The year's first Texas peaches are now coming in.
A late freeze in 2013 resulted in a disastrous season for Texas Hill Country peach growers, leaving most with only about 5 percent of their commercial crop.
This year looked promising. A colder than usual winter provided ample chilling hours for trees to put on promising early season buds. But in early March a late winter storm dropped the mercury into the teens and caused about half the buds to drop before they bloomed.
"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," reports 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.
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"We are just now picking the first ripe early varieties and they are very sweet," says Dianne Eckhardt of Eckhardt Orchards.
The region has a rich tradition of peach production. The first German settlers realized the value of the soil when they first arrived in 1846. Those early farmers found a climate also perfectly suited for peach production. 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 daytime high and nighttime low temperatures—provide the perfect combination for the sweetness and intense flavor of fruit produced in the area.