Tuesday, June 28, 2011

#10 The Cherry Orchard

       When we purchased our land, it had 15 acres of Lambert cherry trees on it. 
They were beautiful in the springtime when they were in full bloom,  and by July the cherries were sweet and larger than anything found in the market.  Other growers told us that a good crop could bring in a lot of money, but the chances of a good crop happening were rare, perhaps once every seven years.   What could possibly happen to a crop? 
1.  In April bloom, if the weather was cold, rainy, or windy, the bees wouldn’t leave their hives, and the cherries wouldn’t get pollinated.  (We had to rent the hives.) 
2.   If it frosted during bloom, a common occurrence, that would destroy the crop. 
3.  The cherry fruit fly would emerge, and we would have to have the orchard sprayed, for no one would buy wormy cherries.  
4.  In July, when it was time to pick, a strong wind would bruise the cherries.   
5.  Rain would split them.  
6.  A glut of cherries on the market and ours would be left hanging on the trees because the      Grande Ronde Valley cherries are the last to ripen. 
 7. Hail is common in July, cutting the flesh of the cherries, and rendering  them worthless. 
8.  A good year elsewhere and the price would drop below our harvest expenses. 
9.  If they sat in a warehouse somewhere and spoiled, we not only lost all monies, but received a bill from the packing house! 
10.  Starlings love cherries.

            We had no control over the price we were paid,  and we wouldn’t know how much we were getting or see a check, until months later.  The pickers had to be paid, and the packers,  then the middleman, sold to the market, and then to the consumer (that could be overseas).   If there was any money left, that's what we got.  The cherries were sorted into three sizes.  We called them:    A. large and beautiful, and never seen again once they were picked.   B. the ones that we broke even on, and  C. the size the average person buys in the store, but which the per pound price we were paid didn't even cover our expenses. 
            If it rained just as the cherries were ripe for picking, the moisture would accumulate in the cup around the stem.  It would then be absorbed by the cherry, and if the sun came out soon, the cherries would split.  Our only salvation was if the wind blew gently and dried them , or we could hire a helicopter to fly low over the orchard and blow the water off the cherries.  This was very expensive, but worth it to save the crop.           

            Our Latino pickers were afraid of dogs.  They especially feared our Doberman, Gator.  They didn’t know he was as gentle as a lamb. And he loved cherries.  The pickers would scurry up their ladders when he wandered by, and he would help himself to a big serving of fruit from their buckets  We would hear the pickers yelling, “Loco perro!  Loco perro!”
    One day, about a week before picking, the kids and I were in town when a major hailstorm hit there.  It left the ground covered with about 2” of ice.  The storm preceded us as we drove the 19 miles to home, and we caught up with it about one mile from the ranch.  The hail was so large that we had to pull over and wait it out.  It beat on the car so loudly that we couldn’t even talk to each other.  I prayed that  God would spare our crop even though I knew there was no hope, for we were within sight of the orchard.  As the storm played out, it was with a sense of foreboding that I drove the rest of the way to the house.  We had counted on the money from that crop to pay some important bills.  When I drove in, my husband was in a fine mood, and I couldn’t figure out why.
            “What hailstorm?” he responded to my query about damage.  God had answered in a most miraculous way by diverting that hailstorm around our orchard.

           We have since cut down all the orchard trees as they were about 60 years old and starting to rot.  I don't miss them a bit, especially since I am terribly allergic to cherries.  Isn't that the "pits"?