Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Reducing overwintering apple scab inoculum using fall-applied urea and leaf shredding

I was (October 20-21) at an annual meeting of tree fruit entomologists and pathologist in Burlington, VT. After what was a high-pressure apple scab year, it's likely there is some (or a lot) of scab out there in the orchard which will be the source of infection for 2010. All things being equal, the more overwintering scab inoculum the higher the scab pressure will be for next year. So, if you can take some steps to reduce the inoculum now -- like right now -- you can help yourself out for next year when it comes to managing scab. There was pretty much agreement on taking these two steps this fall to significantly reduce (up to 90-95%) the amount of overwintering scab inoculum:
  • First, spray your apple trees right now with 50 lbs. of urea (spray urea, 44 lbs. is the actual recommended rate, but hey, 50 won't hurt and that is the bag size) per acre in 100 gallons of water while the leaves are still on the trees. Contrary to popular belief, this will not impact winter hardiness. Just keep in mind you are adding app. 23 lbs. of actual nitrogen per acre to the orchard, so adjust your fertilizer program accordingly.
  • Second, flail mow/chop the orchard as late as you can and when the majority of leaves have fallen from the trees. Sweep or blow leaves into the orchard middle from within the row is helpful so that the majority of leaves can be chopped/shredded.
Doing these two integrated apple scab management practices this fall will help to reduce the number and intensity of fungicide applications and go a long way towards making your overall scab management program in 2010 a success.

Thanks to Bill MacHardy for doing the research on these practices.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

NEW apple maturity report, 09/29/2009


General comments on 09/29/09 apple maturity: Empire, except those treated with ReTain, are ready for start of harvest. Pick over the next week. ReTain-treated Empire could go another week. Royal Empire (left) looks real nice, although fruit size is lacking on these rather weak trees on B.9 rootstock planted 2 feet apart. McIntosh and Honeycrisp harvest should be complete by now. I expect Golden Delicious, Mutsu, and 'Red' Delicious will be ready to pick the first full week in October (next week). Full report here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

NEW apple maturity report, 09/14/09


NEW apple maturity report, 09/14/09: Snappy Mac, Rogers Red and Redmax McIntosh, Honeyrcrisp, Brookfield Gala. General comments on 09/14/09 apple maturity: all fruit tested picked at UMass Orchard, Belchertown. Fruit maturity is moving along rapidly, particularly McIntosh and Honeycrisp. There is less than a week left to pick McIntosh for CA storage. (September 19 to be exact in Belchertown.) Honeycrisp are at their optimum harvest maturity, but will soon start to go by and drop will become excessive unless fruit was treated with ReTain. Honeycrisp fruit should be kept at app. 60 degrees F. for 5-6 days after harvest before being put in cold storage at 38 degrees F. Gala has a bit to go but is adequate for first harvest. Background color change from green to yellow-cream is evident. Let's hope the sugars develop in Gala over the next week. Full report here http://bit.ly/10ILU5

Monday, September 14, 2009

Apple scab-resistance: Honeycrisp vs. McIntosh judged no contest


I have been collecting some yield data on an orchard planted in 2006* at the UMass Cold Spring Orchard in Belchertown, MA this past week. I can't help but observe how much more apple 'scab-resistant' Honeycrisp is compared to McIntosh. Now, this orchard received a 'normal' fungicide schedule to control scab, but, it was a very wet summer, so scab became more apparent on McIntosh fruit (pictured) as the summer wore on. I estimate 5-10% fruit scab on McIntosh. I observed no scab on any of the Honeycrisp fruit or foliage. It's clear Honeycrisp orchards can get by on a reduced -- not necessarily none -- fungicide spray program compared to McIntosh.

