Growing peaches in Virginia isn’t hard but it does require some skill to choose the right varieties. I started growing peaches over a decade ago and some years we harvest a lot and some years the bears get them. (Yes, bears!). But it’s all worth it.
Over a decade ago, when we moved to Seven Oaks (our farm in Virginia), we planted an orchard. I’ve written about the trials and travails of our little fruit tree orchard: the June bugs that decimated the peaches, the little peach tree that almost died, the apples that delighted us last fall, the fire blight that threatens the pears. Today, however, I’m simply celebrating growing peaches…and celebrating our first real, honest-to-goodness, fill up those bushel basket harvest of peaches.
We started with four little Elberta peach tree saplings purchased from the Arbor Day Society…
Despite our best care, one of those little peach trees started to die. Instead of just tossing the sapling into the woods, my husband suggested we plant it in the little ornament raised bed garden in the back. This garden is unique because we ran a pipe underground from the gutter and downspout into the bed. Water, dripping from the roof, waters the flowers daily…and brings water right to the peach tree’s roots.
We planted our peach trees in full sun with rich, well-drained soil amended into as close to a loam as our clay pit yard would allow. We don’t spray the trees anymore. We used to spray with Bonide fruit tree spray before blossom set, after fruit set, and once again in the fall. This year we got lazy. This year, we harvested the most peaches ever. I’m not sure if this is a coincidence or not, but I like lazy gardening. It saves me time for more weeding.
Pruning and Thinning Peaches
We prune the peach trees in the winter while they are dormant. We prune branches from the bottom of the tree so that my husband can get the riding mower around the trees easily.
We also thin out branches in the canopy to allow more air and sunlight inside the tree’s canopy and trim off water spouts, those little twig-like stems that shoot straight up. Thinning the branches allows the peaches to develop inside the canopy to receive light, which helps them ripen.
Finally, the big day arrived. We had seen swarms of Japanese beetles and the ever-present June bugs eating the peaches. These insects tunnel into the soft, ripe flesh and destroy peaches overnight. I was tired of watching beautiful peaches devoured overnight, so we got out the ladders and the baskets and began harvesting, even the not-quite-ripe peaches, to save them from the insects.
Growing Peaches in Virginia: The Harvest
The end result: Two bushels of peaches. One bushel thrown into the woods as rotten, a total of 3 bushels from ONE tree…yes, the little tree that we almost threw away. It’s amazing how some TLC and the right environment can cause even the struggling trees to thrive and become the best tree in the orchard.
I canned eight pints of peaches in syrup, baked and froze a peach pie, and baked three cobblers, which we also froze…except for one. I’ve been enjoying the bright taste of fresh peach cobbler every night after supper.
There’s something special about tasting a peach cobbler that not did you bake from scratch…but you grew the peaches yourself. I raised that peach tree from a single sapling shipped through the mail. It looked like a rootless branch. Care, love, and eight years later, it provided me with abundant fresh peaches. It’s a wonderful miracle to sit down to fresh peaches grown not twenty feet from my back door, from a tree I planted, nurtured and cared for with my own hands. I love the country life.
Growing peaches in Virginia at Seven Oaks Farm…I love the rural lifestyle!
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.