Pre-Harvest Season

Dormant Stage
Season: December - February

During this season the peaches are virtually asleep. Peach trees require a large number of chilling hours (hours of cold temperatures below 45 degrees prior to bloom) to set and produce a high quality crop. At Titan Farms we grow more than 50 different varieties of peaches and each variety requires a different number of chilling hours. The chilling hour requirements range from 600 hours to 1,100 hours depending on the variety and pick date. The amount of chill hours also determines the bloom date for that particular variety.

TreePruning is the number one manual task during this season. Each one of our more than 670,000+ trees is individually pruned by hand. There are many different tree training styles by which each tree can be trained to grow – central leader, perpendicular V, quad, pillar, and open center. Pruning styles vary by grower preference, geographic location, and, in some cases, variety. The vast majority of our trees are pruned by the open center style that is very similar to an inverted umbrella.

String trimmer bloom thinning is a new method used at Titan Farms. This process allows our employees to remove blooms quickly and efficiently. It cuts the workers’ time to thin by 66% and easily attaches to any standard electric or battery operated handheld drill. The attachment rod and special tubing rotates removing blooms quickly with virtually no damage to the trees. At Titan, we use a crew of about 18 men, one man per row, for eight hours a day. During this eight hours, 120 trees are thinned per man using the string thinner method.

Pruning begins as soon as the tree is planted. We use one-year-old trees, whose variety was grafted onto a specific rootstock adapted to our area, and transplant them during the dormant season. Upon transplanting, all of the branches are cut back to within one inch of the main trunk while the trunk itself is topped off at no more than 22 inches above the ground. From here the training begins. In the first year as new limbs are expressed by the tree, we select four or five limbs to leave while removing all excess growth. It is very important that limb orientation from one another and the angle in which the limbs attach to the main trunk are clearly determined.

In years two and three, pruning continues around the development of these limbs making them the main scaffold limbs for the rest of the life of the tree. Generally between the ages of three and four, these scaffold limbs are headed off at approximately four to five feet above ground level, causing them to create a Y and to break into two sub-scaffolds while maintaining the desired angle of growth from the main trunk, thus exemplifying the open center pruning style. Generally between years six and seven, a tree has reached our desired height of eight to nine feet above ground. At this point the majority of the tree’s training has been completed however bi-annual prunnings are required to maintain its shape and the quality of fruit wood we desire for future crops. Peaches are only produced from limbs grown the previous year therefore old wood is cut out and new wood is thinned out to leave just the right number of fruit branches on each tree, allowing the ever important sunlight to reach each and every branch of the tree.

Orchard floor management including the use of herbicides is also practiced at this time to reduce winter broad leaf weeds. This procedure, aside from having an aesthetic value, will actually decrease the need for later pesticide sprays by reducing host plants where insects live and feed during winter months. A clean orchard floor can provide warmth – a difference of two to four degrees warmer than an orchard floor covered with vegetation. This can provide a tremendous economic value in years when we experience late season freezes and has meant the difference in having some peaches and NO peaches here at Titan Farms.

Frail Mowing is another form of orchard floor management and is one that has proven to be a necessity due to the vast amount of prunings that are removed from trees. As the pruners cut and shape the tree and select the most desired wood to leave on the tree, the excess wood that is removed falls to the orchard floor and is raked to the row middles. We use frail mowers to pulverize and shred these cuttings leaving the debris on the orchard floor where it naturally decomposes thus returning important nutrients and organic matter to the soil. We adopted this practice several years ago and it has reduced our nitrogen fertilizer needs by about 30%.

Dormant Crop Protective Sprays
Season: February - March

There are two main crop protective sprays during this season. The first is a dormant oil (natural – much like cooking oil) application that is targeted toward the peach scale insect that lives and feeds on the outer surface of peach tree limbs. This insect can cause, not only fruit discoloration and crop reduction, but limb and tree loss. As the second spray during this period, metallic copper is used on selected orchards that are known to be susceptible to a disease known as bacteriosis. This disease can be devastating in the southeast because it thrives in warm humid climates. Metallic copper, while being neutral can be safely used during the dormant season to reduce the presence of the bacteria inoculants. Major concerns during this period are a mild winter resulting in too few chilling hours or a hard freeze. Winters having too few chilling hours can result in weakened buds or trees that do not actually bloom, both of which can be detrimental to the entire crop. A hard freeze can actually kill fruit limbs, peach buds and, in some cases, the entire tree if temperatures drop near zero degrees for a sustained period of time. In ice storms where freezing rain or sleet accumulates on scaffold limbs, the added weight causes scaffold limbs to break off and can even split the trunk in half. During this stage of production, Titan Farms maintains a workforce to accomplish these tasks along with general farm maintenance including equipment repairs and packing house modifications.