*Honeycrisp, and 'Rogers Red' and 'Snappy Mac' McIntosh on M106, M26, and B9 rootstocks planted to three systems (NZ central leader-3m between trees, vertical axis-2m between, and tall spindle-1 m between) with three replications.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Apple maturity report: 09/08 and 09/09/09

General comments on 09/08 and 09/09 apple maturity: Honeycrisp are definitely coming along nicely, with much improved color development and starch-index approaching 5-6. Harvest should begin in earnest, although sugars could be higher. Don't expect much in sugar development and varietal flavor given the unusally wet and cloudy summer of 2009, but fruit harvested and tested today (09/09) in Belchertown were very good flavor. Full report here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Apple maturity report: 09/07/2009

General comments on 09/07/09 apple maturity: Gala maturity still lags, however, a cursory inspection of some Brookfield and Buckeye Gala fruit in Belchertown this morning (09/08) showed some good background color change from green to yellow. Those fruit will be harvested later this week. McIntosh are just starting to get 'good' and I expect rapid development of maturity now. Honeycrisp still need more time to develop varietal flavor, and fruit are holding on the tree nicely. Color development is creeping along. Full report here.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Apple maturity report: 09/04/2009

General comments on 09/04/09 apple maturity: Shelburne and Deerfield in upper Connecticut River valley. Gala and Honeycrisp need more time, at least another week, in Shelburne. Marshall McIntosh being harvested in Deerfield, Honeycrisp could be spot picked on color now. In Belchertown, Silken (pictured at left) is a very nice, yellow apple which is approaching harvest. Lindamac McIntosh will be picked Monday, and they have great color. Full report here.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Apple maturity report: 09/03/2009

General comments on 09/03/09 apple maturity: Lindamac, Gale Gala, Buckeye Gala, Honecyrisp (Northboro, MA). Lindamac, Gale Gala, Honeycrisp (Stow, MA). My first look at Gale Gala. With the exception of Northboro Honeycrisp, all fruit from 2nd leaf trees. With the exception of Northboro Honeycrisp, all fruit needs a week to develop better sugar, maturity, and flavor. Starch index of the Northboro Honeycrisp was unusually high, meaning the fruit were very mature, or there was not much starch, and hence sugar, to start -- harvest of these Honeycrisp should commence as soon as color is adequate. Full report here. Also see 09/02/09 apple maturity report.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Show me the money...

A colleague of mine in NJ just reported that he picked one (20 bushel) bin of Lindamac apples off 100 trees planted last year to a tall-spindle training system that I had sourced from Willow Drive Nursery. These were knip-boom trees, so they were decent, but the branching was a little variable and they may have been 2'nds, so I can't say they were truly great. Nice, but not great, probably equivalent to a decently feathered 1-year nursery tree. Now, some head-only math:
  • 20 bushes, assuming an average count of 100 apples per bushel, equals 20 apples per tree -- more than the 5-10 recommended on 2nd leaf tall-spindle trees, but you got to hand it to McIntosh, it can be a very productive variety
  • at orchard-run wholesale, 50 cents per pound, that is $400/bin. My colleague says he is selling for $300, so it is a bit of a give-away Win... :-)
  • at full retail, $1.00 per pound, and 90% pack-out, that is $720/bin. Let's call it $700
  • if the Lindamac were planted 3 ft. X 12 ft., that is app. 1,200 trees per acre, equals 12 bins/acre, equals wholesale value of $3,600 (might as well give then away) and retail value $8,400. At $8,400 you would have come CLOSE to paying for the trees in the 2nd leaf! Well, for 2/3 of the trees anyways...
Not bad. After the 3rd leaf, assuming everything goes well, it should be all gravy for retail apple growers planting to tall-spindle. Anyone care to refute my logic???

JC

Monday, August 31, 2009

Apple maturity report: 08/31/2009

General comments on 083109 apple maturity: I was a little taken aback by the maturity of some of the Honeycrisp -- 6 out of 9 apples were 7's on the starch iodine index, and indeed ate very well. The other 3 were 2 to 3 on the scale. (Not ripe.) These Honeycrisp were from dwarf trees and had decent red color. Certainly a first pick is warranted this week, but beware, Honeycrisp is the apple that loves to taunt, and some are going to be ready, and some less than desirable. Good red color and a loss of the green background as well as flavor should be your guide to picking. Orchard-to-orchard and block-to-block variation is the norm with Honeycrisp. One fruit exhibited significant core browing/breakdown. The Lindamac can be picked later this week and sugar (soluble solids) was good. It's not too late to put ReTain on Macs right now, and this will hold them on the tree well into late September. (7 day pre-harvest interval.) Silken could be better, so I would wait until at least late this week if not next week to pick them. This is a beatiful, yellow apple for this season and eats very well. Full report here.

