Peaches and Apples – the Barnwells

Move over South Carolina and Georgia, Henderson County has entered the peach market.
Apple growers in Henderson County began planting a few peach trees in the last couple of decades.
From about 1850 to the early 1900s, peaches were the primary fruit crop in Henderson County. They are now making a return.
The Barnwell family in the Fruitland community has grown apples for half a century.
“My Daddy (Odell Barnwell) started the orchard from scratch about 55 years ago,” said Don Barnwell.
Brothers Dean, Don and Wayne Barnwell set out 250 peach trees in 2002. They planted their first peach trees about 23 years ago.
“They’re doing better every year and seem to keep longer than the South Carolina peaches,” Dean Barnwell said.
The Barnwells have six different varieties of peaches in their orchard and all are free-stone peaches.
The most popular varieties are White Lady, Flame and Fury, and Blushing Star.
“These are good, sweet peaches,” Don said.
Peach trees bloom about the same time as apple trees, but the bloom on a peach tree lasts longer. When apple blooms fall off, the apple bud is exposed to the cold. Peach blooms stay longer and form a protective coating. As the peach grows, it gradually pushes the bloom away.
The brothers also planted many of their peach trees on mountainsides and hillsides, which protects them from the frost better than trees planted in low-lying valleys.
They believe the soil in Western North Carolina is better for growing peaches than the sandy and red-clay soils of Georgia and South Carolina.
“Our soil gives peaches a better flavor,” Don Barnwell said.
He said the heat in South Carolina and Georgia causes the peaches to have a shorter shelf life.
“North Carolina peaches won’t rot overnight,” he said. “They keep longer.”
“The weather here is a lot better for peaches,” he said.
The Barnwells spray the peach trees for diseases and pests as they spray their apple trees. They follow the Gerber spray program and the peach trees only need to be sprayed differently for a late rot.
“We finally learned how to prune them,” Don said. “They need to be pruned to look like an umbrella turned upside down. It opens the tree up so the sunlight can reach the peaches.”
Some of the older apple trees the brothers plowed up in the orchard were replaced with peach trees. One of the varieties is a Carolina Belle, which rivals the Georgia Belle.
“Look at the size of these peaches,” Dean said. “They’re bigger and sweeter than the Georgia Belle. They’re big, white peaches.”
They said the popular White Lady is also sweeter than the Georgia Belle.
The Barnwells also planted some nectarine trees which were growing well.
“The peaches and nectarines give us an early money crop before the apples come in,” Dean said.
The Barnwells sell their peach crop at their roadside stand and packing house on U.S. 64 East. Their mother, Gladys, also sells the peaches at the Henderson County Curb Market on Church Street in Hendersonville, along with their home-made apple ciders.
Plenty of apple cider is available, from sweet cider to mulled cider to cider flavored with cherry, grape, banana and cranapple.
“Everything has apple juice in it,” she said.
For almost 70 years she has been selling her items at the market. Along with fresh fruits and cider, she sells sourwood honey and mountain wildflower honey.
“People even come from South Carolina to get our peaches,” Don Barnwell said.
Different varieties mature at varying times.
Gladys Barnwell believes it was a rumor people started that sweet, juicy peaches couldn’t be grown in Western North Carolina and the best peaches were from South Carolina and Georgia.
“Anything they can do, we can do better,” she said.