The man who keeps the peach trees blooming

April 16, 1995|By Shirley Leung | Shirley Leung,Sun Staff Writer

There are two peach orchards on Severn Road. One is a 100-home development, the other a 1,000-tree farm.

Nearly two decades ago, the two orchards were one, a 127-acre farm owned by the Boyer family. Then Charles Boyer and his sister, Ruth Ladd, turned their share into a community called The Peach Orchard. Their older brother, Ridgely Boyer, kept his 55-acre share as a farm.

"I love the land. I love my vocation. I see a little more to life than money," said Mr. Boyer, 73. "[My brother and sister] have been good developers, and they've prospered from it."

The fruits of his labor are in full bloom this week. Rosy pink flowers are bursting from row after row of 8-foot-tall peach trees. It is a sight Mr. Boyer has enjoyed since he was 8 and watched his father plant 100 peach trees.

Mr. Boyer is one of Anne Arundel County's remaining peach farmers. His 20-acre orchard accounts for nearly half the county's total acreage of peaches, according to the Maryland Agricultural Statistics Service.

"There was a time when farms were all around," Mr. Boyer said. "But now I'm the only one. It's a little lonesome, you know."

He remembers when as many as 40 orchards dotted the county during the 1930s and 1940s. One of the biggest concentrations of peach trees was where Baltimore-Washington International Airport's two main runways lie today. Farmers had nearly 600 acres there, Mr. Boyer recalled.

The county's peach farming declined after the airport's completion in 1950. Then, a string of frosts killed harvest after harvest. Some farmers turned to different crops, while others sold out to developers. But Ridgely Boyer was determined to bring peach farming back to the county.

"There was no peaches at all when I planted in 1963," Mr. Boyer said.

That year he planted 1,000 trees. He had his first harvest four years later. Most years have been good, except for 1977, when hail destroyed the crop and 1991 and 1992 when frosts left him no peaches.

"It's like life. We've had good ones and bad ones," Mr. Boyer

said.

In recent years, early spring frosts and insects have discouraged other farmers from planting peach trees, fruit specialists say. One freezing night right before the blossoms can kill an entire harvest. Last year, after a series of devastating frosts, Maryland produced only 3 million pounds of peaches. Usually, the state's yield is 12 million pounds, according to the Maryland Agricultural Statistics Service.

Mr. Boyer understands the risks.

But "if all the ground or property was developed and houses were on it, then we all wouldn't eat," he said. "Someone's got to do it, and I elected to do it."

As for this year's harvest, it's too early to tell, he said. Two weeks ago the temperature dipped toward freezing but no blossoms were destroyed.

Mr. Boyer and his second wife, Bernice, manage the farm's books. Since 1983, his son Ridgely Jr., 42, daughter Brenda Gibson, 40, and her husband, Greg Gibson, have overseen the farm's daily operation. Ridgely Jr. lives in the house where his father and grandfather were born.

At the turn of the century, the Boyers had about 250 acres until the farm was divided among seven children, including Mr. Boyer's grandfather.

Charles Webster Boyer died when Mr. Boyer's father, John, was only 14. About 30 acres were passed down and in 1944, John Boyer bought 89 acres from the Shipleys, another large Anne Arundel County farm family.

Together, the elder Mr. Boyer and his sons, Ridgely and Charles, grew sweet corn, squash, melons and peaches for truck farms until John Boyer died in 1957.

Today, the farm work is nearly constant. In the winter, the peach trees must be pruned. In the spring, buds on the branches must be picked off by hand.

In the summer, peaches must be picked within a week of ripening or they'll rot.

And every 15 years the trees must be replaced. Two weeks ago, the Boyers planted 400 peach saplings to replenish the orchard.

When the peaches are ripe, around the Fourth of July, Boyer Farms sets up a retail stand in front of the farm and sells peaches and vegetables through Labor Day. The peaches are also sold wholesale to roadside markets and Lauer's Super Thrift grocery chain in Pasadena.

Mr. Boyer said he turns a profit on his peaches and doesn't expect to sell his land anytime soon.

"It's bad to say what you'll never do," he said. "It's one of things you never know until you see the advantages and disadvantages. Circumstances can force you to do something you don't want to. I have good neighbors now, so I don't foresee anyone offering me enough money to sell. I'm perfectly satisfied with the way things are."

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