Last month I signed off wondering how the cherry season might develop and while its early days so far so good. Hail has had an impact to the netting covers in some cases, but on the assumption that repairs are made before harvest that scenario is mitigated.
Checking my home garden tree, a Lapins (with a ‘s’, named after Karlis O. Lapins when it was released in 1984) there is a little bit of frost damage, plenty of flowers and some small fruitlets to be seen when the sepals are removed. As long as they set there will be heaps of fruit.
That indicates that there has been sufficient chilling even in a season that has the lowest accumulation of the last five years. The 2018 season had the best accumulation of the last five.
1st May to 1st September Richardson units:
The pollination field day that was hosted by NZAPI recently highlighted what we know about pollination and what we don’t as well. The Summerfruit NZ portal has some resources that are always worth re-reading and there are a couple of recent webinars that speak to pollination. In theory only one bee visit per flower is all that is necessary as there is only one seed, but industry experience would suggest 3 visits per flower is a better target, even with self-fertile varieties such as Lapins. Hive rates of 2.5 – 4 per hectare were other go-to numbers that were suggested. The higher rate is probably better for the other stone fruit species, such as apricot that flower in late winter or early spring. There was also discussion around the effect of nets, whether fully or partially covering and the impact on bees. This is something Hawkes Bay cherry growers have coped with for a long time while apple growers are starting to learn just now. The take home message is that bees are not that keen on nets disturbing their patterns.
As we look to the start of the harvest season in 6 or 7 weeks time, the fruit drop, or November drop, will be worth watching, with a wary eye on the stress from wet soil and poor heat unit accumulation. Still if a few fall, then the size will be larger. So far, it’s not our best start ever, but not dreadful either. Just some more sunshine please.
Growing degree day accumulation (base 10°C) compared to the best of the last five seasons from 1 September to 10 October:
When comparing the other cherry districts, the patterns seem similar, wetter than desired and with some horrible cold events.
Weather aside there is another factor for Hawkes Bay cherry growers to consider. All the fruit presently grown here is destined for the NZ market – almost exclusively aimed pre-Christmas. While there are more trees going in the ground here, there is hundreds more hectares going in the ground in Central Otago, with some about to start producing. I understand that while the aim is export there will be plenty that arrives on the NZ market as well, and some of this is coming out of covered, as in greenhouse, production, so it will be early.
The major supermarkets don’t take a lot, if any, Hawkes Bay cherries as they prefer to wait for the better-quality Marlborough and Central Otago product. My personal view is that it’s not the growing conditions but a mindset that has only needed to consider getting product to a ‘good enough’ situation. The concern is with increasing Hawkes Bay planted area, and with increased completion on the way from Central Otago we need to learn how to grow export quality fruit with a view to changing the attitude of the supermarket buyers and potentially exporting cherries. The earlier harvest season would be complimentary for exporters if the quality is good enough.
And what defines good enough; colour, brix and size are easily achievable but it’s the crunch that needs to be worked on. One of the tools is variety selection the other is the use of gibberellins as the fruit starts to ripen.
Hawkes Bay has some natural advantages, there is enough winter chilling, good growing degree days and earlier production. We export apples so know the necessary procedures. There is going to be increased competition from here and the South Island, maybe even this season. Is now the time to look to export in the medium term and in the interim teach ourselves how to grow crunchy fruit that the supermarkets will want to buy?
Summerfruit Technical Advisor