Green Wizardries, The Peach Harvest by Maxine Rogers
Denman and Hornby are not know for their lavish peach harvests but this could change. I thought it was too cold and too wet to cultivate peaches here but my husband was determined to try. He pointed out that several people on Denman have successful peach trees. All the successful peach trees were under cover in a greenhouse or tucked up against a wall with a roof overhang protecting them from the rain.
One woman had a peach tree that was partly under the greenhouse but some branches strayed into the open. The protected branches looked fine and had lovely fruit on them. The unprotected branches looked as if they had leprosy, they were so badly affected by peach-leaf curl. This provided an object lesson in the importance of overhead protection for peaches.
Now, some peaches are resistant to peach-leaf curl but resistance is not immunity. I suspect resistance will not help you much in a cold, wet year. That said, a friend on Hornby has a peach-leaf curl resistant tree on her farm and it did very well this year but this has been a very dry year.
So, my husband had a peach house built backing on to a building with a pretty good southern exposure. The roof is made from transparent panels of some sort of plastic and they are surprisingly expensive. However, they are quite sturdy and will last a long time.
I saw a nurseryman in Victoria who had built a house of studs with a peaked roof in his backyard and then covered the studs inside and out with the sort of plastic vapour barrier used in house construction. His nursery in this very inexpensive greenhouse was very productive so you could try that.
Our peach house is 10 feet wide and 14 feet long. We have two Frost peaches in there that we bought from Beulah Creek Nursery in 2020.
The first year, we removed all but a handful of the developing fruit to let the trees get established. The second year, we had a small but tasty harvest. This year, we got 55.5 pounds of peaches from our two little trees.
You may well ask, how did we keep the raccoons and birds from harvesting the peaches for us? We covered the building in the smallest gauge of chicken wire to prevent any wildlife getting in to sample our precious fruit. It has a door made of a wooden frame, covered with chicken wire. It is very sturdily built as peach trees should live a long time.
One problem with Frost peaches is that they bloom even before the cherry trees. Their blooms are a beautiful, rich pink but when they come out, no pollinators are flying. It is just too cold. So, each spring, I get a small ladder and a watercolour brush and spend a few hours over a couple of days, sitting on the ladder going from bloom to bloom pollinating them myself. I suspect other varieties of peach might bloom later and this might be something you want to take into account when purchasing peach trees.
You can grow peach trees from pits but this is sexual reproduction and the tree you get will be unique. It may or may not have nice fruit and a peach grown this way will get to be 20 feet tall or so. That is a lot of tree to try and keep under cover. Semi dwarf peach trees will grow 12 to 15 feet tall and up to 15 feet wide so dwarf trees might be easier to manage. Dwarf peaches only grow 8 to 10 feet tall.
Friends who have their peaches in greenhouses do very well and their peaches ripen earlier than ours. Our house can be adapted to become a greenhouse. This winter, I propose to built frames of light wood to fit the dimensions of the peach house walls. I will staple polyethylene sheets to the frames and then temporarily attach them to the peach house walls to ensure greater heat which peaches love. If we get another bad heat wave, I can take the panels off.
Using this form of cultivation, I believe it will be possible to grow nectarines and apricots too. Of course, you have to arrange for irrigation as the trees are totally protected from rain. I water our trees from a rain barrel with a hose under gravity feed. This takes a long time and gives me the time I need to recite some of the longer prayers I work with.
The trees also need to be fed. We covered all the weeds and grass on the floor of the peach house with heavy paper feed bags. We covered the bags with animal manure and hay from the barns. All of this mulch gets watered to provide the food the trees need. The trees are flourishing. I have done the same thing around the apple, pear and plum trees outside and they are benefiting from the extra feed.
The only problem with peaches cultivated in this way is that they ripen long before the Blackberry Fair and Hornby Island’s Fall Fair.