By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
Turn off Colin Kelly Highway onto Dusty Miller Road, and look for the small “U-PIK Peaches, Madison Peach Farm” besideCaladium Drive on the right. Next to it is an overturned white five-gallon bucket painted with the word “OPEN” in big black letters.
This Saturday and Sunday, July 16 and 17, are the last two days you’ll see that bucket there, at least until peach season rolls around again next year.
Last weekend, (July 9-10), the farm was busy with those who love the smell and the taste of warm, fuzzy, fresh-picked peaches. While not as crowded as it had been at the peak of the season, the orchard still hosted plenty of people braving the heat and humidity to gather the loads of peaches that bent some of the branches toward the ground.
Carl and Sharlene Blomquist have been running the Madison Peach Farm for nine years now. Before that, they had bought some “good hunting land” just south of Greenville, but “Carl really loves agricultural stuff,” said Sharlene. So, when the 60-plus acres off Dusty Miller came up for sale, “he fell in love with it,” in spite of the seven-foot-tall weeds everywhere.
Originally from Georgia, Sharlene loved the idea of a peach farm, but realized that Georgia variety peaches would not get enough “cold hours” in Madison to set fruit. After some research on the internet, she selected six varieties that would thrive in Madison’s shorter winters: June Gold, Southern Pearl, Texas Royal, Suwannee, La Rouge, and Sam Houston.
Different customers have different favorites: Nina Jo Chamblee likes the small June Golds and Southern Pearls for making the perfect pickled peaches, but she loves any variety fresh out of the bucket. Some customers like the big, white-fleshed Sam
Houstons, while others want only the Suwannees and call Sharlene to ask when they will be ripe.
The different varieties also ripen at different times, meaning the picking season lasts much longer.
Sometimes it can be a challenge knowing when to hold the first weekend “u-pick.” Because the weather was so hot so early this year, the peaches ripened faster, and the farm was open for business two weeks early.
“This year was just perfect for really good peaches,” said Sharlene. It has been really dry, of course, but the trees are watered with a drip irrigation system (one year, there was too much rain, causing a lot of brown spot fungus because the leaves and fruit stayed too wet).
While the trees were blooming, she and Carl rented some beehives from Chris Gunter of Perry, who ended up with some really good peach blossom honey to sell afterward.
Rev. Willis Phillips of Madison and his daughter Telisha, the first customers of the morning, emerged from the rows of trees with three buckets of Sam Houston peaches. “(Sharlene) told us we could pick all down that row,” said Phillips. “But all we had to do was stand at three or four trees to get all we wanted.”
When he is not out picking peaches, Phillips oversees 14 churches. Music is a big part of his ministry, so he also stays busy writing gospel music and performing with his band. Sharlene spoke of the CD the band had made, featuring both original songs andclassics like “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
“We played that one every which way you can play it,” said Phillips.
While Philips and his daughter paid for their buckets, Wes Kelley, a former Madison county tax collector (who is usually the first customer of the day, according to Sharlene), drove up for a bucket or two or peaches, exchanging some jokes with the Reverend and the Blomquists before heading off into the orchard.
Other customers, like brother and sister Terrill and Terrica Blackshear of Madison, were first-time visitors to the farm.
Several more family groups arrived in short order, like mom and dad Stephanie and Clay Driggers from Hamilton County, with sons Zack and Caleb, and the boys’ grandmother, Charlsie Gaston of Greenville. Cathy Norris brought her grandsons Gabe and Ezra Sivyer.
As more and more people arrived and began gathering peaches, they chatted back and forth from row to row, like neighbors chatting across backyard fences.
It didn’t take long to fill their buckets, with so many peaches on every tree. While they paid for their pickings, more cars drove up – more familiar faces looking for their weekly fill – and as they prepared to drive home later with the warm, sweet scent of peaches filling their cars, many of them said they would be back next weekend, July 16 and 17, for one last picking.
After that, it’ll be nearly a year before more peaches are ready and the gates of Madison Peach Farm swing open once again.