Bloom & Early Fruit Development Stage
Season: March - May

In March each year, travelers on roads across the ridge area of South Carolina are treated to blankets of pink blooms often reaching all the way to the horizon. Bloom season is truly one of the most beautiful sites you will ever see! Peach tree blooms vary in color from a very pale pink to a deep rich pink or coral color. The color is dependent on the specific variety. Bloom and growth stages mark the official beginning of production. Our work force nearly triples and average hours worked per week increases by 25%-35%. You can see this is the time to get busy!

Blooms Blue Sky 222X340 00001During this season many tasks are performed. Crop fertilization, crop load reduction (known as thinning), crop protective sprays, and irrigation system installation and maintenance are tasks completed during both the bloom and peach stage of development. We believe that soil fertility goes hand-in-hand with varietal selections, proper management, and a sweet kiss from Mother Nature to enable us to produce the highest quality, best tasting peaches.

Peach trees respond best when grown in slightly acidic soils, therefore we maintain our soil pH at or around 6.5 – the optimum pH level for conversion and uptake of soil nutrients. The acid to sugar ratio affords peaches their sweet, sometimes tangy flavor. Each year we utilize GPS technology to gather soil samples for analysis to be sure we achieve optimum pH levels. At Titan Farms, we believe in being stewards of the land and are very careful not to apply any crop protectants or enhancements that are unnecessary. We fertilize our orchards based on the same soil test along with references from the prior year’s leaf analysis, crop load, and what we believe is the current year’s crop potential. In most cases we fertilize our trees three times yearly, applying about 50% of the nutrients in early spring. This is the most comprehensive blend of elements that we apply.

Why add this to the soil? Nitrogen must be carefully monitored to ensure enough vigor in the tree to support the current year crop load, however too much Nitrogen can be extremely detrimental to fruit quality and to the following year’s pruning bill. Potassium and calcium are the next two elements that we monitor and adjust regularly to ensure fruit size, bold taste, and color. Once the crop is set in mid-April, generally we make our second fertilizer application depending on the crop set in each individual block. The third application is made in late August ensuring our trees go into the dormant period with enough stored carbohydrates to fuel healthy bud development and a strong bloom the following crop year.

A peach tree generally needs 70 to 100 pounds of Nitrogen, zero to 30 pounds of Phosphorus and 120 to 200 pounds of Potassium annually to maintain itself for normal production. At Titan Farms, we are very careful to only supply the amount of fertilizer necessary due to the potential damage to the environment as well as to the financial viability of our operation. Therefore we gather soil samples annually on each of our 160+ blocks of peach trees along with collecting three leaf samples throughout the growing season. Fruit Thinning is one of the most difficult processes for any peach grower to endure mentally. We understand that in order to produce large succulent peaches we must reduce the crop load on the tree thus reducing competition for available nutrients. This process begins with bloom thinning in mid-March with workers entering designated orchards removing between 50 and 70% of the blooms from the trees. Studies year-in and year-out prove this type of thinning is not only the most economical, but leads to larger fruit, increased tonnage and it advances maturity. The overwhelming risk is that we are highly susceptible to frosts or freezes during this time and having removed so many flowers, such a weather event could easily wipe out the entire block.

Growing ProcessThe second phase of thinning is the removal of green fruitlets from the trees. This process generally begins in the first full week of April and must be completed within six to seven weeks. This job is very dependent on spring temperatures. Fruitlet thinning is accomplished as workers remove 70 to 90% of the fruit set on a tree. Every variety is different and must be handled on an individual basis, but generally we try to leave one to four fruitlets per fruit limb with sufficient space between each fruitlet ensuring proper growth and development. As a result we remove between 2,500 and 4,000 fruitlets from the tree leaving only about 500 peaches as the crop. Workers are instructed to leave the largest fruitlets, to remove any “twins” and to watch for adjacent limbs that could cause skin blemishes in mature fruit. The amount of fruitlets remaining on a limb is dependent on variety, length of fruitwood and location of the fruitwood in the tree canopy. Mechanical shakers and bats are utilized by some growers to actually knock fruit from the tree, but at Titan Farms we believe that hand-thinning leads to the best crop production. Orchards are typically walked over for thinning at least two times to ensure we have a uniform crop. We also spend many hours during this stage walking irrigation lines and testing irrigation systems to be certain we are ready to apply water at just the right growth stages for optimum size and fruit quality. Orchards are scouted and sprayed as necessary to control the many different diseases and insects that have the potential to severely affect a crop’s marketability. Through this stage, peach growers are most vulnerable to Mother Nature. Late frosts and freezes, hailstorms, and other severe weather adversities are just a few of the elements that can reduce and/or destroy a peach crop in the matter of one day.

In addition to spraying and thinning, other employees are busy preparing the peach packing lines for operation, ordering the many supplies necessary to get the season started as well as maintaining other equipment needed during harvest and packing season.

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