With March upon us, it means that Florida's peach season is less than a month away. This year's crop looks set to be much bigger than the 2018 season which was badly affected by the 2017 hurricane as well as a late frost. A sufficient number of cool evenings along with a lack of significant freezes has growers feeling cautiously optimistic for the upcoming season.
"We usually begin our peach season during the first week of April depending on how warm March is," said Ken Edison of Deer Park Peaches in Saint Cloud Florida. "So far we have had a few cold nights around 28 degrees and we are now seeing a good fruit set, all normal-sized for this stage of the season. Additionally, we experienced those colder nights before the trees had budded. Last March, we did have a freezing night of 26 degrees and we had a much lighter season because of it, so you never know. Under 45 degrees is okay, but once it gets below 30 for any length of time, it can cause problems."
Edison added that Deer Park Peaches still uses traditional methods to ward off the cold. "We have burn piles in the corners of the orchard," he explained. "When the forecast indicates a freeze, we burn them which creates a layer of smoke above the trees, acting as a blanket and keeping the temperature several degrees warmer. Because we only use hay and wood, the smoke is untainted and doesn't affect the fruit in any way."
U-Pick might save Florida peach industry
While the U-Pick concept might be associated with small-scale and hobby farms, it seems to be rising in popularity with consumers. Reports indicate that consumers are seeking out more locally-grown produce and the lure of picking their own directly off the tree or bush is gaining traction, according to growers with some even switching from a commercial to a U-Pick farm.
"Originally, we were growing peaches commercially but two years ago we switched to a predominantly U-Pick operation," Edison shared. "For the most part, the concept has grown and now we have crowds of people that can pick upwards of 2,500lb of peaches a day."
He noted that the high volume of people picking fruit also makes growing different types of peaches more attractive. "For some peach varieties, there can be a short window of just a few days between optimal ripeness and being over-ripe and you have to pick them quickly. All our fruit is cling-stone and tree-ripened, and is of the variety that is sweeter but not suitable for shipping, like the so-called 'melting flesh' variety. In fact we just put in more trees this year which will be ready from next year."
In Florida, peach growers even suggest that this could help save the local industry as greater challenges loom for the state. "Some feel that the Florida peach industry is slowly going away as greater competition and high labor costs place further pressure on growers," Edison concluded. "Although it's not for everybody, U-Pick offers a viable alternative."
For more information:
Deer Park Peaches
Ph: +1 (321) 288-3030