The work that goes into making it Cherryland
Story by Annie Deutsch, Agriculture Agent, Door County UW-Extension and Claire Thompson, Community Development Educator, Kewaunee County UW-Extension.
The Door Peninsula is known as Cherryland for good reason. Cherry growing began in the late 1800s as groups of astute farmers and professors in the University of Wisconsin horticulture department began to notice the potential for growing fruit trees in this area. The large bodies of water surrounding Door County help to moderate temperatures, especially reducing the risk of a detrimental late spring frost. While there are fewer orchards today than in the past, many of the horticultural questions that were asked in those earlier days are still be- ing worked on today as orchardists determine the most effective way to manage their crop.
Similar to the early 1900s, in the late winter, orchardists are out in their fields pruning each tree by hand. Through- out the growing season, they still make careful management decisions based on pest pressure and variable weather patterns. Every year they determine the optimal fertilizer applications based on their location and the stage of growth of the tree. And every year they wait for the best time to begin harvest to pick the crop at its peak ripeness, yet to allow for the time it takes to get to every tree.
Since the early 1900s, however, research has continued to advance to modify and adjust growing practices. Perhaps the greatest advancement in the cherry industry was the development of a mechanized shaker to harvest the cherries. Previously all cherries were harvested by hand, but shakers made it possible to pick a tree clean in as little as 30 seconds.
Pest management is another ever-evolving field of study. Careful study of each pest that attacks cherry trees and fruit has resulted in predictive models that help a grower to determine at what time they should look for a particular pest, and how many of that pest they can tolerate before they are in danger of losing yield. While some pests have been around for decades, new invasive pests also occur. As these new pests are discovered, research projects involving multiple university programs shift to determine the most effective and environmentally sustain- able methods of controlling the pest.
Fertilizer applications have also be- come careful mathematical calcula- tions. Analyses through soil sampling before planting and plant tissue sam- pling once the trees have been es- tablished, help growers to apply the correct nutrient combinations to each individual field.
While pruning has remained much as it has for the last 100 years, current research trials are looking at the potential of growing smaller trees but at a higher number per acre. This “tall spindle” formation, which is also be- ing investigated for growing apples, allows for easier management and harvest of each tree since it doesn’t have the thick canopy of many cherry trees today. This growth pattern also could help to streamline orchard maintenance by simplifying pruning.
This summer, whether you buy a carton of cherries at a roadside stand or venture into an orchard to pick your own, remember the deep agricultural history that has been invested to help produce this beautiful fruit.