our new cherry orchard three years ago, I considered several factors. First in
importance was to control tree size. Until five years ago, this was not
possible. The only cherry rootstocks available were vigorous in the extreme. In
fact, the Queen Anne cherry tree on the farm when Pam, Reuwai and I came here
in 1975 was over 30 feet tall! Our tallest ladder was only 28 feetit took
two very strong men to put it up and picking from the top of that ladder was
Such ladders were made from basswood, used for its
strength and lightness. We bought our ladders from the Seelye Ladder Company in
upstate New York. Twenty-five years ago they were still able to find some tall
basswood trees. It is almost impossible to find them today. Most orchard
ladders today are made of spruce that is heavier and not as strong.
We picked Queen Annes for a few years, but the annual race
with the birds usually ended up with us the losers and the birds full of ripe
cherries. With such a large tree, protective netting was out of the question.
Hence, controlling the size of the new cherry trees was a major consideration
About three years ago, size-controlling rootstocks became
available. These were developed in Germany and are now called "Gisela"
rootstocks. Consequently, it is possible to plant a cherry tree that is easily
covered with bird netting and stays short enough to be picked without the use
importance was to choose cherry varieties resistant to cracking. Unfortunately,
many cherries such as Bing and Ranier can absorb water through the skin when a
rainstorm occurs during the seven to ten day period before harvest. This causes
the cherry to swell rapidly, the skin to crack, and the fruit to decay. Because
of this problem, most cherries in North America are grown in the desert-like
climates of the State of Washington and British Columbia. Most of the time, the
dry climate allows the cherries to get to harvest without cracking.
My friend Jake Van Westin of Penticton, British Columbia,
grows about 35 acres of cherries. Even though rain is infrequent, he hires a
helicopter pilot to remain on standby for the two-week period prior to harvest
every year. If rain occurs, the helicopter flies slowly back and forth over
Jake's cherry orchards, blowing raindrops off the fruit to save the crop.
And, if another shower comes along, the pilot goes right back over again!
But, alas, this technique just does not make sense for our
one acre of cherries. Instead, we planted crack-resistant varieties of
cherries. They absorb less water and are less affected by rain.
A final factor is that cherry season is short and sweet. Each variety of cherry is ready to be picked in the space of
about three days. To spread out the harvest time a little, we have planted eleven
varietiesUlster, Lapins, Somerset, Hedelfingen, Hudson, Hartland, Chelan, Schmidt, Regina, Rainer (yellow blush) and
Montmorency (tart variety for cooking and baking) each with a slightly different maturity date. In this way, we
were able to lengthen the picking season. Keep in mind, though, that cherry
season goes by fast. If you wait until "next weekend" to pick cherries, you may
be too late. And, this June, towards the end of the month, picking will be
"ready, set, go," because the season is still "short and sweet."