How to Grow Crops
The Peach, Prunus Persica, is probably a native of China, although it was once thought to be of Persian origin (hence the name Persica). From China, where it has long been cultivated, it spread westward to Persia and southern Europe, and reached England in the Anglo-Saxon period. Spanish colonists brought the Peach to St. Augustine, Florida, in the sixteenth century, and it spread northward rapidly. Commercial planting in the United States began early in the nineteenth century, and from 1850 onward many varieties were selected and propagated. Peach breeding at the Agricultural Experiment Stations began in about 1920, and from this work many new and valuable varieties have been introduced.
Peaches are grown commercially in more than
half of the states and in Ontario and British Columbia in Canada. Areas of heavy production are central California, the Great Lakes region (particularly southwestern Michigan), western New York and northern Ohio, Georgia, the Carolinas, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Ontario in Canada. Many other states, except those in northern New England, the Great Plains, and Rocky Mountain regions, have extensive Peach plantings.
The Peach is the least hardy of our temperateregion fruit trees. The site of a planting must be chosen with great care if serious losses from lowtemperature injury to the fruit buds and wood are to be avoided. A temperature of —15 degrees F. is critical for the blossom buds on dormant trees in midwinter. A few of the hardiest Varieties will produce some fruit after experiencing temperatures a few degrees lower. On the other hand, trees that are low in vigor or that in early winter or spring have experienced sudden severe cold following a mild spell, may be injured by temperatures considerably higher than —15 degrees.
Injury to Peach wood may be expected when temperatures reach —18 to —20 degrees F.
The Peach tree should, therefore, be planted where experience has shown that these critical temperatures occur very infrequently. For garden plantings,one may take chances that the commercial grower would not take, as Peach trees grow fast, bear early and are easily replaced when killed by the cold. The loss of an occsional crop in the home orchard is not a serious matter.
Good air drainage is very important, as temperatures vary greatly at different levels on a slope, and the differences may be great enough on still nights in winter, or when the trees are blooming in the spring, to cause serious injury to trees or blossoms near the base of a slope, while those at higher levels remain unharmed.
The proximity of large bodies of water also prevents sudden severe drops in temperature and tends to delay blossoming until the danger of frost is past.
The best sites for Peach trees are, therefore,
on sloping land or near large bodies of water.
Peaches prefer lighter soils than the other tree fruits but will do well on soils ranging from coarse sands to well-drained clay loams if these are deep and well drained. Deep, fertile, welldrained sandy loam soils that permit root penetration to a depth of 3-5 ft. are best if available. Poorly drained soils with a hard subsoil near the surface prevent deep root penetration, and the trees are unproductive and short-lived. Heavily eroded soils are also undesirable.
Peaches should not be planted after other Peach trees have been removed without an interval of several years, as experience has shown that poor growth may be expected if this is done. Other crops, preferably of a soil-building nature, should be grown for several years before the land is returned to Peaches.
Propagation. Peaches are propagated by budding selected varieties on seedling Peach rootstocks. Formerly the seed came from wild seedling trees in the Carolinas, Kentucky and Tennessee, but now seedlings of Lovell, a California drying Peach, are often used because they are available in large quantities.
The seeds are stratified over winter in moist sand or peat at a temperature of 35-40 degrees, and then planted in rows in the nursery in the spring. In late July, or August, in the North, the trees are budded by the shield, or T-bud, method (see Budding). The following spring the bud starts to grow, and the top of the seedling stock is cut off just above the base of the new shoot. In the South the seedlings are budded in June, the bud soon starts to grow, and the seedling top is cut off so that by fall a one-year-old tree, or June bud, as it is called, is ready for planting.
Plum and Apricot rootstocks are sometimes used for Peaches, but they are less satisfactory than Peach rootstocks. Where nematodes are present, the Shalil and Bokhara strains of Peaches are used as rootstocks because of their resistance to these root pests.
Planting. One-year-old Peach trees are commonly used for planting, but June buds, which are smaller, are satisfactory where the growing season is long. The largest size June bud or the medium-sized (4-6 ft.) one-year tree should be used.
Peaches should be planted in the spring in New England and the north central states, in late fall farther south, and in late fall or early winter in the Southeast and Southwest. Spring planting should be done as early as possible while the trees are fully dormant.
