31 Jul 2016

Bye Bye Cherry Pie

Not that I would have made pie but the post title sums up the mood here. This is a tale of frustration and regret which I write purely as a lesson learned for next year.


Cherries mid-July
~ Looking good but not quite dark enough for Morello cherries ~


I have abandoned any hope of cherries this year which is ironic if you've read anything that I've written about cherries in previous years.  I've banged on about how I've struggled to find a use for the Morello (sour) cherries that I grow here. Morello would not have been my first choice of cultivar but this is what I have from a group decision at the start of the veg patch. Because of the sour taste, the fruit is best used for jam making or cooking.  I have one neighbour who likes to eat them raw and she usually has her pick of the crop. Not this year.

This year was different; I was actually looking forward to a huge haul of cherries! :o)  I'd made cherry chutney last year, having singularly failed to make a decent jam that wasn't cloyingly sweet.  I recently opened a jar of said chutney ... and, to my amazement, the taste was extremely good. Unfortunately, I'd given most of it away.  No matter, I'd make some more - or would I? As it turns out, no.

Stupidly, I overlooked some crucial points.  I didn't net the fruit. This followed the pattern of previous years because I've had no problems with birds eating the fruit - until now. I also failed to monitor the fruit as it ripened.

Cherries mid-July
~ Slightly shaded tree, mid-July; still plenty of unripe yellow cherries ~

This year the rain ensured a bumper crop, almost completely negating the 'June drop' where about a third of the fruitlets turn brown and drop from the tree. The fruit started to go from gold to pink at the beginning of July and then, in the blink of an eye, had turned red and soft.  I'm used to the fruit turning a deep red before picking as it can be really tart otherwise. So I waited.  Two weekends back, I caught a neighbour chatting on his mobile phone while absentmindedly picking my cherries and eating them! A request to desist was uttered in no uncertain terms.

But the cherries continued to disappear as they ripened. The next day, all the fruit was stripped from the top branches leaving the tree looking more like a cactus than a fruit tree.  But I found the culprit - a huge wood pigeon flapped away from the tree as I approached.  Mystery solved, but too late.  A friend whose flat overlooks the garden tells me that she's seen other pigeons on the trees and ants are now enjoying the juice from any remaining fruit.  So I think I'll pass, thank you.

Fallen cherries
~ Bird damage; so many fruits fall as the birds peck ~


So what's the big lesson from this? I absolutely must net the cherries as soon as the fruit appears in future years!  The fruit ripened from yellow to ready in just 10 days. Take your eye off the ball and you/I've had it.

For anyone who has sensibly netted their cherries and therefore has some to cook with, here's  my cherry chutney recipe, taken from Beryl Wood's book 'Let's Preserve It'.




Plus a few notes on growing sour cherries for jam or a traditional American cherry pie:

  • Morello cherries are incredibly easy to grow as they're self-fertile and will grow in part shade in a north facing spot.  
  • If you choose the right rootstock, they're also ideal for a small garden; mine are now in their seventh year and are no more than six feet tall. 
  • They are practically maintenance free, maybe a bit of light pruning of crossing branches and that's it.
  • Watch out for baby trees from dropped stones - I pull out half a dozen tiny cherry trees every spring! 

24 comments:

  1. I put a morello cherry in my north facing front garden as it was about the only edible suitable for the spot. It's only small, but I have a good couple of punnets every year. They are absolutely delicious cooked with a little sugar and put over Greek yoghurt - it makes the yoghurt taste like cream, all its sourness disappears completely. My neighbour put a tree at the end of his garden, right on our shared boundary, about 3 years ago and its massive now. The birds had all of the cherries as far as I can tell. A shame because I love them and would have been happy to have them. The tree is so big now it will be hard to protect. A friend of mine lives in France and has huge dessert cherry trees. The birds descend and strip the lot in a day or two. The blackbirds are eating almost all of our blueberries at the moment as well. It's a constant battle. I've just this moment remembered that I didn't look for my three (!) plums at the allotment yesterday. No doubt something will get to them before I do. In the garden the figs are ripening and the ants are sitting up and taking notice. I had one for breakfast this morning though, score on for me. CJ xx

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    1. My niece's neighbour has a similarly huge sweet cherry tree on their shared border. It's usually a 'help yourself' situation because there are so many gorgeously sweet cherries to pick but this year every cherry has been taken by birds. The large trees are incredibly hard to net - I recently watched a plot neighbour spend best part of a day trying to net his cherry tree. An enormously 'Heath-Robinson' type cage was erected around the tree but I don't think he managed to get to the top in time! I didn't have many blueberries this year but will definitely be netting them as well from now on! Well done on getting at least one fig (they're so delicious straight from the tree!) and hope that your 3 plums are okay. At least that's one fruit I don't have to worry about as, yet again, the tree is barren this year. Cxx

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  2. Ah bad luck though it's such a pain netting large trees. The back lane here is often covered in squashed cherries where the birds have been feasting and dropping their spoils.

