Ain't that a peach! P.E.I. apple grower branches out
Peaches first-ever grown commercially on P.E.I.
Barry Balsom has been growing apples in Arlington, P.E.I., for decades, but is always looking for something new that will grow well on P.E.I.
He visited a horticultural expo a few years ago with the idea of finding out more about a new breed of plums called "bubblegum" — but instead, ended up coming away fired up about the possibility of growing P.E.I.'s first ever commercial harvest of peaches.
"We're pretty excited," Balsom said. "We've got our first commercial harvest of peaches — we got over a tonne of them on less than an acre, and they're top-quality peaches."
Didn't think P.E.I.'s climate was warm enough to grow peaches?
"Neither did I!" Balsom said.
An expert Michigan horticulturalist, Paul Friday, suggested the new breed of peaches, which were growing well already in the prairies.
It took the Balsoms a few years to get permission to get the plants across border, and they planted about 180 trees on their property in Arlington three years ago.
"That was just about in time for the worst winter I've ever seen," said Balsom, recalling there were many freeze-thaw cycles topped off by abundant snow. "That's the worst thing that can happen to peaches — and didn't the damn things survive!"
The Balsoms have had to educate themselves on how to look after peaches — they need much more fertilizer than apples, he noted, hand-thinning and pruning, as well as dry, sandy soil.
But the effort has paid off.
"Boy did we ever get a harvest this year out of them," he said.
'You can make a living'
They're selling the peaches for $5.99 per quart — about the same as what Nova Scotia growers charge, Balsom said.
Peaches make economic sense, Balsom said, because the yield is high from a small number of trees.
"You can make a living off those, we think," he said.
Growing the peaches will be a long process . He acknowledges there will likely be pests and disease in the future.
"I think the commercial peach production has just gone a little bit further north, and that is exciting for us," he said.
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