Climate and soil have been the chief determinants of location for cherry-growing in New York. Both Sweet Cherries and Sour Cherries are profoundly influenced by the natural environment in which they are grown - Sweet Cherries rather more so than any other fruit, either climate or soil dictating whether they may or may not be grown. The Sour Cherry is at home in a great variety of climates, the vagaries of weather affecting it but little. It is probably the hardiest to cold, in some of its varieties at least, of all our tree fruits, thriving almost to the Arctic Circle and from there southward, in some of its forms, quite to the limits of the Temperate Zone. The blossoming season is relatively late so that fruit-setting is seldom prevented by spring frosts. Yet, even with this hardy fruit, it is necessary to take thought of heat and cold in growing commercial crops; for spring frosts may wither the bloom or summer heat and wind blast the crop if the orchard site be not well selected as regards local weather.
The Sweet Cherry, on the other hand, must be coddled in every turn of the season, in climatic requirements being particularly sensitive to heat and cold. This cherry stands with the peach in not being able to survive temperatures much below zero and in suffering greatly from spring frosts because of early blooming. It is even more susceptible to heat than the peach, and especially cannot endure long-continued heat, both fruit and foliage suffering. The Sweet Cherry is at its best in a warm, sunny, genial, equable climate. The Duke cherries, hybrids between the Sweet and the Sour species, in the matter of hardiness are midway between the hardy Sours and the tender Sweets though this is but a very general statement applying to the group as a whole and not to individual varieties. Some of these withstand cold and heat well while others are tender in either extreme. Cherries are more at the mercy of moisture than of temperature conditions. Continued rain at blossoming time will almost surely prevent a proper setting of fruit; and the cherries crack, and brown-rot becomes exceedingly aggressive if there is wet weather in harvest time. Late summer rainfall to supply moisture to the trees is a matter of small concern to the cherry-grower, for growth begins early and the crop is off the trees before summer droughts usually begin. Where irrigation is practiced water for the cherry is safely supplied at most seasons of the year except when harvest is in swing at which time the cherries will swell and crack if there be too much water.
As with all fruits the direction, temperature and humidity of winds are factors which decree whether or not cherries can be grown profitably either in a locality or a region. A pocket in the hills filled with dead air or a wind-swept highland would be unsatisfactory extremes; for, in the first case, fungi, especially the dreaded brown-rot, would take too great toll, and, in the second, blossoms would be blasted or foliage frazzled and the fruit whipped. The harsh, drying winds of winter, too, would be disastrous to Sweet Cherry culture and if extreme, as on the Great Plains, wood and buds of Sour Cherries would suffer. Artificial wind-breaks have not been found profitable in the hilly and wooded East, entailing too many disadvantages, but if cherries be planted at all in the prairies of the Middle West, some protection from the winds must usually be provided. The two species from which cultivated cherries come grow with proper vigor in quite different soils. The Sour Cherry and most of its hybrid offspring, the Dukes, may be made to grow in almost any arable soil, but the Sweet Cherry is fastidious - to be pleased only by particular soils.
Sour Cherry orchards in New York most excel on strong, even-tempered, loamy soils, naturally or artificially well drained yet retentive of moisture. There is possibly a shade of difference in favor of clay loams and some thriving plantations may be found on stiff clays having good depth and good drainage. Wet, sticky clays underlaid with a cold, clammy subsoil - a combination all too common in Central New York - furnish conditions which defy the best of care and culture.
