2018-05-17 / Front Page

Blooms, and lots of them

Tart market already filled
By Jen Murphy
of the Enterprise staff


CHERRY BLOSSOMS were in evidence in an orchard off Amore Road in Centerville Township on Wednesday morning. Sweets started showing mostly white Sunday and Monday in the mid- to southern-reaches of the county. 
— Photo by Eric Carlson CHERRY BLOSSOMS were in evidence in an orchard off Amore Road in Centerville Township on Wednesday morning. Sweets started showing mostly white Sunday and Monday in the mid- to southern-reaches of the county. — Photo by Eric Carlson Cherry blooms — and plenty of them — are finally bursting, causing calls to stream into the Traverse City Tourism Visitor Center.

Some folks, it seems, have been ready for cherry blossoms for quite a while.

“People started calling in March,” said center manager Sharon Pierce, “and we just laughed.”

But since May 1, the number of calls has really picked up. Due to a late spring — and a 20-inch snowstorm in mid-April — cherry trees have been a week to 10 days behind in their development.

“We have tons of them. Like non-stop. It’s probably at least 30 calls a day,” Pierce said.

She said that most of the callers are from downstate Michigan, but that many are come from Ohio and Indiana as well.

What advice to they give to area visitors?

“We tell them to do the M-22 tour and follow the water to get a beautiful view of the water and see blossoms, along with visiting restaurants and wineries along the way,” Pierce said.

The Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center (NWMHRC) reports that sweets are in bloom. According to the Growth Stages report on the center’s website, as of Monday, Golds were in first bloom, and the other sweets (Hedelfingers and Napoleons) were at 80 percent bloom.

And that’s just what local growers are seeing in their orchards.

Elmwood Township cherry grower Jeff April said, “The season is progressing good. We are just coming into full bloom now.”

He said he expects to harvest sweet cherries from his orchards in mid- to late-July.

When it comes to timing the harvest, location is everything. While April could shake his trees in mid-July, orchards in the north end of the county won’t be ripening until a few days later. “It’s at least a week difference between each end of the county,” he said. “For the north end of the county, it depends on the water temperatures up towards Northport.”

Northport grower Tom Van Pelt has found little weather damage in his orchards at Overlook Farms. The late bloom usually leads to a large crop as frost damage is minimized.

“It looks like a great bloom for the sweets,” he said.

He plans to harvest about 60 days after full bloom, which Van Pelt said he expects will occur in the next couple of days.

While the beauty that boosts tourism is one thing, the economy of agriculture can paint another picture.

The late spring, coupled with the likelihood of no more frost, comes with an expectation of a large crop for the peninsula’s most flavorful fruit.

But a heavy tart harvest is exactly what growers don’t want.

Both April and Van Pelt have just about an even split of sweets and tarts in their orchards. And while they expect to turn a profit on sweets, they’re worried about tarts.

“The fruit looks good, if we can market it,” April said. “We lost one northern Michigan processor, and that’s one less person to sell to.”

And even when that loss doesn’t directly affect a grower, it still affects the industry.

“The sweet market has been strong the last few years,” he said. Then he added, “It’s kind of gloom and doom in the market right now for tarts. Someone I know said, ‘A friend doesn’t let a friend plant tart cherries.’

“Last year, we dropped a third of the (tart) crop on the ground because the freezers were full. I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense to some, but it’s a question of how full you want the freezers.

“And the over-production of tarts is an issue, but there’s also the issue of imports,” he said.

Van Pelt agreed. “I don’t think there’s going to be much of a market for tarts,” he said.

According to the May 7, 2018 FruitNet Report published by Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center, American brown rot may present another wrinkle for this season’s cherry crop.

“If we receive wet weather in these warm temperatures, these conditions will be ideal for American brown rot. Last season was very challenging for brown rot near harvest time,” the report said.

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