Alabama may not be the “Peach State,” a title claimed by Georgia, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have some of the best in the business. Ranking 9th among peach-producing states in America, peaches are grown almost statewide in Alabama, however, they are more prominent in areas with specific growing conditions. The major production counties are Blount, Limestone and Chilton. Chilton being the largest peach-growing county.
Acting as the capital of peach production in Alabama, Chilton County also houses the Chilton Research and Extension Center. With over 300 varieties of peaches and nectarines being grown at the station, the center works to support fruit and vegetable growers in a variety of ways, especially through experimentation and analysis.
“We take that research data and get that to the growers through educational meetings, programs, and demonstrations,” Gary Gray, a regional agent in commercial horticulture for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System says.
According to Gray, the Chilton Area Peach Production Meeting is the primary peach educational event.
“We hold it every year in January,” Gray says. “We use it to update growers on the current growing conditions and specifically the winter conditions.”
Growing sweet, decadent peaches isn’t as easy as it looks. It requires a few key conditions that make for ideal peach growth.
First, a long, warm growing season in the summer is preferable.
“This allows a wide variety of peaches to be grown, including the late season peaches that ripen in September,” Gray says.
Needing at least six hours of exposure, a long summer season ensures peach plants have plenty of time to bask in the natural light.
Additionally, a somewhat chilly winter is needed in order for the peaches to gain enough “chilling hours” to reach full bloom in the spring.
“We need to get temperatures between 32 degrees and 55 degrees to give those fruit crops time to go fully dormant and stay dormant long enough to bloom and fruit,” Gray states. “Generally, the ones with medium to high chill requirements do the best for us.”
Chilton County is filled with high elevation regions, which are prone to warmer temperatures. Peach crops are usually planted on these ridgetops in order to get through the late spring freezes that occasionally hit Alabama and the surrounding states.
“One of the primary limiting factors to fruit production in Alabama are the late spring frosts,” Gray says. “That’s where those high elevations come in handy for growing fruits like peaches.”
Gray describes how most peach crops don’t like wet “feet” or roots, making well-draining soil another important element in peach production. Soil that does not have much clay doesn’t retain water and therefore keeps the earth light and cool, optimal for growth.
Picking Your Peach
“Peaches generally do not improve in sweetness once they are harvested,” Gray says. Therefore, when selecting the perfect peach, there are a few things to consider.
From firmness and imperfections to color and texture, be sure to keep an eye out for the following signs:
- Select peaches that show a yellow background color with a rosy blush on their cheeks.
- Avoid peaches with green undertones, this indicates they were picked too early.
- Look for peaches that give slightly at the seam when pressed with your thumb.
- Avoid peaches with tan circles. This is an early sign of decay.
For more information on Chilton County’s peaches and news, click here.