Sweet Cherry orchards are found excelling on lighter, and less fertile soils than those we have described for the grosser feeding Sours. Growers of Sweet Cherries conceive a perfect soil for this fruit to be a naturally dry, warm, deep, free-working, gravelly or sandy loam. If the soil is not naturally dry, it must be made so by artificial drainage, for this fruit is most impatient of too much moisture or a root-run restricted by water. In Sweet Cherry soils, as will be surmised, it is difficult to supply humus yet this must be done either by cover crops or by manure to make the soil sufficiently retentive of moisture. Sweet Cherries can be grown on other soils than those under discussion but, for a large, firm, finely finished product for the markets, only the soils described are suitable. The conditions of soil and climate, as we have briefly defined them, that favor cherry culture are to be found in several parts of New York. Briefly we may name and describe the cherry regions of the State as follows:
The undulating, maritime plains of Long Island, covered with a thick deposit of sand, are very well adapted to cherries where the soil is rich enough to come under the plow. The genial climate, with its rather heavy rainfall, is precisely that in which the cherry thrives, the region falling short in the poorness of the soil - a fault easily remedied, where there is good bottom, by manuring. Despite the fact that occasional trees and plantations show that this fruit thrives on Long Island the cherry is not much grown here, the industry needing some leader to show the way. The valley of the Hudson from where the river leaves the mountains on the north to its entrance into the highlands of its lower stretch is admirably adapted to cherry-growing, both climate and soil meeting the requirements of this fruit. In parts of the valley the industry has been developed, Columbia County taking first place among the counties of the State, with its 78,526 trees in 1909. The product of this region goes chiefly to the great city market near at hand. Unfortunately the standard of cultivation is low in the Hudson Valley and the handling and marketing of the crop is also on a lower level than westward in the State. The cherry harvest is earlier here than elsewhere in New York, if we except the small crop of Long Island, an advantage, for prices usually fall rather than stiffen as the season advances.
The great basin in which he the Central Lakes of New -York is far famed for its Sour Cherry industry, the product going largely to canneries. Some Sweet Cherries are grown more and more are being planted - about these lakes; but the rich, heavy soils which mostly prevail hereabouts are more fit for varieties of the Sour Cherry; though the equable climate makes almost certain the Sweet Cherry crop on soils suited to its culture. Here, as elsewhere in the State, the acreage at this writing is greatly on the increase though it is doubtful if the advance will much longer weather the present depression in prices. All through this region, as in that to the north, the Sweet Cherry grows wild, thriving like the Biblical bay - seemingly a sheer gift of the soil and, like other gifts, generally neglected.
The high plain along the shore of Lake Ontario from the St. Lawrence River to the Niagara River, extending from the lake on the north from ten to fifteen miles inland, is the region of greatest possibilities for the cherry in New York. The climate of this great stretch of territory is nearly perfect for this fruit and the soils are sufficiently diversified to furnish a suitable habitat for any of the many varieties of either Sweet or Sour cherries. In the past there have been so many ups and downs in the cherry industry that fruit-growers in this favored belt have given more attention to other fruits but for the last decade, until the recent downward turn in the cherry market, the plantings have been greatly increased, both Sweet and Sour cherries finding favor.
Not unlike the Ontario shore in climate, but quite unlike it in its soils, is the shore of Lake Erie, the most westward topographical division of New York in which cherries are grown. The mainstay of this region is the grape, but, in seeking for a more diversified agriculture, Sour Cherry culture was introduced some twenty years ago and has become a thriving industry with prospects of continued growth. Here, as is so often the case in agriculture, credit must be given to some one leader for the development of a crop and the cherry orchards that dot the landscape for miles about the home of the late John Spencer speak eloquently of his leadership in this region.
A necessary accompaniment to a discussion of climate is a statement of the dates of blooming of the various sorts of cherries; for often, through selection with reference to this life event of the plant, injurious climatal influences may be escaped at blooming-time. In the accompanying table averages of the blooming dates of varieties of cherries for the years just past, l912 to 1914, are given. In making use of these dates, consideration must be given to the environment of the orchards at Geneva. The latitude of the Smith Astronomical Observatory, a quarter of a mile from the Station orchards, is 42' 52' 46.2'; the altitude of the orchards is from five hundred to five hundred and twenty-five feet above the sea level. The soil is a stiff and rather cold clay; the orchards lie about a mile west of Seneca Lake, a body of water forty miles in length and from one to three and one-half miles in width and more than six hundred feet deep. The lake has frozen over but a few times since the region was settled, over a hundred years ago, and has a very beneficial influence on the adjacent country in lessening the cold of winter and the heat of summer and in preventing early blooming.
