Peach picking strategies?

bart1(6/7 Northern VA)June 29, 2012

Some of my early peaches are about ready to be picked and I wanted to get the lasted thoughts on picking strategies. My problem from previous years is that I lose at least half of my harvest to some critter (squirrel, raccoon??). Same old story - - just as they are getting ripe on the tree, most of them disappear.

Two thoughts came to mind:

1) Enclose the tree in a wire fence/cage, including the top. I have some extra wire fencing laying around and I could probably take care of one tree at a time, but I�m not sure that will stop the animals - - will they just dig under it?

2) Pick the peaches early. As in rock hard. I'm sure I'll lose some flavor doing this but at least I'll get the peaches instead of the animals. But I wonder if I'd be losing too much flavor. In other words, why bother growing peaches if you pick them under ripe and get these tasteless rocks you buy at the supermarket?

What do you folks do?

Do either of these make sense?

Is there a point where you can pick the peaches before they're soft and let them ripen up inside and still get maximum flavor, or does that only come from fully ripening on the tree?



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austransplant(MD 7)

Hi Bart,

This is a very timely question, and one that came into my mind yesterday too, seeing that last year the squirrels stripped my tree overnight just as the peaches were almost ripe. This year I netted the tree. I know that squirrels can chew through netting, and I have had this happen with other trees, but it does provide some protection if you keep an eye on it, especially if the tree is in a exposed position. (I pretty much now have to net everything; I'm coming to the belief that growing fruit in the suburbs is harder than growing it anywhere else.) Of course there cannot be any gaps in the netting, especially in the lower part and it must be held down hard against the ground. I hold it down with heavy pieces of wood.

Then there is the question when to pick that you raised. My peaches now are not quite ripe, but ripe enough to eat and still taste fairly good. A brix test yesterday registered 10, but a ripe peach should be a lot higher than that. But I fear that if I leave them much longer the squirrels will end up attacking the tree in desperation, especially given the heat wave we are now experiencing. (Suggestion: provide water for your squirrels.) And if we get some heavy thunderstorms, that might spread rot through the tree, so I am inclined to pick within the next day or two. Alas, there is no way you can get maximum flavor by picking them before they are fully ripe.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2012 at 9:58AM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

If you want to cover the tree there was one guy who used netting wrap on the whole tree. I forget what kind of netting it was, squirrels can chew through many kinds. It was more like cloth but was mostly see-through. You can bring the netting right to the trunk to completely seal it.

I never pick fruit way early even if the beasts are getting it all. I grow fruit to taste better than the grocery store. Maybe a little early but never way early.

Personally if I had your problem my first step would be to find out what the problem critter was. Put up a webcam and record it if you can. Note if its happening at night its not squirrels, they never work at night. Coons tend to break branches badly so thats how you can often recognize coon damage. Once I have ID'd the critter I find the appropriate trap and set it up. I have four squirrel traps (kania) permanently set up on trees at each of the four corners of my yard. I have a raccoon trap I pull out whenever there are raccoons around.


    Bookmark   June 29, 2012 at 10:08AM
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Hey Bart,
I have resorted to building cages over my trees to harvest good fruit. My trees are in pots and are not that large but what I have done is to make a structure of pvc pipe and surround the whole thing with chicken wire. I use ground staples to attach the cage to the ground and all my trees sit on black mat so the squirells are not able to dig under or at least they have not yet. This has allowed me to harvest plums and nectarines and hopefully some peaches soon. I am working on a slight modification of my set up that will allow me to more easily open up the cages. I'm sure the neighbors think I'm crazy seeing these trees wrapped up in cages. At a diffrent site I ended up building a high tunnel out of pvc and covering that with chicken wire pretty expensive but it worked. Austransplant I too agree that growing fruit in the suburbs is way harder than in a more rural area at least when it comes to critters.


    Bookmark   June 30, 2012 at 2:54PM
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I found for the most part, if I wrap the netting twice around the tree or parts of the tree I am ok and don't tend to lose much fruit. I also will set traps for squirrels if I think that is what is after my fruit. Now if it is Raccoons, I will also try to trap, but the netting does not help with them.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 1:03AM
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alan haigh

I manage hundreds of trees vulnerable to squirrels (almost half the orchards I tend) and the trick is to train the tree with a straight 4' length of trunk before first branches.

I staple a 3' length of aluminum flashing to the trunk starting a foot above the ground. To make sure squirrels don't get up it I smear the top couple of feet with axle grease although I'm not sure this is necessary at this point (reluctant to experiment). I even brush heavy weight motor oil on bottom. So far this year it's been 100% affective- even on sites where the squirrels had begun removing green peaches before I got there. Trees they had started on have subsequently been left alone.

At a couple of sites I've used 4' of black mylar in a similar manner and its working for squirrels (similar, fairly conclusive proof) but I'm just a bit worried that when fruit ripens raccoons will rip the stuff up.