Friday, August 28, 2009

UMass Video Fruit Advisor, August 27, 2009

UMass Video Fruit Advisor, August 27, 2009
Sansa, Ginger Gold, Zestar! apples
at the UMass Cold Spring Orchard
Belchertown, MA

Thursday, August 27, 2009

27-August apple maturity report

General comments 08-27-09 apple harvest: all these apples are nearing the end of their harvest window, although Ginger Gold has another 7-10 days. Maturity is moving along rapidly. Cooler weather will promote color development. Keep in mind there can be significant variability within and between orchards. Taste is one of the best indicators of apple maturity. Complete report.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Apple maturity report: 08/25/2009

General comments on 08/25/2009 apple harvest: all apples harvested at UMass Cold Spring Orchard, Belchertown, MA, unless otherwise noted. Ginger Gold is ready to go and should be harvested in earnest. Quality and flavor are very good. Silken was harvested because signficant pre-harvest drop was noted. It is not as good as it could be right now, but should be harvested within the week. Lindamac is a highly red coloring McIntosh strain. It is a little early, but harvest of these could begin anytime, and should be done next week. Harvest appears to be a few days ahead of last year which was average. Complete maturity report.

Monday, August 24, 2009

08/24/2009 Apple Maturity Update

General comments on 08/24/2009 apple harvest: we are largely waiting for some cooler weather to promote color development on McIntosh, etc. Sansa is very good, Akane is mediocre at best. See: http://www.umass.edu/fruitadvisor/2009/082409applematurity.htm Observed some significant drop on heavily-cropped Silken trees. Honeycrisp are HUGE, but have no color. The Mac harvest will start next week with Marshall McIntosh if we get some cooler weather.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Apple maturity report: 08/21/2009

General comments on 08/21/2009 apple harvest: maturity does not appear to be overly advanced nor overly retarded. I am a little concerned about the condition of large, early fruit because of this heat and the potential for sunburn. You may want to consider applying Surround to Honeycrisp to prevent sunburn if the hot, sunny, weather continues. Ginger Gold is also ready for the 1st pick based on some testing I did on 19-August. JC

(P.S) I apologize for the formatting, I will work on that in the future. But you can figure it out.

Cultivar
  1. date
  2. pre-harvest drop
  3. fruit diameter inches
  4. color % red
  5. firmness lbs
  6. soluble solids
  7. starch index
  8. comments

Akane
  1. 08/21/2009
  2. few
  3. 3.2
  4. 75
  5. 17
  6. 14.2
  7. 6.9 (5-7)
  8. younger trees with a lightish crop; quality is sub-par; some water core and sunburn (internal flesh browning); some flyspeck
Zestar!
  1. 08/21/2009
  2. none
  3. 3.2
  4. 35
  5. 14.2
  6. 15.1
  7. 4.5 (3-6)
  8. lacking red color but otherwise excellent; fruit in very nice condition; definitely ready to go, but would like to see better color

Sansa
  1. 08/21/2009
  2. none
  3. 3.1
  4. 65
  5. 14 (13-16)
  6. 13.7
  7. 5 (4-7)
  8. a nice early apple reminiscent of Gala; ready to pick but will develop better varietal flavor with time; a touch of water core

Sunday, August 2, 2009

IFTA I: Sunday evening meet and greet


Bienvenue from Wolfville, Nova Scotia (NS). Sunday evening IFTA 'meet and greet' after a day of touring around Bay of Fundy, including Cape Split and Hall's Harbor.

Bill Craig, Horticulturist: the Nova Scotia Tree Fruit Industry

1.) Extension cut, about 7-8 years ago. But, government funding for 'AgraPoint,' grower has to pay for scouting. Bill is a horticulturist for them, also involved now with NS wine industry.

2.) Annapolis Valley, Digby to Windsor, most of the apples in Kings County. Water (Bay of Fundy and Atlantic Ocean) is somewhat of a moderating factor. Extreme minimum temp. -24 F. Annual precipitation total 46 inches, of which over 100 inches is snow. Frost-free period 138 days. Soils are variable, clay, loam, sand.

