We wouldn't know.
Until this summer, we haven't tasted any of our own peaches. And
this year we were robbed of the chance to taste our own
delicious Red Havens. Here's the story . . .
Along with all the nice flowerbeds
filled with perennials, Jim and I also "inherited" two peach
trees from the folks who lived here before us. However, we've never been here
in the summer when they were ripe, so our neighbor Bob, who tends the
place when we're gone, always got them (or
so we thought). We were anticipating harvesting a bunch of fruit this
summer and freezing and canning what we couldn't eat fresh.
Both peach trees are out front,
mostly visible from the house and about 25-30 feet from our little neighborhood
One is a cute
little thing that is only about six feet tall -- the Red Haven, which is supposed
to be a very tasty variety. It's an early freestone peach that has yellow flesh and
is ready to eat in the Roanoke area during July. You can see the tree in the
left foreground in the photo above, its lower trunk protectively wrapped in a
hard plastic tube.
The other peach tree, a Belle of Georgia, is larger
and bears white-fleshed freestone peaches that ripen mid- to late-season,
which is early to mid-August in this part of the country. This tree is about
fifteen feet high and wide. It's on the right in the photo above. (It was
taller until early August. I'll explain that later.)
OUTWITTED BY THIEVES
I proudly showed the little Red
full of still-hard but beautiful peachy-colored 2-3" fruit to my brother
and sister-in-law when they visited us in early July. The peaches were still
too hard to eat, but looked very tempting:
Immature Red Haven peaches, a few days before they
A few days after our visitors
left, Jim went
outside to inspect the peach trees. He's very proud of them. Even
when we're gone in the summer, he's done the
pruning and inspecting and early bug spraying during the late winter and early spring
months. My job is culling the small peaches when they begin to grow so the ones
that are left can reach their full size. Then we usually leave town and leave
the peaches for Bob to enjoy. Since we were here this summer, I also
did some spraying to keep the deer away from the lower leaves (using odiferous Liquid
Fence -- really foul stuff!).
Jim came back inside with an
incredulous look on his face -- all the peaches on the little Red Haven tree
were gone! Just GONE!!! There were dozens and dozens only a day or two before.
Jim went back out to see if
there were any pits on the ground. None. Probably wasn't the deer, we agreed.
They'd most likely leave some pits. And anyway, they couldn't reach the ones on
top, which were just as gone as the ones on the lower branches.
It had to be a two-legged
thief!! But who would do such a thing?? We didn't suspect any of the neighbors,
since they all know we're home this summer. Maybe it's those construction
workers down the road, building the new house. Or someone outside our small
neighborhood who wants to sell them
at the farmers' market -- I saw a suspicious red truck parked by our neighbor's
apple tree along the road as I drove back home from my morning run and errands
We were furious. How dare
someone come into our yard and steal all our peaches! They didn't leave even
Another Red Haven
peach that was stolen
I called Bob. He wasn't real surprised.
He said last year was the first he'd seen peaches on the little tree (they take
a few years to bear fruit) and someone got them before he could harvest them
last summer. We figured it was the same jerk who took them this year.
Jim and I felt almost as
violated as if someone broke into the house to steal something. We even worried
about someone taking the dogs when we're gone!
Two days later we were
still bothered by the stolen peaches. Jim mentioned it to one of his friends at his
fire department meeting that night and the guy started laughing . . .
. . . he said the
thieves were probably SQUIRRELS!!
This was totally new to us. The
guy said he's watched as squirrels decimated his peach trees in just a few
hours. They knock the peaches off the tree, then carry them off into the
woods to eat later.
They even work in teams sometimes!
We thought just maybe he was kidding
us. He's not. We "googled" it, and it happens a lot. We also
confirmed the squirrel story with other neighbors at our homeowners'
association meeting the next day. Since we have a gazillion
squirrels around here -- and you can see that the little Red Haven tree is right under
overhanging branches of a larger tree in the photo above -- that's probably what happened to ours.
Those overhanging branches are like an open invitation.
We're still shaking our heads and
smiling sheepishly at all the nasty thoughts we had about a brazen two-legged
thief stealing our peaches from right under our noses. I'm sorry we won't get to
taste those peaches yet again, but I'd rather the thieves be hungry little squirrels than
some redneck with no regard for personal property.
Meanwhile, we've been buying someone else's juicy Red Havens from the
Roanoke Farmers' Market (above) for several weeks. They really are good!
Maybe one of these years we'll get to taste our own.
FOREWARNED IS FORE-ARMED
OK, we'd been warned. Now we had to figure out how to
outwit the resourceful squirrels before they stole all the peaches from the OTHER tree!
Some of the deterrents I found in various internet
articles and forums weren't practical for us. The Belle of Georgia tree is too big for a net and
the squirrels could still sabotage the peaches by knocking them off just before
they reached their peak. (Immature peaches will soften but they won't taste
anywhere near as good as they do if they're allowed to fully ripen on the
tree.) Dogs and cats were mentioned as deterrents, but we don't have (or want)
a cat and the dogs don't have access to the front yard.
