Peaches in Edneyville

Each afternoon, Hoytt Jones leaves his job at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research Station in Fletcher and arrives at his home in Edneyville to spend the next few hours tending his peach trees.
Jones was one of the first farmers in Henderson County to begin growing peach trees.
“We used to go to South Carolina to get peaches,” Jones said. “A good friend brought us three or four peach trees one winter.”
It was in the 1960s, when most people were saying it was difficult to grow peaches in the mountains. But the peach trees and the peaches they produced were excellent, Jones said.
The 125 acres of land at the foot of Bearwallow Mountain, with its panoramic view of many surrounding mountains, has been in the family since the 1940s, when Jones’ father, Fax Jones, bought it.
The family grew apples on some of the land until about 1988, when Jones went to work for the research station.
“There was no money and low profit in apples,” he said. “We had about 30 acres in apples and there was a squeeze on the little farmers. We pushed the trees out.”
All except one tree, one of the remaining trees developed by one of the area’s first apple growers, Andy Lyda. It’s an early June apple named after Lyda.
“Some people call it the Andy Lyda and some people say Annie Lyda,” Jones said. “Either way, we grafted one so we have this one tree.”
Now Jones’ main crop is peaches, about a dozen varieties of peaches.
“People have been coming here for years to get peaches,” Jones said.
Knowledge of Jones’ peaches spread locally by word of mouth for years. His wife of 44 years, Ann Ellis Jones, would take peaches to work with her to sell. Local produce stands would come to Jones to buy his peaches for re-sale.
Now Jones and his grandson, Adam, can be found Saturday mornings at the Henderson County Tailgate Market selling peaches through Labor Day. His grandson and son, Bobby, also sell peaches some days at the WNC Farmers Market in Asheville.
The first variety of peaches the Joneses grew were Elbertas. With the many varieties they now grow, there are peaches ripe through the first of September.
“Ours are all free-stone,” he said. “I wouldn’t think about growing cling-stone peaches.”
“Some say the same variety of peach grown in the mountains and in South Carolina and Georgia tastes better grown here,” said his wife.
“A lot of people say mountain peaches are better,” Jones said. “The soil gives them a different taste.”
Jones said his most popular varieties are the Elberta, Encore, White Lady, Contender, China Pearl and Carolina Belle.
“There’s really not much difference in growing peaches and apples,” Jones said. “It’s the same type of work.”
The main difference is in the thinning of the crop, he said.
“Peaches require hand thinning,” he said. “You can use chemicals to thin an apple tree.”
“He and Mom would walk up there every evening and they pulled about 85 percent of the peaches off,” his son said. “It took them a month, working every evening about three hours a day.”
Jones said most of the pesticides and chemicals to treat diseases on apple and peach trees are the same. Peaches are highly susceptible to brown rot, he said, and the chemical to prevent this disease costs about $113 a quart.
“Brown rot is a nightmare,” Jones said. “It’s a fungus and it takes a good chemical to control it. And a hailstorm will flatten a peach.”
People planting peach trees in the mountains need to pay close attention to what is called the “high chilling hours” of different varieties, Jones said. The “high chilling hours” of a peach tree tell how many hours of cold the variety of peach can withstand.
“If you plant a peach tree that is 650 chilling hours, when winter is over and spring comes, that tree thinks it’s spring and begins forming peaches,” he said. “A tree with high chilling hours of 1,150 will be later coming out. We like to plant trees that have 1,000 to 1,200 chilling hours. The higher the chilling hours, the more dependable the crop.”
Peach trees should also be planted at high elevations in the mountains, he said.
“A high elevation gets you out of the frost,” Jones said. “You need to be above the frost line to grow good peaches. Even then, sometimes the high spots will have peaches killed in the bud.”
“Farming is the biggest gamble there is,” his wife said. “It’s got Las Vegas beat.”
All the peaches the family sells are hand picked individually and placed into a basket, so the peach is only handled one time.
“You’ve got to treat them like they’re eggs,” Ann Jones said.
Growers who ship their peaches to stores will pick them green, Jones said.
“You’ve got to pick them green to ship them,” he said.
But since most local peach growers only sell locally, the peaches are picked when they are ripe, he said.
Jones said he enjoys working at the research station and then coming home to work with the peach trees.
“I just love growing stuff,” he said. “I grow peaches for a hobby. I’ve got to do something and peaches are easier to sell than apples.
“And I enjoy my job at the station,” Jones said. “I get to do many different types of work with some of the best people you could ever want to work with.”