CF: What is it about the Cascade Farmlands region that makes tree fruit so remarkable?
Peter: Basically, stone fruit grows best in a dessert with water, like North Central Washington. Our volcanic soils help; the lack of humidity is very important. Moisture carries bacteria and fungus, meaning you have to spray fungicides. We avoid that here. Plus we get really nice colors and sugars because of warm days and cool nights. Flowing waters, like the Columbia River help moderate temperatures and provide irrigation.
CF: How many varieties of peaches do you grow?
Peter: We might grow 100 kinds of tree fruit seedlings at Van Well's. Forty to fifty of those are peaches.
CF: What peaches are your personal favorites?
Peter: Red Haven is still number one. Whoever tastes this peach is just going to fall in love with it. We grow a variety that has been around since the 1950's. Peach varieties tend to remain classic. I personally really like Glohaven. It's a little bigger, a little fuller red color and has tremendous flavor, combined with very, very light fuzz. If you are canning, the Early Alberta is excellent. It's a light blushing peach, very firm with a bright flavor. In the middle of winter opening a jar gives you a wonderful, fresh boost of flavor.
CF: When does the Red Haven harvest begin this year?
Peter: Due to weather, every year is a little different. Harvest this year is a bit slow, around the second week of August. The other peaches I mentioned follow at week or two intervals. All of those are "free stone," meaning the flesh pulls easily away from the pit. We've got Desiree peaches in the fruit stands now. They are very good, but the best, the free stone varieties, are yet to come.
CF: What is the value of "tree ripened" fruit?
Peter: Grocery store fruit has to be picked very, very green to survive transport and display. Our local stone fruit are tree ripened in conditions that are ideal for sugars and color.
CF: Thank you for explaining why our peaches are so delicious. Orchardists in Cascade Farmlands grow some of the best peaches in the world!