3.) 2 to 2.5 million bushels of apples annually, app. 6,000 acres. Minor pears (Bosc) and stone fruit (Redhaven peach). McIntosh (19%, 33% in 1996), Cortland (11%), Spy (19%), Honeycrisp (8%, no-show in 1996.)

4.) 35 to 40% fresh fruit; 15% peeler; 40 to 45% juice (one plant only now)

5.) Typically, transition from standard to semi-dwarf to dwarf (M9, B9) rootstocks. 800 trees on high side of hi-density.

6.) 10 +/- fungicide applications for apple scab the norm. Seem to be having more mildew. Ugh, never had fire blight until late 90's. Now, every year one or two infections, including 2009. New cultivar selections likely a factor.

7.) Codling moth and apple maggot primary insect pests -- export, so has to be clean for AM. NO plum curculio! Winter moth, leafrollers, aphids (rosy), mites also of concern. IPM/IFP the norm. Monitoring, traps, mating disruption.

8.) Harvesting, local and Newfoundland. More Mexican and Jamaican recently. Picked into 18 bushel wooden bins mostly. Harvest runs from mid-September to late October. Modern packing houses number 3-4 including Scotian Gold. Few pick-your-own orchards.

9.) Organic production of minor interest.

Marina Myra, MSc: Variety Research at the Atlantic Food & Horticultural Research Center, Kentville

1.) Works with Charlie Embree, research scientist; new charge to collect apple varieties from around the world, formerly helped with breeding.

2.) Earlier Kentville releases include Novaspy, Novamac. More recent releases include Cotton Candy (Redfree X Oberle), scab-resistant, ideal for u-pick, backyard; Evangeline, mid-October, great flavor, but not scab-resistant; Masonova, scab-resistant with Empire a parent. They are also evaluating several (9 discussed with no name), mostly scab-resistant, advanced selections.

Tomorrow, first day of tours, hopefully a report.

JC

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Peach disease field day

Today, Botond Balogh, PhD. ('Bo') from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, and Lorraine Los, of UConn Fruit IPM, visited the UMass Cold Spring Orchard in Belchertown, MA in search of bacterial spot of peaches (picture). Bo has a particular research interest in using bacteriophages to control bacterial diseases, and has worked in citrus (Florida) and vegetables in the past. We were also joined by Dan Cooley.

Indeed we found bacterial spot in two sub-acid stone fruit varieties from the Zaiger breeding program out of California -- in Honeykist nectarine (foliage and fruit) and Country Sweet peach (foliage and fruit). Now, I knew these varieties are susceptible to bacterial spot, no big surprise. The reason being is California does not have much rain, which is essential to spread the disease, so the breeding program does not necessarily screen for this disease. Peaches and nectarines from east coast (Rutgers) or Michigan (Paul Friday and Stellar) breeding programs are far more resistant to bacterial spot. But it can still be an issue for peach and nectarine growers in Massachusetts and Connecticut depending on what varieties they grow, the season's (wet) weather, and the diligence of their control effort, including copper and bactericide (FlameOut) sprays. A form of biological control (other than cultivar selection) would be highly desirable.

Note that we also found some nice (if you are a plant pathologist) brown rot in fruit. Brown rot is going to be be problematic with all the wet weather we are having. Consult this table of brown rot fungicide options from Cornell to stay on top of it.

While in the peach orchard, Lorraine noticed twist-ties used for peach tree borer mating disruption. (They were from 2008.) Lorraine and Bo have a SARE research-extension grant to promote peach IPM. Lorraine said adult peach tree borers are likely at peak emergence, and indeed we found the spent pupal case at the base of an infected peach tree. (We also found similar for lesser peach tree borer in a scaffold limb.) Ties for mating disruption and/or broad-spectrum insecticide sprays (pyrethroids) will prevent the adults from laying eggs and infecting trees. Based on my experience, peach tree borers are a major pest of peaches in Massachusetts, and need to be aggressively managed with mating disruption, Lorsban trunk sprays, and/or cultural practices that discourage egg laying such as white trunk paint, no mouse guards, and keeping weed-free strips at the base of trees. Note that peach trees damaged by borer infestation will particularly attract more adult egg-laying. For infested trees, it's the beginning of the end of the peach orchard.

