Some good reading on the thread. I’ll offer a few comments.
Re: Which peach tree to plant.
Redhaven is the standard and I like it (introduced in 1948 by Stanley Johnston, if I remember correctly). I haven’t checked for a few years, but last time I did, it was still the most widely planted peach tree in the U.S.
However, if I had only one peach tree to plant, I believe it would be Risingstar. Of the over 100 peach varieties I’ve grown it edges out Redhaven in terms of overall score, imo.
It’s every bit as reliable a cropper in my area, in both winter hardiness and frost tolerance. It harvests two weeks earlier (same window as Early Redhaven) which means less sprays. And it’s a tad sweeter. It’s slightly smaller, but still very acceptable size. I can’t say much about rot tolerance of either one because we have a rigorous spray program. The only drawback of Risingstar is that it is so productive, it’s easy to overcrop.
I would probably echo Cityman’s comments about creating a Franken peach tree. While it can be done, it would require extra work and some skills which take some time to develop.
In terms of grafting, there are multiple threads on the forum as good resources. As mentioned, peaches are considered one of the most difficult to graft. I’ve pretty good success rates, but it has taken me a lot of years to get the nuances right. And with peaches, nuances are important.
One of the things which has helped a lot is a special tool which cuts a “V” in the rootstock and cuts a corresponding mate in the scionwood. It makes a really nice match with lots of cambium contact. There are lots of threads on the forum about the grafting tool Dax originally recommended. However the timing is the biggest issue, with fall budding or spring grafting. Temperatures and timing has to be right.
I’d also echo the comments about Indian Free. I’ve grown it. While it is nice to have a refreshing difference in peaches (when you grow enough peaches, traditional peach flavor can get old). Indian Free is very different, which is a nice change. But I wouldn’t recommend it as a stand alone peach. Everyone here who grows it also grow (or has grown) lots of other peaches.
Re: Dave Wilson top peach taste tests
I used to put a lot of value in their taste testing because they bring in people and do blind taste testing. They seem to put a lot of effort into it.
But I’ve learned that there is a wide variance of flavor in any given variety. I can go to just about any tree in our orchard and pick a peach which is good or one pretty crappy.
New customers (and new peach growers) have difficulty detecting this unless they have a side by side comparison. People new to tree ripe peaches tend to be “wowed” by any peach which is juicy regardless of the flavor. They just want a soft wet peach. But people who eat lots of peaches can discern very quickly a poor vs. a good tasting peach.
The first picking of any peach is going to be the best, while the third picking is horrible. Of course the amount, and timing, of rainfall from year to year has a huge impact (although I’m not sure if that plays into Dave Wilson’s nursery because large parts of CA don’t get much rain).
I recall Dave Wilson rated Harken peach very highly for several years of taste testing. When I was new to peach growing, I thought it was really great too (after all Dave Wilson recommended it, so it must be good was my thought). But then I hadn’t developed a discerning palate for peaches. After years of growing and tasting peaches, I would never recommend Harken. The flavor isn’t bad, but Clayton and PF 9a-007 (both of which ripen in the same window) are better. Size of Harken is small and uneven, and it has lots of fuzz. Production isn’t great.
I still have a dozen Harken trees which I will not replace with Harkens.