Growing Peaches, Nectarines and Almonds
Peaches are one of the choicest fruits to grow at home almost anywhere in the world and can be successfully grown in most of the UK on a warm wall and in the south-east in the open. The fully ripened peach is a balloon of juice waiting to burst all over you.
Almonds need exactly the same conditions as peaches, but with less rigorous thinning and pruning. All the trees are very beautiful in flower and in leaf – especially almonds – so they can be planted in a flower garden with impunity. They need to be planted five to eight paces apart in a rich, well-aerated piece of soil. They loathe water-logging, so prefer open soils to heavy ones, but then they need heavyto keep the soil moist. When they are planted against walls, the fruits will often split unless they are watered consistently throughout the season. Peaches should not be planted near to almonds as they may cross pollinate causing the nuts to be bitter.
All three benefit from companion plantings of alliums, especiallyand chives, while stinging nearby reputedly help prevent the fruit turning mouldy. Peaches grown as bushes are easy, self-fertile and fruitful from early in their life.
As peaches fruit on young shoots, replenish these continually by pruning them harder, and more like, than like most other trees. The tops of higher branches are removed to encourage more young growth lower down, and to keep the bushes within easy reach. On walls, especially under cover, peaches are usually . Fruiting is then guaranteed because of the frost protection, but flavour may be poorer and pruning must be carefully and regularly done. Selected young shoots are allowed to spring from a main framework and then tied in to replace the older shoots that have fruited.
Fortunately, if the pruning of peaches is temporarily neglected, healthy bushes respond to being cut back hard by throwing up plentiful young growths. More important than pruning is thinning, because peaches are prone to overcropping, breaking branches and exhausting themselves. Thin the fruits hard — removing those that are touching or anywhere near each other. Do this twice: very early and then again later.
Peaches, nectarines and almonds grown on the dwarfing rootstock Pixy (which makes them even smaller than the usual St Julien) can even be grown as small bushes in large pots. This means that over winter they can be taken indoors, where they are protected from peach leaf curl, though spider mite can be more of a problem. However, moved outside again when in leaf they will avoid spider mite to a great extent, and can fruit quite well if kept well watered. Peaches suffer great losses from birds and , so use paper bags to protect the fruits. Earwigs get inside the fruits and eat the kernel out, but are readily trapped in rolls of corrugated cardboard tied around the branches.
The main problem with all these fruits is peach leaf curl. This puckers the leaves, turning them red and yellow, and they cease to work properly. Severe attacks weaken the tree and after a couple of years can even kill it. Bordeaux mixture prevents attacks if sprayed twice or more as the buds are opening in late winter. Peach leaf curl can also be avoided if the buds are kept dry. Container-grown specimens can be overwintered indoors, while wall-trained trees can be protected with plastic sheet hung from the top of the wall. This will also help provide frost protection.
Frosts will kill the blossoms and fruitlets most years in the UK, so the trees must be protected while in bloom and for several weeks after they have set. Dieback and gummosis are symptomatic of poor growth, and are best treated by heavy mulching and hard pruning in very late winter.
Peaches are best eaten sun-warm, straight from the tree — you should then need a bib! If picked underripe, they never develop the full flavour or juiciness. Peaches will keep a few days if handled with absolute care and kept cool, but the slightest bruise and they will rot. Peach stones are ribbed or ‘perforated’ with small holes in their shell. Varieties can be grouped into two types: clingstones, where the flesh sticks in the holes; and freestones, where it doesn’t and the fruit is easier to eat. Peaches can be dried, jammed or frozen.
When almond crops drop, peel and dry them. Do not crack them until required, then they are best blanched to give a clean and tastier nut. Unhulled they will store in dry salt or sand for years.
Do not gather the almond nuts from the tree but wait until they fall to the ground, except where squirrels are a nuisance, when they may be picked about the third week in October.
RECOMMENDED VARIETIES OF ALMOND:
Prunus amygdalus dukis produces a sweet almond with a mild nutty flavour. Does not crop as heavily as P.a. Praecox.
P.a. Praecox is the best variety. It crops well and the nuts can be used for both dessert and for cooking. Because the nuts contain a little hydrocyanic acid, children should not be allowed to eat very many of them.
P.a. Macrocarpa is similar to P.a. Dukis.