Every year at this time I have friends who head to the beach for vacation, just in time to miss their peaches turning ripe. I, the vacation plant waterer, am the designated peach picker as well.
The crop so far has been heavy enough to snap two branches that sadly slid off their wooden supports. I see cobbler, ice-cream topping and freezing — my friends should be able to enjoy some of them, after all — in my near future.
But you don't have to have a peach tree in your backyard to be able to pick some. Area orchards allow people to come in and pick their own fruit for less cost than if it's already picked. There's something about a peach you've chosen and picked yourself that makes it taste even better, sun-warmed off the branch.
And it's a tradition that, along with many good things, is getting harder to come by.
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"A lot of orchards are doing away with you-pick because of the liability and the fact that there's a lot of waste in you-pick," says Gaylord Sargeant of Sargeant's Berry Farm at 9836 S. Hydraulic in Haysville. "People throw down a lot of good peaches that could go to the church — they feed a lot of people down there."
But Sargeant's is going to hang in there and keep offering the experience, he says.
"There's nothing funnier than a kid who's never eaten a picked peach, and juice running down his face. You can't get that experience in a grocery store."
Another thing that reduces the opportunity for fruit picking is the fact that not every year produces a crop.
"The last three years we've either been frozen out or hailed out," Gaylord said. "Last year we totally froze out, and the year before that it was a hailstorm that did the peaches in.
"This has been an exceptional year for the fruit growers. We just need people to participate."
And once the peaches start ripening, the clock starts clicking.
"We have a small window of two or three weeks, maybe four weeks" to pick, Gaylord said. It depends on the weather, but the season can be over by the second week in August.
The summer of 2010 is witnessing not only a bounty of peaches but of apricots, pears, apples and berries, too.
Steve Einsel of Wichita is looking at the second good crop to come off his three pear trees since he planted them nine years ago. Last year the crop froze, but the year before that "they just exploded. I called the neighbors and said, 'You want some pears?' and I canned and canned and canned. I made pear butter and pear jam." Steve is looking at the same thing again this year, but this time, he plans to donate some of the fruit for the needy through Plant a Row for the Hungry.
One thing about pears is they have to be picked before they turn ripe. See the accompanying box for information on how to know when to pick fruits.
I can't stand the thought that July is this close to ending. So what to do with a peach of a summer?
Pick it for all it's worth.