Tucked away near Philpott Lake is a 4-acre peach orchard that has fresh-picked peaches for sale from early July through the end of August.
Shirley’s Orchard was once a 20-plus acre orchard that contained apple trees, as well as peaches, but as Vernon and Shirley Hinshaw have aged. The couple has decreased the size of their orchard, and their children have stepped in to help.
“If they (their children) want to keep it going, it will need to be replanted and enlarged to make it profitable,” Vernon said, explaining the small orchard doesn’t bring in much money. “I would hate to live off what it brings in.”
The orchard is more of a hobby for Vernon, who has been growing fruit since 1972. Vernon said he started out “playing” with just a few trees, and his wife chuckled.
“He was playing when he had 12 trees and he was still playing when he had 700 trees,” Shirley said, laughing.
Shirley said she just hated having so many trees to take care of. Smiling, Vernon said the couple’s children kept asking him what he was going to name the orchard, and he said he named it Shirley’s Orchard, because she didn’t like it.
Vernon started with apples, but in the mid-1980s the apple market was flooded with imported apples from China driving prices down. At one time he had 2,000 apple trees and only 40 peach trees.
He retired from his job as a contractor in 1988, and the couple’s three daughters, Gwen, Carol and Gayle, as well as their son, Jimmy, help out with the orchard. Gayle and her husband, Tommy, along with brother Jimmy, were picking the first crop of the season this week.
Vernon and Shirley sell the peaches and nectarines, directly from the Henry-based orchard. Vernon explained he can sell them just as easily from there instead of lugging them to farmers’ markets or paying to set-up somewhere.
There are 11 varieties of nectarines and peaches grown at Shirley’s Orchard, including Sunglo, Redgold, Redskin, Winblow, Majestic, Loring, Elberta, Fantasia, Gala and Summer Pearl.
Peach farming is not just a two-month job. “It is a year-round job not just picking season,” Vernon said.
Each fall as soon as the leaves die off, the 400 trees at Shirley’s Orchard must be pruned.
The biggest challenge peach farmers face is frost, Vernon said. Trees start to bloom around March 25, and if a peach farmer can make it to April 15, he has a good chance of making it to market. Hail is the second biggest threat.
“I have been fortunate myself, I have never been hit with hail,” Vernon said.
Shirley’s Orchard is located at 260 Shirley Lane in Henry. They are open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, with peaches available by the peck or bushel. To find out when peaches and nectarines are available, check out the Shirley’s Orchard page on Facebook.