Peaches, peaches, peaches!

The Niagara-on-the-Lake Peach Celebration is coming up on August 9th and 10th. The event will feature live music, entertainment, historic displays, and a night market, to celebrate the peach harvest. It promises to be a peach of a celebration!

Peaches originate in Northwestern China, but have been cultivated in other parts of the world for centuries. Canada imports peaches from as far away as China and Chile, but peaches also grow well in some parts of Southern Ontario, notably the Niagara Region. You can buy delicious Ontario peaches from July to September.

The peach tree (Prunus persica) is a member of the rose family, closely related to cherry trees and plum trees. Nectarines, yellow fleshed peaches, and white fleshed peaches are all different varieties of the same species.

Clingstone peaches are those whose flesh “clings” to the pit, whereas the flesh of freestone peaches easily separates from the pit. Freestone varieties are preferred for eating fresh, while clingstones are generally used for canning.

Commercial peach trees are not grown from seed. Rather, a small branch, or scion, from the desired cultivar of tree is grafted on to a rootstock. As the tree grows, it has the genes of the scion from the point of graft upwards, and from the graft downwards it has the genes of the rootstock. This allows producers to grow trees that are well adapted to the local climate and also produce desirable fruit.

In Ontario, the Bailey rootstock is generally chosen for its winter hardiness. Popular varieties of the scion, the fruiting part, include Harrow Diamond, Garnet Beauty, Redhaven, and Harrow Beauty.

Peach trees require a cold winter in order to blossom the following year. However, they are also very sensitive to winter injuries and will not produce fruit after a winter of temperatures colder than around -25 C. Peach trees need full sun and well drained soil for best fruit production.

The mildest regions of Ontario provide a good climate for peach production. Niagara Region produces by far the most peaches in Ontario. In 2012, around 4700 acres of peaches were harvested in Ontario, and 4168 of these were in Niagara Region. That’s about 15 metric tons of peaches coming from the region!

Peaches can be eaten fresh but also make great fillings in pies, cobblers, crisps and other desserts. On our partner site, Flavours of the Biosphere, you can find a recipe for a delicious peach crumble. What’s your favourite peach recipe?

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