Peaches and apricots are favorite summer fruits, and a great source of dietary fiber, Niacin, Potassium and Vitamin C.
Growing peaches and apricots in Nebraska is a challenge, but still many gardeners are successful and looking forward to harvest in a few weeks. Harvest dates for peaches and apricots vary by cultivar, but typically in eastern Nebraska its from late June through August.
As harvest nears, protect fruits from bird damage, which can be serious on peaches and apricots. Many species of birds are attracted to ripening fruits, including starlings, robins, grackles, Baltimore orioles and blue jays.
One way to protect fruits is by creating a teepee around your tree with monofilament lines. Securely attach a dowel to the top of the tree, perpendicular to the ground, extending about 2 feet above the tree. Next, attach 15 to 20 long monofilament (fishing) lines to the dowel, and on the opposite end of each line to a wooden stake or landscape pin. The lines should be long enough to reach the ground about 15 feet away from the tree’s trunk. Stake the lines to the ground so that most of the tree is within the teepee.
Taste a few fruits as they near maturity to determine when they have reached peak flavor. Peaches and apricots will ripen in color, texture and juiciness after harvest, but flavor and sugar content will not increase once they are removed from the tree. So make sure your fruits have developed ideal sweetness, but are still a little firm, before harvesting. Allowing fruits to become overripe on the tree will decrease their storage time and increase the potential for disease, insect and bird damage.
Typically, apricots are harvested when the fruits have developed full color, from yellow to deep orange depending on the cultivar, with no green remaining, and they are just beginning to soften. Mature apricots vary in size from 1½ to 2½ inches in diameter. Apricots have a short storage life, typically 1-2 weeks at 30-40 F and 90 percent humidity, so make plans for their use before they spoil.
Harvest peaches when the base color, or ground color, of the fruits changes from green to full yellow. Many newer peach cultivars have a lot of red coloration to the skin, but don’t base your harvest on this. Red coloration is not a reliable measure of maturity; in fact, some cultivars have so much red coloration that the ground color change is hard to detect. In this case, firmness, fruit size, and taste testing are the best indicators of ripeness. Avoid harvesting any fruits with greenish skins, due to their poor flavor and texture. Peaches can be stored for 2-4 weeks when held at 31-32 F and 90 percent humidity.
After harvesting, gardeners are often disappointed to find their fruits quickly develop brown rot, a very common fungal decay of apricot, peach, cherry and plum. Fruits become more susceptible to infection as they near maturity. If humid or wet conditions occur during fruit ripening, brown rot outbreaks can be severe. Infected fruits develop soft brown spots, which quickly expand to the entire fruit. Fruits are covered by a tan mold-like growth of fungal spores, eventually shriveling into a dried fruit mummy.
To minimize infection, first be careful to not damage fruits during harvest, since it makes them much more susceptible to infection, but even undamaged fruits can easily be infected during storage.
After harvest, one method home gardeners can use to minimize fruit loss to brown rot is a hot water bath. Research published in the journal of Crop Protection, demonstrated that briefly immersing fruits in hot water 55 C (131 F) to 60 C (140 F) for 60 seconds significantly reduced brown rot infections, even in fruit not treated with a fungicide. Hotter water or longer immersion times resulted in fruit damage, so keep your water within the recommended temperature range and dip times. After the hot water treatment, allow fruits to dry then place them in cold storage, as recommended above, for the longest storage.
Sarah Browning is an extension educator with Nebraska Extension and can be reached at 402-441-7180 or firstname.lastname@example.org.