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Uncertainty with cherries just makes the season more exciting

By Luke Edwards

A late frost may mean a slightly lighter crop than usual, but that isn’t doing anything to sap the excitement for Paula Bryk as cherry season arrives.

Bryk operates 20 Valley Harvest Farm in Jordan, where she farms 12 acres of cherries on a 26-acre plot of land that has been in her family since her great grandfather Tony Raczka arrived in Canada from Poland. Today they have orchards that go as far back as 1956, and as recent as 2000.

While all crops are dependent to some degree on the weather, Bryk said cherries are particularly susceptible.

“(Cherries) are a sensitive crop. We have a very variable climate here in Ontario. It’s humid…And there’s a fair amount of rain, which is good for other crops, but cherries aren’t keen on. So it’s always hit or miss,” she said. “There’s some uncertainty involved with cherries, but that’s also what makes it kind of exciting.”

A cold spell late in the spring had Bryk worried. Coming off a season where ill-timed rain just as the cherries were ripening made the 2023 season a bit of a wash, the spring frost was the last thing she wanted. It did some damage on the trees at her Fifteenth Street farm, but it wasn’t too drastic. It happened right as the blossoms were out, and while some froze and died, there should still be plenty of cherries to pick in July.

On the bright side, uneven weather this spring meant the pollinators weren’t out as consistently. That may seem like a problem, but for a pick-your-own farm like 20 Valley it means trees are full of cherries at different stages of ripeness. It won’t necessarily extend the length of the season, but it could mean visitors will be able to find ripe cherries ready for picking whenever they make the trek out to the farm.

When they open, Bryk said she and her staff will give visitors a rundown of how to pick cherries. It’s not overly complicated but there are some common mistakes visitors make that can both harm the tree and also prevent them from getting the best bang for their buck.

“It’s the best value to pick without the stem,” Bryk explained. With the stems a basket gets filled up much more quickly, before settling down.

Picking without the stem also protects the tree, Bryk said, by reducing the chance of disturbing the spurs, which are nodules on which the fruit grows. And since cherries only grow on wood that’s over a year old, destroying the nodules or twigs could have a long-ranging effect.

If people are adamant about keeping the stem attached, she encourages them to pinch the stem and pull to lower the chance of damaging the tree.

Some people think cherries stay fresh longer if the stem is attached, but Bryk said that’s not the case. It might be true in commercial cold storage facilities, but not in a home kitchen fridge. Instead, people should dry the cherries (if they’re wet) and then immediately pop them in the fridge without worrying about the stems. She also suggests refraining from washing them until just before they’re going to be eaten, because cherries have a natural barrier that keeps them ripe.

Bryk said while store bought cherries are fine, nothing compares to one that’s freshly picked.

“That’s why people like to come to pick-your-own, because you can get them when they’re at the exact right ripeness level,” she said.

The season starts at the beginning of July with sweet cherries. They can last as little as five days, but more likely up to a couple weeks. Following that will be sour cherries, which starts about a week later and lasts a little longer, generally two to four weeks.

“It’s a short season so we want to make the most of it,” Bryk said, adding pick-your-own farms are a great way to introduce kids to farming and how food is produced.

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