How our warm winter is impacting Hill Country peaches

Peaches for sale at Vogel Orchard's stand in Stonewall, Texas (Frank Martinez/KXAN News).

FREDERICKSBURG, Texas (KXAN) — The peach sorting machine is rolling at Vogel Orchard’s roadside stand. Terri Vogel, who runs the stand with her husband, is the second generation to keep the farm of 7,000 peach trees going.

The past three years have been bumper crop summers. This season, however, is expected to produce fewer peaches, because our winter has been so warm.

Winter ’16-’17 was Austin’s warmest winter on record. This year, our first freeze was more than a week late. On average, it tends to happen on Nov. 12 but, in 2016, our first freeze in the Hill Country came on Nov. 20. In Austin at Campy Mabry, we had a record 19 days above 80 degrees during the winter. At the airport, the number went even higher: 26 days with highs above 80. The previous record was only 16 days at ABIA.

Peach trees become dormant in the late fall or early winter. They need a certain number of chilling hours—hours where the temperature is at or below 42 degrees—in order for the trees to bloom, bud and bear fruit.

The varieties that bloom earlier in the year and therefore needed fewer chilling hours will fare best. The trees that produce fruit later in the summer, including Terri’s favorite variety, likely will struggle.

In some ways, environmental conditions will actually make the peaches better. Because we didn’t see the flooding rain in May that we’ve seen the past two years, the peaches this year are smaller but sweeter. Neil Fisher, who frequents the Vogel Orchard stand, says, “When you get real wet conditions, they’re not near as sweet.” He’s buying a big batch for his wife to make peach ice cream.

 

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