Midwest Heirloom Peaches/Nectarines

marcindy(z5b, Indianapolis, IN)May 11, 2010

I don't usually post in this forum, but I am more and more drawn to heirloom plants and fruits. I read a book by David Masumoto about how he started to grow an heirloom peach variety in California commercially with great success. I also talked with an older gentleman in my area who grows several fruit trees in his backyard, mostly apples, pears, some cherries and a peach. The amount of spraying he is doing is staggering. He didn't bat an eye when he told me about this. I declined to move any of my bees in his backyard for pollination, they wouldn't survive long.

Those two events have been brewing in my head for a while now. It made me wonder, how did our forefathers grow fruits in this small climate before all the spraying was "necessary" to harvest anything? Did they use different varieties that were less susceptible to diseases and insect pests? Did those pests not exist to this extend? Did they eat pest ridden fruit? For example, I know from reading old accounts that the early settlers and farmers grew peaches here in Indiana. Reading through our extension services sheet of what sprays and applications are required to keep peaches alive and fruiting these days makes you dizzy...

What do you think? Where can I find more information about heirloom fruit varieties for my area? Were the old varieties hardier? It seems like they had certainly more flavor than many of today's supermarket varieties. Sorry for rambling on, basically, what are some of your thoughts?

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Jennifer_Ruth(Z 10, Sunset Z 23)

I don't know all the answers, but let me take a stab at this. First, as far as the Extension Services sheets go. A lot of these things are more geared toward farmers than home gardeners, even the ones that are supposed to be for home gardeners. I've lived in a number of different states, Indiana among them, and the quality of what you get from Extension services varies. If I believed everything I read, I'd never have given fruit trees a try at all. I've read that you can't grow them in your lawn, that they have to be sprayed repeatedly, etc. etc. I think part of the problem is that what might be an issue for a farmer is not for the home gardener. If I grow my fruit tree in the lawn (which I have, repeatedly), maybe I don't get as high a yield as I might otherwise have, but I don't need to have maximum yield. I just want to get a decent amount of tree-ripened fruit. The same goes for insecticides. I don't use those. Some of my fruit has bugs in it. There are several ways to handle this. One is just to cut out the part with the bug and eat the rest. Another is to have more than one kind of each tree, with different ripening times. When I lived in Fullerton, CA, I had one kind of peach tree that always had a lot of damage from bugs--so much so, in fact, that I didn't really ever get much usable fruit from it. But another kind of peach tree, whose fruit ripened a couple of weeks later, rarely had much damage. Another issue is that if you use too many chemicals, you kill off the good bugs that would have attacked the bad ones. One example of this is something I noticed on my roses. The aphids always seem to damage the first roses of the season, in whatever state I'm living in. But after that first bunch, the good bugs that like to eat aphids put in their appearance and help out bigtime. I imagine the same thing happens with the bugs that attack fruit trees. There is a website that you might find useful, http://www.davewilson.com/homegrown/BOC_explained.html
They show you how to plant a lot of fruit trees in a small amount of space, so that you get an extended harvest. Basically, it involves planting dwarf trees close together and pruning them in the summer, not just the winter, to keep their size manageable. That will help you to fit in more kinds of trees and hopefully get good fruit. I've gotten fruit trees from a lot of sources, including Bay Laurel Nursery, Raintree Nursery, Stark Bros., Miller Nursery, and One Green World. There's a certain amount of trial and error involved. I suppose there was for our ancestors, too. I've found some of my most useful information from various forums on gardenweb. Good luck to you, and happy gardening.


    Bookmark   May 17, 2010 at 10:12PM
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girlbug2(z9/10, Sunset zone 24)

The post above from Jennifer is exactly what I would have said :D. One point that I would like to expand on, is that probably our ancestors weren't nearly as picky about a bug or two on their fruit as we are today. (just extra protein, right?)They grew all their own fruits & vegetables on homesteads in the pioneer days, so they surely ingested their share of aphids, dirt etc. Now that most of our produce is sold in regrigerated cases in supermarkets we expect everything to be sanitized and picture perfect. The only way to achieve that is to spray.

I'm lucky that I live in an area of so. California where it is easy to grow peaches and nectarines. Normally I don't have to spray anything. I can eat right off the trees. Until last spring I had never seen peach leaf curl, but it was unusually muggy and overcast that year. Once in a while when I bite into a peach I find a few tiny pale worms near the pit. It doesn't gross me out much but some folks would just gag if it happened to them.

Our ancestors probably just propagated fruit varieties that worked well in their areas by trial and error. They saved seeds and cuttings from trees that had natural disease resistance.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2010 at 6:57PM
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marcindy(z5b, Indianapolis, IN)

Hi Jennifer and Girlbug, thanks for taking the time to answer my many rambling questions...lol After reading a lot more online I totally agree with you. Extension services seem to be geared mainly to farmers and growers, and that constant spraying that is supposedly required might lead to maximum yields, but who wants all that toxic stuff in his or her backyard. Not me. I have ordered two peach trees from Stark brothers in Missouri, a Redhaven and a Belle of Georgia peach and will grow them in a fan espalier on the sunny side of my house. Man, this is exciting...:-) Thanks again for your kind feedback and input.


    Bookmark   May 20, 2010 at 9:30AM
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Jennifer_Ruth(Z 10, Sunset Z 23)

I've grown Belle of Georgia, Marc, and I think you'll be very pleased with it.


    Bookmark   May 20, 2010 at 4:10PM
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