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Voices of Spencer Creek

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Peach Tree Umbrellas

Time to get out in the rain and make umbrellas for peach trees!

By Lois Barton

Posted on Jan 2, 2003

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"Peach Blossoms," photo copyrighted by Ikeda Shoji
Winter is upon us. Time for pruning orchards and dreaming with seed and orchard catalogs. I am thankful for the delicious canned peaches we have been enjoying this winter. Time to install the umbrellas again for another peach crop. Yes, umbrellas, as the following story will explain:

September harvest--I had fresh sliced peaches on my cereal for breakfast this morning. They were a very special treat, a gift from our daughter and her husband who live just down the road.

We've lived here on the sunny side of Spencer Butte for fifty years. We've always had productive gardens and plenty of fruit, except for peaches. We've tried several times to grow peaches, but they are sensitive to leaf curl and never survive to bear a crop. We haven't equipped ourselves with sprayers and pesticides to treat the problem. Too many other things to do, minding children and livestock, garden and household, and an abiding interest in "organic" food stuffs. This makes peaches grown here on our hillside, also without those defensive protections used by commercial orchardists, so special. Our son-in-law has worked part time over the years with a farmer in the valley. He told me the other day how he learned to provide an umbrella for his peach trees.

"One day Chet (not his real name) and I were working on machinery at the barn door. We had to keep backing the pickup around a corner of the pasture fence that came up to the barn by that door, and one day I suggested that we move the fence to give us a little more room for our work... We did just that. There was a seedling peach tree in that corner of the pasture where Chet's wife had thrown parings to the cows. After the seedling tree began to grow the cows had kept it browsed off so it was just a bush, but when the fence replacement left it out of the pasture, it had a chance to grow into a tree. It was rooted very close to the barn, so that the new growth was partly under the eaves. I noticed that leaf curl really attacked the branches that were out from under the eaves, but that those sheltered by the roof above stayed healthy and green. I mentioned this to Chet one day and he said he'd heard that leaf curl came in the rain.

"I sprouted seedlings from windfalls under Chet's seedling tree by the barn. I transplanted some of them. When they got big enough to begin to bloom, I remembered that tree on the farm, and built a plastic cover for the young trees. It is supported by small plastic pipes bent into arches so it looks like an umbrella. They have to be covered from January until after blooming."

For several years now, they've been harvesting peaches from those trees. The fruits are freestone and their skin pulls off clean when they are ripe, so they don't even have to be pared.

The kids have grown a great garden on the heavy clay soil here south of Spencer Butte, using mint straw for mulch and bedding from the chicken house, but the peach trees are not in the most favored spots. Even so, they've flourished remarkably well. I've canned several quarts and made peach butter from their donated fruit every year recently.

We realize it would not be possible for commercial orchardists to follow this method for acres of trees, but we are delighted with "organically grown, pesticide free" fruit, and the price is right as well. Incidentally, our son vacationing in Cornwall, England, last fall, learned that the owner of the bed and breakfast where they stayed covered her peach trees seasonally to protect them from peach leaf curl. So the wisdom of this practice is not limited to a local discovery!

Visit the Heron Rookery and other stories of The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte at Voices of Spencer Creek with Lois.

Writer and historian
Lois Barton
Lois Barton is an 84 year old mother of eight children. She has lived on the same rural acreage just south of Eugene, Oregon for more than 50 years. All their children learned to milk, to keep the woodboxes filled, to do their share of household and garden chores. Her first book, Spencer Butte Pioneers, was published in 1982 when her youngest started to school. Since then she wrote five other books: Daughter of the Soil, now out of print; One Woman's West; A Quaker Promise Kept; and Through My Window, autobiographical sketches, sequel to Daughter Of the Soil. Through the years Lois has been a 4H leader, president of the neighborhood association, a precinct committee woman, election board clerk, editor of the Lane County Historian, and a life long Quaker. She spent a month in Southeast Asia in 1974 as a member of a church peace mission, after working for ten years as director of the Eugene Chapter of the World Without War Council.

See more of Lois Barton's Articles in West By Northwest
Sauerkraut and All That

Charlotte's Overdose - Just who is Charlotte and what did she take?

The Midwife - The midnight call awoke an unusual midwife.

The Mystery of Fox Hollow - Fact and fiction meet in this story of the origins of Faith Rock.

Trees, Tame Trees and Squirrel.

Books by Lois Barton

History and stories of the peoples of the Northwest.

© Copyright 2000-2004 by West By

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