The trees are commonly spaced 20 by 20 ft., but vigorous varieties on fertile soils will need 25 by 25 ft. or more. In a small home orchard a spacing of 15 by 20 ft. may be used and the trees kept small by pruning.
On slopes steep enough to suffer erosion, the orchard should be planted on the contour; otherwise the soil may easily be damaged by erosion. Contour orchards should be planned well in advance of planting.
Pruning. Peach trees are pruned to develop a strong framework to support heavy crops, to avoid weak, narrow-angled crotches that are subject to winter injury, and to shape the tree for convenience in orchard operations. Pruning is also a form of thinning, as it improves the size and quality of the fruit by removing weak and crowded wood. It stimulates vigorous shoot growth on mature trees, which is essential, as the Peach bears its fruit on one-year-old wood.
The tree, as received from the nursery, is usually 3-7 ft. tall and has some branches. An opencenter tree with 3 scaffold or framework branches is best, and these branches should be selected for retaining when the first pruning is done. At planting time the tree is often cut back to a height of 20-24 in., but 36 in. is better—it will give a better spacing of the scaffold or main limbs. The laterals on the young nursery tree are often too weak to be developed as scaffold branches, and they should be cut back to stubs to encourage the growth of strong shoots. When these shoots are a few inches long, three of them that spread at wide angles and are well spaced should be selected and the rest removed. Very vigorous trees, with strong branches, may have the scaffold branches selected at planting time.
The second spring, all weak or crowded laterals that may have grown since planting are removed, and the main branches are headed (pruned) back lightly. The third spring the scaffold branches are again headed back lightly and weak laterals are thinned from the main branches. Pruning during the first 4 years, before the tree is in full bearing, should be as light as possible, just a light thinning with no general heading back of one-year growths.
As the trees come into full bearing, more severe pruning is necessary to maintain good growth and renew vigorous fruiting wood throughout the tree. Terminal shoot growth in vigorous trees should be from 12-15 in. each year. Over 20 in. is too vigorous, and poor-colored fruit and winter injury may result.
Young bearing trees on fertile soils and in good vigor are pruned chiefly by thinning out the weak wood. Older, heavy-bearing trees that are slowing down in growth are headed back to well-placed branches on 2and 3-year-old wood and the weak growth is thinned. This should be done uniformly throughout the tree rather than in just the top.
The Peach should be pruned in late winter in the northern states, as severe cold may cause serious winterkilling of trees pruned earlier. In the South, pruning may be done any time that the trees are dormant.
Thinning out of the young fruits is very essential, as Peaches usually bear several times as much fruit as the tree can properly mature. Peaches should be thinned to leave one fruit to 30 to 50 leaves. Hand thinning is usually done just after the June drop (when the tree naturally drops some of its small fruits), and the earlier it is done the greater the benefit in terms of size of fruit and future crop. The vigorous wood in the top of the tree produces the largest and best-colored fruits, so more fruits should be left there than on the weaker wood that occupies the inside of the tree.
Soil Management. In controlling weeds and grass in Peach orchards, one should compromise between clean cultivation (the common practice in the past) and the maintenance of a sod which is kept mowed, as is done in Apple orchards. Clean cultivation, which means eliminating all grass, weeds and other ground-cover plants by the frequent use of the cultivator, is too harmful to the soil, and the sod provides too much competition for the roots of the trees. The best practice is what is known as trashy cultivation. Under this system the development of heavy sod is discouraged by using a disc harrow, but the sod is not turned under. As much should be left on the surface as is needed to prevent erosion and to act as a light mulch.
Rye Grass is excellent for growing in the Peach orchard, and if 5 to 10 per cent of the plants are left when discing, it will reseed and provide good cover again by fall.
Nitrogen is usually the chief nutrient needed in the Peach orchard; the other elements are not often in short supply. Young trees making 18 in. of growth each season in the top of the tree, and bearing trees making 12 in. of growth, are making optimum growth. Bearing trees making over 16 in. of growth should not receive nitrogen. If growth is less than 8 in., the amount of nitrogen should be increased.
