BY DEBRA J. MORRIS
Growing cherries requires a lot of patience, constant vigilance, and hard work to bring a successful and abundant crop to market. The work of pruning, watering, and fertilizing goes on through the entire year for a harvest that takes daily hand picking for only two or three short months. This year the trees received more than enough chill hours (the number of cold hours between 32 and 45 degrees that a fruit tree or nut tree requires for flowering and fruit production each year), lots of precipitation because of the rain, and lower temperatures we had from December through March.
Last year’s January and February left a lower-than-average harvest because of the drought. However, this year’s cherry season seems to be off to a good start, according to many of the local farmers we spoke to. Even with the winter’s wind and rain, crop totals look to be average or slightly above average. and will be harvested a week or so later than last year.
Hilma Lujan, owner of Lujan Farms from Hughson in the Central Valley, says their cherry yield will turn out to be “average, compared to other years. Our cherries should arrive the first week or second week in May.” She says their peaches may arrive before the cherries!
Francisco Resendiz of Resendiz Farms, who farms in Hughson as well, says he’s predicting cherries should arrive at markets May 10th. He explained, “Everything is a week to 10 days behind, pretty much everywhere, due to the weather this year.”
Farmer Mike Billigmeier, of B&B Farm in Linden, is looking forward to stone fruit season, of which cherries are a part. Mike says, “It looks like we’re going to have a good year, though it’s hard to judge what the harvest will be like compared to last year during the drought.” He grows Coral, Brooks, Bing and a new Royal Hazel variety of cherries, along with peaches, apricots, and nectarines.
He says they should be harvesting the first week or so of May, which is about two to three weeks later than during the last few years of drought. Their orchards do not appear to have had much damage due to the wind and rain from this winter, but it’s taking longer for the fruit to set and develop. The first cherry varieties to appear at your farmers’ market will be the early Corals and Brooks, followed by other varieties.
Guy Allard of Allard Farms in Westley, says, “The cherries are setting up well and we think that there should be enough groundwater for summer irrigation.” Among the varieties that he thinks will be ready by the first week in May are Champagne, Coral, and Brooks.
Further south in Morgan Hill, Chris Borello of Borello Farms says the cold weather has been great for their trees and the rain provided enough water throughout the winter. “All but one of our orchards fared well with the rain since they have good drainage. One of our orchards along the creek flooded out and caused significant damage to the irrigation system. It’s likely a large percentage of those trees will die because they were underwater for an extended period of time.” Borello says the crop looks very promising and they anticipate being at the markets with cherries in early May.
Harvesting healthy crops depends on many factors, from good soil and good care to rain and sunshine. Our local cherry farmers are coming through another season, relatively unscathed. Stop by your farmers’ market this May and June and enjoy some of California’s best sweet cherries.
Arugula, Cherry, & Almond Salad
1/2 pound fresh sweet cherries, pitted
1/2 pound arugula
2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, thinly shaved (3/4 cup)
1/2 cup almonds, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons good extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Flaky coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cut the cherries in half lengthwise and place in a large serving bowl. Add the arugula, cheese and almonds. Drizzle with the oil and vinegar, crush a few generous pinches of salt over the top and season generously with pepper. Toss to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.