Finally, while looking for more bacterial spot in a Southampton, MA orchard, we apparently found choke cherry (Prunus virginiana) on the woods edge of a peach orchard that had some trees showing signs of X-disease. The suspect plant, however, was later identified as pin cherry, Prunus pennsylvanica, which is not an host of X-disease. Nevertheless, choke cherry, when found, should be destroyed (systemic herbicide best) within 500 feet of peach orchards to prevent the disease from infecting your peach trees! Alan Eaton, UNH entomologist, has a good write-up on X-disease in his July 15, 2008 IPM Newsletter.

Here are the picture albums (all pictures) from our field day by Botond Balagh, Dan Cooley, and Jon Clements.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

MFGA Summer Meeting

Last Wednesday (July 15) was the summer meeting of the Massachusetts Fruit Growers' Association (MFGA). Held at the current MFGA President's orchard, Andre Tougas of Tougas Family Farm, over 150 tree and small fruit growers and others from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Maine were in attendance.

In the morning, Mo and Andre Tougas leaded a tour of their orchards, including:
  • potted bench-grafted apple and seedling blueberry nursery (picture)
  • one acre of 1st-leaf sweet cherries (picture) to be covered with a Haygrove Tunnel
  • producing blueberries covered by a Smart Net Systems net
  • 1st, 2nd, and 3rd leaf tall-spindle apples (picture), including bench-graft and nursery trees, such as a Daybreak Fuji orchard that yielded 400 bushels per acre in the 2nd leaf

In the afternoon, invited guest Dr. Andrew Landers of Cornell University could not have made the subject of air-blast sprayer calibration and performance any more informative while at the same time being entertaining. Landers 2-hour presentation (picture) was supported by a Region 1 EPA Strategic Agriculture Initiative grant and MFGA. Landers discussed the three factors that determine sprayer application rate: pressure, flow rate, and travel speed, and how to measure and modify them to match the desired spray output. He also discussed the pros and cons of different kinds of nozzles, including ceramic core and disc, hollow cone, and air-induction (picture). The latter proven to significantly reduce drift, although their performance using contact insecticides might not be adequate in all orchards. He also used a 'patternator' to examine spray pattern (picture) and adjust airblast sprayer nozzle orientation to match the canopy and spray output on both sides of the fan. (Which differ because of fan direction unless nozzle direction is adjusted.) Landers also talked about how growers can make their own pattenator and finally brought out the famous Cornell 'donut' (picture) that can reduce the speed and volume of air output form the airblast sprayer. Again, useful in reducing drift where tree canopy volume is on the lower side. (Early in the season, dwarf trees.) Landers gives a real good show and is undeniabley an expert on the subject of sprayer calibration and drift reduction. (Despite being a 'Brit'!)

In case you missed any of the links to pictures above, here is my Flicker set from the meeting.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Life in East Hardwick

I have been house-sitting and taking care of animals (16, total) for my good sister Julie in East Hardwick, VT for the past 8 days. Going home to Massachusetts tomorrow. God, so much to tell.

WEATHER: in a nutshell, has sucked. Rained almost every day. But I am from Vermont. And we love to complain about the weather. (Or, expect the worse.) I have lived in Massachusetts and Michigan now, and believe me, Vermont weather takes the cake. Hands down. As I write this, it is 56 and drizzling rain in East Hardwick. On July 4 at 7 PM. I still cooked chicken on the grill. Like several unregistered -- dare I say it, junk? -- cars in the yard, a real Northeast Kingdom tradition.

ANIMALS: 16, count them. Sophie the Beagle is a real handful. (P.S. the neighbor, Charles Morrissey thinks her name is 'Josie' -- Google Charles T. Morrissey, and ssshhh!) Quarter horses, Diablo and Cody are easy. Timothy the cat, I love him, and I am allergic to cats. That says a lot. Chickens -- 6 laying hens (barred rocks?) and 6 white meat chickens. (Stupid animals, they deserve to be eaten. Where did humans, as food breeders, go wrong?). Did I miss someone? I hope not!