The basic amount for 1-3-year-old trees is onehalf pound of nitrate of soda per tree. Three-tofive-year-old trees should get 1/2-2 pounds, while trees over 5 years of age should receive 2-4 pounds.
Mulching as described for the Apple is also satisfactory for Peaches but the expense, mice and the possibility of fire should be considered.
Harvesting. A ripe Peach is a very delicious fruit, but unfortunately many that reach the market are picked too green and never realize their full quality. The quality of the fruit increases only while it is on the tree, where the leaves can manufacture the sugars and flavoring substances that make Peaches good to eat.
Peaches increase rapidly in size, and thus the crop is much greater as the fruit approaches the tree-ripe condition. One hundred bushels of Peaches on August 15, if not picked until treeripe a few days later, will make 124 bushels of much finer peaches.
Peaches should not be picked until the ground color of the fruit changes from green to yellow with the yellow-fleshed varieties and from green to white with the white-fleshed varieties. Two or three pickings are desirable with most varieties.
There are many good varieties of Peaches, but a comparatively few provide the bulk of the commercial crop. Many more are adaptable for growing in home gardens. Generally, a succession of varieties is desirable to spread the harvesting and marketing over a period of several weeks to avoid labor difficulties and to avoid glutting the markets.
Peaches are yellow-fleshed and white-fleshed, clingstone and freestone. The yellow-fleshed freestone varieties are preferred on most markets, but the others may be grown for unusual earliness, quality or hardiness. Peach varieties vary in hardiness of blossom buds and wood, but the range from the tenderest to the hardiest is not enough to extend Peach growing into colder regions than where they are now being grown. In border-line regions the hardiest varieties may produce crops in years when the less hardy varieties fail because of low temperatures.
The hardiest varieties are Greensboro, Oriole, Rochester, Veteran, Carman, Erly-Red-Fre, and Champion. Fairly hardy are Redhaven, Halehaven, Ambergem, Jerseyland, Golden Jubilee and Prairie Dawn.
Tender varieties are Elberta, J. H. Hale and many others, but these are not tender enough to prevent their culture on good sites in the important commercial Peach-growing areas.
The canning Peaches in California are yellowfleshed clingstone varieties without red color around the pit. Important varieties are Phillips Cling, Walton, Hauss, Johnson, Paloro, Peak, Libbee, Gaume, Sims and Halford No. 2. Newer ones are Stanford and Ellis.
Varieties grown in California for drying are peaches with firm, sweet, clear yellow flesh with no red at the pit are preferred.
Varieties for growing outside of California for canning are as follows:
Varieties Suitable for Freezing. Those with nonbrowning flesh are Redhaven, Triogem, Fairhaven and Redkin. Other good freezing varieties are Vedette, Sunhigh, Halehaven, Veteran.
Variety Descriptions. These are yellow-fleshed freestone varieties unless otherwise noted.
Mayflower: White, cling, poor.
Mikado: Cling, fair, needs cross-pollination. Dixired: Cling, fair to good, attractive, promising.
Erly-Red-Fre: Partly cling until ripe, fair. Early:
Redhaven: Good, promising new variety. Raritan Rose: Good, fine early white variety. Golden Jubilee: Good, soft, widely grown standard variety.
Triogem: Good, firm, attractive.
Fairhaven: Good, promising, new.
Sunhigh: Good, firm, attractive.
Southland: Good, firm, good shipping variety in South.
Goldeneast: Good, large, firm.
July Elberta: Good, one of best varieties. Halehaven: Good, fairly firm, widely planted, one of best varieties, needs thinning. Valiant: Good, firm, attractive.
Veteran: Good, needs thinning.
Belle: Standard, white, good.
Sullivan Elberta: Fair, widely planted in the Southeast.
Champion: White, high quality.
Early Elberta: Good, standard variety.
Elberta: Fair, long the leading variety because of size and shipping quality. Slowly being replaced by hardier, more attractive and better-quality varieties.
J. H. Hale: Good. Very large, attractive, unproductive. Needs cross-pollination.
White Hale: Good, white, large.
Afterglow: Good, large.
Rio Oso Gem: Good, large. Weak tree.
Salberta: Fair, large, lacks color.
Laterose: Good, white, new, promising.
Goodcheer: Good, firm, new, promising.