Orchardists enjoy a peachy growing season

By on August 9, 2017

Golden Baby, a cling variety best suited for canning, is in full harvest this week.

Last year was a huge disappointment for local peach growers, with crops about a third of what they would normally be.

This year Ed Reiff reported that he and his brother Nathan were harvesting 95 percent of what they expect from their 39 varieties of peaches. John Smucker, whose family owns the Kissel Hill Fruit Farm and Market, says their crop looks to be topping out at 120 percent. Hard to tell if he was kidding or not, but he seemed serious and there was no doubt that the Reiffs, Smuckers and the rest of Lancaster County peach growers are having a banner year.

It looked a bit touch and go early in the season, according to Reiff, with the thermometer going up then down, then up and down a few more times. Warm weather encourages blooming, and when the blossoms get too cold they die. But the crop survived the temperature swings, to the delight of both growers and consumers.

The Reiff family has been doing business from their Rothsville Road location, just outside Akron, since 1988. The Smuckers have been operating a market for the past nine year from their Kissel Hill Road location, close enough to the Lancaster Airport to hear jets roaring on takeoff.

The reason the Reiffs have 39 peach varieties and the Smuckers have 30 is that each variety matures at a different time. With one variety coming in when another goes out, the growers are able to sell fresh peaches from late June until mid-September. Reiff said they had just finished their Red Haven variety when we talked to him last week, and that they’d be selling Sun Hi, Loring, Contender and a few other varieties this week. Baby Gold will also be coming in from the orchard this week. Baby Gold is a firm-fleshed cling variety popular with home canners.

John Smucker said Kissel Hill peaches were ready for harvest a good 10 days earlier than usual this year because of the favorable weather. He expects they’ll be picking until early September, when they will go straight into apples.

Home canners are a big part of the local peach market, and they buy by the basket. Last year, because peaches were scarce, a basket went for $25. This year the price slipped to $17 at both Reiff’s market and Kissel Hill.

Were it not for the fact that early season weather woes crippled the peach crop in both Carolinas, and destroyed 80 percent of the crop in Georgia, “…we could be selling our peaches for $12 a case,” said John Smucker.

Growers/marketers like the Reiffs and the Smuckers need to pay attention to those numbers if they are to continue in business. But if you frequent farmers markets during any of the Big Three seasons — strawberries, sweet corn and peaches — you know that price won’t keep you away from the bounty that surrounds us every growing season.

Dick Wanner is a staff writer and photographer for the Record Express. He welcomes reader feedback at rwanner.eph@lnpnews.com.

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