Zuni man expects good year for blueberries, peaches

Published 2:29 pm Monday, July 2, 2012

Vivian Kristie picks out peaches while J.M. Erwin looks on. DALE LIESCH/TIDEWATER NEWS

ZUNI—Vivian Kristie kept her eyes peeled for the familiar orange signs advertising fresh peaches in Zuni.

“We watch faithfully each year,” the Franklin resident said Monday. “Peaches are my absolute favorite.”

Fortunately for Kristie and her husband Harry, J.M. Erwin set up the stand Friday at 5206 Ducktown Road to sell blueberries, peaches, plums, apples, figs and vegetables. Customers can pick blueberries for $2 a pint.

With about 200 peach trees and an acre of blueberries, Erwin and his wife, Janet, have tended to the crops full time since the 71-year-old retired from heavy construction five years ago.

“It’s a small operation,” J.M. Erwin said. “We hire help when we need to, but we don’t have any full-time employees.”

He hopes to recover from last year where a late frost destroyed all but three bushels of peaches.

“The frost got the trees while they were in bloom,” Erwin said. “We’ve had that happen before. One year we only had 35 peaches because of a late frost.”

This year, a mild winter is taking a toll on the peach crop through an airborne fungus called brown rot.

“The cooler winter would’ve controlled the brown rot,” he said.

Squirrels also damage the crop by eating the peaches.

Erwin suspects brown rot has taken out about half the crop, while squirrels have accounted for about 10 percent.

Erwin still expects both blueberries and peaches to produce more than last year; however it won’t be an above average year.

The recent record heat hasn’t been a problem for the peaches, which can sweeten with sunshine, but Erwin would like more rain.

The Pascagoula, Miss. native expects to begin to thin down the number of trees by not replanting after they die. He said he’d like to get down to 25 trees.

“I retired five years ago, and now I think I’m going to have to retire from this,” Erwin said.