Peach lovers will have to wait longer than usual to get the fresh Jersey fruit this year, due to lingering effects of a tough winter.
The early peach varieties usually come to market the first week in July, with an average first harvest date of July 5. But this year the New Jersey Peach Promotion Council polled growers and predicted the early crop will be a week to 10 days late.
“A longer winter, and cool spring delayed the crop,” said Daniel Ward, extension specialist in pomology for Rutgers/New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station’s research center in Bridgeton. “There weren’t warm enough temperatures this spring to push the growth forward as much as normal.”
The crop will be as big as usual, Ward stressed, even though cold weather killed some buds.
“Every year peach trees produce more flower buds than they can adequately mature as fruit,” Ward said. “So even losing half of the peach buds doesn’t affect the crop negatively.”
In fact, growers said they still needed to go out and remove large numbers of buds, so those left will become big, juicy fruit. The most active harvest is from July 20 to Sept. 1, and the final harvest of late varieties is usually about Sept. 15.
The delay of the early crop doesn’t necessarily mean other harvests will be postponed.
“The mid-season may have a minor delay, but the late season should come in near normal time,” Ward said of later peach varieties.
Some growers say the delay on their farms will be less than a week.
“We were about 10 days late, but due to warm weather we’re catching up,” said Al Caggiano, of Sunny Slope Farms in Bridgeton. “Now we’re down to about a five-day delay.”
He said late spring and early summer temperatures so far have been perfect, with adequate rainfall.
“That brought things along,” Caggiano said.
Bill Nardelli, of Nardelli Brothers Lake View Farm, in Cedarville, Lawrence Township, said many crops were affected.
“For most of the fruit and vegetables in our area, the (early) season has been about two weeks late due to the harsh, cold winter,” said Nardelli, who mainly grows vegetables but distributes fruits as well. “But we have narrowed the gap as Mother Nature has a way of doing things. Now we are a week behind on most things. Vegetables especially are catching up rather nicely.”
He said most crops should catch up by mid-summer.
“If the weather continues to remain warm, with good ripening and sunlight, the crop will size up and come along,” Nardelli said. “Peaches love hot dry weather. That’s a peach tree’s friend. Farmers can apply water as need be to size the fruit.”
There are 5,500 acres of peach orchards in New Jersey, according to the Peach Promotion Council.
According to “A History of the New Jersey Peach” by Ernest Christ, Rutgers Cooperative Extension Professor Emeritus, peaches have been grown in New Jersey since the early 1600s, after colonists began importing European varieties. The first concentration of growers is believed to have been in Cumberland County.
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