Netting is hit and miss, IME. Squirrels are capable of chewing through almost anything and a lot depends on motivation (hunger) and just what they are used to doing.

Squirrels can jump 4' from the ground and probably almost 3' from prone position on the trunk. Obviously much farther from a perch. Coons don't jump but a big tom can sometimes reach over almost 3' of greased metal. 2' usually works for them.

I'm not sure why more folks don't opt for an electric fence so they can keep their branches low and stop worrying about losing fruit. Even with my method one must continually tie up sagging branches to stop the tree rats from jumping aboard. A central leader tree expedites this- otherwise you need a very tall pole taped or tied to the trunk of the tree to tie branches up with.

This is an article that inspired me to try mylar. The man who wrote it is an inventor with 2 registered patents.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 11:03AM
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I tried your method on several pear trees at my old place in Austin and the problem I had was the darn squirells would run down my fence line and jump from the fence into my trees. Other than that I think it would have worked great. I would have loved to run a hot wire on top of the fence because I think that would have shut down squirells totaly but such things are frowned on in neighborhoods and probably for good reason. So for me the only option was some pruning for height control alot of pvc for a high tunnel and a lot of chicken wire. Man what a bunch of work. but I harvested fruit.


    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 11:48AM
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malaec(z6 NJ)

It looks like we finally outsmarted the squirrels this year! Our peach trees are full of beautiful fruit. Following Harvestman's advice, we installed 42" clear plastic sheets wrapped in a tube around each tree trunk, and also added a removable squirrel baffle for bird feeders. It works! We watch with great pleasure how the squirrel tried again and again unsuccessfully to jump and breach this barrier, and kept bouncing off! We also used bungie cords to pull up the lower hanging branches, so nothing is below 42-48" from the ground. We didn't have to grease our plastic because it's smooth and slippery as is.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 12:17PM
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alan haigh

Maleac, what is the plastic and where did you buy it? Seems like it would excessively heat trunk but I take your experience to mean it doesn't, at least in our climate.

The nice thing about using 4' of trunk is just wrapping the trunks and stapling only takes about 5 minutes. Is the brown baffle metal? How did you install it? How much did it all cost in time and materials? Did you try using only the plastic?

I like your idea of using bungie chords, might decrease stress on branch which sometimes break where tied.

I love getting reports from people who've actually watched the squirrels try and fail.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 1:06PM
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malaec(z6 NJ)

Harvestman, the plastic is clear PP, and we use it for cutting stencils (our business), so i have a ton of it and it's cheap. The sheets come in 42 and 48" long, and we just wrapped it around the trunk and taped with clear packaging tape. I didn't notice it heating the trunk, what would be the signs of it? Some kind of scars?
The baffles I got online, and they were somewhat pricey, (see the link below) they are sturdy metal, look like antique copper and can be opened and closed like a collar and taken off the tree easily. We wanted them to look somewhat nice and blend in, so we decided to splurge on the fancy baffles. I can probably make the same kind of baffles right out of my plastic and they will likely work. We hang the baffles off the large limbs with zip-ties. We install this in May and remove the whole thing soon after harvest.
We also tried to use just 42" plastic tube on younger peach tree (it was too thin to hold a baffle) and the squirrel jumped a couple times and barely could grab the very top of the tube with his hands, but still managed to get into the tree and stole a peach. He did it only once and left, probably was too much work for him. I wonder if putting a 48" tube would be just above their jumping limit.
Oh yeah, we also stuffed the upper ends of the tubes with bird mesh, so they can't get through the opening from inside.

Here is a link that might be useful: Squirrel baffles

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 11:07PM
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alan haigh

Janna, Hi, I didn't recognize my baby! I'm so glad you are now getting fruit.

What I've heard many times is that 4' is the usual limit of a squirrels jumping ability, but I bet there are some talented exceptions.

Over heating injury is not something I know much about. I have killed apple trees when leaving them in tree shelters too long and I thought maybe the problem was overheating. If your peach trees aren't oozing gum inside the plastic after recent heat I would assume it's not a problem.

I would certainly postpone putting up your baffles until trees are pretty leafed out, which I do with my own system.

Unfortunately this year squirrels struck much earlier than ever before for me and some clients lost peaches.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2012 at 6:22AM
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malaec(z6 NJ)

Alan, we had fruit last year too, well, squirrels had fruit I should say! This year it's looking good :) The baffle method works, and the PF1 is loaded with beautiful peaches. They all got some PC damage, but we are so happy to have any fruit that we don't care. Next year we'll think about taking care pf PC early.
We too noticed that squirrels struck early this year! They took all the apricots before I even had a chance to do anything about it, and got to some green peaches. We still keep catching them in traps and releasing them few miles away.
Now the PF1 peaches are so beautiful but not quire ripe yet. I guess we have to let them ripen on the tree and not take them down early, right? It's so hard! We've been eating half-ripe peaches because we simply can't wait, LOL

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 1:11AM
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