FISHING. The upper Lamoille River is a renowned Rainbow and Brook Trout head-water. Alas, despite the fact I contributed $30 to Vermont Fish and Wildlife for a 7-day fishing license, the River has been mostly un-fishable because of the high water. I did get out twice, and made out OK. Really, really wish I had been able to fly-fish more of this spectacular stream.

HIKING AND KAYAKING: Caspian Lake, infamous breeder of large and copious amounts of Lake Trout. (Salvelinus namaycush.). Including fireworks from my kayak. Hiked Bald Mountain on 1-July. Totally socked-in and wet. But, I did run into a trail crew form the Northeast Kingdom Youth Conservation Corps, aka 'Kingdom Corps.' I was one of the first 'campers' of a federally funded YCC in the Green Mountain National Forest in 1972 in Danby, Vermont. Trail maintenance, deer exclosure, etc. I appreciated the effort these kids and their crew leader from the NorthWoods Stewardship Center had put into the trail up Bald Mountain, despite the miserable, wet conditions. On 4-July, up Wheeler Mountain. Spectacular views, again, despite largely overcast skies and cool temps. It's like Religion to me hiking these Northeast Kingdom peaks, and I can't imagine any more spectacular scenery. I signed the log book at the terminus of the Wheeler Mountain Trail (Eagle Cliff) 'Alexander Supertramp.' Into the Wild...

P.S. It took me a week to get around to finish this posting, largely because I wanted to include my pictures. JC

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Time flies

Wow, it's been too long. Very busy. Apple trees have bloomed and that has gone by. In a week or two, we will know how set looks. So, here is what's on my mind.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Thursday, January 22, 2009

MFGA winter meeting


A week ago today, the Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Fruit Growers' Association (MFGA) and UMass Extension Winter Tree Fruit Education Program was held at the UMass Cold Spring Orchard in Belchertown, MA. Over 100 members of MFGA, interested fruit growers, industry personnel, and Extension/University personnel attended on a cold, but bright, winter day.

Highlighting the Education Program was Dr. Terence Robinson of New York's Cornell/Geneva Agricultural Experiment Station. Robinson is a worldwide authority on intensive apple production systems and crop load management. Hence, he gave two excellent talks in the morning -- one on the tall-spindle apple production system, and one on new technology being developed to better manage apple crop load with chemical thinners. In the afternoon, however, was the real treat, a trip out into the UMass Orchard to demonstrate pruning of mostly young super-spindle, tall-spindle, and vertical-axis apple trees by Robinson. In a nutshell, he espoused 4 rules for annual pruning tall-spindle (or other intensely planted) apple trees:
  1. limit tree height to 0.9 times row width
  2. remove 2 to 3 of the largest branches on the tree
  3. "columnarize" all remaining branches
  4. on 'Gala' in particular, cut pendant or weak branches back to pencil-size wood

Here is a slide from his talk further illustrating these rules.

We were extremely fortunate to have Robinson give the pruning demo, and all in attendance gained significant pruning and production savvy during the daylong Program.



Sunday, January 4, 2009

Cherry study trip


To start the New Year I traveled to New Jersey, Maryland, and Pennsylvania with Mo and Andre Tougas of Tougas Family Farm to specifically look at Haygrove Tunnel technology for producing dwarf sweet cherries. The Tougas's are contemplating adopting high-tunnel sweet cherry culture and thought an up-close and personal look at some existing high-tunnel sweet cherry orchards would be worthwhile. They were right, and I learned a lot about the 'highs' and lows of cherry production under high-tunnels on the humid Eastern seaboard.

In New Jersey, we met up with Win Cowgill, Hunterdon County Extension Ag Agent and Rutgers North Jersey fruit specialist to first visit Melick's Town Farm in Oldwick, NJ. There, John Melick gave us a quick run-down on Haygrove hi-Tunnels they are using for tomatoes, cut flowers, and raspberries. These tunnels have 4-foot sides only and are not suited for cherries, but John talked about the season-extending and disease-prevention benefits, as well as allowing workers to be productive when it is raining outside. Video.

