Sunday, June 27, 2010

Cherry harvest - the good and the bad

The cherry harvest is in full swing here at Thiessen Farms.
That is both a good thing, and a bad thing!

First the good.
  Almost everybody loves cherries, and we are no exception. Most mornings (when I am not at market) I am on my bike just after dawn riding through the orchards determining which cherry trees are ripe enough to be picked that day. Of course the only way to be sure is to sample and taste the cherries ... many cherries, from many trees... Call it fast food, breakfast to go, meals on wheels, or cherry smorgasbord - I call it delicious! One of the perks of the job.
  At the farmers' markets the customers are also very happy to see cherries. For more than a month now we have been selling plants - herbs and vegetable plants. For more than a month now, people have been asking for cherries. Finally we have them and everybody is happy!
  Cherries are our first major fruit crop of the season. Having had no significant farm income since last October, cherries are important for the cash flow.

Now some bad.
  Cherries are the most stressful crop we grow. Old timers like to say that you can count on a good cherry harvest 1 out of 5 years. The optimists say 1 out of 3.
  Weather is the biggest peril. A cold, rainy blossom time or even a late frost can cause a poor fruit set. Winds can damage the small cherries. And once they begin to ripen, rains can cause the cherries to split or crack, and rot. 
Lots of rain and little sun results in cherries that lack sweetness and taste. Shelf life is also reduced. Hail is always a possibility with hot, humid conditions - even a brief hail storm can destroy a crop and a short shower followed by sunshine can cause a lot of cracking.
  While picking cherries is labour intensive - all sweet cherries are hand harvested - sorting & grading cherries is likewise. All cherries are sorted on a moving belt. Workers stand on both sides of the conveyor picking out the bad or damaged fruit. Here's a shot of the grading belt - of course no one thinks to take a picture when we're actually using it!

  Imported cherries often appear on supermarket shelves shortly before ours are harvested. A good crop in the USA can affect the price Ontario growers receive for our cherries.
  Our cherries are not always well received in the marketplace. Consumers love a hard and crunchy cherry. Our climate almost guarantees our cherries will be softer and less crunchy, and less accepted.

  For several farmers I know, the bad has outweighed the good in recent years, and they have eliminated their cherry trees. It is always sad to see a cherry orchard being cut down, especially an established orchard that may have been there for 20-30 years.
We are slowly reducing the number of cherry trees on our farm ( presently we have about 150) but will probably always keep some cherries.

More good!
  This season's cherry harvest is going quite smoothly so far. Taste is good, quality is reasonable, and the picking & grading is working okay.
  Here are some shots of a small cherry orchard we have right beside our house, and in front of the barn. Could we have a better front yard!?


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