Peach crops faring well this winter

Published 7:10 pm Friday, January 24, 2014

This year's peach crops are faring well and enjoying plenty of chill hours thanks to consistently cold temperatures.

This year’s peach crops are progressing nicely and enjoying plenty of chill hours thanks to consistently cold temperatures.

Although frigid temperatures have plagued Alabama this winter, Chilton County’s peach crops are flourishing in the cold weather.

Chilton Research and Extension Center Director Jim Pitts said the peaches have received between 800–900 chill hours, which are full hours peach trees are exposed to temperatures below 45 degrees.

Pitts said this year’s number of chill hours exceeds the number of hours in 2013 by more than 200.

“We’re just in good shape it looks like,” Pitts said. “We got more now than we had last year and the year before last, and the crop made OK without chilling.”

To ensure peach crops remain healthy as they grow, trees must be exposed to cold temperatures to prevent buds from opening too early.

Keeping buds closed for a longer time protects peaches from possible damage by late freezes.

“Our next concern is if we’re to get a warm streak in here after we’ve had all this cold weather,” Pitts said. “These peaches will start blooming. This is going to happen in a hurry.”

Pitts said cold weather has an effect on the shape of the peach.

More chill hours produce rounder peaches with a less pronounced suture on the side and a more blunt point on the bottom.

Fewer chill hours result in a longer shape with a longer point.

If Chilton continues to receive persistently cold temperatures, its peaches will boast a shorter, rounder shape.

“The appearance of our fruit should be a lot better,” Pitts said.

Pitts said he expects a “bloom burst” this time, or for everything to bloom at one time.

“It may happen within five or six days when it warms up,” he said. “Peaches are holding and they’re in good shape. As soon as we get some warm weather, though, they’re going to start heading toward the bloom.”

Typically, peaches arrive in early March, but Pitts said the time is determined by the weather.

“It’s still too early yet to say,” Pitts said. “Every day may have a different chill hour yield. I just don’t expect to see a lot of problems.”

Regarding other local crops, Pitts said the only thing that could be affected by the extreme cold is citrus.

Homeowners trying to grow Satsumas or other types of citrus fruit could encounter problems if the crops aren’t adequately protected from the cold.

Warmer temperatures are expected over the weekend, with highs in the upper 40s and low 50s on Saturday and lows in the mid-20s.

Sunday will have more cloud cover, but temperatures will hover in the low 50s and drop to the upper 30s with a chance of sprinkles at night.

Another cold front is expected to move in Monday and continue the next few days.

“We’re looking like we’ll get cold again next week,” said Meteorologist Aaron Gleason with the National Weather Service. “We’re going to have several fronts moving through. When we get another front coming through next Monday, winds will be 10-15 miles per hour out of the north.”