Chattooga Belle Farm in Long Creek, South Carolina, is about 12 miles from Clayton, Georgia. There Ed Land and his wife Kitty have eight acres of fruit — orchards of peach, nectarine and apple trees and fields of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, muscadines, table and wine grapes.
“We started our farm in 2008. There was an abandoned apple orchard there and we saw the potential to put the property back into fruit production. We have a U-pick operation as well as a farm stand where people can buy fruit in season. It’s open seven days a week April to October,” said Land.
They also sell at Oconee County’s Heritage Market on Saturdays in season and furnish all the fresh apples used in the 16 schools of the Oconee County school system.
By late June, the peach harvest is in full swing and runs through to the end of August or first part of September. “We grow seven varieties of peaches. Every two weeks another variety comes in,” he said. The Lands have decided to stick with freestone varieties since that’s what their customers ask for.
Peaches are not their largest crop — compare their 220 peach trees with the 1,750 apple trees on the property — but they are an important part of the Lands’ plan for offering many kinds of fruit. “Diversification is the key to successful farming. You never want to depend on just one crop. We probably lost 30 percent of our peaches this spring because of the late frost. But that same frost didn’t affect our apples at all.”
The farm’s peach season starts with its earliest peach variety, Georgia Belle, followed by Contender, Reliance, Carolina Red and Big Red. They also grow the Fantasia nectarine.
As a farmer, Land is able to enjoy his peaches right off the tree. “When you bite into it and the peach juice runs down your elbow, you know it’s ready,” he says with a smile.
If you’re choosing peaches and don’t want to take a bite out of each one, Land suggests going by the color first. “Depending on the variety, you want a rosy peach or one that’s bright yellow. If there’s any green, it’s not ready to eat. When you get it home, you can leave it on the counter if you’re going to use it in a day or two, but if you want to keep your peaches for a longer period of time, we recommend putting them in the refrigerator. A peach melts away fast if you leave it sitting on the counter.”
And if you got carried away with your picking, or by the sight of that gorgeous basket of peaches at a farmers market, he says they freeze beautifully. “Peel them, slice them up and put them in a freezer bag. Add sugar then or after you take them out to thaw. Then make a peach pie, peach cobbler or some good homemade peach ice cream.”
For sale at local farmers markets
Just coming to market: ginger, tomatillos
Vegetables, fruits and nuts: arugula, Asian greens, beets, blackberries, blueberries, cabbage, carrots, chanterelles, chard, collards, corn, cornmeal, cucumbers, eggplant, fennel, field peas, figs, garlic, green and pole beans, green onions, grits, herbs, kale, leeks, lettuce, Malabar spinach, melons, mushrooms, okra, onions, peaches, pecans, peppers, polenta, potatoes, spaghetti squash, summer squash, tomatoes
From local reports