For many of us, summer officially begins when the first local peaches start showing up at the farmers markets and the roadside stands that line the highways heading west out of Austin. Once you get to U.S. 290 from Johnson City to Frederickburg, you hit an area that was formerly known for primarily for peaches and the famed LBJ Ranch.
In the past 20 years, the wine industry has transformed this part of the Hill Country, and it now features dozens of vineyards, cellars, wineries and tasting rooms that draw more than 300,000 visitors a year.
RELATED: The secret sauce to Fischer & Wieser’s success? Family and new flavors
Wineries in the Texas Hill Country only getting better with age
This new Austin wine festival is wild (literally)
But peaches remain a regional favorite, and this year's crop is now in full swing, despite a late freeze in March that nearly killed a third of the trees on Gary Marburger's Fredericksburg property.
Over the past two weekends, more than a dozen orchards have opened their doors or started selling their first peaches of the year, including Lydell's Store, Behrends Orchard, Vogel Orchard, Studebaker Farms, Burg's Orchard, Gold Orchards and Donald Eckhardt Orchards, which was established in 1936, right as the Gillespie County fruit growing boom began. The earliest varieties of peaches, including Regal and Spring Gold, typically ripen in early to mid-may, and the orchards continue to sell peaches until the final varieties come off the trees in early August.
Some places, including Jenschke Orchard, offer pick-your-own peaches. Here is a list of all the Texas peach growers in the Hill Country, where you can find their hours and if they offer pick-your-own fruit.
But this year will be different for Marburger, who has been a peach farmer for 40 years. He announced in March that he wouldn't be returning full-time to the farm and that he'd be selling his peaches through Eckhardt.
There are several motivations for drastically down-sizing our operation this year. First is that my family all have other wonderful life “callings”, and, as much as they love the orchard, they are not able to participate in its daily operation. Another huge factor is the age of our peach trees. Peach trees have an average productive life span of only about 20 years….it has been about that long since we last planted new trees. About a third of the remaining orchard is still trees from our original planting over 40 years ago….they are miraculously struggling to stay alive, and produce fruit! Each year we continue to lose production to limb and total tree death. In the peak years of the orchard, in the late 80’s and early 90’s, we had approximately 4500 full grown, heavy producing peach trees. Today, with reduced tree size, due to old age, we are down to the equivalent of less than 1000 of those healthy, large trees that we had 25 years ago.