July and August mean delightful times come for those of us with peach trees. Great for fresh eating, they also make delectable jams, preserves and chutneys. Handsome small tree, peach is very easy to grow, and it rewards you with quick returns of affection – fruiting at times the next year from planting! Peaches are reputed to have short lives – only about 15-20 years, they are quick to exhaust themselves by producing fruit with wild abandonment. A great addition to any permaculture garden, this plant comes in standard (12’ high) and genetic dwarf (6’ high) sizes. The latter one is great for children’s spaces – it is a petite charming tree that produces regular sized fruit.
In a permaculture garden peach finds its place whenever a small deciduos tree is suitable - on the south side of the house where it does not interfere with winter solar gain; or in small courtyards with limited space. Best avoided on the Western side of the house, where it breaks winter dormancy all too often before its time and looses fruit to late frosts, peach is best suited for Eastern or even Northern exposure. As each plant needs certain conditions to thrive, peach will too require some friendly company of other plants, soil biota, and, most likely in Western climate, some type of protection from extremes of weather.
A sample peach guild includes plants that aid with soil building (comfrey, hairy vetch, alfalfa, daylily); plants that encourage beneficial insects (blossoming chives, fennel, yarrow, ornamental thistles, blue mist spirea); plants that offer some protection for the young tree (can be fast growing annuals such as sunflower, fennel, hollyhock, or perennial asparagus). Plant guilds are combinations of plants (and animals!) that are mutually beneficial and supportive for optimal health of the whole - and with each and every plant we strive to invite song birds, beneficial insects, native pollinators, earth worms, garden snakes and numerous other creatures to the ecosystem of the garden.
|Here we see a peach tree amidst grape vines and rambling rose bush. Unseen are comfrey, asparagus and various pollinator plantings|
Harvest that comes from a peach tree guild includes herbal flowers such as red strawberry clover and alfalfa blossom - both are also good for making mineral-rich herbal teas, and can be harvested throughout season.
|Red Strawberry Clover blossom, harvested for tea|
Perennial flowers such as feverfew, yarrow, Queen Ann’s Lace, angelica or valerian with their tiny blossoms attract many beneficial insects, which help keeping pests away. Add a plant that helps to open the soil – mullein, carrots, daikon radish are all good with their long tap roots. Comfrey is a choice plant for a handsome groundcover and it makes mineral rich mulch. Catmint and May Night Salvia add late spring color & nectar, as does Clary Sage.
|Clary Sage (background) is beautiful and easy going in Western gardens|
Throw in other plants such as daylily (edible flowers and young shoots), broccoli and kale, chives, peas or beans – just pack it full! You will have to water your peach tree - so water its guild as well and get more bounty & health as a return. Some things will thrive, others will fade away – the guild will get into its own balance, and evolve. Bees and bumble bees come to harvest nectar from sage plants, worms dine on the rich soil created by the diverse root systems. Come July, you taste your first fruit and hopefully determine that more peaches must be planted to allow for this celebration of flavor to go on. I find that three mature trees provide two people with enough fruit for making peach compote, peach jam, brandied peaches, peach chutney and for eating fresh.
Ripe fragrant yellow-flesh peaches from the tree, unwashed and sliced, skins on - that is your main ingredient. Take the pits out. (If you place them in compost they will make a little forest of peach trees. This is a good way to save some money and have more peaches around). Mix peaches with chopped ginger and minced garlic in a stainless steel pot and place over medium heat. Add raisins to taste.
Add vinegar and sugar, we only use Sucanat in canning anymore as the least harmful of all sugar. Lower the fire and cook slowly for 1-2 hours or until it thickens. The mixture will begin to caramelize and will darken considerably. Of course, one must stir it frequently to prevent scorching. Follow your cook book direction on hot packing. When ready, ladle hot chutney in clean jars and insert one smoked dry Chipotle chile pod in the center of each jar. Tighten the lids, seal as per your cookbook instructions and place jars in a dark place, cover with several towels to allow for gradual cooling. Store in a dark cool place. Serve with stir fry, red meats, rice dishes. This is good in the winter months to prevent colds and immune weakening (all that garlic-ginger-cayenne mix will just punch you back into good health).
Quantities: I go by taste and by a book. For 12 quarts of peaches, use one quart of chopped garlic, one quart + of chopped ginger, about one quart of raisins. Sugar by taste (cook books call for extra-ordinary amounts!). Vinegar by cook book recommendation (about three cups for 12 quarts of peaches).