July 5, 2011

Cherries!


SWEET CHERRIES ARE A HOME CROP MANY SEEM TO AVOID BELIEVING THAT THEY ARE TOO DIFFICULT, ALTHOUGH NOT EASY, ONE CAN HARVEST A REASONABLE AMOUNT FOR JAMS AND PIE, IF YOU SIMPLY NET YOUR TREES TO KEEP BIRDS OFF, AND THEN SHADE THEM TO AVOID RAIN CRACKS.
Cherries just might be the most challenging yet most rewarding home fruit crop. But don't expect those dark, black red cherries one gets from Washington State, most North American crops will be limited to sweet, red cherries, still large, but more flavorless until cooked. I adore cherries of all kinds, sour, sweet, pie cherries - the flavor reminds me of my mom when she would cook pies and jams from the sour cherries that grew in a small orchard in the field behind our home. We even had a yellow cherry that had died before I was born, but I remember the glass canning jars in the storeroom in the cellar with handwritten labels on them saying "yellow cherries" and I would always ask when we might try them. ( we never did, I think she was just saving them for a special event, and eventually they we're thrown away). I still feel the desire to taste them. I think next spring I will plant some yellow cherries out back for this very reason.
June and Early July is cherry season in zones 6 - 3, and if you do not have any cherry trees on your property, you can go to a pick-your-own fruit farm ( just be sure to check if they have cherries, for the season is extremely short - 4 days at our local farm, Tougas Family Fruit Farm in Northboro, MA.

The biggest challenge to overcome with cherries is bird damage, since losses can reach 100% even on home crops. Commercial growers take all precautions, such as constructing elaborate structures of green netting over their entire field. At home, one must cover their tree just after pollination, since even unripe young fruit is far too tempting to many birds.
LAYING ON THE GROUND, IN THE DAMP GRASS, YOU CAN LOOK UP AND SEE THE LARGEST CHERRIES THAT SEEM TO COME RIGHT FROM THE BRANCH. ONE MUST LOOK FOR THE DARKEST RED, EVEN THOUGH THESE LOOK RIPE, THE BEST FLAVOR IS DEVELOPED IN THE BLACKEST CHERRIES, SO PICK ONE-BY-ONE, NOT IT CLUSTERS.

Many home gardener dream of growing cherries, but either avoid purchasing trees believing that they are ungrowable in their area, or they have tried growing cherries, but gave up. But one you understand the challenges, and address them, cherries are relatively easy as long as you cover the plants.


There are three challenges to master finding solutions to when growing cherries. 1.   Birds, 2. Rain Cracking, and 3. Pollination. Of course the site must be right, with full sun and rick soil, and pruning must be mastered, but between the Internet and on-line documents, you should be able to attempt simple pruning.
'RAINIER' IS A CLASSIC QUEEN ANNE WHITE CHERRY THAT HAS A MUCH HIGHER SUGAR CONTENT THAN MOST RED VARIETIES. IT IS SURPRISINGLY GROWABLE IN MANY NORTHERN HOME GARDENS. NOT A PERFECT AS STORE BOUGHT FRUIT, YOU CAN BE ASSURED THAT YOUR OWN FRUIT WILL BE MORE ORGANIC.

Then there is the whole issue of what type of cherry to grow. There are tart cherries, for pie and juice, which are hardier than sweet cherries, but sweet cherries can be successfully grown in zone 5, as long as winter temperatures don’t fall lower than -25 degrees F.

There are many varieties, but I recommend growing trees that are grafted onto dwarf rootstock, or dwarf varieties. You may think that you would want a large tree to get a decent harvest, but three or four dwarf trees in a row can give you a bushel of cherries, far more than you would need for jam or pies, since most recipes call for 2 or 3 pounds per batch..




I grow three types of cherry, but only our sour cherry Montmorency gave us fruit - sour cherries that are more flavorful for juice, pies and jam. Tougas Farm had a few rows of very nicely grown cherries for jams , tarts and fresh eating, and a dwarf ‘White Gold, a white fleshed Rainier-type which are yellow with a red blush that I missed the picking day for, so there were only a few drops left.
THE FOUR ROWS IN THE MIDDLE ARE RECIPE'S FROM THE BLUE CHAIR COOKBOOK, WHITE CHERRY AND PEACH JAM WITH VANILLA, AND CLASSIC RED CHERRY JAM.

For me, cherries are a bit nostalgic, the flavor of cooked cherries, of smashing the pits gently on a granite stone outside to remove the little almond  (cherry?) flavored kernals found in each seed that give the preserves and jam that classic bitter almond flavor that many of us associate with cherries that have been cooked the 'proper way'. Less tedious recipes allow you to add some almond extract.

DO consider cherries, but also, consider the labor which you might find hard, or, if you are like us, you may find the care, rather fun.
1. Choose proper varieties for your area.
2. Be sure to plant a pollinator, since they are not self fertile
3. Net the trees just after fruit set to ensure that the fruit is not consumed by birds ( they WILL eat them)
4. Keep the trees well watered with a drip hose in dry weather.
5. Prune in winter, to keep branches in balance for good bud set. I advise getting a book of pruning fruit trees ( can't advise you on one yet, I need to go research some for myself!).
A BOWL OF HOME GROWN CHERRIES ARE THE PRIDE OF ANY BACKYARD GARDENER. 

Also: Some very helpful information for growing home cherries.

A. CHERRY PITTER'S - You will need  a Cherry Pitter - The Oxo brand pitter is great, but a few pits will still sneak by, and one-by-one can be tedious when you have a bushel of fruit, so be careful since you can and will get lazy over time. Pitting cherries is fun in the same sort of way the shucking peas is fun, I don't know why! For more aggressive cherry pitters, try some of these at THE SAUSAGE MAKER.

B. REFLECTIVE TARPS - A reflective waterproof tarp over the fruit as it matures to avoid rain cracks is the newst method used by both by commerical growers, and now some savvy home growers too. This is a great article to read, and then  you can plan ahead and order both safe bird netting ( netting that is NOT black, so that the birds can see it and not get caught in it) and some reflective tarps for the very top, to keep hail, and excess rain from damaging your grop.. This is a new way of growing cherries, and you will see the commercial growers do this. Rain cracks happen after heavy rains just before harvest, and your entire harvest can be ruined in one day. Sounds like alot of work, and it is, but it really only takes a few hours to set the net up in the spring, and you are done.

When picking, plan on what you want to make with your cherries beforehand, since pitted cherries will spoil in a few hours, they will turn brown and smell like an apple core within two hours after being pitted.

Cherries are worth growing, and a value if you consider the cost of fresh cherries at local farms or in the market.  If you live in an area where cherries really thrive, such as upstate New York, Michigan or northern California, Oregon or Washington, Cherry culture should be a snap, but even in New England, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kansas, Cherries can be a productive and fun crop to grow.

1 comment :

  1. Thank you for reminding me of some special times! I used to live in Washington and a lot of friends and family had cherry trees. One summer day I was out picking cherries at my brothers house, with my 3 yr old nephew "helping," every third or fourth cherry instead of putting it in the bucket I'd bite it in half being sure to get the pit in my half and then hand the other half to him. About 15 cherries later I actually looked down at the half I was taking away from my mouth and saw the worms. Little wiggling white worms. We stopped picking and eating right then.

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