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June 2008

Cold Spring: Plumper Cherries
By The Growing Gardener

The Growing Gardener archive

cherries

Colder than usual weather can bring out the best in cherries...but it can't be too cold! Some predict a 30 percent drop in this year's cherry harvest due to colder temperatures. Cherry farmers in Eastern Washington have been pulling out the stops to help their crops survive this year's cold spring weather...using methods involving heat and water to protect the delicate buds from frost. But the good news is the cherries that do pull through will be bigger and juicier. So supplies may be limited—get them while you can!

And buy ORGANIC. The Environmental Working Group rated cherries #7 (out of 43) for high pesticide load, and so more farmers are transitioning to organic growing methods. The prediction is that by 2009 the organic cherry crop in Washington State will increase by 54 percent. Going organic has been challenging for local cherry farmers due to the cherry fruit fly, but a new type of insecticide that is registered for organic production seems to be working.

At my local farmers market, I enjoy the organic fruits of Tiny's Organic, located in Wenatchee, Wash. The pretty skin and sweet taste of the Rainier cherry has always been my favorite, but I'm looking forward to trying Tiny's top seller: Lapins cherries. I'm not sure why they are a top seller, but I won't mind experimenting!

As the curious growing gardener that I am, I wondered: What is it about climate and soil east of the Cascades that contributes to our wonderful cherries? I learned the relatively dry climate is basically a perfect combination of intense sunlight and cool nights that bring out sugar and acid for taste, and the heavily volcanic soil drains well. Another burning question: Can I grow my OWN cherries west of the Cascades?

I talked to Raintree Nursery, a fruit-tree, mail-order nursery in Morton, Wash. Cherry trees can produce a decent crop west of the Cascades, but if it's an usually wet and cold spring (like some of us in the Pacific Northwest can relate to!), fruit can crack and spoil. Here are a few best practices:

  • Buy your tree in January or February.
  • Plant it in well-drained sandy soil (clay kills!).
  • For the first couple of years, pinch off any new fruit to force growth into the roots.
  • Many cherry trees are self fertile, so you only need one.
  • Buy a cherry tree on a dwarf root stock (8-10 feet), which is more manageable for smaller yards.

Recommended varieties include:

  • Almaden Duke Cherry (tart)
  • Early Burlat Sweet Cherry
  • Lapins Sweet

So grow your own! The birds will love them, too!

 

Resources

Fruit crops cut by cold - Seattle PI 4/24/08

Environmental Working Group Food News

Organic cherry crop set to double - Good Fruit Grower

 

The Growing Gardener is Gina Renee Lozier, a Seattle-area resident, a landscape and container garden designer, and an enthusiastic student of horticulture.

 

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