Picking the Perfect Peach
When it’s peach picking time in Georgia – or anywhere else in USDA planting zones 4 through 9 – it’s the season for harvesting ripe, juicy peaches from your tree. Unlike apples and avocados, peaches do not continue developing sugar and getting sweeter once they are picked. So, knowing how to tell if a peach is dead-ripe is a great skill if you are growing this delectable, summer fruit.
The Season for Picking Ripe Peaches
Like every other crop in the garden, the best time for picking peaches depends on several factors, including:
- The variety of peach: Some peach varieties ripen early, like Babcock, Eva’s Pride, and Gold Dust. Other cultivars are ready in midseason, including Elberta, Flavorcrest, and O’Henry. Some peach varieties are only ready at the end of the season like Cresthaven, Empress, and Indian Blood Cling.
- Local weather conditions also affect when peaches are prime for picking. Cold spring weather can delay harvest, and hot summers can bring it on sooner.
- Care of the peach tree, such as irrigation and pruning, also have an effect on the ripening of the fruit.
There are over 2,000 different varieties of peaches, and this fruit has the longest harvest season of any common fruit tree, spanning from late May to the beginning of September.
Knowing When a Peach is Ripe
Besides checking the calendar and expected harvest dates for the variety you are growing, using your senses of sight, smell, feel, and taste are the best ways of telling when a peach is ready.
The outer color of a ripe peach turns deep yellow, possibly with rosy tones mixed in. Watch the fruit carefully as the harvest date approaches, and look for this change of color indicating ripeness.
However, not all fruits will be the same color at ripeness. Those which get more sun will have a deeper, more intense color than those receiving a bit more shade.
In addition, if the fruit still shows any signs of green color, it is not yet ready for picking.
Next, check the fragrance. Just put your nose near the fruit and smell it. If you can smell a sweet, fruity aroma, it is ready or close to it.
As the peaches on your tree ripen-up, you can also give them a gentle squeeze, feeling for a slight softening. But don’t squeeze too often or too hard or you may bruise the delicate flesh.
Another indication of ripeness is how easily the fruit detaches from the tree. A ripe peach will easily slip from the branch. If you have to tug to get it loose, it probably isn’t ready yet.
If all signals are go, try picking a fruit and tasting it. Nothing says this fruit is ripe better than the delicious and unmistakable flavor of a perfectly ripe peach. However, just because one fruit is ripe, doesn’t mean every fruit on the tree is ready.
Peaches on the same tree usually ripen at different times over the course of about a week, so be ready to harvest selectively from your tree as each peach reaches its pinnacle of perfection.
Preserving Peaches after Harvest
Naturally, you will probably want to eat as many fresh peaches as you can when they are ripe. However, if you have tended your tree carefully, it will likely gift you with more peaches than you can eat fresh. In this case, you can easily preserve some in several ways.
Making jam or peach pie are good ways of preserving peaches. Freestone varieties are easier to process for pies and jams than cling varieties, although both can be used for these purposes.
Peaches also freeze well. To freeze fresh peaches, first drop them in boiling water for about thirty seconds to one minute to loosen the skin. The skin should then easily slip off under cold, running water.
Next, cut the peaches into slices and discard the pit. Put the slices in a large bowl and add some lemon juice, which helps preserve the color. Next, spoon the slices into quart size plastic bags and submerge the bags, open end facing up, into a large basin of water to expel all of the air.
Zip the bag closed when the zipper is just above the water and all the air is pushed out. Write the date on the bags and put them in the freezer where they will be good for up to six months.
You can also store fresh, ripe peaches in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, and peach slices can be sun-dried to preserve them for later use.