Three years ago, a tornado tore through our acreage, bringing down many of the trees near the house and in the timber. The orchard in front of our home lost 70% of its fruit trees in that one afternoon, and at the time, I wasn’t sure I would be able to convince Rick to replant what we had lost. Not only would replacing the trees be an additional expense, but he saw it as a mowing hazard, since all of those little trees in one area made mowing more difficult.
With time Rick relented, and we slowly replanted as time and money became available. First we replaced the apple and cherry trees, then the plum and pear, and finally the peach and apricot, looking forward to the day when we would once again be able to harvest fruit from our orchard. This spring, when each of the trees was covered in fragrant blossoms, we realized that this might be the year that we have our first crop. As the blossoms turned to small hard fruits, I thinned the number on each branch, hoping to avoid overburdening our young trees. Each time I mowed the lawn, I would inspect the small unripe fruits hanging from the branches of our still-small trees, checking on their progress.
I wasn’t the only one monitoring the fruit in our orchard. Our local foxes also made regular visits to check on the impending feast that hung just above their heads. I knew from past experience that they would eat not only overripe fruit that had fallen to the ground, but that they would also try to assist in the process by shaking the trees in hopes that some of the perfect fruit would come loose and fall.
When I checked on the peaches last week, they were close but still just a bit too firm. Unfortunately we got really busy with hay, sheep sales, and other things, and I totally forgot about the ripening peaches. By the time I mowed yesterday and again checked on their progress, most of the peaches were gone. There were several overripe peaches on the ground with obvious fox nibblings and two ripe peaches left in one of the trees. As I checked those two, I realized that the birds had already begun to eat on one: the skin on one side was missing and the juicy flesh had been pecked away. I offered that one to our chickens, who squawked and flapped and pecked at it in excitement. Chickens obviously love juicy peaches as much as I do!
When I returned to my mower near the peach tree, I carefully checked over the one and only remaining peach. It yielded just a bit to the pressure of my fingers. It was perfect! I picked our one peach and took it into the house, tucking it into the refrigerator to chill as I finished the lawn. I didn’t want to rush my enjoyment of this special prize, and I looked forward to enjoying it at the end of the day when my work was done.
And, oh, what a peach our little tree had produced! It was good sized (not too small nor too big), with a lovely shape and really nice color. As I cut into it after dinner, I was worried that it might be dry, since no juice dripped when I cut it in half. We had chosen a freestone variety for this particular tree (the other had to be different to ensure pollination), and the stone came away easily. As I bit into this visually perfect peach, the flavor did not disappoint. It was a sweet, juicy peach — better than anything we could buy at the store. It was wonderful!
I know from past experience that this is only the beginning. Once the fruit trees begin to produce, the quantity of fruit goes up significantly each year. My head is now filled with thoughts of pies, jams, and bowls of fresh fruit, all springing from these new little trees in our orchard. But I suspect I will never forget this particular first peach, the first of what I hope will be many more for us… and for the chickens, the sheep, and even the foxes. Eventually, there should be plenty for all!