Sep 22, 2022Jenschke Orchards braves Texas-sized heat, drought
Growing peaches for more than six decades, Jenschke Orchards is a U-pick fruit operation in Fredericksburg, Texas, in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, an area known for sweet-tasting peaches.
Barrett and Lindsey Jenschke also grow strawberries, blackberries, pumpkins and plums, all sold through their farm store.
In 1961, former peanut growers Eugene and Travis Jenschke, Barrett’s grandfather and father, started growing peaches and other produce for a roadside stand.
Barrett Jenschke met and later married Lindsey while attending college in Waco, Texas. He worked as an aviation operation analyst for Boeing, which took them to South Carolina.
With aging parents and a daughter entering kindergarten, the couple in 2011 decided to return to Texas to place new roots. Barrett Jenschke commuted to San Antonio for his Boeing job and the Jenschkes worked the farm during summers. They weren’t initially planning to work full-time but decided they could make a difference.
Customer requests led to the U-pick operation. The Jenschkes made improvements, including constructing a country store in 2017, replacing a covered area along the highway where they sold peaches.
Before the couple began, the farm grew 20 acres of peaches; that has grown to 65 acres. The Jenschkes frequently expand, planting trees every year and growing more than 30 varieties. Peaches harvest May to September.
More than 60 years after its first harvest, the Jenschkes in 2019 extended the farm season, adding strawberries, which begin harvesting in February. U-pick pumpkins and a 5-acre corn maze provide fall activities.
Blackberries, a recent addition, harvest June and July. The Jenschkes recently added an acre to accommodate demand.
Controlling weeds is the biggest challenge growing blackberries, which require less maintenance than the year-round needs of peaches. As Travis Jenschke would say, “When the last peaches are picked, the next year starts.”
Nutrients, minerals, fertilizers, recognizing threats in the field and knowing when the peaches are ready are among the many variables affecting the crop, Lindsey Jenschke said. Soil sampling ensures trees receive sufficient nutrients. Stink bugs are the biggest peach pest, with grasshoppers also causing damage.
Sizzling Texas heat
May 2022 was Texas’ hottest May on record. Prolonged record-breaking temperatures and drought stressed the trees.
“Learning to somehow still have a crop and produce from that, even though you’re dealing with the strangest weather, from ice age freezes to extreme heat, is probably the biggest challenge,” said Jenschke. “The trees aren’t as vibrant.”
Drip irrigation supplies water daily, which keeps the trees alive but isn’t the same as rainwater. “Water is such a hot commodity,” Lindsey Jenschke said. “In general, every season is stressful. In winter, we want it to get cold enough for all varieties to receive the right amount of chill hours. In the spring, we don’t want it to freeze after they bud or bloom.”
Fungus, which follows rains, is the biggest challenge for strawberries, making them mushy.
“Throughout the year, it’s just a rollercoaster,” she said. “Things are going smoothly, then there’s a shift in the weather, which puts you back on your toes again. That’s farming in a nutshell.”
While the Jenschkes don’t grow organic fruit, they limit pesticide applications. To protect blackberries from fruit flies, diatomaceous earth, a natural pesticide, is applied. Crop protectants to guard peaches from stink bugs and grasshoppers are applied only as needed.
Jenschke often explains to her customers what it’s like to run a farm.
“We never spray something just because we want to,” she said. “It takes a lot of it, it is expensive and isn’t getting any cheaper. We feel threatened if our crops are in danger. We must weigh what could happen versus what’s happening.”
Farming decisions are made carefully.
“We have big ideas, but are very much believers in little baby steps,” Lindsey Jenschke said. “We take our time to think things out. We’re always trying to make things better and want to make sure what we do, we do well.”
At 81, Travis Jenschke, a prominent figure in Fredericksburg’s peach industry, is sometimes seen on a tractor and helping with farm chores. Longtime customers often ask how Mr. Jenschke is doing, recalling when he drove the tractor for hayrides when their children were young.
“He is a very iconic figure for many people out here and their memories of when they come to visit,” Lindsey Jenschke said.
Though some customers are on a mission to make preserves and have recipes in mind, many tell Jenschke they remember picking blackberries at their grandma’s home.
“They always have a story that takes them back to a good time in their lives,” she said. “They want to revisit and experience that moment again.”
Teaching others about farming and controlling their lives are driving forces.
“One of the biggest rewards is being able to teach people some of the things that go into farming and appreciate not only what we do, but all in the ag world,” Lindsey Jenschke said.
“Barrett’s favorite thing to say is we can be in control of our own destiny. Fortunately, we don’t have to get up and go to work for someone else every day. We can work for ourselves.”
The Jenschkes have a 13-year-old, Travis, and their 16-year-old daughter Ava wants to attend Texas A&M to major in ag marketing.
“We can do things with our kids and teach them what we do,” Lindsey Jenschke said. “The other great thing is the idea we get to give something to our kids.
“Our goal is to pass on something to them. Not just the land or the knowledge, but hopefully, something they can take and make bigger and better than we ever could.”
—Doug Ohlemeier, assistant editor
Top photo: Lindsey Jenschke of Jenschke Orchards in Fredericksburg, Texas, says the 61-year-old family u-pick operation grows peaches, strawberries, blackberries, pumpkins and plums. PHOTOS: Doug Ohlemeier
Middle photo: From strawberries in the spring to Christmas trees in the winter, Jenschke Orchards offers consumers many reasons to return throughout the year.
Bottom photo: Lindsey Jenschke says blackberry picking is a favorite past-time for area residents, with some families carrying on the tradition for several generations.