We decided to be as proactive as we could with the
information we got on-line and from neighbors. Some folks have found that
Liquid Fence works well to deter both deer and squirrels, so I sprayed the
lower branches and grass around the tree with that a few times. Dog hair and
urine (dog, human, whatever) are supposed to be effective, so we used both of those. And we practiced
"high vigilance," checking the tree several times a day in person and from the
front windows. (We can easily see the Belle of Georgia tree from the house, but
not the Red Haven that got raided )
Throughout July the peaches got bigger and bigger. The branches sagged
lower and lower.
Oops. That wasn't supposed to happen! Jim decided not to prune
the large tree this year "because we'd be home and could watch it." Too late to
prune, we propped up the largest, lowest branch with a piece of lumber and
some rigid tubing before it either touched the ground or broke off:
I took that photo August 6, soon after
another large limb DID break off -- you can see the split end in the middle
of the tree top. We lost about one-fourth of the peaches in one fell swoop.
Lesson learned: the trees must be properly pruned every February whether
we plan to be here all summer or not!
By the end of July, the Belle of Georgia peaches were
starting to turn rosy red but they were still hard. One or both of us continued
checking the peaches several times a day. We noticed that as the peaches
ripened, more sported divots made by the birds. After the birds pecked into
them, bees and other insects began eating the flesh, too. We still didn't see
any evidence of deer eating the leaves or fruit, nor were any peaches missing
that we could see.
Our deterrents were useless against the birds and bees,
but seemed to be working to keep the squirrels and deer away.
To further placate the deer and squirrels, I picked some
of the fruit that had been damaged the most by the birds and tossed them on the
ground. I figured the deer and squirrels might be satisfied enough with those
easy pickings to leave the ones alone that were still on the tree. The peaches
on the ground disappeared every day, with no pits left, so we figured the
squirrels were getting them. (Deer leave the pits. Squirrels take the whole
peach into the woods.)
Belle of Georgia peaches on August 6
Suddenly on the morning of August 9, I could see from the window
that some peaches were missing from that low, heavily-fruited
branch that was propped up. Oh, no! I rushed outside to confirm my
suspicions.-- during the night deer had eaten many of the lower
leaves, enjoyed some peaches, and left us the pits!
I sprang into action, picking every decent peach left on the
tree, leaving only the ones that were too high to reach. Although they were getting soft, they
weren't completely ripe. If I hadn't had that incentive, I would
have left them on the tree a few days longer. I figured there
wouldn't BE any more peaches within a day or two, and cut our
losses. We probably harvested only a quarter or a third of the
total number of peaches that grew to (near) maturity. We lost a
bunch when the large branch broke, the deer got some, and the
birds ruined the rest.
I suppose that's a fair distribution of the spoils, however. I have to
remind myself that Jim and I are the ones intruding on the land
here. After all, "Deer and birds gotta eat, too."
(See last entry for that reference.)
THE FRUITS OF OUR LABOR
Since I picked all the good peaches in one fell swoop, there were too many for us to eat fresh.
I set aside a few prettiest ones to ripen for eating out of hand and froze the
rest the next day. It's as messy a job as canning tomatoes
but more fun and doesn't heat up the kitchen nearly as much.
I found directions for freezing peaches (and other fruit) on
several web sites. I selected one from
printed it out. The process was easy and I had twelve packed
quarts ready to pop into the freezer in two or three hours. I took
the following photos as I went along:
After being blanched in boiling water for
30-40 seconds, the fruit "chills out"
in ice water (above). Then it's easy to
just slide the skins off (next two photos).
One shiny, naked peach in foreground; the rest
still have their skins.
Very pretty peaches -- nice rosy color,
even with the skins off
After slicing the peaches, I sprinkled them with lemon juice to
prevent browning. You can also use a commercial product called
Fresh Fruit, which is fine granular citric acid and vitamin C. I
bought a bottle of Fruit Fresh for the occasion, then
misplaced it. Still haven't found it! (CRS Syndrome strikes
again.) Fortunately, I had plenty of lemon juice on hand.
The next step is adding a sweetener solution. Instead of making
a sugar-water syrup, I purchased two bottles of white
grape/peach juice. I needed only one of the bottles for twelve
quarts of peaches and still had a little bit left over.
Slices mixed with lemon juice and bottled white
The last steps were filling marked quart freezer bags, squeezing out
as much air as I could, and finding room in our freezer for them:
Ready to freeze
Correction: the last two steps are 1) cleaning up the mess! and 2)
enjoying the frozen peaches when the fresh ones are all
And so the peach saga ends for 2008. We've learned some valuable
lessons for 2009 and beyond, whether we are here to enjoy the
"fruits of our labor" or not. And our neighbor Bob has learned
that if we aren't here, he has to beat the squirrels and deer at
their own game or he isn't going to get any peaches, either!
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
© 2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil