This can be up to a month long if you include all the different varieties. During this time of year there is lots happening in the orchard. Mowing, fertilising, setting up the bee hives and late pruning so that branches will be able to handle the weight of laden trees. Once the trees come out of dormancy, the flower and leaf buds start to swell before...
...bursting into sprays of white. People often think of pink cherry blossoms. However, fruiting cherry trees produce white blossoms. The bees are out in full force, pollinating each flower.
During this time the orchard team are busy checking pollination levels, more mowing and getting rid of weeds. We also want the flowers to stay dry. More fertiliser is applied during this time.
Once the flowers start to finish off, the petals drop to the ground and we are left with the small beginnings of the cherries. The aim is for maximum leaf growth during this time. Leaves are like a solar panel for a cherry tree. They also protect the cherries from birds, sun and weather damage and they continue to grow.
Orchard staff know that there is about 6-8 weeks until harvest starts.
As the fruit continues to grow the orchard staff are busily preparing for the harvest. Fertiliser is applied, watering is ramped up and each variety of tree is carefully monitored. The fruit starts out green as it grows before turning straw coloured, orange and then finally to red. The redness continues to darken as the fruit grows with some varieties getting darker than others. As the fruit grows and ripens, the sugar content also grows.
Once the first varieties are ripe, it's all systems go! Orchard staff are up before dawn getting set up for the day ahead. Pickers start early each day to get the fruit off the trees in the coolest part of the day. The fruit is then placed into large bins and transported to the packing shed. Here it is hydro-cooled and placed in the cool rooms to bring down the temperature. Once the fruit has cooled, it is washed and moves through the grader. Damaged fruit is removed and the fruit is sorted by size. It is placed into boxes then back into the cool room until it is either sold to the public or stacked on pallets and sent in refrigerated trucks to market.
Staff then prepare for the following day where we do it all over again. The also need to closely monitor the weather as rain can damage ripe fruit.
Once the last varieties are picked, the orchard staff fall in a heap and catch up on the many hours of missed sleep.
In all seriousness, work might slow down a little but there is still plenty going on.
The trees still require frequent watering during the hottest time of the year. Trees are pruned.
At the packing shed, machinery and picking equipment is thoroughly cleaned and stored away.
Throughout the harvest, staff have also been pitting cherries and freezing them to use during the rest of the year in baking. We continue harvesting our figs and regularly go blackberry picking.
Any maintenance on equipment and watering systems starts and plans are made for the year ahead.
After the leaves have fallen, the trees enjoy a long earned rest. Cherry trees require a certain number of chill hours each winter.
During this time of the year pruning continues and new trees are grafted onto root stock. Orchard staff use this quieter time to carry out routine machinery maintenance and to prepare for the following season.