The dates are those of full bloom. They were taken from trees grown under normal conditions as to pruning, distance apart, and as to all other factors which might influence the blooming period. An inspection of the table shows that there is a variation of several days between the time of full bloom of the different varieties of the same species. These differences can be utilized in selecting sorts to avoid injury from frost.
TABLE SHOWING BLOOMING DATES AND SEASON OF RIPENING
||Season of Ripening
|Dates in Geneva, New York
|P. avium x P. cerasus|
THE POLLINATION OF CHERRIES
We cannot complain in New York of much uncertainty in the setting of the cherry crop. Late spring frosts occasionally catch the blossoms of Sweet varieties but seldom those of the Sour sorts. Cold weather, especially if accompanied by wet weather, not unfrequently cuts short the cherry crop by preventing proper setting. There is, however, no general complaint of poor crops through self-sterility. In fact from the behavior of perfectly isolated trees in all parts of the State it would be premised that the cherry is most nearly self-fertile of all tree-fruits.
Yet there may be orchards or seasons in which cross-pollination cuts a figure, for Gardener1, of the Oregon Station, found in experiments carried on by him in various parts of Oregon that many varieties of Sweet Cherries in the Pacific Coast environment are self-sterile. The work seems to have been very carefully done and the conclusions are worth reprinting in full, bearing in mind that they would be much modified under New York conditions. Gardener found:
"1. All the varieties of the Sweet Cherry tested are self-sterile. This self-sterility is in no case due to a lack of germinability of the pollen produced. On the other hand, the pollen of each of the varieties studied is capable of producing a set of fruit on the variety or varieties with which it is inter-fertile. The list includes Bing, Black Republican, Black Tartarian, Coe, Early Purple, Elton, Knight, Lambert, Major Francis [Emperor Francis??? A.S.C.] , May Duke, Napoleon, Rockport, Waterhouse, Willamette, Windsor, Wood.
"2. Certain of these varieties - Bing, Lambert, and Napoleon are mentioned especially - are inter-sterile. Mixed plantings of these three varieties cannot be expected to set fruit unless the trees are within the range of influence of some other variety or varieties that are inter-fertile with them.
"3. Among those studied, Black Republican, Black Tartarian, and Waterhouse seem to be the most efficient pollenizers for this group of varieties.
"4. Other good pollenizers that may be mentioned are: Elton, Wood, Coe, Major Francis, Early Purple. These, however, proved somewhat variable in their pollenizing abilities.
"5. Some of the seedling trees found in and about cherry orchards are efficient pollenizers for the three varieties - Bing, Lambert, Napoleon. Probably many of these seedling trees are efficient pollenizers, though the value of any particular seedling can be determined only by experiment or very careful observation.
6. At least some members of the Duke group of cherries are capable of pollinating some of the Bigarreaus.
7. At least some of the varieties of the Sour Cherry (P. Cerasus) are capable of pollinating some of the Bigarreaus.
"8. Inter-sterility of Sweet Cherry varieties is apparently not correlated with their closeness of relationship.
9. The ability of a variety of cherry to set fruit is not entirely dependent upon the kind of pollen available. Environmental factors are important."
It is doubtful if New York cherry-growers will need to pay much attention to cross-pollination but, in case cherry trees are not setting full crops, and for no other apparent reason, the fertility of the blossoms may well receive attention. Should varieties be found self-sterile, sorts must be chosen which come into blossom at the same time, in which case the preceding table shows the sorts which bloom together or nearly enough so to make cross-pollination possible.
CHERRY ORCHARDS AND THEIR CARE
It is patent to the eye of every passerby that cherry trees are commonly set too thickly in most of the orchards in New York. While close planting is a universal fault, the amount of room differs greatly in different cherry centers, depending mostly upon the custom in the community, though, as all confess, it should depend upon the variety and the soil. The very erroneous notion seems to have prevailed in setting the plantations now reaching maturity that a large return could be skimmed from a small area by close setting, Sour Cherries often being put only twelve feet apart each way and Sweet Cherries, considering their great size, even closer, at sixteen feet. Experienced growers now put such dwarf kinds as the Morellos at from sixteen to eighteen, the Montmorencies and their kind at eighteen to twenty-two; and the large growing Sweet Cherries at from twenty-four to thirty feet.
