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.
“The very first peaches have already been harvested by growers who have some trees under high tunnels,” said James Kamas, Extension specialist. “A few more growers had a limited supply of peaches this last weekend, and most everybody had fruit in the stands by Memorial Day.”
Marburger says about 40 different different varieties of peaches grow in the Hill Country area, each lasting two weeks. “Depending on the varieties a grower has and what they plan to accomplish with those varieties, our season is typically from mid-May to early August” says Marbuger.
“Just about anybody that has roadside stands will go looking for varieties for late August to early September just to keep some fruit on their stands. They may not be what they would consider their premium varieties, much like their mid-season varieties, but still great peaches when they are harvested correctly.”
According to Marburger and other sources, the peach season is considered to be from “mid-June to mid-July” and that’s when the most premium peach varieties are sold, just in time for the annual social event of the year in Stonewall, The Peach JAMboree.
The Peach JAMboree
The JAMboree is now entering its 53rd year, and in all that time little has changed since the first celebration—especially the peaches. During the third Friday and Saturday of June the festival starts with a bang as the CPRA rodeo kicks off the event. A gala event is also staged when the new "Peach Queen" and her court are introduced, followed by a late night dance.
On Saturday, the real fun begins. In addition to rodeo, other events, including a peach eating contest, the coveted peach show, a baking, preserves, and salsa contest, a peach parade, and an antique tractor exhibit takes place throughout the morning and afternoon. Vendors are on hand as far as the eye can see.
For more information about the state's premiere peach event, visit www.stonewalltexas.com/peach_jamboree.html. For information about area orchards, the availability of maturing variety, and a list of orchards, visit www.texaspeaches.com.