There is no better way to experience a peach than to pick it fully ripe off the tree and eat it the same day. That said, growing peaches in your backyard can also be heartbreaking. Birds peck at the ripening fruit and bugs get into the holes they make. If you are busy for a day or two at the wrong time, you will come home to find every peach on your tree ruined. Unlike some other fruit, all the peaches one a single tree ripen all at once, over the course of one week. So even if you do get the timing right, you may find yourself with fifty pounds or more of fruit that doesn’t fit in your fridge and which quickly spoils at room temperature.
If you sell peaches for a living, you need to harvest them before they are fully ripe. Otherwise, by the time they are picked, packed, delivered and then eaten, they will most likely be bruised and breaking down.
As you are aware, at Terra Firma we pack our peaches and apricots into paper bags that then get packed into boxes with other produce. We pack the boxes on (for example) Tuesday, then deliver them Wednesday. Most of you don’t get them home until Wednesday night. If we picked our peaches fully ripe, some of them would be spoiled and bruised when you got them.
Picking peaches fully ripe is easy — you just wait until the peach is soft. It’s much more difficult to pick them “just before”. At this stage, the fruit is usually fully-colored, firm, and sweet but not particularly juicy. But that depends on the variety of peach: some start getting soft before they are fully colored, while others may stay rock hard for days even when full color. And the weather can affect this process dramatically, with cool weather slowing it down and hot weather speeding it up. If we pick the peaches too soon, they won’t ripen at all.
We grow 25 varieties of peaches and nectarines, which ripen in succession over the course of the spring and summer. Some of them, quite frankly, taste better than others. Some are highly acidic, others have no acid at all. There are also dramatic differences between the varieties in terms of their yields, pest and disease resistance, and tree vigor — factors that matter more to farmers than eaters. Harvesting each one of these varieties at the correct time is a challenge, and we don’t always get it right.
After harvesting the peaches, we refrigerate them to 35 degrees. This effectively stops the ripening process. We can hold the fruit for a week or ten days at this temperature, which is useful since we only pack your boxes on Weds-Fri but peaches ripen when they feel like it. And as I mentioned above, a heat wave can ripen two weeks worth of peaches in a single week, leaving none on the trees to pick the following week.
Once we remove the peaches from the cooler, it takes them a day or so to warm back up to room temperature. Since we deliver our boxes to you in refrigerated trucks, they may still be cold when you get them. If you leave them outside the fridge, they should finish ripening up in a day or two.
I understand that you may feel like eating one of those peaches when you get your box home and open it up. While this may have occasionally, it is more likely you have to wait a day or three before your fruit ripens completely.
I know how you feel. Even though the TFF peach orchard is in my backyard, there is almost never any fruit on the trees that is ripe enough to eat on the spot. I have a small basket on my kitchen counter where I keep the peaches that I pick until they finish ripening.
If you live someplace really cool, you may want to speed the ripening process by leaving your peaches in a plastic container or plastic bag. Don’t tighten the lid or tie the bag closed — you just want to create a warm environment that traps some of the ethylene gas the peaches release naturally.