Aug 21, 2023Texas Hill Country peach grower limits pests, conserves water
Clean groves, meticulous weeding and minimal spraying of harsh chemicals help Fisher & Wieser’s Das Peach Haus (F&W) remain a successful Texas peach grower. The longtime Fredericksburg, Texas, grower battles the Lone Star state’s excessive heat and drought to produce peaches for consumers throughout the state.
The family operation began growing peaches in 1928.
While peaches are the biggest item grown by F&W, it also grows pecans and other fruit, including pears and apricots. The farm grows 25 acres of peaches and 5 acres of pecans in a picturesque setting behind a historic store, a roadside fruit stand and wine tasting room. F&W operates a distillery and agritourism attractions.
A persistent drought has been a longtime challenge, particularly during the summer of 2022. The drought’s severity was aggravated by a year-after-year decrease in winter chill hours, which brings peaches out of dormancy perilously earlier than normal.
Chill hour challenge
A newer orchard, planted in 2019, includes peaches that can grow in fewer chill hours than other varieties, a necessity because the region has not consistently received the 700 to 800 chill hours as it has in the past. In 2022, F&W harvested its first crop from the new orchard, on its third leaf, but expected to pick its first official crop in 2023.
“Farming is more complex with so many variables,” said Case “Dietz” Fischer, Jr., orchard manager and Dietz Distillery’s owner/master distiller. “There’s not ever necessarily a clear solution. With the drought, it’s interesting to have out-of-the-box thinking, to throw solutions onto the wall and see what works.”
Dietz and his father Case D. Fischer are considering capturing rainwater and storing it in 30,000-gallon tanks to supplement capacity during drier years. The orchards draw from irrigation wells, with one serving the family’s oldest orchard. F&W began using drip irrigation in 1979.
While F&W isn’t organically certified, it takes a more natural route in avoiding strong chemicals. F&W controls pests by spraying a light mixture of sulfurs, surfactants, a natural detergent and neem oil. Because stink bugs breathe through their pores, spraying them with natural oil reduces populations. The trick is applying when pests are dormant.
The method, which entails more frequent spraying, but of less harsh formulations, is almost as effective as chemicals, the younger Fischer said. While stinkbugs are the most formidable insect pest, Dietz said the farm hasn’t experienced many bad pests so far.
Keeping a clean ship
Keeping brush areas clear and maintaining orchard cleanliness are important in controlling areas harboring insect pests.
“The weed control in keeping grass down has really allowed the trees to flourish,” Fischer said. “The leaves are very healthy. It’s a very dynamic-looking orchard.”
When the family visits Fredericksburg, their orchard receives many compliments.
“This surprised us, but we are very convinced it was that weed control which helped the appearance,” Fischer said. “If you look at the amount of water consumed by grass and other underbrush, it’s staggering. They are constantly competing with the peach trees.”
Maintaining bare earth under trees in root zones allows peaches, even non-irrigated trees, to receive adequate water.
“We knew we had to keep the weeds down,” Fischer said. “It makes sense, but we didn’t expect it to be this successful, to show this much vigorous growth. Being diligent on the weed control really changes the health of the orchard.”
Brush must be maintained by manual shredding and weeding, making the process more labor intensive. A grower may need to initially apply some herbicide, but after weeds are cleared, it’s a matter of being thorough in hand weeding.
“Once you have the ground bare, it’s more of a diligence thing in maintaining that bare earth,” Fischer said.
The region’s German and Texan heritage provides a strong work ethic.
“You get up early, you work late,” Fischer said. “You work hard and never compromise. You have to have a lot of tenacity.”
In 1914, German Joseph “JB” Wieser immigrated to Texas. Working as a lawyer, he entered crop building. In 1928, JB and Estella Wieser planted their first peach orchard on 60 acres of land south of Fredericksburg.
“They put down roots in a very Texan way: think big, work hard and never compromise,” Fischer said.
In 1969, Mark Wieser, chairman of the board and JB and Estella’s grandson, opened a roadside produce stand in a restored 1870 log cabin. In 1979, at 15 years of age, the older Case D. Fischer started working for Wieser harvesting summer peaches. In 1986, after studying food technology and food and fiber marketing at Texas A&M, Case D. Fischer partnered with Wieser to form F&W Specialty Foods, which sells peaches and other produce along with jams, jellies, sauces and wines made from area fruit.
The younger Fischer studied mechanical engineering at Texas A&M and worked in wineries. With the peach orchards adjacent to the fruit stand, agritourism is a big part of F&W.
“We want to be a destination, where people can come and visit our stores, visit the distillery, attend cooking classes and utilize the local fruits, vegetables and herbs that this region works so hard to grow during the growing seasons,” the younger Fischer said. “As we grow, we will continue to grow those activities.”
Eventually, the company plans to construct a winery and incorporate more food and wine culinary adventures as well as a bed and breakfast.
— By Doug Ohlemeier, assistant editor
Top photo: Fischer & Wieser’s Case D. Fischer, left, and son Dietz Fischer in a Fredericksburg, Texas, peach grove.