Cherries are usually planted two years from the bud. Spring is the season for setting, though the hardy Sour sorts might often be set advantageously in late autumn. The losses at setting time are greater with the cherry than with any other fruit, old hands in fruit-growing losing trees as well as beginners. An experiment at the Station shows that these losses are greatly mitigated by a change in the usual method of transplanting. The custom is to shorten-in all branches of transplanted fruit trees but this, with the cherry in particular, removes the largest and presumably the best nourished buds - certainly those from which would soonest develop the leaves so necessary to sustain the breath of life in the young plant and to give it a start, In the experiment at this Station it was found that, if the top of the young tree was reduced by thinning the branches instead of cutting all back, a much larger proportion of the trees would strike root and live through our parching summers. Cherry trees in the past have been headed three or four feet above the ground but in new plantations they are now usually started lower at half of the above distances. Two forms of top are in vogue, the spire shape and the vase-shape. Sour Cherries are almost universally grown with closed centers but some growers prefer the form of the vase for Sweet varieties, though the majority hold to trees with central trunks and many subsidiary branches. Little pruning is done in cherry orchards after the first two or three years, by which time the sapling has been shaped. Subsequent pruning consists in removing dead, injured or crowded branches and an occasional superfluous one. Heading-in finds little favor with experienced growers. These few statements indicate that the cherry, as now grown, is pruned but little, and that that little must be done very care fully, the pruning knife in the hands of a careless man being, with this fruit, is a sword in the hands of a child."
The general tuning-up in the cultivation of fruits during the past quarter-century has had its influence on cherry culture. Commercial orchards are no longer kept in sod and the clean, purposeful cultivation that has taken the place of grass has doubled the output of cherries, tree for tree, throughout the State, the difference in yield being especially noticeable in seasons when drought lies heavy on the land. Cultivation, as practiced by the best growers, consists of plowing the land in the spring and then frequently stirring the soil until the first of August, at which time a cover-crop is sown. If the soil is light, and therefore hungry and thirsty, the plowing should be done early and the cultivator kept constantly at work until cherry-picking. Cherry orchards often, without apparent cause, have an indefinable air of malaise - look dingy and unhappy - such require almost week-to-week cultivation to tide them over. their period of indisposition. Grain, as well as grass, is discountenanced in cherry orchards, but cultivated truck and farm crops in young plantations, or, under some conditions, small fruits, are looked upon as permissible and often pay for the keep of the young trees until they come into profitable bearing.
Cover-crops are in common vogue in cherry orchards in New York and, since with this fruit they can be sown earlier in the season, are used to better advantage than in other orchards to furnish a full supply of humus and to provide nitrogen. Brown-rot, an annual scourge in most cherry orchards, takes less toll from trees cultivated and cover-cropped, these operations covering the mummied fruits and keeping the spores they carry from coming to light and life.
Cherry growers as a rule are not now using fertilizers for their crops. It would seem that this is not doing duty by the land; but it must be remembered that the cherry grows vigorously and that overfeeding may stimulate the growth too much, laying the orchard open not only to unfruitfulness but to winter injury of bud and tree. Among those who use fertilizers there is little accord as to what fertilizing compounds are best or as to what the results have been. There is common agreement, however, that Sour Cherries respond more generally to fertilizers than the Sweet sorts. Until there are carefully carried out fertilizer experiments with this fruit the vexatious problems of fertilization cannot be solved. Nitrate of soda seems to be a great rejuvenator in orchards laid down to grass. Whatever the cause, when leaves lack color and hang limp, this fertilizer is a sovereign tonic. Heavy dressings of stable manure are much used in grassed-over orchards, as they are, also, in such as have had none or but scant crops.
1 Gardner, V. R. Pollination of the Sweet Cherry, Ore. Sta. Bul. 196:36. 1913 TOP