Photo: Oxmoor House
SEASON: Depending on where you live, peaches may make an appearance as early as May and as late as October, but they peak in June, July, and August.
CHOOSING: When it comes to peaches, local is ideal. When soft and ripe, peaches are highly perishable, and impossible to ship. Luckily, they ripen well in their basket or on your counter, going from rock hard on market day to dripping with sweet juice three to five days later. Select fruit that is not bruised. If the color behind the blush of pink is yellow (or white for white-fleshed peaches), the peaches are mature, will soften, and you cannot lose.
STORING: Store unripe peaches on the counter at room temperature in a single layer. Check them daily. Transfer those that have softened to the refrigerator to stop the ripening process, and eat them within a week.
GROWING: Peach trees are a year-round project—with delicious rewards. Trees are reasonably small and self-fruitful, so you need only one. When planting peaches, consider what you want to do with them. Eating fresh or freezing? Plant a freestone peach (those in which the pit releases easily from the flesh). Canning? Plant cling (those with pits that adhere to the flesh). Early-ripening peach varieties tend to be cling. Choose the right variety for your area, one that needs about the same amount of winter chill that you get in an average season. Growers and Cooperative Extension agents can help you pick the best variety. If not well matched to your climate, your tree may bloom too soon and have the flowers killed by a late frost, or it may not bloom at all.
A backyard tree can be managed in a simple cycle of late-winter pruning, pest-preventing oil spray during the dormant season, fertilizing, thinning a heavy crop, and thorough cleanup of fallen fruit from under the tree.