FORT VALLEY — It may not yet be summer officially, but midstate peach orchards are already showcasing some sure signs of the season.
Middle Georgia peac3h growers began harvesting, packaging and selling the sweet fruit this week. Harvesters said peach farms in Georgia are having a bumper crop this year.
“We may still have something that affects the crop, like a storm, windstorm or too much rain,” said Robert Dickey, owner of Dickey Farms in Musella. “But this is the first time in about six years that we’ve had a full crop.”
Dickey said Wednesday the crop harvest has been so bountiful that his farm has had to use a process called “thinning.”
“We’ve had to go through a lot of expense and trouble to take fruit off the tree, so they would get big,” Dickey said. “If you leave too many peaches on the tree, they won’t get big.”
Duke Lane III, vice president of sales at Lane Southern Orchards in Fort Valley, said the Georgia Peach Council created a campaign to help growers push local sales. The campaign urges people to “always ask for Georgia peaches.”
“So if you go to a retailer and they don’t have Georgia peaches, ask for them, ’cause we’ve got a bumper crop,” Lane said.
Residents frequently visit the farms during their harvesting seasons. Pattie Buege, from Warner Robins, took a visiting relative from Madison, Wis., to Lane Southern Orchards.
“I live here, and I come all the time,” Buege said. “They’ve completely renovated the place, so it’s like exploring new territory.”
Growers said early varieties of peaches become ripe about late May, and the last peaches usually ripen in late July. Dickey said the current variety being sold at Dickey Farms is a red peach called Flavor Rich.
“That’s been real pretty — large and red. It’s a very flavorful peach,” he said. “We’ve got multiple varieties. We’ll have one or two new varieties ripening every week. Every week is a new variety. That’s how we planned it.”
Farms in Middle Georgia are offering other activities and products besides peaches to visitors, such as tours of the farms, homemade ice cream and cobbler, jellies, jams and pickled peaches. Farms are also beginning to sell other early crops, such as sweet corn, herbs and tomatoes.
Many farms in the area offer marketplaces where local residents and travelers can stop and sample wares offered. Customers at both Dickey Farms and Lane Southern Orchards can enjoy ice cream in open-air venues, near packing plants that offer daily tours.
“We’ve been here before and we love it here. We come for the ice cream,” said Wayne McLamb, from Charleston, S.C.
Lane said Lane Southern Orchards will offer pick-your-own berry and vegetable patch activities starting in June. Dickey said while Dickey Farms does not allow customers to pick their own peaches, they can choose “seconds” from the line.
“They have a little limb rub or a slight bruise, and they’re sold as seconds. The prices are really, really cheap for them,” he said.
Dickey said consumers can expect to enjoy some of the best peaches in the nation from the current crop.
“I think the peaches that come out of Georgia are some of the best-flavored peaches,” he said. “With the soil and the temperature that we have, they just taste better than peaches coming out of California or Florida. Our climate is just ideal for growing peaches.”
To contact writer Tiffany Stevens, call 744 4213.