Alabama Gardens: A peach of a month
By Katie Jackson
I love June, the month that the famous 20th century garden writer and designer Gertrude Jekyll described as “the time of perfect young summer.”
It is that fresh, youthful promise of June that makes me adore it so. It is the month when summer officially arrives (on the Summer Solstice, June 21). And as the weather becomes reliably warm, but not so intensely hot as it will be later in the season, it’s a great month to work in the yard and garden. It’s also the month when we can begin to fill our tables and plates with summer fruits and vegetables of all kinds — the ones we have been longing for ever since last year.
Chief among those fruits, and arguably one of the most popular fruits in the world, are peaches, which are coming into full production in Alabama this month. While August is National Peach Month, June is when the peach is appropriately celebrated in Alabama. One of the oldest, if not THE oldest, of these celebrations is the Chilton County Peach Festival, which has been held since 1947 during the third week in June (this year’s festival is June 20-26).
The week-long festival features pageants, a “peach run,” art exhibitions, a cook-off, a fishing tournament, live music, parades, live and silent auctions, barbecue and much more (www.chiltonchamberonline.com or 205-755-2400). But most important of all, it celebrates the importance of peaches to Chilton County, which produces more than 80 percent of Alabama’s overall peach crop.
The peach, which is actually grown throughout the state, is such an important part of our state’s agricultural economy that, in 2006, the Alabama Legislature designated the peach as Alabama’s official state “tree fruit,” a declaration that raised a few eyebrows in Georgia and South Carolina, two states that are also famous for their peaches, but has nonetheless has stuck.
If you want to celebrate the peach and don’t have peach trees of your own from which to pick these lovely fruits, there are myriad opportunities to pick them or pick them up from growers throughout the state. Look for Alabama-grown peaches at roadside stands and farmers markets or check out the website www.pickyourown.org to find peach and other pick-your-own fruit and vegetable opportunities throughout the state.
Choosing the right peach
To choose the perfect peach, a rich color and a peachy fragrance are good indicators, but the best test is to squeeze them ever so gently. A perfectly ripe peach should yield a little to the touch but not be so soft it bruises. Of course, if you’re cooking them up for peach jam or preserves, riper ones are fine. And if you’re buying a large quantity of peaches to use over several days, get a mix of riper and less ripe ones.
One of the many fine attributes of peaches is that they ripen well even after they are picked. Simply leave less ripe peaches on the counter (preferably not stacked on top of each other) or, to help them ripen faster, store them in a paper bag. To slow down their ripening, keep them in the refrigerator, though check them every few days to make sure they are not drying out.
Another thing about peaches is that they make great gifts. The term “you’re a real peach” is said to have originated from the tradition of giving a peach as a sign of friendship or affection, so if you want to spread some affection and appreciation this June, share your peaches. In fact, since June is the month that we also celebrate fathers (Father’s Day is June 21), think about giving the dad or dads in your life a basket of peaches or a peach pie, cobbler or other dish or make him some peach jam.
Most important of all, get outside and enjoy this first month of summer—the peachy month of June.
June Garden Tips
- Plant tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and sweet potatoes.
- Sow seeds for beans, field peas, pumpkins, squash, corn, cantaloupes and watermelon.
- Deadhead flowering annuals to encourage continued blooming.
- Irrigate (with long, deep weekly waterings) houseplants, newly planted shrubs and perennials and lawns as needed if the weather turns dry.
- Remove dry and yellow foliage from spring bulbs.
- Keep an eye out for insect and disease problems in the garden and on houseplants.
- Thin the new fruits on apple, pear and peach trees to produce larger fruit.
- Add fresh water frequently to birdbaths and ornamental pools to reduce mosquito breeding.