Next we went to Terhune Orchard in Princeton. Owner Gary Mount showed us an existing cherry planting of about one acre that he covered with Haygrove Tunnels after enduring a nearly total crop loss to fruit cracking one year. Gary says that he can't afford to lose a hi-value crop such as cherries that he sells for $5 per pound pick-your-own. He says the tunnels are insurance against frost and cracking, despite their high cost ($35,000 per acre give or take). But his optimism was a bit tempered by a significantly reduced crop in 2008, a result he thinks, of poor pollination. Despite using purchased bumblebees, it is a problem that is not acceptable until it is fully resolved. Video. Others have expressed similar concern over pollination of sweet cherries in tunnels. For a little more on Gary's thoughts, read a short article he wrote -- 'Haygrove High Tunnels - Control of Nature?' -- for Terhune Orchards newsletter.

Next, on to Elkton, Maryland to visit with Molly Brumbley of Walnut Springs (Strawberry) Farm. Molly has been a serious study of dwarf sweet cherry production and it showed. A newbie to tree fruit growing, she has pursued sweet cherry production under tunnels with no preconceived notions but with a lot of research, travel, and consultation with the experts. Her two acres of 28 ft. wide Haygrove Tunnels were nicely done -- three rows of three- or four-year-old cherries planted in a bed, with one travel row. She has planted mostly Black York and Cavalier, all on Gisela 5 rootstock, and has been very pleased with the early production to date on Black York although the Cavalier have been a little shy-bearing. She is shooting for just a two-week open-to-close pick-your-own cherry season, and the response so far to her cherries -- which sold for $2.95 per lb. in 2008 -- has been very good. Molly is using 'smart ends' to help stabilize the Tunnels on a very windy and exposed location. Her research has paid off and it was very evident with the attention to detail she has put into her tunnel-covered sweet cherry production system. For more information see a recent article on Molly and her cherries in the Fruit Growers News titled 'High-Value Crops Perfect for High-Value Land.' And, watch this short video where Molly discusses erecting the Tunnels after planting the cherry trees, and the benefits of a 28 ft. wide Tunnel vs. 24 ft.

A visit to Elkton mean't we also had to see American Fruit Grower's Apple Grower of the Year Even Milburn and his son Nate of Milburn Orchards. Milburn has grown cherries -- nearly 2o acres at last count -- successfully for many years in the 'open,' although Nate admits not every year is a winner because of frost and fruit cracking. Still, they attract large crowds of u-pick customers seeking sweet cherries every year and are planning to phase out an older cherry orchard in a cold site and distant from the 'home farm' and plant to a more favorably location close by. Milburns represent a classic Eastern sweet cherry orchard (if there is one?), and despite the challenges presented by frost and cracking, seem to be quite successful in their cherry production practices.

Finally we stopped at Weaver's Orchard in Morgantown, PA. Although owner Ed Weaver was not available, there was plenty to look at on our own, including: young and mature cherry plantings covered with Haygrove Tunnels; effective use of Promalin 'paint' with notching to promote branching; and perpendicular-V peaches. A phone conversation with Weaver indicates he has mixed feelings about the covered cherries, hence the hesitation on covering another young cherry planting. (He may have had enough?)

Weaver's is clearly a large, diversified orchard with a lot going on. Hence, my summary thoughts on cherry production under hi-Tunnels:
  1. Tunnel production of sweet cherries is not for everyone. Management skill, extra time, and attention to detail are required.
  2. There are some unresolved issues, including ability to provide frost protection and adequate pollenation that need to be considered.
  3. The cost of entry is very high, however, as long as you can get good money for your cherries, the potential to pay back the cost of a Tunnel is high. Plus there is no doubt it reduces your exposure to weather issues, particularly rain-induced fruit cracking, and will result in higher-quality, larger, and sweeter (more mature) cherries.
  4. The Tunnel needs to be 'skinned' with new plastic after 3-4 years, at additional cost.
  5. Cherries can be grown without hi-Tunnels, but expect to lose a crop to frost and/or fruit cracking 20% or more of the time.