Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cherry Blossoms!

(Quick note: My laptop, which has been on life support, is quickly fading away. :( I'm writing this from someone else's laptop - hopefully, I'll get regular access until I replace my own - and so will be posting more frequently.)

Both our cherry trees are sporting beautiful blossoms on multiple branches - dare I hope for cherries this year? We planted dwarf Bing and Black Tartarian trees in the spring of 2007. Generally, cherries take 3-5 years to come into production, a bit less for dwarf trees. When I saw a few blossoms last spring, I got all excited, but only a handful appeared on one branch and I never saw any fruit.

Still, it was a hopeful sign. We took a chance planting sweet cherries. Door County, Wisconsin is famous for their tart cherries. However, here in Madison, we’re on the border between climate zones for sweet cherries and University extension publications generally advise against planting them.

But I love sweet cherries and didn’t want to plant fruit I’d have to add sugar to in order to eat them. (I’ve since learned that if you dry tart cherries, they’re sweet because the sugar is concentrated.)

Cherries are rich sources of antioxidants, helpful in preventing cancer and slowing the aging process. Cherries, and cherry juice, in particular, are an old-time folk remedy for gout and arthritis. My mother says my grandfather swore by cherry juice for his gout. I have an arthritic hip and can vouch for the effectiveness of cherry juice in reducing inflammation – and therefore pain. Medical science supports the claim of anti-inflammatory effects of cherries.
A study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2006 reported that consumption of Bing cherries lowered markers of inflammation in otherwise healthy men and women.

Those trees have been a lot of work. I’ve noted before that I never even heard of Japanese beetles until I moved to Wisconsin. Then I unwittingly set about planting just about everything they love to devour – roses, cherry trees (which are in the same botanical family as roses), raspberries. (Come to think of it, there aren’t too many plants those voracious beetles won’t devour.)

Japanese beetle season generally begins the first week in July. It’s been a battle every summer to protect those trees without chemical pesticides. The first year, we tried spraying them with Neem oil; however, the beetles all but laughed in our faces. Next, I sewed together large swaths of cheap, fine mesh netting (found in the bridal section of fabric stores) and we draped those over the trees. This worked okay, when the trees were small, although the wind tends to shift the netting, sometimes bending the branches, so we have to reposition.

As the trees got larger, this solution became unworkable. One year we tried stapling sheets of floating row cover together and draping this over the trees. Our neighbor thought it was cool-looking, especially at night, when a light breeze moved the draped trees giving the appearance of two large ghosts swaying.
I awoke one night, during a thunderstorm, looked out and saw the trees bent nearly double from the weight of the water on the row cover. Frantic, I shook Rick to wake him. “The cherry trees are about to snap in half!” I wailed. We ran outside in the pouring raining to remove the cover. Amazingly enough, they survived and eventually straightened up again.

Last year they were too big for any physical barrier. We just had to do the tedious work of picking the bugs off by hand. We fed them to the chickens who went crazy for them.

This year I plan on trying kaolin clay. I read about using this product for protecting the fruit long ago, but stupidly never considered using it to protect the leaves until someone recommended it to me last winter. With any luck, I’ll be protecting our first crop of cherries as well!

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