Peaches are In!

Contributed by: Louise Boultbee

Nothing says summer like fresh peaches! It’s 25 years and counting that Walter Konik and his family have been supplying Fiesta with the finest sun-ripened Ontario plums, peaches and nectarines. In fact, right now we’re in full swing supply with the bounty of summer harvests from Walter’s farm and other Ontario growers.

Walter Konik - Ontario Peach Farmer

Walter Konik – Ontario Peach Farmer

Walter’s orchards aren’t open to the public, but knowing how much all of us in the Fiesta family are committed to local producers, we paid him a visit. We learned a lot and have shared the details of our conversation over two platforms, here on our blog and on our Instagram @fiestafarmsto.

Ready for a little ‘Stone Fruit Growing 101’?!

Alright – let’s give you a little lay of the land. Walter’s orchards cover 100 acres. A good chunk of that acreage represents four farms side by side – the first of which the family bought way back in 1952. Of his 100 acres, he will tell you, about 75% to 80% will be in production. There is constant crop rotation. Fruit trees are planted in blocks and each block lasts about 12 years. No sequoias here! Walter and his team plant nursery rootstock. This means the bud of a specific variety of peach is grafted onto rootstock.

It takes about 4 or 5 years for a fruit tree to reach full production status which then lasts for about 7 or 8 years. When trees within a given block begin to fail, Walter has to determine just when to make the decision to cut them all down, pull out the roots and burn everything. That’s a lot of work. What’s the next step? Start the process all over again.

So – there’s the 12-year cycle of an orchard and then there’s the 12-month cycle. Getting those delicious juicy plums, peaches and nectarines to the point of picking is a year-round endeavour – beginning well before the summer months. By the end of March, any new rootstock trees are planted and all of the trees are individually pruned. “Peach trees are the exception,” Walter notes, “to ensure new growth is protected they are pruned a little later – at the beginning of April.” Prior to spring flowering, a local beekeeper brings in hives for about a month to facilitate the pollination process.

Depending on the type of fruit, harvests begin in June and roll right through to September. For those months it is definitely ‘all hands on deck’. Late fall and winter through to March of the new year are for mulching strawberries, pruning, clearing out blocks of trees that have been retired from production and repairing equipment. “There is never enough time to do everything,” Walter says with a chuckle.

There’s a real rhythm. There’s a lot of hard work. And there is also a lot of luck. The weather, for example, is a wild card. Just a few days before we arrived for our visit, Walter lost 25% of his peach harvest to a freak hail storm. How ‘bout them apples – umm…actually… peaches eh?

Now – follow the bouncing ball on this little situation Walter walked us through below. It’s a real case of ‘live and learn’.

We’re standing with Walter in a particular section of plum orchard. This block of a few acres is planted with two different types of plum trees. The majority is of one variety and then along the south side of the larger portion, Walter planted one row of a second variety on the recommendation of a nursery. Why? Because the nursery advised the one row of the second variety would pollinate the first variety – the larger proportion of fruit trees in the block.

And why, might you ask, plant the second variety on the south side of this whole section of orchard? To take advantage of the prevailing winds coming from the south. The desired result? During the flowering stage, the wind carries the pollen over the larger section of plum trees.

This all seems pretty brilliant and Walter gives us a moment to marvel before saying slowly, “Okay. Take a look at the plum trees on your left. Lots and lots of plums aren’t there?” This is the one row planted to the south to catch the prevailing winds and help pollinate the larger area. Each branch is literally loaded with gorgeous plums.

“Now,” he continues in his direct manner, “Turn to your right. This is the larger section, the multiple acres. What do you see? Yup – absolutely no plums at all.” It turns out the nursery wasn’t right about the cross-pollination of these two varieties. “And it’s not like Costco where you can take them all back,” Walter says with a rueful smile. Ouch! We have to agree. No soft landing here on this issue.

Listening to Walter explain this plum pollination dilemma, our respect for him deepens. We acknowledge his candour in sharing this very real situation with us. There’s also this clear appreciation that we are in the presence of a remarkable person; someone who is planted, more firmly than any tree, in the land of responding frankly and open-heartedly to the challenges of farming. We’ll let you get back to the business of harvesting your amazingly delicious juice-dripping-off-your-chin plums, peaches and nectarines, Walter. Thanks to your generosity, please know we’ll enjoy your fruit now even more than before.

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