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    1. It's such a waste of good edible fruit that it really annoys me ... especially as we wait such a long time for fruit to ripen! Do you at least get to pick some of the crop?

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  3. Oh dear what a shame. Next year... Flighty xx

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    1. Yes, there's always next year. Do you have to net any soft fruit, Flighty?

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    2. I don't net my raspberries or strawberries as they've been okay so far, thankfully. Flighty xx

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    3. I don't net my raspberries or strawberries either - the slugs usually have the strawberries before I can get to them but I've been luckier with those this year. I'll have to be on the lookout for my raspberries though this year. C x

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  4. Oh no :( good for the birds but not good for you. Net it will be for next year!

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    1. Indeed! Pesky creatures will be kept at bay from now on!

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  5. Oh dear :( I had read that sour cherries were less popular with the birds. Obviously that isn't true! I have a new tree, currently in a pot, and lack of water has shrivelled the crop this year. However, it's getting planted in the only shady spot in the garden before next summer. So hopefully I might get some cherries to try your lovely chutney recipe!

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    1. I read a similar thing, Emma and that's why I've never bothered with netting in the past. This year the cherries weren't as sour as usual (lots of watering by Mother Nature!) so I think that's what tempted the birds in. Is your new tree a Morello? Mine fruited within the first year so you should get fruit next year ... as will I, when I've put the nets over!! (PS Definitely try the chutney recipe, it's a corker!)

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  6. The cherry tree on the plot had the leave dripped by wood pigeons every year so no fruit. We are planning to reduce the size so we can net it. We tried to protect the one in the garden but the fleece blew off! The result is no cherries here. Both are sweet cherries, Morello is far too,sour for us and needs too much sugar to make it edible. It is amazing that the cherry thief could eat them stsight from the tree,

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    1. That's so frustrating, Sue! I've got to figure out how to reduce the size of my pear and plum trees - both supposedly on 'dwarfing' rootstock but they're huge! And I'm already wondering if I can create a large enough net (maybe some scaffolding net?) with weights on the edges to cover the trees next year. I have a similar problem at the allotment with a sweet cherry on the plot that will also need netting. The sour cherries are usually way too sour for raw eating (to my liking) but even I was able to eat them straight from the tree this year; there was a slight sourness but nothing like I've come to expect - due to all the rain, probably!

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  7. We netted blueberries this year but still lost them all but few to birds as we didn't secure net on the ground level. It is very annoying but you live and learn. Solid frame with a secured net next year then!

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    1. Oh, wow, what a hard way to find out that birds can get under the net! Yes, definitely a good idea to weigh the net down with bricks at ground level next year - hope it works!

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  8. I have the same problem in smaller scale with my Blueberry bushes - I have 4, and they have grown so big that it is hard to protect them without a proper fruit-cage. One of my daughters was recently invited by a neighbour to pick cherries from a tree while the owners were away on holiday, but she delayed too long - four days later, the fruit had all gone!

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    1. Hmm, yes, blueberries. Hadn't given much thought to netting those, Mark. Amazing to have big blueberries bushes! Mine are pot grown and so are still small - are yours in the ground?

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  9. oh no, caro; I feel your pain. I would have been in tears! I net my trees pretty much as soon as the fruit forms, even when it's still green and hard - because the birds still try the fruit when it's like that! as ugly as netting is in a garden, we've all learnt the hard way that it is essential.
    I'm so sorry for you!

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    1. I tend towards being cross with myself for not taking action sooner! Speaking of which, I must make a notice telling people that the apples aren't ready for picking yet - I'm already finding fruit picked, one bite taken and then discarded.

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  10. Oh....what a shame, I can understand how disappointed you are. The birds got all mine too but then I never cook with them. Maybe I should have a go at that lovely chutney!xxx

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    1. It's typical isn't it! Just when I actually want the cherries, someone/thing gets there first! I shall persevere and have chutney next year - every year another lesson learned! xx

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  11. Oh no, that is bad luck. At our plots it is the jackdaws who are doing most damage and seem much more of a nuisance than the wood pigeons. I net everything and a few years ago invested in about £10 worth of scaffolding netting which amounted to about 30 metres. All my fruit trees have grown like Topsy and I will need to do some serious pruning soon. Only four plums on my tree this year, one apple tree is having a rest and another one has lost its heavily laden leader in the high winds we've had this year. Not noticed much of a June drop this year so I've been thinning manually. Sometimes I wonder why I bother but we've just had pasta and basil pesto with French beans followed by Autumn raspberries and cream and that makes it all worthwhile.

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    1. I'm trying to identify which birds pose the threat at my shared plot - I've seen wood pigeons flapping around but we also have parakeets, many of which nest in a large nearby tree! I have a similar situation here this year, one apple tree with no fruit and the plums look barren yet again. I like the sound of your lunch, sounds delicious and absolutely why we take so much trouble to grow our own!

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Caro x

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