eckhardt Orchards. (Texas’ peach crop typically is harvested earlier than peaches in states like Arkansas, Georgia and South Carolina in the Southeast. But all are subject to freeze and frost damage no matter where they’re located.)
The Texas hill country sports a rich tradition of peach production. The first German settlers realized the value of the soil when they first arrived in 1846.
Texas AgriLife Extension fruit specialists credit the unique blend of minerals and micronutrients in Hill Country soil as well as the area’s 1,700 foot altitude as contributing factors to successful peach production in Gillespie County. The diurnal temperature variations--meaning the broad variance of day time highs and nighttime low temperatures--provide the perfect combination for the sweetness and intense flavor of fruit produced in the area.
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