By Sam Jack
Per Wikipedia, Haysville is known as the “Peach Capital of Kansas.” For residents who arrived in the area in the 1990s or later, that sobriquet might seem like a head-scratcher.
But those who lived here before the mid-1980s can remember the sprawling peach orchards that justified the name. Blood Orchard alone had more than 15,000 trees, and other orchards, with names like Cain, Nicholson and Hancock, added to the area’s total.
Jeff Blood grew up on his family’s peach orchard. His great-great grandfather homesteaded the land in 1871 and started planting fruit trees – apples, cherries and nectarines – a year later. The Bloods got into the peach business in the late 1920s.
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the Aug. 22 print edition of the Haysville Sun-Times. To see stories like this sooner, and to get all your community news, subscribe to the Sun-Times. Call 316-540-0500 to get the next edition delivered to your home.
“All the ground was disced. You needed manpower to move these huge water guns (for irrigation). The guns went behind a grain truck on a half-mile-long steel cable, and it would slowly make its way back to the truck,” Blood recalled.
In the mid-1980s, an oil company started injecting saltwater into old oil wells in the area.
The salt got into the groundwater. Two years of irrigating with salty water killed the peach trees.
“I was a sophomore in high school the year the trees were pushed out,” Blood said. “That was our livelihood, that was everything, basically watching it being pushed out of the ground with a bulldozer and watching it be burned.”
The Bloods won a lawsuit, but that didn’t fix the groundwater, Jeff said. The land stayed in the family, but the peach-orchard lifestyle was over.
Over, that is, until 2014, when Jeff Blood, his wife, Jessica, and children Madison Hanna, Mallory Blood and Emmy Blood moved back to the family homestead. Jeff wanted to give his children – especially Mallory, 7, and Emmy, 5 – the kind of childhood he had.
“How I grew up was how I wanted them to grow up. It’s hard work, really hard work, but it pays off in spades. It’s really awesome to hear people come in and say, ‘We love those peaches,’ after we spent all year working on them.”
The Blood family started re-planting peach trees in 2015, and have added more every year except 2018. Now there are more than 400 trees in the resurrected Blood Orchard. A year’s worth of work goes into each successful harvest.
“In January and February, you’re out pruning trees,” Blood said. “Then, the minute the blossoms hit, you’ve got to make sure you’re keeping enough water on the trees, which means turning the drip irrigation on, and then cleaning it all out if it freezes. Weeds and grass can really hurt the growth of the peach tree, so trying to keep those down without tilling takes a lot of time.”
If it’s a good year, the trees will start growing an excessive number of fruits.
“They’ll look like bunches of grapes,” Blood said. “So by June 1, you’re out there with a stick, trying to beat the peaches off the trees so that you don’t end up with a whole bunch of peaches the size of walnuts.”
When it’s harvest time, the whole family helps in the orchard.
“I’ll physically touch every single peach on a tree,” Blood said. “I only pick the ones that are ripe. A peach gains 40 percent of its sugar the last 10 days it’s on the tree. If you pick a peach when it’s green and ship it across the country, it’ll ripen, but it won’t have the sugar content these will have.”
The first Blood Orchard peach harvest in decades occurred in 2017. The family expects each year’s harvest to get bigger as the trees reach maturity.
“Right now we’re to the point where it’s manageable by just us. That won’t be the case once all these trees fully develop,” Blood said. “I don’t think we’re going to plant any more sections of trees right now, but future plans, I see many acres of peach trees out here, as well as some more cherries and apples.”
The Bloods have been selling this year’s peach harvest as it has ripened. Visit the “Blood Orchards” Facebook page, or call 316-524-4207 to check availability.