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Thinning peaches. May 26, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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It’s peach-thinning time here in Pennsylvania! Here at Hawk’s Haven, our friend Ben and Silence Dogood have a dwarf ‘Reliance’ peach tree, so named because it’s cold-hardy and flowers later than other peaches, reducing the risk that the blooms will be killed by a late frost. (Dead blooms = no peaches.) Our ‘Reliance’ has certainly lived up to its name, reliably producing bumper crops of delicious peaches every year. In fact, it’s way too enthusiastic when it comes to peach production.

Our friend Ben can’t believe that wild peaches behave in this extravagant way, but it certainly seems like every one of the clouds of hot-pink blooms that make our ‘Reliance’ so spectacular each spring goes on to form a peach. Right now, the peaches are about the size of my thumbnail, and they’re already touching each other. That’s where thinning comes in.

You thin the fruit for three reasons: First, to give the remaining peaches enough room to reach full size. Second, to help prevent disease, since peaches rubbing against each other are more likely to get black mold and rot. (You should put the thinned peaches in a bag and trash them rather than letting them fall to the ground or composting them for the same reason, in case any of them are carrying fungal spores.) And third, to keep from weighing down the branches with ripe fruit, which can actually rip an unsupported limb off the tree (don’t ask our friend Ben how we know this).

But how far apart should the peaches you leave on the tree be? Here’s a great tip from our friend Dave: “I worked at a local orchard one summer when I was a kid,” Dave told us this past weekend. “The owner said if you spread your thumb and little finger as far apart as you can”—he held up a hand to demonstrate—“that’s about the right distance to leave between peaches.”

Our friend Ben tried this later that night with a ruler, and on my hand, it’s eight inches from fingertip to fingertip. Of course, you could eyeball it when you’re thinning, but I love the idea of having your own integral measuring device with you at all times. It links me to the past, back to mediaeval times when body-based measurements like handspans and paces were the norm rather than the exception. Today, the foot is the only body-based measurement I can think of that’s still in common use.

So next time you need to thin your peaches, remember Dave’s handy (sorry, I couldn’t resist that one) rule of thumb (or that one either). Your measuring tool is just an arm’s length away.



1. mr_subjunctive - May 26, 2009

I’ve found that memorizing the width of my hand from thumb to pinky (8 inches) and the length of my arm from elbow to tip of middle finger (18 inches) has helped me out in a lot of situations, particularly at work when I’ve needed to guess the size of a large pot but didn’t have a ruler nearby.

Okay, now I have to get out that ruler again. Great idea, especially about measuring pot size!

2. Lzyjo - May 26, 2009

Great tips! I want some dwarf fruit trees now! Darn it! Fresh peaches sound so good! In fact, any fruit off the tree sounds good. My maternal grandparents have wild sickle pears on their farm. I’m the only one who bothered to eat them. It’s amazing what a tree growing on it’s own can do, with no pruning or care.

Seckels are my favorite pears, lzyjo! We have a dwarf Seckel pear growing here, too, but so far it hasn’t bloomed. (At least it seems to be thriving, and we have our three-on-one dwarf pear to take up the slack ’til it gets old enough to bloom.) I think you’d be able to grow quite a variety of dwarf peaches down in Tennessee, as well as dwarf apples, pears, cherries and plums! (We’re still working on the plums and cherries.) If you plant them, let us know what you choose and how they do!

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