Many people ask me (Phil) what are the best and worst parts of being a sweet cherry farmer. There are too many highs to list, and yes, the lows do exist, but the deepest low of the season is always the same answer — the June Drop.
The June Drop occurs in mid-June and is when it becomes apparent what cherries will mature and be able to harvest that season. When the cherry tree senses its crop load, it will drop fruit on the ground (hence the naming). During this process, the tree removes unpollinated and damaged cherries. Or simply an overabundance of cherries as it determines which cherries it wants to take to maturity.
Some years immature green cherries litter the ground below the branches. In other years, the June Drop is very light, and the cherries stay on to maturity. As a farmer, you cannot predict or treat it — you live with the outcome.
Now there are plenty of perils ahead. For example:
- Weather: Hailstorms, no matter how brief, can wipe out the entire season. Short and intense rainstorms of over one inches of rainfall—when the cherries are full and ready to pick—will make them pop like popcorn. But, we may only lose one to two varieties as they mature over a four- to five-week-period. In 2021, we had two such events with over five inches of rain dumped in two hours which is unheard of, according to the longtime orchardists here.
- Invasive species: Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD) is a nasty invasive fruit fly. If it gets established, SWD can wipe out a lot of fruit.
So yes, there is plenty of risk ahead, but with the June Drop, you know it is coming. You don’t know how bad it will be. And, unfortunately, you cannot do anything to prevent it. It is a joy killer for us farmers. This is why I don’t gamble when I go to Las Vegas. As a cherry grower, I gamble every day — and a sweet cherry grower, at that.
Tart cherries are not as impacted by the June Drop for some reason, which is why it does not make headlines in northern Michigan — as most of the cherries in this region are tarts. Those growing sweet cherries, we know it is coming, and I can say it is here today. They are dropping or not sizing up for maturity as we want.
Given the large number of cherries (which are very small and not maturing, and where they are located) this year, I may know the reason for our losses — the weekend heat of May 19 and 21 this spring.
Everyone who visits HH Cherries has a favorite cherry variety that they prefer out of the 12 we offer — mine is a poorly kept secret. To summarize our crop impact, I share the following:
- We will have cherries in July and August, barring the threats of hail, intense rainfall and pests.
- We will have cherries in August when no one else has fruit. Our sweetheart variety has a great crop and should size up fine in early August. This variety blooms first, so they were able to avoid the heat.
- The early cherries seem to be light but have fruit, such as the Cavaliers, Ebony Pearls and White Golds.
- Those that peaked blooming during the weekend of heat in May were devastated. I remember wondering how the bees were going to pollinate all those blooms in such a short duration of fertility. The answer: they did not. Our Summits, Ulsters, Attikas and Reginas are very lightly cropped. Ugh…
So, my guess is we have about 50% of the crop, for which we were hoping. We will have cherries, and the ones that mature will be HUGE as they do not need to compete with a high number of cherries.
With this all said, it is part of the gig! We move ahead knowing that the harvest is coming in early July and watch to see how each variety responds to the weather. There is also the hope and expectation that some year, we will get it all right and that bumper crop will be come to harvest! It is that hope and resilience which sustains us season after season.
We will make the most of what we have and are finishing up planting new trees now. Sarah is busy harvesting flowers, which are gorgeous, and we are busy preparing the farm for our U-Pick guests — this should start around July 10, 2022! So, keep us on your schedule and enjoy the cherries. We will have cherries (on hand) that are prepicked. You can also pick your own or ship some to your family and friends. A good season is coming soon, and we look forward to our visitors who enjoy making memories in the sun with their family and friends.
Phil Hallstedt, Owner
P.s. Remember, we are glad to ship our cherries to you if you can’t make it to Michigan this summer. Check out our products and place your order early to reserve the variety you desire at hhcherries.net.