PEACH (Prunus persica) is a plant native to China that bears a juicy fruit. It is considered the "Queen" of fruits and is second only to apples in popularity. It is a deciduous fruit, delicious in taste, attractive in colour, fine in flavour and aroma. Fresh peach is a rich source of vitamins A and C in addition to potassium and fibre.
It also acts as a laxative because of its strong alkaline reaction on the body and is a good natural cleanser of kidney and bladder. This fruit carries natural iron to the blood.
It is the traditional crop of the Northern Areas which is grown on 4,543 hectares with a production of 48,284 tones. Quetta, Kalat, Peshawar, Swat valley and certain parts of Kohistan hills are the main peach growing areas. Cling and free stone are two important varieties of peaches grown worldwide. In Peshawar and Swat regions Early Grand, Florida King 6-A and 8-A are the most popular cultivars. In Balochistan Golden Early, Shah Pasand and Shireen are grown.
Peach is more than 80 per cent water and is a good source of dietary fibre. This combination makes it a perfect remedy for constipation. One medium size peach has seven per cent of the dietary fibre which is needed each day. Adding fruits like peaches in the diet can keep regular and prevent straining during bowel movements.
Peaches should be soft but not mushy. Rock hard or greenish peaches should not be eaten. Fruits with tan spots should be avoided. It keeps ripening after being picked and may need a couple of days to soften. To peel peaches easily, it is dropped into boiling water for one minute, then immediately immersed in cold water.
Soil and Climate: Peach trees are deep rooted, so good drainage of the subsoil is critical to proper root development. Peach is particularly sensitive to poorly drained soils. It can grow on a wide range of soil, depending upon the rootstock used. With light sandy loam soil, they can be budded on peach seedlings. If the soil is heavy and moist, plum rootstock is most suitable. In general, rich well drained, loamy soils with deep subsoil are most suitable.
Peach tree is not tolerant to wet conditions. It has widely variable chilling requirements from 200 hours below 5oC for low chilling varieties to more than 1000 hours. Peach orchard is located at from 600-1500 meter elevation. For good flavour and better quality peaches, mild summer temperature of 27-30 degree Centigrade is required.
Peshawar local peach seedlings are the ideal rootstock for peach propagation. At the NARC the peach rootstock GF677 have given encouraging results for yield and quality of fruit. T-budding is successfully practiced on one year old rootstock during summer and cleft grafting is done during late winter. Vegetative produced plants of commercial varieties are planted during early spring before sprouting. The square system is used with planting distance of 7-8m depending upon soil type, rootstock and variety.
In the Murree hills, at lower height where peaches can be cultivated, orchard are kept clean during dry period (April-June), while weeds and grasses are allowed to grow during the rainy season (July-August) to conserve the soil. In Peshawar, where the finest peaches are grown, non-bearing orchards are inter-cropped with vegetables and while bearing orchard are kept clean. Peach orchard must be regularly irrigated to obtain optimum yield, adequate water is particularly necessary during pit hardening and fruit maturing stages. A deficiency in irrigation during the growing season will result in reduced fruit size. Excursive irrigation on the other hand may cause collar rot (phythora spp) disease.
High quality peaches are firm and free from defects such as bruising and insect or disease damage. The best ripe peaches and nectarines have a deep yellow or creamy white colour, although colour varies according to cultivar. Green colour indicates immaturity. Peaches harvested when too green may shrivel or fail to develop a desirable flavour upon ripening. The red blush makes the fruit attractive but may not be helpful in determining fruit maturity.
Peaches cannot be consumed or processed immediately. They should be stored in an area with temperatures of 32 degrees F and high-humidity (a home refrigerator may work well). It is best to use or process the fruit as quickly as possible since it is highly perishable under high temperatures and not well suited to prolonged cold storage (more than 14 days).
Plantation: Peach trees are subject to some serious insect pests and diseases. A season's crop may frequently be lost either by flower bud kill due to low winter temperatures or to bloom kill by late-spring frosts. The best chances for success in growing peaches in home landscape result from selecting bud-hardy cultivars, protecting the bloom from late-spring frosts and managing insects and diseases. Peach cultivars do not require cross pollination and set satisfactory crops with their own pollen. A single peach tree can, therefore, be expected to bear crops in the home landscape if flower buds or flowers are not killed by low temperatures.
Pruning: Proper pruning is essential for tree health, fruit production and disease prevention. The open centre system is recommended for peach trees for maximum sunlight exposure, maximum yield and best quality. Pruning and training should be done in the year of planting and every year after to develop a strong, well balanced framework of scaffolds (a tree with a strong trunk and well positioned side branches), as well as to maintain the balance between vegetative growth and fruit production.
Immediately after planting, the tree should be pruned back to a height of 26 to 30 inches. All side branches should be cut to leave a whip (a shoot without lateral branches or with lateral branches removed) that is 26 to 30 inches tall. During the first year diseased, broken and low-hanging limbs are removed. During the second and third years low-hanging, broken and/or diseased limbs should be removed. To maintain the open vase, there is a need to remove any vigorous upright shoots developing on the inside of the tree, leaving the smaller shoots for fruit production. Finally, the vigorous upright limbs on the scaffolds are pruned by cutting them back to an outward growing shoot.
The principles used to develop the trees are used to annually maintain the size and shape of the mature tree. The tree is lowered to the desired height by pruning the scaffolds to an outward growing shoot at the desired height.
Thinning: Fruit set may be too heavy on some trees in some years. If fruit is not thinned, size, colour and quality of the entire crop is reduced. Peaches and certain plums usually have excess fruit. In years without frost and freeze damage, more peaches will set than the tree can support, and the fruit must be thinned. Approximately three to four weeks after bloom, or when the largest fruit are as large as a quarter, fruits should be removed by hand so that the remaining peaches are spaced about every eight inches. Fruit thinning will allow the remaining fruits to develop optimum size, shape and colour, as well as prevent depletion of the tree.
Fertilizer: Half pound of 10-10-10 fertiliser or its equivalent is applied seven to ten days after planting and the same amount again 40 days after planting. The fertiliser is broadcasted evenly eight to 12 inches away from the trunk. In the second and third years after planting, the tree should receive 3/4 pound of 10-10-10 in March and again in May. Mature peach trees (4 to 10 years of age) should receive one to two pounds of 10-10-10 fertiliser each in March and May. If the tree is vigorous and there are no fruit expected, only the March application is necessary.
Peach trees need 18 inches of new growth each year. The sod from under the tree must be removed, mulched and/or irrigated as needed. Irrigation will increase yield particularly if it is applied three weeks before harvest. The area under the trees' canopies should be kept free of weeds and grass. This practice reduces competition for nutrients and water. Mulching helps retain an even soil temperature and moisture level. Mulch should be kept at least three inches from the base of the trunk to prevent rodent or disease problems.