More ‘chill hours’ over the winter mean bigger, better Hill Country peach crop than in 2017
EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
STONEWALL — As much as I want to stay away from it, because it’s just so cliche, I can’t resist, so here goes.
Things are looking peachy this summer for Hill Country peach growers, especially those in the Stonewall and Fredericksburg area.
“I wouldn’t call it a bumper crop, but it’s definitely better than last year,” said Jamey Vogel of Vogel Orchards. “Last year, we only had 10 to 15 percent of our typical production, but this year, it’s much better.”
And now is the time to get those delicious, sweet Hill Country and Fredericksburg peaches. Though peaches start ripening as early as May, Vogel said peak season is now through July with some varieties continuing to produce into August.
The big difference this year for peach growers was this past winter. Beth McMahon, the Gillespie County AgriLife Extension Service horticulture specialist, explained it had a lot to do with “chill hours,” the number of hours the temperature remained below 45 degrees.
Peach trees require a certain number of chill hours to set fruit. Not enough chill hours means not many peaches.
“The last winter (2016-17), we only got about 460 chill hours,” she said. “This past winter, we got 967 chill hours.”
Along with a good amount of chill, Mother Nature also provided adequate rainfall during winter and spring but kept bad weather such as hail at bay.
Peaches are a big part of the Hill Country, particularly in Gillespie County and Fredericksburg. The climate plus the right type of soil equals great peaches. Vogel’s family opened their orchard in 1953 then a fruit stand in 1971. They grow about 7,000 peach trees on 70 acres.
“The weather conditions are uniquely suited for peaches,” he said.
While the sometimes fickle winter when it comes to chill hours holds the Hill Country back as a major commercial peach producer, the climate and soil create great conditions for some of the best peaches in the country.
“The primary thing is the taste quality here,” Vogel said. “I’ve tasted peaches from all over and different places, and I’ve never found anything that’s as good as what comes out of this area.”
A great way to celebrate this year’s crop is the annual Stonewall Peach JAMboree on Friday-Saturday, June 15-16. If you can’t make the JAMboree, there are plenty of other opportunities to get your peaches, though McMahon offered a bit of advice.
“If you’re coming out to buy peaches, you might want to come during the middle of the week because it’s not going to be as crowded,” she said. “But just come buy peaches.”